Currents in Electronic Literacy

A Quick Buzz around the Universe of Electronic Poetry

by Deena Larsen


  1. With the flick of a switch, poetry has slipped into new and alien dimensions. Internet applications and other computer programs offer new ways to present poetry: from flashing fantastic images to illuminating deep and ineffable connections and connotations. Poetry has spread out from a two-dimensional plane on paper to multi-dimensional universes on the computer.
  2. Defining electronic poetry (or e-poetry) is tricky. It's a moving target, changing at the same exponential rate that computers themselves change. There are no accepted definitions at this early juncture in e-poetry's life. Indeed, the necessary and sufficient elements of a poem are still not universally agreed upon, even after millennia of printed lines on paper. As we enter into the still-forming universe of displays on computer screens, even the vague definitions become stretched to unrecognizable edges. The simplest and broadest definition of e-poetry would be this: poetry that uses both text and sensory information other than text to convey meaning. Usually, this meaning is created in symbiociation (associations of symbols, form, movement, imagery, navigation, and non-linear structure).
  3. The most wonderful thing about e-poetry is that there are so many possible worlds to explore. Each work is unique; each forms a pathway to think and communicate beyond words on a page. The computer offers ways of symbiociating images, sound, and motion that paper cannot. Poets are even experimenting with new ways of creating poetic structures and navigating the poem so the same words may take on very different associations (and symbiociations) depending on the path the reader takes.
  4. Let's take a short tour of the burgeoning universe of e-poetry: hop on this Internet space bus to view some of the alien works that abound in these fertile new worlds. Note that this tour will be far from complete, and we will not stop at all of the best places. This is meant to be just a quick windshield tour to uncover some of the fascinating ways that poetry is changing on the computer screen. After the tour, get off the spacebus to explore more on your own. And please, take advantage of the links at the bottom of this page which can transport you to more ever-changing landscapes.

  5. Poetry in images

  6. In this new universe, images and text are merging together to form new vistas of meaning. Almost every work of e-poetry plays with color, font, imagery, and other visual effects that go well beyond what most paper chapbooks can provide. However, many works also incorporate imagery as a necessary element--without these images, the words alone would be unable to convey the same resonating, connotating meanings.
  7. Mark Bernstein is chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, the oldest and perhaps best known electronic literature publishing house. In his commentary Hypertext Now, beyond illustration, he emphasizes that "visual elements need not merely repeat what the text says; the text need not merely explain the meaning of the picture. Words and images can flow together to illuminate and subvert each other." As each electronic poem merges words and images on the screen, each poem forms different methods of illumination and subversion. These relationships go beyond complementary explanation and even subversion--words and images occlude and highlight, distance and prioritize meanings.
  8. We'll start our tour with a few of these symbiociative e-poems so we can see the relationships between imagery and text in action:
  9. In Robert Kendall's A Study in Shades, from the Cortland Review, images fade and grow darker as the poem's characters remember and forget. The screen is divided into two parts: a daughter discussing her father's Alzheimers and an on-the-shoulder narrative from the father's point of view. Each side has a sepia painting of the girl and the man. As we click on the daughter's narrative, the image of the father grows darker, into a shadow of itself, as she says, "I try to make out what's / beneath / the heavy deletions, / the almost impenetrable / black /of bewildered old man." The more we click on the father's side, the more the image of the daughter fades away, revealing her father's perceptions as void of thoughts and memories: "The harder he looks, the more / plainly / he sees just the nicely executed / strokes / of delicate cheek bone. . ." This dynamic shading highlights the progression of the two parts as the father and daughter grow further apart in their words and the intensity of the images their narrative provides.
  10. Images not only form counterpoints of meaning; they can become part of the overall experience in e-poetry. ~Water~Water~Water~, a "transatlantic collaboration between Christy Sheffield Sanford, Reiner Strasser, & Bodies of Water," deftly combines imagery and text. Water images provide a backdrop for static and moving meditations on water. We can navigate through a water wheel, clicking on the various spokes to reach the stanzas. In a part of the work called "turbulence" (you can get here by clicking the uppermost square in the open circle of water after the opening screen), the water background and the text move and merge, creating one seamless whole. For example, the image of a magenta water fountain obscures a quote about the motion of water at the top of the screen. The images here work to both illuminate and hide the text, creating a dynamic interplay between imagery and text.
  11. Text is not lost in these images, as Stephanie Strickland gracefully demonstrates. She fuses images with text and then goes further to imbue the words themselves with color to expand their resonances. A meticulous poet, Strickland's Web works merge a sense of textual themes and imagery. For instance, in the Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, featured at the Word Circuits Gallery, Strickland takes us in an intricate dance between Harry Soot and Sand, using images from many contributors to reveal many allegorical levels. Words in this ballad are colored according to theme rather than according to the current Web conventions for coloring words that are links. These colors highlight recurring ideas and weave memories and resonances throughout the piece. Text links are hidden, asking the reader to mouse over the words slowly to find the links. This slow and somewhat unorthodox navigation further strengthens the relationships between words and images as we are forced to look carefully at the navigation, placement of words, and juxtaposition of imagery.

