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?
My work has many sides. I
write and perform poetry, I create videos of others' poems,
and I have produced new media elements for others' performance
poetry work for stage. I produce and direct 2-way videoconferences
featuring poets in Chicago linked to other cities such as
Vancouver, Seattle, and London. I've produced link-ups in
the past with cities, too, such as Boston, Los Angeles,
and Cambridge, England.
As a director for the e-poets
network, I collect spoken word (often poetry) performed
by its creators, build Web sites that frame their work in
creative and (I hope) critical terms, and develop ways of
sharing texts side-by-side with poetry video and audio poetry.
I've also curated programs featuring poetry in film, video,
and audio. (See http://www.e-oets.net/geo02/
With such scattershot activity,
I'm not sure there is a comprehensive term for who I am
or what I do. I call myself a new media poet, a term I coined
locally that others have since picked up as their own, usually
with their own spin.
are you doing in e-poetry that cannot be done in more traditional
modes (such as linear paper)?
I think that e-poetry (a term
that itself remains a little vague to me, even as I work
in it) exceeds paper in its ability to relate time.
I take issue with the term
"linear paper". Paper is itself non-linear, because
nothing but culture obliges us to read the top of a page
before the bottom, to read a book starting at page one.
A recording, however, is quite linear and bound to a timebase
Some people have said that
I am attracted to new media poetry because I relish the
ephemeral, but I read "ephemeral" more as something
that can escape between our fingers, less sublime and more
at risk of being lost. By putting text and speech side-by-side
on the Web, I'm combatting spoken word's dismissal as ephemeral,
versus print's durability and heretofore unchallenged critical
supremacy, by putting spoken word into a medium where it
can be indexed, quoted, and critiqued just as readily as
text. I would like to see an understanding of spoken/performed
poetry rise to a level on par with the critique of text.
Further, e-poetry can synthesize
language and phenomena on linguistic terms-present the thing
itself instead of the word for the thing in many cases-and
make a stronger case for a message in the process. It's
not enough for me to lift the language of Oliver North to
portray a villain, for example, but to actually use public
domain recordings of his Iran-Contra testimony to demonstrate
villainy. That is an object that new media poets may handle
as easily as a word or a phrase. So I begin to appropriate
life as language, gather the phenomena around me and invoke
them as words, as needed, for a given e-poem.
you "collaborate" with others (for instance, outsource particular
technological aspects of a "poem"), do you feel this affects
the poem's "authorship?"
Yes. Authorship matters much to me. The significance has
evolved from my appreciation of new media poetry (or e-poetry,
if you will).
I have a working model for
the construction of literature. It's not for everybody,
and I expect it's a rather private model. But it's handy.
It structures the text as the key informant of an aesthetic,
but places the aesthetic at the top of the structure, such
that other elements like sound and image draw their informance
directly from the aesthetic. Individual elements may cross-inform
each other, too. But, as the bible goes, "In the beginning,
there was the word..."
I've investigated a lot of
other technologies besides text because I've realized that
changing an image/sound/gesture impinges upon the words
with which it's juxtaposed. So authoring an image is also
authoring the context and connotation of a word. If that's
not relevant to writing, what is?
A number of other writers have entrusted their language
to me, and I'm proud of that. It doesn't mean they haven't
been nervous about collaborating with me, even though we've
become good friends. I attribute most of their nerves to
not having control in image and sound - that same authoritative
control they have in text.
I've yet to put my own language
in the hands of other people beyond a mere stage setting.
So I identify with author's jitters. No one else has cut
a video of my poetry, or made a Web site of it, and next
to no one has set it to music. It's not necessarily for
lack of opportunities, as I feel that since I have those
prerogatives over language I should try to exercise them.
That would be my fullest expression of authorship.
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?
My readers seem to be all over the place. The Web really
has become my oyster, in that I can access people all over
the world and not have to dumb down my language in the process.
It's been really fulfilling to discover that, as a curator
of much spoken word on e-poets.net, people have a natural
interest in poetry from Chicago. It's a privilege to represent
such poetry to the world. I interact largely through the
Web, but I do get direct feedback from people about my videos,
too. While most of the dialog is local, the most interesting
bits seems to come from overseas, where cultural frontiers
have more meaning.
The Web makes my situation
different from traditional poets' because I must be cosmopolitan
if I'm not to be solipsistic. Yet I shouldn't really shed
my regionalisms, either. Geography and local culture drive
my identity, and so to admit the world wholesale into my
personal critique is an ecological mistake. What I've had
to do is to learn balance between the tensions of local
v. global, to listen to the world on one hand, and to respond
through my truer self.
That said, I've seen traditional
poets attempt to put the Web to use as I've done, and a
few have made some horrible mistakes verging on crime (no
exaggeration). Such experience has taught me about the practical,
critical, and legal aspects of representation. My salvation
has been in applying the Web with a full conscience. I've
had to build better journalistic skills. I've had to learn
about other people as an anthropologist would. I've had
to take on lit' crit' more fully, instead of sitting back
and simply writing what I will.
So I regard publishing poetry
on the Web as a higher-stakes game than with a xerox'd zine.
