Digital Poetry

Christopher Funkhouser’s “Digital Poetry: A Look at Generative, Visual, and Interconnected Possibilities in its First Four Decades”

“This chapter seeks to reveal the development, range, and construction of digital poetry, as well as what constitutes the genre.” He does achieve this goal. Funkhouser’s article, which can be found at; ” http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/index.html “, gives us a very itemized view of the world of digital poetry from its beginnings as “computer poetry” to contemporary uses and view of it.

In the first part of the article does become very detailed, making it a little difficult to read though. Without some previous knowledge of the subject, it can become a little heavy, especially when he was discussing the identification, genre and subcategories of digital poetry. However, Funkhouser does give an excellent and clear definition of what exactly digital poetry is; “Digital poetry is a term that represents a spectrum of computerized literary art that can be appreciated in the context of the poetic tradition”, allowing the reader to gain a basic understanding of the subject before he dives straight into a quite detailed description of what digital poetry actually consisted of.

He quite concisely goes through digital poetry from its beginning as “Computer poems”, which were “generated by computer algorithm, arranged as a sequence of words, or signs and symbols according to a programming code.” Once more we are faced with an abundance of computer jargon, which if, like me, you are a little hesitant in your technological terms, this can be tough to read through. It is a very interesting part of the article, however, it is somewhat technical, therefore alienating the casual reader.

There are draw backs to this computer poems; “Someone who wants the computer to write a Petrarchan sonnet, for example, and expects it to write it as well as Petrarch, is asking the machine to perform the wrong type of task.” What a computer lacks is the human factor that is required for correct lyrical poetry, showing the limitations of these computer poems. However, “Computer poems challenge and invite the reader to participate imaginatively in the construction of the text; some mock the conventions of poetry, and others reify them.” While they do have these limitations, they have many other positive points.

Funkhouser moves onto “graphic poetry”, a form that became popular from the mid 1960’s. “In contrast to works discussed above, these visual and kinetic works largely employ mutation as opposed to permutation.” This means that these graphic poems are much more flexible than the aforementioned computer poems.

“Widespread computer usage and improvements in digital systems and networks have particularly altered the disciplinary sense of what poetry can be, while intimating what the dynamics of literature may contain in the future and how it will be presented to readers.” Through digital age, contemporary poetry is slowly re-entering the literary world proper, not just sitting at the fringes, as the …”computer has presented both a puzzle and formidable sounding board for poetic ideas and articulations.”

While this was a very interesting and informative article, as I repeatedly stated during this review, it was filled with technical terms that the reader would have to have some prior experience with, or else be left in a mire  of detailed computer terminology. While I remain suspicious of the idea of digital poetry, I can see from this article that there is a great deal of potential if it were exploited correctly, and it remains to be seen what this form of digital poetry will bring to the literary world.

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