  12. There are a thousand more places where we can see the border between art and literature growing less and less distinct. Indeed, e-poets are more apt to call themselves "digital artists," "online writers" or "netwurkers" than poets.

  13. Poetry in sound

  14. Imagery is just one new sense in e-poetry--e-poets are also incorporating sound as an integral part of meaning. Unlike spoken poetry readings, the sounds blended into e-poetry are not a mere repetition of the words on the screen but form separate harmonies or themes to create moods or different words than the text to encourage different interpretations. Many of these sound works are experimental and represent promising avenues for e-poets to further explore.
  15. Let's now stop to play at a few places:

  16. The homepage of Komninos Zervos, an Australian performance poet, layers voices and sound over poems, creating multi-tonal effects--as the spoken word may or may not echo the textual word. His work brings the more traditional performance aspect of poetry into the Web. However, the spoken words do not always mesh with the screen words--creating a panoply of literal double entendres.
  17. David Knoebel's use of sound in his click poetry provides a spoken ending that gives the meaning to the written word sequence. For example, when we click on the phrase "can't say yes," we see the words "can't say no" and hear the words "time passes." The two written phrases create an impasse, while the spoken phrase shows that the impasse continues. The three elements work together to create a coherent whole.
  18. While these works blend spoken words with written words, other e-poetry sites are blending written words with music. Jim Andrew's Nio incorporates jazz notes and tunes with beautifully rendered moving letters. As we choose which sounds to listen to, we create a synthesized jam session. Andrews says of Nio, "Sound poetry is a way into things that cannot be said in words but sometimes need saying. Written words and sentences do not have easy access to the primal or the harmonic/dissonant reveries of pure sound or the meaningful repetition, variance, trance, and pattern of the drum." This is true symbiociation--making associations that cannot be translated into pure text but rely on the relationships between text and sound, between text and imagery.

  19. Sound then, becomes another dimension and extension of e-poetry--a symbiociation of meaning resonating between harmonies of the spoken word, music, and text.

  20. Poetry that switches genres

  21. Just as e-poets are blending text, imagery, and sound, they are also mixing genres. As we whirl round the digital universe, we note that there are no neat bookshelves--no easy Dewey Decimal classifying system for electronic literature and particularly for e-poetry. Part of the reason for the absence of clear genre lines is that classifications are much easier to break when we are merging different media. Each new art piece is so unique that it deserves its own classification--so a one-to-one map or classification system really isn't that useful.
  22. E-poetry first stretches traditional poetical conventions such as line breaks, sound structures, capitalization, and stanzas. E-poetry then often merges sound, imagery, fiction, parody, and other forms of statement to the point that the "poem" kernel can no longer be readily identified. Often, as in Jennifer Ley's Catch the Land Mine, poetry is hidden under an elaborate game or even a political statement.
  23. To get a sense of these boundary breakers, let's stop at Peter Howard's The Rainbow Factory. As we enter, the rusty gates clang open and we see a two-story factory. We can be good little tourists and click on the clean upper story reserved for visitors, or we can sneak downstairs to find out the real score. Words are embodied in the factory along with animated scenes of rainbows being designed and manufactured, which give us the story. The story is a delightful satire on software development on one level while on another level the poem invites us to ponder the "violet scrapings from the corners of dreams." For example, in an upper story window we can see rainbows being stamped out in a regular assembly line. In the corresponding lower story window, the same assembly line appears--only every so often a squalling mass of lines comes out, goes through the assembly line, and is sucked up on the other side. In this particular set of windows, there are no words. Yet this scene of perfection and imperfection is vital to the meaning of the words elsewhere.

