Digital Poetry: A Look at Generative, Visual, and Interconnected Possibilities in its First Four Decades

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Funkhouser takes up the difficult task of explaining the complicated genre of digital. He includes so explains that digital poetry can not be defined by a "singular form" but that it is "a conglomeration of forms" now. This genre of poetry was shaped by poets, instillation artist, and performance artists alike. It began in the 1950s when poets began to experiment with the capabilities of the computer. They were working with these, at the time, very large and imposing machines.
"Digital poetry is not a singular "form" but rather a conglomeration of forms that now constitutes a genre even though the creative activity itself — in terms of its media, methods, and expressive intent —contains heterogeneous components." (Funkhouser) The different types of digital poetry came into fruition before the personal computer and has continued to change and morph with emergence of the World Wide Web (WWW). It was not until the creation of the WWW and the development of global networks that the production of digital poetry in all of its forms began to become more popularized.

Funkhouser provides more some historical content about the advent of digital poetry. He suggests that this type of poetry had a great range and the development ranges from one creative force to another. Some terms to describe the genre have ranged from cyberpoetry, e-poetry, and computer poetry. But it encompasses so much more. What we would normally think of as performance art has now, in some cases, been cultivated for consumption in digital form. Meaning, interaction with the multimedia art and instillations. There is not one true way to define what digital poetry/art is because it is ever evolving and as poets/artists alike continue to explore the genre the ways in which it can be defined also changes.

Computer programs have been written to write sonnets, construct Haiku, and other forms of poetry (Funhouser). The computer programs are coded to interpret center "formulas" that can produce random grouping of words to create a poem or multimedia interactive text and allow for machine-media interaction between the reader, writer, and/or audience.


Although I am a self-professed Luddite, I do appreciate the advantages that technology has allowed us to grow as a society. Before reading, and even still, reading this article I struggled with the idea of digital poetry and many of the forms in which we have seen it presented. To use a phrase so often uttered by Dr. Downing, "I am sick with Western Metaphysics." Meaning, my preconceived ideas about what poetry is continues to cloud my viewing and judgement of this medium. I see poetry as an expression formed in the mind of a poet and artist and that it is derived solely from humans and original thought. The idea/acceptance that computers and create poetry that contains the same meaning and depth continues to allude me. The creative process seems lost within the machine.

But as I re-evaluate how I think about digital poetry and meaning, I must acknowledge that there is, under the surface, a great deal of human agency that went into the creation of the the programs and programming that birthed the pieces. Without humans the machines would not exist, the text would not have been created, AND the evolution of the genre of poetry could become stagnate. The purpose of poetry, as we see it in the modern, post-modern, etc., worlds is to free thought and create a space where we limit the constraints of creativity. If I am being honest with myself, some of what I have seen in this genre does exactly that, but, again, my aversion to technology and the possibility that it will/can destroy human creativity and agency frightens me.


Do you think that poetry created by a machine has the depth of poetry constructed and created in the minds of an individual?

Do you find the genre of what constitutes digital poetry confusing or has this article given you a clarity that you did not have before?

Do you think that the code itself is the real poetry and not the words, etc. generated by it?