digital culture

The poetry of executable code

An executable code poem by GreyLau
An executable code poem by GreyLau

In recent years, growing interest has emerged in the relationship between poetry and computer code. A higher brow version of ASCII art, code poems draw on programming languages like Java or C++ for their formal inspiration. Since 2013, Stanford University has been running code poetry slams to explore the poetic potential of code. Participants in these competitions have explored the broadest definitions of code poetry.

Loving e-poetry

Banner from the I Love E-Poetry project

Do you ♥ e-poetry? Leonardo Flores certainly does. Flores, an associate professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, is the driving force behind the I ♥ E-Poetry project, an online scholarly compendium of electronic poetry. E-poetry is part of a growing genre of creative writing known as "electronic literature" or "e-lit." According to the Electronic Literature Organization, e-lit includes literary texts that embrace the affordances of computing or networked technologies in their composition. Examples include hypertext fiction, poetry bots, and literature composed collaboratively online.

Tweets, poems, and... kimchi?

Image of Margaret Rhee's installation "The Kimchi Poetry Project"
Margaret Rhee's installation "The Kimchi Poetry Project"

Kimchi, a Korean side dish of fermented vegetables and spices, is perhaps best known as a polarizing condiment, engendering love, hatred, and YouTube videos of screaming children trying it for the first time. It is also serves as inspiration for the work of Margaret Rhee, a feminist new media artist and scholar. In The Kimchi Poetry Project, she asks, "What feminist methods, histories, and stories can we unearth and create through the poetics of kimchi?" (Rhee, "Installation - The Kimchi Poetry Project"). Rhee's innovative work explores the possibilities at the intersections of kimchi, tweets, and poetry.

After publishing her poem "A Feminist History of Kimchi" in the anthology Conversations at the Wartime Cafe (2011), Rhee was invited to a poetry reading where she asked the audience to make "kimchi poetry" with her. The Kimchi Poetry Project was born. Rhee's participatory poetry venture includes a series of multimedia installations and objects.

ModPo overview

The final enrollment in this free, 10-week noncredit course on modern and contemporary American poetry was 42,523 in the fall of 2012, and 38,150 in the fall of 2013 and 38,800 in the fall of 2014. Contributions to the discussion forums were read (well, viewed) 957,000 times in 2012. Video recordings of collaborative close readings of poems were viewed nearly a half million times in ten weeks (in '12, '13 and '14 each). The course site remains open for those enrolled for another nine months after each session ends in mid-November. Here are some links:

1. ModPo home page (enrollments for September-November 2015 now being accepted)
2. participant reviews (CourseTalk site)
3. Facebook group: ongoing, although the course has officially ended
4. a blog created by ModPo’ers: to continue post-ModPo
5. a blogroll of ModPo students’ post-ModPo blogs
6. introductory video
7. twitter feed, ModPoPenn (ongoing)
8. ModPo YouTube channel (includes recordings of live webcast sessions)
9. blog review/update
10. another blog review
11. another blog review
12. another review
13. another review

Our nonbiological thinking

Ray Kurzweil

The “Age of Spiritual Machines” guy, Ray Kurzweil, came to Philadelphia three years after that book had come out and gave a talk to the otherwise dull two-day conference sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Kurzweil is never dull, though. Even a routine account of his presence at that 2003 confab published in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests the sort of things — e.g. machines that wrote poems — this always-ahead-of-his-time fellow had in mind. “Our biological thinking is fixed. But our nonbiological thinking will grow exponentially.”

The end of books in 1992

From Robert Coover’s "The End of Books" (June 21, 1992, NYT):

As Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry put it in the opening “directions” to their hypertext fiction "Izme Pass," which was published (if "published" is the word) on a disk included in the spring 1991 issue of the magazine Writing on the Edge: “This is a new kind of fiction, and a new kind of reading. The form of the text is rhythmic, looping on itself in patterns and layers that gradually accrete meaning, just as the passage of time and events does in one's lifetime. Trying the textlinks embedded within the work will bring the narrative together in new configurations, fluid constellations formed by the path of your interest. The difference between reading hyperfiction and reading traditional printed fiction may be the difference between sailing the islands and standing on the dock watching the sea. One is not necessarily better than the other.”

Here's the link to Coover’s article.

Scholarly uses of recordings of poets performing their poetry

A PennSound bibliography

Below is a partial list of articles that make explicit use of PennSound material (prepared by Charles Bernstein):

Christine Hume, Improvisational Insurrection: The Sound Poetry of Tracie Morris, Contemporary Literature, Volume 47, Number 3, Fall 2006, pp. 415-439 (Article)

Hank Lazer, “Is There a Distinctive Jewish Poetics? Several? Many?: Is There Any Question?” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 27, Number 3, Spring 2009, pp. 72-90 (Article) [At left: Photo of Hank Lazer reading at California State University at San Marcos, October 2008.]

Andy Weaver, Promoting “a community of thoughtful men and women”: Anarchism in Robert Duncan’s Ground Work Volumes
ESC: English Studies in Canada, Volume 34, Issue 4, December 2008, pp. 71-95 (Article)

Charles Bernstein, Objectivist Blues: Scoring Speech in Second-Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics: American Literary History, Volume 20, Number 1-2, Spring/Summer 2008, pp. 346-368 (Article)

digital monastery

Justin McDaniel, a member of the faculty here at Penn, has created a virtual archive of Thai Buddhist materials. It's called The Thai Digital Monastery and the web site is lovely--and shows the potential of this project as a virtual archive of far-off materials.

on the institutionalization of e-poetry & related topics

1. Al Filreis, "Sounds at an Impasse," Wallace Stevens Journal, special sound issue edited by Natalie Gerber, Spring 2009, pp. 16-23. [link]

2. Al Filreis, "Kinetic Is as Kinetic Does: On the Institutionalization of Digital Poetry," in New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, ed. Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), pp. 123-140.

Teaching in the "New Media" classroom

In the "is it worth it?" department

Despite great claims made for the introduction of computer and other new-media hardware and software into the classroom, and huge expenditures made by colleges and universities, 60% of the undergraduate students surveyed for a 2007 report by the Educause Center for Applied Research said that they disagreed with the statement, “I am more engaged in courses that use technology.”* The issue, of course, is not whether we should be equipping our classrooms with the necessary current tools; we should. No the issue is whether teachers feel that in such a setting the box marked "learners' engagement" has been checked.

“The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007,” September 12, 2007,

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