  24. Is this then a piece of art or a piece of poetry? I would submit that the "or" here is the problem. Poetry is integrated so seamlessly into The Rainbow Factory that we cannot separate the hues and clearly delineate what is art and what is poetry. And The Rainbow Factoryis a small indication of the headaches that lie ahead for librarians, word-sellers, scholars and anyone else who relies on classifying and genres. In the next decade, there will likely be so many blended-genre works that for these works we may have to drop the academic classification system in favor of something much more complex--something like smart virtual bookshelves so each book nook can become its own category with a metadescription of each work; such bookshelves would necessitate their own ingenious searching and indexing system.

  25. Poetry that builds communities

  26. The Gutenberg press brought words out of the cloister and into the hands of the people. And while a fifteenth century scribe's predictions of changes wrought by movable type would be amusing, the scribe would not have been able to see how these changes created an entirely new society and way of thinking and building communities. Radio and television developed quick one-to-many communication, expanding our horizons even further. Now, the Web has brought many-to-many communication. E-poetry is thus not only changing the way we think of poetry, art, fiction, satire, and other genres but also the way we communicate and interact. The implications of this many-to-many medium are far too overwhelming to predict. Clearly, though, e-poets are quickly building communities and working with other e-poets to form global spaces that are spawning new societies and new mindsets.
  27. Let's go on to a few places that hint at the possibilities for e-poetry to connect people and build communities. The Electronic Literature Organization, for example, lists events and provides a directory for electronic literature and poetry. TrAce is a full writers' community, offering online classes, collaboration, and more. TrAce and the Electronic Literature Organization cooperate to offer weekly chat sessions for writers to get together and explore new topics. Further, trAce provides a "WebBoard" forum devoted to collaborative writing where poets and other writers can build on each other's thoughts to create community poems. At trAce, collaborative conversation takes on the playful yet formal language of poetry, revealing the bones of meaning underneath. Writers start a thread in the hope that someone will add a line or two. As other writers join in, the poem or the story grows--and words are not the only material used to build these poems. Let's follow one of these threads on trAce: A bit of colour. Jevalenazdeth Unfurls starts off with a lovely image and these words:

  28. "icy the
    pirated deep where
    the color runs
    blank straw 'n'
    effused to the
    with cables knit
    beneath the
    ocean .. ."

    Everdeen Tree adds a repeating line:

    "Nothing can be created from nothing in hues descending from white to yellow-brown".

    Jevalenazdeth then replies:

    "Nothing to fall back on in a real emergency
    There is as much colour painted in black pigment as shines in white light."

  29. These projects become full works in themselves, as trAce's N _o_o_n Q_u_i_l_t demonstrates. This work describes itself as an "assemblage of patches submitted by writers from around the world." The quilt itself is a series of images interspersed with squares showing the 1's and 0's of binary code. As we mouse around the quilt, we can click on the individual poems stitched into the whole.
  30. Group poems are nothing new. Centuries-old renga, a parlor game of connecting haiku through words and images which has its roots in the Heian era of Japan, has now been adapted to an international parlor, the Internet. Paul Conneally's Charnwood Arts project, Haikumania, linked rens (connected haiku) and declared that "By connecting we can change the world." The site, unfortunately, "has now returned underground." Another site, New Sun Planet, is a themed ren which uses hyperlinks to link writing and images about night visions by both children and adults worldwide. Other sites also invite interactive commentary through haiku. Sites like Photo Haiku connect text and images together. The site provides photos, and writers can contribute their haikus based on the photos and the haikus already there. Dreamworks shows fantastic images and invites haikus on dreams. These sites and many more allow writers to talk to each other in haiku and connect new haiku and rens to the existing bodies of work.
  31. The interactive poetry site displays poems in progress and invites readers to add a line or close a poem they feel is finished. This site expands the traditional ren discussion into categories: "general poems," "gothic lyrics," "rhymes," and "song lyrics." As more and more writers add their voices, these sites slowly build into multifaceted and living coral-like structures of connecting poems and images. And even modern forms of community poetry are being transported to the e-environment. For instance, you can create your own magnetic poetry á la a refrigerator door and then submit your piece to the gallery.
  32. These works show that the Web as a many-to-many media has exponentially expanded the potential for poetry's traditional associative communication. While most of these sites are still based on the idea of a single poet contributing to a larger body of work, we can see the potential for working together. For instance, software such as Groove just released this year, makes it possible to interact with other collaborators in real time. If we marry the Groove software to sites such as the magnetic poetry or the interactive poetry sites, we could play poetry games in real time--working with other artists around the world at the same time on the same poem. With these new tools, poets can collaborate to build symbiociative works that synthesize a community of imagery, text, and associations.

