What Is E-Poetry?

wordlepuddleWhat is E-Poetry?

The tl;dr version: E-poetry is poetry that arises from an engagement with the possibilities offered by digital media. This site is full of examples, but here’s a simple one: “Puddle” by Neil Hennessy.

Now try printing it out. 🙂

For a more detailed response, I will reference my “Digital Poetry” entry for the Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media which I begin by discussing what e-poetry is, and what it isn’t.

Digital poetry is a poetic practice made possible by digital media and technologies. A genre of electronic literature, it is also known as electronic poetry or e-poetry. The technologies that shape digital media are diverse, rapidly evolving, and can be used to such different effects that the term has expanded to encompass a large number of practices.

Digital poetry isn’t simply poetry written on a computer and published in print or on the Web. The most common use of the computer in the creation of poetry is as a word processor, which “remediates” the typewriter in its capabilities. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin coined the term of *remediation to explain the process of representing an old medium in a new one (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 45). Using a word processor to write a poem doesn’t necessarily make the result a digital poem because this kind of software is designed primarily to produce printed copies. As an inscription technology it still leaves a mark on a poem, partly in the composition process, and partly in how a poem looks, because it provides a diverse palette of formatting elements and language tools. N. Katherine Hayles distinguishes electronic literature from contemporary works designed with computers for a print publication paradigm, “More than being marked by digitality, electronic literature is actively formed by it” (Hayles 2008, 43).

The entry discusses and incorporates several other definitions, including Loss Pequeño Glazier’s discussion of digital poesis in his field-defining book Digital Poetics: “The poet thinks through the poem. Similarly, investigated here is not the idea of the digital work as an extension of the printed poem, but the idea of the digital poem as the process of thinking through this new medium, thinking through making. As the poet works, the work discovers.” And as Christopher Funkhouser established in his book Prehistoric Digital Poetry, e-poetry’s history is imbricated with that of the digital computer.

In addition to fine-tuning the definition to account for different conceptions of poetry, textuality, and media, the entry offers a history of e-poetry and discusses the following genres:

  • Generative poetry is produced by programming algorithms and drawing from corpora to create poetic lines. This is the oldest e-poetic genre and remains relevant today through e-literary genres like the bot.
  • Code poetry is written for a dual audience: computer and human readers.
  • Visual digital poetry arises from Visual, Concrete, and Lettrist poetic traditions and is extended by
  • Kinetic poetry, which uses the computer’s ability to display animation and changing information over time.
  • Multimedia poetry incorporates audio, video, images, text, and other modes of communication in its strategies.
  • Interactive poetry incorporates input from the reader in the e-poem’s expressive strategies.
  • Hypertext poetry uses nodes and links to structure the poem into spaces for the reader to explore.

The best way to understand e-poetry is to explore I ♥ E-Poetry and read from its catalog of over 650 entries on individual works, genres, poets, publications, technologies, and trends. See the featured resources in the top menu to get a sense of areas which we’ve explored in depth, or look through the categories menu in the sidebar, which lists all the terms in the taxonomy we’ve developed. You can also use our A to Z index by title or explore our author index (alphabetical by first name) in the sidebar.

And keep an open mind because traditional (print-based) literacy and literary education have not prepared you well to grasp works that embrace the capabilities of digital media. But I ♥ E-Poetry will.

Works Cited

Bolter, J. David, Richard Grusin, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding new media. Mit Press, 2000.
Flores, Leonardo. “Digital Poetry” in Ryan, Marie-Laure, Lori Emerson, and Benjamin J. Robertson, eds. The Johns Hopkins guide to digital media. JHU Press, 2014.
Flores, Leonardo. I ♥ E-Poetry. 2011-present.
Funkhouser, Christopher. “Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms.” Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ELMCIP REPORT (2007).
Glazier, Loss Pequeño. Digital poetics: The making of e-poetries. University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Hayles, N. Katherine. “Intermediation: The pursuit of a vision.” New Literary History 38.1 (2007): 99-125.