- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We'll start our tour with a few of these symbiociative e-poems
so we can see the relationships between imagery and text in
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Let's now stop to play at a few places:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Sound then, becomes another dimension and extension of e-poetry--a
symbiociation of meaning resonating between harmonies of the
spoken word, music, and text.
that switches genres
- 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.
- 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
game or even a political statement.
- 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
- 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
that builds communities
- 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.
- 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:
pirated deep where
the color runs
blank straw 'n'
effused to the
with cables knit
ocean .. ."
Tree adds a repeating line:
can be created from nothing in hues descending from white to
to fall back on in a real emergency
There is as much colour painted in black pigment as shines in
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
that stretches time and space
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
that shapes words
- 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 <http://www.shadoof.net/in/indown.html>--you
won't regret it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
that builds structures
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Programs can allow for dynamic readings in which the reader's
choices are tracked and the computer offers new readings based
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Leaving these issues aside, some fun places to explore include
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
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:
Poetry laughs and gifts talk.
Pears twist poetry.
Wharton's automatic writing
creates some intriguing nonsense such as "every convex machine
painfully seeks Robert Deniro / like some computer, she
- 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
to go for more
- 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.