  33. Poetry that stretches time and space

  34. The computer expands much more than the text and imagery, genres, or even the communities we write for and with--it expands the very page we write on. Poetry is no longer confined to the 8 1/2-by-11 page, nor even to the 640-by-480 Web screen. Poets are flouting the Web designer's conventions (particularly thou shalt not scroll and thou shalt design for the smallest screen used). By using the theoretically infinite computer screen, writers are incorporating space as part of the meaning in the text.
  35. Web poet William Gillespie says on his homepage, "Whatever the collision of computers and literature brings, I want to be flung through the windshield." By flinging ourselves out of the figurative windshields of a constraining page, we can break out of our predefined notions of rules and spaces. To demonstrate this, Gillespie's Omnifesto plays with line shapes and lengths on a one[-]foot[-]square page. Gillespie says that he picked that size "just for the fun of it." His lines of text curl around each other, form lazy loops and sprawl over the screen, forcing the user to scroll both up and down to read one line. Discussing the basic nonphysics of reading in new media work, he says, "Electronic novels have no spine to bind them," and he revels in the freedom to write without pages.
  36. The Web page is thus "infinite, a universe. There are no edges," as Fabio Doctorovich, Web writer and editor of postypographika, contends. The first page of Abyssmo: the hyperpostypographical mesh, stretches the screen as the reader must scroll both horizontally and vertically to find links. The page is so large that the reader can only see a small corner of it at a time.
  37. Just as electronic space is now fluid and no longer constrained to an 8 1/2-by-11 page, electronic poetry is no longer static. Flash and other animation software has brought the dimensions of movement and change to electronic poetry. E- poetry uses these moving images to juxtapose motion, image, and text, and many poets incorporate animation and movement into their work to convey meanings. An elegant example is Dan Waber's Strings featured on Vispo where handwritten words morph on the screen. The first word says "yes", changes to "no" and then back again to "yes." Thus the word itself embodies its own contradiction. This is only the first bit of existential mischief Waber's words offer as he throws us a line that forms "words like string that I pull out of my mouth."
  38. Three-dimensional words play in Doctorovich's infinite space, including the word "wall" repeated so that it imprisons another word, "innocente." This word in turn, revolves to become "assassino." The movement in this page leads us to question the relationship between innocents and assassins and wonder which concept should be enclosed in walls. Without the movement and replacement of words, these questions would be difficult to convey.
  39. Space on a computer screen can also be constrained, used, and reused. Unlike paper pages, computer screens can show a succession of images or text in the same location. Curtis Harrel, Web poet, puts up three revolving lines of haiku in Turning Away at the New River. The lines in the haiku change as you watch--from a "fat orange liar's moon" to a "bone-white harvest moon." This "dynamic paper" can turn lines into new lines, providing a movie-like experience for poetry. As we cannot turn back to re-look up a previous incarnation, we are swept along in an ever changing and revolving cycle of meaning. Where many of the poems we've seen on this tour place more control in the reader's hands, this dynamic poem puts the controls in the hands of the computer. The lack of control itself infuses symbiociative overtones into the words--conjuring up implications of moons that we cannot control.

  40. In all of these works, e-poets are using the media as a message--merging the word within the stretching space-time of the computer. The mutability of the computer screen thus expands the limits of poetry to points where pages and chapbooks could never travel.

