Currents in Electronic Literacy

E-poets on the State of their Electronic Art:

Lucio Agra


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Lucio Agra, Ph.D. in Communication and Semiotics, teaches Theory of Communication courses at Fundacao Armando Alvares Penteado, Sao Paulo Brazil, and a performance course, "Communication and Body Arts," at Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo. He published "Selva Bamba" in 1994 and is preparing a new work for CD-Rom to be released next year. His research includes poetics and low tech software, particularly what "has been left behind by the computer software industry.

  1. How do you define your work--what categorizations/classifications (traditional or otherwise) would you use to distinguish e-poetry in general and your work in particular?

    E-poetry is some kind of an "umbrella name" - as we use to say it in Brazil - a name that unites, under it, a series of different forms of creating poetry by means of electronic devices, a large range that comes from analog tapes and video to digital material. For me, the term is nowadays more connected to digital poetry; nevertheless I defend the use of "electronic", for it offers a wider comprehension. I started to work with poetry using digital media because the older supports did not satisfied me anymore. Partly it was due to the possibilities envisaged by the contact with computer facilities from 1995 on. But one of the things that soon appeared to me was the radical difference between the use of computers inside a rich economy and the peripheral - so to speak - use we have in countries like Brazil. Being one that does not see it as defect - unless you see defect as effects - I always taught that this technology should be used mainly by the ones that have a verbi-voco-visual tradition (using Joyce's neologism) and here we are. But I must confess that only this year, at E-poetry 2001 conference, I was able to "test" the whole idea which is very simple: use low tech software to get high results. I am especially concerned with the junk software that is abandoned on the way to the next "scream" in techs. So, my work tries to discuss this barrier and take advantage of what is not expected in the universe of digital poetry.

  2. What are you doing in e-poetry that cannot be done in more traditional modes (such as linear paper)?

    Basically insert words in 3D ambients (using old programs to generate VRML which is distorted by more recent browsers like Cosmo Player), music and animations (trying to push the limits in programs like Power Point and Gif animators). I started this by translating a book previously written in paper to the digital media.

  3. If you "collaborate" with others (for instance, outsource particular technological aspects of a "poem"), do you feel this affects the poem's "authorship?"

    I do not think that authorship is or will be an important issue from now on. It seems to me that it is even a political demand to eliminate this kind of preoccupation in an universe where we expect to have our work cracked, transformed, mixed with others and so on. I still do not make any collaborative work in the strict sense (for example, on the Net), but not only do I find it interesting but feel a great partnership in the world of e-poetry which is difficult to find in the traditional literary ambient, which is full of political demands (in the bad sense, I mean).

  4. Who are your readers and how are you interacting with them? How is youraudience similar to and/or different from that of the traditional poet's?

    I still cannot affirm I have "readers" for my work since it is scheduled to be issued soon on CD-Rom. But my intuition is that e-poetry's public expands a certain type of behavior which is already common in the poetic milieu: that of being simultaneously a producer and a consumer. I think that the possibility to interact with the material might make some differences, as I already observed with some works nowadays in the air.

  5. What excites you about this new medium for poetry? And what particular drawbacks (if any) does working with electronic technology present?

    I think it is already a commonplace to talk about the immediacy that e-poetics provides. The possibility to change it permanently, to not have to finish it. The idea of a permanent work in progress, turning into a more profound sense the goals of modern and avant-garde poetics. For example, I started by translating Mayakovsky and concrete poetry for the new media, and perceiving that those fit the new media perfectly, that some poets of 20th century - and even before, like Baudelaire and Mallarmé - are also artists who had the vision of the future in their works. In a contemporary condition we have the chance to understand and go beyond these experiments, maybe marking the beginning of new possibilities for poetic functions (as Jakobson called it).

  6. How are you integrating/embracing other media such as sound, animation, and navigation?

    As I said before, this is a main concern for me. But - at least for the moment - I am trying to avoid being seduced by the newest technologies in animation such as Flash, Ultradev, etc. Also I do not have any skills to program. So I have to deal with what I have in hand. Navigation is a particular problem for me; that has to do with designing interfaces. I must confess I still have not yet solved it.

  7. What kind of aesthetic is emerging in the field?

    I think we are still dealing with the effects of 20th century discoveries in the poetic field. We are still looking for the traces of the new medium. But some characteristics can be identified such as immaterial (virtual, if you will) works, cross references, multiple designs and the use of no previous models of what it either visually or acoustically may be.

  8. What do you think the future holds for e-poets and e-poetry?

    Perhaps an increasing growth of cross references between works, something like a huge structure of poetic concerns. I see a definitive dissolution of genres (literally and subjective). The text that holds the arguments explaining what a work can be, in some cases, the work in itself. We will have to expand our categories of what is poetic. If it was a main concern of the 20th century (namely what is specific to poetry), now poetry is interested in what is beyond itself, being almost a certain type of communication that is always erecting new rules.

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