Don’t you love the look of web pages circa 1995? I made this page, as I made all my thousands of pages from the moment Mosaic showed me the possibilities of the graphical web browser; before that, I was much enamored of the Gopher, and built an elaborate Gopher for my poetry course (English 88) and for Penn's English department, where I happened to be in the middle of a long stint as undergraduate chairperson.
Once graphical interfaces with the world wide web were semi-stable, I moved English 88 into html files (coding them myself, of course). Next year, English 88 on the web will be 20 years old but I'll feel 10 years younger than I felt just before I first realized I could share this course with anyone, anywhere, without charge.
By 1995, thanks to the late Jack Abercrombie and Susan Garfinkel, students in English 88 (virtual members and of course students enrolled in the class at Penn) could meet in PennMOO, a non-graphical/text-only synchronous chat space where, with a little training, people would “do” things, “build” things, and make projects happen. I saw a natural opportunity here for a virtual poetry slam. We built a skating rink, and almost always did a few rounds of skating before groups of us entered various chat spaces to have separate conversations about the various poems we were studying. I built an office next to the skating rink for myself, and held virtual office hours — for anyone in the world — from 11 PM until midnight on Sunday nights each week.
[Milton Resnick was a very visible & dynamic artist when we met him in the early 1960s, but beyond that he was also a persistent practitioner of poetry, less in a public sense than as a release for ideas & feelings that were a necessary supplement to his life’s work as a painter.
In our digital age, the printed book is often seen as resisting the immateriality and inauthenticity of the digital text through its “aura,” “singularity,” “authenticity,” “materiality,” and “bookness”––to cite some key terms from a conference on the future of the book that I attended last year. Even book versions that sit alongside versions in other media––what Marjorie Perloff terms “differential texts”––seem to stress the differences between the book and digital media and so each medium’s materiality.
Yet in a range of poetic practices developed in response to the age of mechanical reproduction and to our digital age, the book becomes a site for exploring––rather than resisting––reproduction and iteration. In the final posts in my “Iterations” commentary, I want to focus on the dual role of the book as both material object and copy, beginning with the work of modernists such as Walter Benjamin and Gertrude Stein before turning to some recent iterative texts that challenge the commonplace contrast between the singularity of the print and paper book object and the repeatability and mutability of the digital text.
The rise of new technologies of mechanical reproduction in the modernist period heightened attention to the book as copy, both in terms of the aura and materiality of the individual copy and as a reproduced non-original object. Gertrude Stein played with these two possible ways of looking at the book through her own press, the Plain Edition, which she used to publish a number of her works in the 1930s.
This series promotes and pursues topicsin the burgeoning field of 20th and 21st century poetics. Critical and scholarly work on poetry and poetics of interestto the series includes social location in its relationships to subjectivity, to the construction of authorship, to oeuvres,and to careers; poetic reception and dissemination (groups, movements, formations, institutions); the intersection ofpoetry and theory; questions about language, poetic authority, and the goals of writing; claims in poetics, impacts ofsocial life, and the dynamics of the poetic career as these are staged and debated by poets and inside poems. Topicsthat are bibliographic, pedagogic, that concern the social field of poetry, and reflect on the history of poetry studiesare valued as well. This series will allow Palgrave to focus both on individual poets and texts and on larger movements,poetic institutions, and questions about poetic authority, social identifications, and aesthetics.
Installment 2 of “WHY?” in which I ask certain people Why questions and they answer in 100-300 words. Beside Trisha Low, the other first person I had a Why question for was Tan Lin. I have been enthusiastic for years about his genre-diffusing, multi-platformed work under the auspices of poetry. For the last several years each new work from Lin operates like a "demo" that stages an exchange between various genres and platforms.