  41. Poetry that shapes words

  42. This animation and morphing can also show the connections between words and letters alone. John Cayley's works, for example, explore ways that language can be translated--and transliterated. Indra's Net: or: Hologography,for instance, uses computers to merge words from poems into new texts. It takes one page and highlights words and letters on that page to create a new work. This work uses HyperCard on a Mac. Let's preview this, or rather, a "frozen and painted representation" of Oisleand, part of INDRA'S:NET:or:HOLOGOGRAPHY. This work merges the Irish poem, Oisleand by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, with an adapted translation, Island by John Montague. The Web shows us frozen screens from what is actually a dynamic process in HyperCard where letters change color. These colored texts represent the mesotics (internal acrostics) which spell out hidden Irish words from Oisleand within the English Island, and vice versa. If you have a Mac and hypercard, you can download Indra's Net at <>--you won't regret it.
  43. Jim Rosenberg, another e-poet, uses layers of text to create complex visual word symphonies in which each word is a note in the larger whole. He uses diacritical marks which replace textual transitions and connections (for example, an arrow becomes a conditional statement linking many different nouns and layers of nouns). As we swing by Rosenberg's Diagrams, Series 5,we see boxes of transparent text on top of each other so that the words are obscured. The screen looks jumbled and confused, as if someone had created transparencies of music sheets and placed them in a stack on top of each other. But don't panic. Carefully mouse over the text boxes, and one layer of text will appear at a time. Read through Rosenberg's symphony by moving through these text boxes. As you see more groups of layered text, mouse over these to find the words. As you read, you'll discover that Rosenberg's thickly layered text boxes are chords blending sounds of words into one harmonious and carefully planned whole.
  44. E-poets are not only using computers to pull new words from an existing text and juxtapose words in new ways but also to break words apart to examine their inner fundamental meanings and create new associations. Netwurker Mez, for instance, has created a unique network language system _mezangelle_, which brings together her talents as a writer and artist. As Mez explains in an interview on Rhizome, she uses a wide range of textual techniques such as punctuation, homophones, interjection, and variant spellings to infuse her language with potential meanings. Her play with language, symbols, and text evolved from e-mail's often cryptic abbreviations, and she uses mathematical terms both cryptically and subversively: "in2," for example, is the homophone for "into," but it also conveys the idea of splitting something into two parts. Her language thus incorporates mathematics, programming, and other code languages to create a language specifically for this new media.

  45. Mez also uses interjected phrases set off in brackets to convey double and triple associations. When interjecting language, "Postmaster" becomes "Post[wo]ma[n]ster"--bringing in immediate associations with gender issues and bringing out the historical associations of master, as well as hinting at other homophones such as monster. Post[wo]ma[n]ster thus takes on many more roles than a simple email address as we examine the deeper implications of mastering, monstering, and gendering the post.
  46. Mez's work, data][h!][bleeding texts, from the The Iowa Review Web, is a gentle introduction into this new playground. In her words, "These t.ex][e][ts r remnants from email performances d-voted to the dispersal of writing that has been n.spired and mutated according 2 the dynamics of an active network." The text itself then moves around on the page, with animated mutations. Mez also uses more than just the text on the computer screen. She uses animated text and images to break down the contexts of her pages. The motion and composition of the images, as well as the text, convey her meaning. For instance, a sparse grey cube surrounds her "Th[es]is Mes.sage" with the warning[:] " Please reply to Post[wo]ma[n]ster@th[es]is.message.was [hmy wurds with tractz].org if you feel this message to be in [t]error." The cube reinforces the innate fear many have towards the computer and its technology--the terror of encountering a computer error without a human around to fix it. Talan Memmott's work, Lexia to Perplexia, also plays with language in a similar way as he speaks in a melange of code and English. Also in The Iowa Review Web, this work took first place in the second trAce/Alt-X New Media Writing Competition 2001.

  47. These ways of stretching and pulling words--and pulling new words and associations out of existing words--come alive on the moving screen of a computer. A static page can only provide one view of the language, whereas these works employ moving images and moving text to show meanings that surface and resurface. Again, the possibilities for incorporating meaning in motion and in stretching words are only beginning to be explored and appreciated.

