Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review of Digital Poetries by Loss Pequeno Glazier

This is a review that I did for my class on digital literature. The book is from 2003, but it is still quite relevant. I have been trying to locate the avant-garde in poetry and it turns out is in digital lit.

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Where are the newest poetic and literary avant-gardes? Where will the newest, most innovative poetries come from? You may or may not realize it from the title, but Loss Pequeno Glazier’s Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries makes it clear that some of the most avant-garde poetry to come in the foreseeable future will in fact be from online/digital poetry sources. It would seem that Glazier would know, since one of his dissertation advisers was Charles Bernstein, co-founder of the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) at SUNY-Buffalo (with Glazier himself) and a prominent member of the LANGUAGE Poets. His other two dissertation advisers, Susan Howe and Robert Duncan, are also well-known avant-garde poets, thus solidifying Glazier’s own credentials. If you further look at the Works Cited list and the index, which I almost always do before I actually sit down to read the book, it reads like a who’s who of the past 30-40 years of experimental poetry, with a special emphasis on the LANGUAGE poets with a little Beatnik and New York School mixed in as well as some leading scholars and theorists, including Ted Berrigan, Bernstein, Christian Bok, Caroline Bergvall, Johanna Drucker, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson MacLow, Charles Olson, Marjorie Perloff, etc. Glazier uses epigrams and quotes from these and other poets and theorists, particularly from the late 19th century and beyond, to put them in conversation with each other as much as simply using them for references to support his own points.

Right away, in the first end note to the entire book, Glazier makes his bias known and provides the basis for why he is dealing only with “innovative poetry.”

“In general, the term ‘poetry’ is used in this volume to refer to practices of innovative poetry rather than to what might be called academic, formal, or traditional forms of poetry.” (181)

One aspect of this book that makes it recognizable as avant-garde is the language of manifestos and treatises, the former which are intimately associated with avant-gardes. In Chapter One, “Jumping to Occlusions, a Manifesto for Digital Poetics,” Glazier continues to explain why “innovative poetry” should be the basis for comparison with digital poetry. “Numerous poets working within innovative practice,” he explains, “have explored language as a procedure to reveal the working of writing” (32). Already going deep underneath the mere tricks and decorations of poetry to reveal how we think within writing, poets coming from these kinds of structuralist and even post-structuralist positions have already been looking at the architecture of poetry and thought and have already been theorizing the way that poetry is received and processed. They are the perfect writers to take poetry deep into hyperspace, responding to the ways that readers, particularly those raised with computers, can and do interact with digital text.

Later on in the text, Glazier cites digital theorist N. Kathryn Hayles and writer Robert Coover, who to refer to print as “first wave hypertext,” and “graphical” poetry as “second wave hypertext” (173), making it clear that this refers not to text-heavy webpages, but to books, referring to such writers as Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, and others as having created “hypertexts that predate the microchip” (173).

Glazier also introduces the reader to new terms, a new language, with words like grep and chmod , computer lingo, which sound like words of the futuristic cartoon world of the Jetsons or to be more literary, the past literary world of Dadaism. If you follow some links online from chapter one, you will get some of Glazier’s own poetry which will remind you of the huge debt that digital poetry owes to Dadaistic collage and to visual poetry. In this way, digital poetry, particularly “early” digital poetry, is really just built on a new platform, but may or may not be all that “new.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that there are other platforms that have drawn attention to the materiality of language and changed the way we create and write poetry, including the typewriter (which eventually led to the “mimeograph revolution” in the 1960s and 70s), the computer (which brought about the desktop publishing or “Pagemaker revolution” as he calls it), and even the original printing press itself.

Chapter four is entitled “The Intermedial: A Treatise.” Intermedia was a term coined by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in his “Intermedia Chart,” which describes and visually represents many avant-garde artistic and literary movements and the ways in which they overlap. While Glazier’s treatise deals more with the actual ways in which media mesh “between page and code” (70), he does also give credit to Higgins and his Fluxus “cohort” in chapter seven, “E-poetries: a Lab Book of Digital Practices, 1970-2001.” He talks about Emmett Williams, who worked in concrete poetry and was himself linked with Fluxus “with its emphasis on the merging of art and life and on intermedia” which makes it a “significant predecessor to web writing, especially in its concerns with multiple media,” (Rothenberg and Joris, qtd in Glazier 127).

Glazier also establishes his credentials not only through poetry, but by using nitty gritty computer language to describe how digital poetry is created. This is not only talking the talk, but he walks the walk by having extensive sections about the basic programming language: how hypertext works, discussions of UNIX as the underlying computer language of digital poetry, and much more. In this way, the book functions as a how-to manual as well as a scholarly examination of the field. The book represents poetry, particularly digital poetry, as both a form and a doing, between a noun and a verb, between the thing written and the transmission. There are footnotes directing readers to electronic versions of certain chapters as well, such as in “Jumping to Occlusions, a Manifesto for Digital Poetics.” That webpage looks like an ordinary Wikipedia page, with pictures and hyperlinks, but it lacks any of the jumps or moving text that are so common in digital poetry.

In fact, while I appreciated the dual nature of this book, visually it is a bit uneven. There are frequently huge blocks of text that are broken up by font, to indicate that now he’s talking about poetry and now he’s talking about computers. With the intensely visual nature and promise of digital work, and with so many new forms of layout available to publishers than there were 50 years ago, it seems that this book could have done better in distinguishing the text for both—possibly having the two parts of chapters laid out vertically or horizontally, having some of the text offset in boxes and sidebars, which textbook publishers have been doing for a long time, having one text in black and the other in gray, etc. Poetry has always been a visual medium and it seems that a book about digital and avant-garde poetry could have embodied that ethos a little better. Chapters that do integrate text and image or visual layout well to some degree are “Home, Haunt, Page,” “The Intermedial,” and “Coding Writing, Reading Code.”

All in all, this is a deceptively dense book, full of poetic as well as technological information and bridging the divide that can exist between techies and poets. There is a belief that those are two ends of a spectrum that cannot meet up, technology (science) and poetry (rampant creativity). The fact that Glazier is well-versed, so to speak, in both, proving that the two can be complimentary. If, as Wittgenstein said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” then it is important that our world, as poets, be expanded to include the digital.

Works Cited

Glazier, Loss Pequeno. Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Print.

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