Revolutionizing Art: A Case For Digital Poetry

Posted on July 25, 2012 in Culture-Vulture

By Sanchita Khurana:

Technology with its outreaching phalanges has come to pervade art and literature. With the introduction of new media, even poetry has taken a new turn. Poetry in the digital space is not only an all-new experience of the art-form, but is also a signification of the way technology could serve to equalize art for all.

Digital poetry is a multimedia hybrid-art-form, a subset of visual language fusing with digital technology, increasingly mediated by networks. Contemporary poems are animated interfaces; and they often utilize dynamic interactive typography superimposed over video, generative or 3D environments. A brief list of the disciplines involved: visual art, sound composition, literature, media studies, computer programming.

Where poetry was once an attempt at describing imagination through possible imagistic language, it has in the digital space evolved to a multimedia form inclusive of sound, movement, interaction. Where the author was once given god-like power to mold his work of art, cyberspace allows navigation through this work, possibly offering itself differently each time it is opened. Prompting participation by the reader, poetry in the digital space transforms the category of the “reader” into that of the “user”, affecting a renegotiation of spatio-temporal borders. The poem is part of the user-interface interaction, and the user is now finds himself much closer to the work of art. Once considered high-literature that could solely be read and appreciated, poetry in the new media implicates the audience within the “performance” that the poem now represents. An example of such poetry is riverIsland, the navigational poetry of John Cayley and a Flash version of it can be found here:

Of course such digitization of the poetic form has raised voices about the trivialization of a literary form. However, I think that the emerging form represents a democratization of art in some senses. As authorship is distributed among various media like sound, text, image, the hierarchy of media so prevalent in literary analyses, breaks down. As poem itself is merged with the interface, the primacy of content over form is overturned, for without the apt software required, it might be impossible to access the work of art at all. Not only are media equalized in their importance, even disciplines are de-hierarchised through the inter-disciplinary nature of digital poems.

It is in such theoretical and ideological aspects that I think digital poetry represents a revolutionizing art form. Some other digital poets, rather digital artists, are Eduardo Kac, Stephanie Strickland, Charles Olson- the works of whose are fine examples of a new understanding of poetry afforded by the specialized intermingling of new media and poetry and can be found on a number of websites.