  48. Poetry that builds structures

  49. E-poetry takes advantage of much more than the expanded space available--it also works within the navigational and hypertextual structures that linking, frames, and other new Web structures provide. Many e-poems themselves have intricate structures that show how parts such as stanzas and verses relate to the whole.
  50. I would like to stop at my homepage to show how you can use poetry itself as a structure for a larger work. Disappearing Rain is a hypertext story, a mystery about Anna, a Japanese-American college freshman who has disappeared, leaving only an open Internet connection. The work has two parts, the first with eight chapters each comprised of eight sections and the second with seven chapters comprised of seven sections. The title of each chapter and each section forms a part of an overall poem superimposed onto the Japanese characters for "water" in part 1 and for "river" in part 2. For example, the titles of the eight chapters in the first part are "The word is / the sound of water / dripping from / ancient symbols / tiny particles / of merging realities." If we click on the first chapter, "The word is," we see a second poem "Knowing / lost words / drowning in / sounds which cannot / merge into meaning / the danger in / words of / melted water." If we click on one of these words, we get a corresponding section in the mystery. Thus, the poem forms a structure for navigating through a story. These haikus then bring new layers of meaning and resonances to both the series of poems and the story. My Disappearing Rain is yet another example of the way that electronic literature is merging the boundaries between word and image, poetry and fiction, until they create a unified statement.

  51. Programmed poetry

  52. Just as the computer screen allows us to integrate sound and imagery and the computer links allow us to build elaborate structures, computer programming provides dynamic pathways through works that are not possible on a piece of paper. Poets are not only teaming up with sound and imagery but are partnering with computer programs to manipulate what readers experience and where readers can go in a piece. Using scripts and computer languages, e-poets can program poems to move, offer navigational choices, and change words and images according to what the reader views--or does not view.
  53. Programs can allow for dynamic readings in which the reader's choices are tracked and the computer offers new readings based on these choices. (Web-based works typically use cookies and java-script to track where a reader has been.) Programs range in complexity from a simple one that determines what readers have seen and offers new material to more complex conditional programs that characterize the reader's choices and offer more readings adapted to the reader's taste. If a reader tends to click on the more angry or violent choices in a work, for example, then the program will begin to offer only the more angry choices--or may blank out those choices and offer only calming images to provide a counterpoint to the reader's choices.
  54. Let's drop in on the homepage of someone dedicated to programming poetry: Robert Kendall, who has created intriguing poems that use dynamic linking and programming to present a different poem nearly each time the one piece is read. He first started working with dynamic poems (poems that use software to determine what to present next) in A Life Set for Two (Eastgate Systems, 1996). This is not a Web work, and it requires Windows. When readers enter the work, they see his and her menu of choices for dinner in the Cafe Passe. This dinner between two lovers becomes a leitmotif to explore their relationship. Kendall programmed the computer to track the reader's choices and change the menu of offerings based on these choices. He says in the preface to A Life Set for Two, "Hypertext is inherently dynamic, like the subject matter at hand. . . I create the laws of physics for my little world and then let the reader set it in motion to unfold as it will." Even if a reader does not make a choice, the program will make a choice for the reader--so you can sit back and watch the relationship fall into--and out of--place. Whereas print pages are static and cannot arrange themselves to suit the reader's mood, computer screens can offer these choices.
  55. Kendall has gone on to program the Connection Muse, a java-script based system that lets writers program conditional links (i.e, if this set of conditions has been met, go to part A; if that set has been met, go to part B) and other dynamic actions. Kendall uses this system in his new poetry such as Penetration which again offers new choices every time the poem is read, creating new juxtapositions of meanings. The Connection Muse thus allows e-poets to create dynamic poetry for the Web without the pain and suffering involved in programming these conditional paths by hand. With this powerful new tool, e-poets are beginning to explore ways of navigating and manipulating poems that have never before been possible. E-poets can now create multiple meanings simply by offering different tracks through the work, although working in these new dimensions takes skill and forethought to plan out how readers will react and how the computer will react to the reader's choices.

