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Computer poetry pushes the genre envelope

What happens to poetry in the Digital Age? In one of the first academic works in the field, Swedish researcher Maria Engberg has studied how the ability of the computer to combine words, images, movement, and sounds is impacting both writing and reading.

The dissertation, to be publicly defended on September 14, has been jointly submitted at Uppsala University and the Blekinge Institute of Technology.

“The way digital poetry experiments with language raises questions and challenges conceptions of literature that were formed by printed books,” says Maria Engberg, who has examined what this entails for literary scholarship.

She has analyzed works by English-speaking poets such as John Cayley, Stephanie Strickland, and Thomas Swiss. The focus is on space, time, movement, and word and image constructions. The poems were written, or rather created, with the help of computer technology and published on the Internet or CDs, for instance. Some of the works can be experienced as three-dimensional installations, created in space using so-called vr-cubes and augmented-reality environments. Maria Engberg examines how the forms of the poems construct different reader roles that challenge traditional views of poetry and reading, formed by the visual conventions of the printed page.

“Reading becomes one way to use the poem, and the reader becomes an active co-player. But the poems can also eliminate that possibility, leaving the reader to be a viewer looking at the digital poem, which, like a poetic film, blends words, images, sounds, and movements into a whole,” she explains.

In recent years literary research has come to focus more and more on visual forms, and digital poetry brings to a head this concern with the visual. How should we examine, analyze, and interpret literature that violates the boundaries between genres? In relation to this issue Maria Engberg also discusses the materiality of literature, that is, its medium, visual appearance, and cultural context. This can involve questions regarding the importance of the appearance and placement of letters, or how music and words interact.

“For instance, how do we read a poem whose verses are obscured by images of stars and constellations?”

Johanna Blomqvist | alfa
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