For a photocopied broadside, libel is a "who cares?"
proposition. Online, though, anybody can read it, including
lawyers. From the start, my interaction with the audience
has been on much more professional terms. I feel this is
an all-or-nothing proposition. Either publish it competently
and ethically, or relegate yourself to vanity publishing
or the Web's yellow press.
excites you about this new medium for poetry? And what particular
drawbacks (if any) does working with electronic technology
I don't want to be too blase' about it, as I consider myself
natively digital. But I am becoming weary of the hype around
the new media. Yes, I've used it to appeal to the public's
medicine show jones, how people want a world's fair effect
to permeate the work. Guilty as charged . . . but you do
these things to attempt to format what you're doing to fit
their innate understanding of it.
But I'm wary of people who
are always just a bit polemical about new media poetry.
OK . . . It exists. Let's work with it. It's not such a
Let me spell this directly:
In high school, my curriculum included two years of Spanish,
some creative writing, advanced English composition, one
year of COBOL, and two years of Fortran IV. Not shown on
the transcript would be a lot of basement hacking with TTL
and CMOS circuits, to build my own ALU and sundry waveform
synthesizers. I had written my own random poetry generator
by 1973, and graduated in 1976.
Novelty about the confluence
of digital media and language is at this point getting a
bit tired. There are drawbacks to using new media. I'm poor
most of the time, because the new media are capital intensive.
I've worked two jobs sometimes, and just to make a show
go. And not again . . . My health began to sink when I did
that in the early 90s, when I should have been at my physical
I'm a little distracted, too,
as a writer. I've seen younger writers than me rise to recognition
it's taken me much longer to reach, but then they've never
necessarily had to entertain media literacy or the backing
technology as deeply as I have. If I had three lives to
live in parallel-one each as technologist, philosopher,
and artist -- I like to think I'd have been just as far
How are you integrating/embracing other media such
as sound, animation, and navigation?
It's all native. See above.
Poetry video. Telepresent performance. Web-published poetry.
kind of aesthetic is emerging in the field?
Having crossed paths with the
Unknown (Rettberg, Gillespie, et al.), I see much promise
in hybridizing performance with hypertext, such that the
audience has a much fuller interaction with the text. Though
they are a little naive as readers, the Unknown perform
from a really professional text. It's entirely effective,
and I enjoy it a lot. But I'd like to bring fuller theatrical
craft to bear upon such hypertext, and see what fruits the
medium will bear . . . add sound, images, stagecraft. What
would that be? Hypertheater?
But overall, there is no aesthetic,
per se. I see threads, but nothing comprehensive. Most of
the new threads I'm aware of are developments from direct
technological innovations, and so bear a somewhat McLuhanistic
personality. That doesn't interest me. What excites me more
are the works by those whose exercises aren't merely technological
demos. When native speakers use the language, things get
much more interesting. I'm just consoling myself that this
may take much more time than any of us had imagined.
Let me draw an analogy: Last
night I saw Laurie Anderson in performance. She did "O
Superman (for Massenet)," and of course it drew hearty
applause. The piece is a poem, a song, a performance artwork,
and a few other kinds of art at one stroke. Last night,
it was particularly a song.
The digital speech processing
unit that Anderson used was particularly new when she premiered
"O Superman . . ." So the piece had a fresh feel
. . . back then. Now? It's not so new. But we still hear
the piece with the same ears from back then, and so a 20-year-old
song is still fresh. The novelty of the past evokes nostalgia
Others since, however, have
tried vocoders [a vocoder is a device which electronically
combines the human voice with an electronic sound source
to render the voice as an electronic/human hybrid] and whatnot
to alter their voices, and they've tended to sound like
crap or, at the very least, sound derivative. So there's
a narrow time boundary after the advent of a technique or
technology when the use makes us more aware of the art.
After that, it dulls us. Everyone adapts. It's all about
the considered application of novelty. But even before Anderson,
somebody had to take the idea that a signal-processed voice
would be interesting at all, engineer the tools to render
it, and try out such a voice so that it would have aesthetic
relevance. Vocoders don't just happen on their own.
Right now, we're surrounded
by several "vocoder" categories in new media poetry.
I'd say the most prominent are Flash/DHTML, the more purist
(essentialist?) kinds of hypertext, and poetry webradio.
Floppy-disk based literature is dead, though. And while
CD- or DVD-based works are emerging, like Geniwate's "Nepabunna,"
hard media don't figure into the trend overall. Networked
media seem to be the destination of choice, both for the
audience and the artist. Even Geniwate has a Web-friendly
edition of her title. People are finding their way through
these phenomena to see what helps them and what doesn't.
I take a long view of it all.
I see myself and my peers as the vocoder engineers, the
first people out there making the mistakes so that others
can follow in our wake and become the stars. We wish them
well! (And hope to live long enough to see something come
of our own excursions into e-literature.)
do you think the future holds for e-poets and e-poetry?
The future holds an awful lot
of promise, but I keep a guarded sense of promise. As I
said, I'm wary of polemics of any kind. I've seen the public
become rapt and then burn out on slam poetry, so I'm not
about to squander the second chance life has afforded me,
as a contributor to the growing e-literature wave. I want
this wave to last, to feed the audience, and not feed upon