  56. Computer-generated poetry

  57. E-poets are not only using computer programs as partners in navigating and displaying--they're also using programs as co-authors, since computer programs can create text based on pre-set vocabularies and rules. One of the earliest and most famous example is the 1984 book The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed (Warner Books, New York). The introduction claims that "[w]ith the exception of this introduction, the writing in this book was all done by computer." William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter wrote the Racter program and compiled and published the results. But there is a great deal of controversy over the Racter and similar programs regarding the extent of the computer's role in writing and the extent of the human's role in creating, interpreting, and editing these works. Are human editors choosing output based on how much sense the output makes? If so, how does the computer program differ from randomly generated text? If you have an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters, would a monkey be able to pick out Shakespeare's Hamlet or would you need a human reader to do that? Similarly, do we need human readers to determine which computer-generated pieces are actually poetry, let alone which are good poems? These are all legitimate questions which e-poetry at least has helped bring to the fore.
  58. Leaving these issues aside, some fun places to explore include the following:

    • John McDaid's Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (the disk available from Eastgate, 1990, requires HyperCard and a Mac) incorporates a "burroizer"--which mixes and matches text to derive William S. Burroughs-like sayings.

    • Peter Howard's Haiku Generator uses sets of vocabulary to automatically create haikus from one of six sets of pre-set vocabularies--some of which make profound sense and others which just teeter on the edge between sense and nonsense. I got this haiku:

      Unknown midnight calls.
      Poetry laughs and gifts talk.
      Pears twist poetry.

    • Ry Wharton's automatic writing creates some intriguing nonsense such as "every convex machine painfully seeks Robert Deniro / like some computer, she bluntly grew."

  59. These computer programs raise important questions: who is authoring the e-poem--the computer which mixes the words or the programmer who provides the words and the directions for mixing? Are all of these generated poems to be considered poetry--or do we need a human's hand to pick out the bits that make a poetical sense? Again, without the computer, we could not enter this field of programmed poetry. We owe computer writers a great deal for raising the question of author and authored, of sense and nonsense.

  60. Where to go for more

  61. Most tours are kind enough to drop people off where they first started, so that they can go home, or into the gift shop to get souvenirs for friends. However, I would like to drop you off in the middle of the computer scene (or, is that the middle of your computer screen?), so you can explore more of the incredible landscape and life forms in the e-poetry universe. I've included a map of sources you can explore on your own (many of these are listed in the tour already). Periodically checking the sites on the list below is a good way to keep up in the field.

  62. Electronic Poetry sources: Loss Glazier's Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo describes its mission as to serve "as a central gateway to resources in electronic poetry and poetics produced at the University at Buffalo." This site is dedicated to digital poetry (again, using a loose definition). Ubuweb is a resource for visual, concrete, and sound poetry, and Word Circuits is a resource for electronic writing and poetry.

  63. List groups: Several list groups for visual artists and new media poets and writers have sprung up, with attendant sites for members to place their work. The wr-eye-tings scratchpad features many experimental poems discussed on the wr-eye-tings list. And Jim Andrews' Vispo has popup poems, along with a collection from the WebArtery list.

  64. Sites that inventory: Electronic Literature Organization's Directory is a growing database of digital literature. Carolyn Guertin's Assemblage is a great list of new media works, and Marjorie Luesebrink has collated some of the best works on the Web in the The Progressive Dinner Party (April 2000) and Jumpin' at the Diner (February 2001), which originally appeared in Riding the Meridian.

  65. Web journals: In the last few years, wonderful literary journals have taken root on the Web, and many showcase the best in new media poetry. Indeed, many of the examples we toured have been featured in these journals: Alt-X Network, BeeHive, Cauldron & Net, The Cortland Review, Doc(k)s (French), the The Iowa Review Web, New River, and Riding the Meridian.

  66. Summing up new poetry

  67. There is no one summary that I can offer. I have no definitive definition--not even a characterization of the growing universe of new poetry. I will not even speculate on where these new possibilities will lead us. I can only say that we are incredibly lucky to live and to write now. Rarely have writers had so many new possibilities to explore as we now have with the computer.
  68. In the last decade, e-poetry has grown from a phenomenon with a few nuts dreaming of literary machines to a vibrant movement using imagery, sound, text, structure, flexible computer screens and programming to present an entirely new vista of associations. Just as computers grow more powerful and more indispensable, I hope that e-poetry will grow more evocative, pulling all our senses into new universes of symbiociation.

Please cite this article as Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (5),