About Digital Poetry

What is digital poetry?

Instead of plain text viewed on a page or a screen, an author creates a digital poem by making use of more extensive computer capabilities. The result is a performance by the poem and an engagement with the reader/user on a screen or in person with the aid of technology, including varying elements such as images, videos, audio, animation, and game-like structures.

When did it originate?

Since the late 1950s, writers have developed this new genre that progresses alongside technology. Each phase of its evolution is tied and also limited to the progression of humans’ technical capabilities, from computer poems in the late 1950s and early 1960s to graphical and kinetic poems of the later 1960s and 1970s to hypertext of the 1980s. Today there are many types of poems on the World Wide Web.

Digital poetry includes a wide variety of creations. Editors have tried to gather some of them into collections like the first volume of the Electronic Literature Collection (depicted below).

Electronic Literature Collection Volume One

What types are there?

The following classifications are not exhaustive or mutually exclusive. This list is an attempt to cover the spectrum of digital poems:

  • generative poetry (created by programmed algorithms from bodies of texts)
  • code poetry (created for computer and human readers)
  • visual digital poetry (based mostly in images)
  • kinetic poetry (text and other elements move across the screen)
  • multimedia poetry (includes images, videos, text, audio, etc.)
  • interactive poetry (reader/user has a say in output of poem)
  • hypertext poetry (reader/user navigates a designated space by nodes and links)

What do digital poems have in common?

Digital poems have a different writer to reader relationship than printed poems. The reader often participates in the poem through interactive digital poetry. Sometimes the reader can co-author the poem by entering text or choosing the final result of a poem.

They are multi-displinary too. To create digital poems, authors often must acquire or request help from someone with design and/or programming experinece.

These poems are also constantly in flux. Many of them literally stay-in-motion as they are re-generated or added to each day. Others are in flux because of the nature of technology. As people update, some digital poems are no longer readable. Those made with Adobe Flash Player, a technology currently being phased out, are a good example.

"Birds Still Warm From Flying" by Jason Nelson

Birds Still Warm From Flying by Jason Nelson

"Arteroids" by Jim Andrews

Arteroids by Jim Andrews

Abstract

More than plain text on a screen, digital poetry is a performance and an engagement with a reader/user through text, images, videos, audio, animation, and/or game-like structures. As our technology has advanced, so has this genre evolved, now including a spectrum of sub-genres like multimedia and interactive poetry.

To explore the capabilities and value of digital poetry, I created six digital poems that capture part of the spectrum. Two I adapted from poems I’ve written previously. Two I wrote and designed for the screen simultaneously. Then I reflected on the process for both, considering how the experience might have any ramifications on my traditional writing process and more ways to integrate an art form like poetry with other disciplines.

Contact the Author

klortza@gmail.com

lortzka@bgsu.edu