[iDC] Report on ePoetry 2007, Paris.

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Fri May 25 00:20:37 EDT 2007

Thank you Simon for your thoughtful and exhaustive report on the 
ePoetry conference, which I for one did not attend. In point of fact, 
having read your report, I think it would have driven me insane to have 
been there as my tolerance for poet-academics discussing academic 
poetry is very, very low. There may be, I admit, a few legitimate poets 
who are also professors, but they are so few as to be negligible, and 
it is a certainty, in my opinion, that at a conference such as the one 
you describe, the vast majority of the discussions were derivative and 
banal, as the vast majority of academic discussions related to poetry, 
e or otherwise, invariably are. Certainly it didn't sound to me that at 
any time during this event you or anyone else in the event got an 
erection, or laughed, or cried, or broke a law, or a jaw, or saw stars, 
or scars, or a self (or many selves) truly transformed.

But I do think you raise a few points worth riffing on...

You refer to Messa di Voce (not part of ePoetry 2007) as more or less 
having set the standard for a certain direction in interactive 
e-poetry. Now I haven't seen the piece live, but I've watched the 
videos online many times and as much fun as the work is to look at, and 
as much fun as it would surely be to play with in person, and as cool a 
bit of programming as it is, I don't think that it enhances the poetic 
power of Jaap Blonk and/or Joan LaBarbera, who are really just goofing 
around in that piece as compared to the poetic intensity of their 
'real' work. Which is not to dis Messa di Voce in  any way, and 
certainly not to dis Blonk or LaBarbera. On the contrary. I love the 
piece and I love them, but it puts the voice at the service of the 
image and that's always bad for the poem as word, just as music 
inevitably turns poetry into lyrics, which is at once both poetically 
empowering and disempowering in different ways.

You do address this problem in your essay:

> Specifically, and of particular relevance to ePoetry, text is under
> threat from the multicultural visual pidgin we are now all familiar 
> with
> from television, advertising, airports and environments where diverse
> peoples come together. This is a pidgin that is largely pictographic 
> and
> iso-semiotic in its sign structure. A new hermeneutics thus arises 
> where
> this pictographic pidgin supplants text, evolving towards a reductive,
> isomorphic, non-abstract and semiotically debilitated language field.


yeah the semioitically debilitated language field is a concern for sure
but there is an upside to the disruption of textopia
and that is precisely the dismissing of hyper-rationalist poetic 
discourse, thanatos-theory and poetry embedded in linear literature
the end of peer-reviewed poetry papers
a return to poetry as process, as purposeful poiesis
as doing and making and sharing and shit-disturbing and magic-making
it's in the neo-orality of the eworld that the real potential lies

but where the hell do you find real chinstubblebristling poetry in the 
ePoetry universe?
where would housman be hunting?
i know that in the non e poetry world, that is to say in the material 
world, i look to performance poets who push themselves really, really 
i look to mentors like paul dutton and john giorno and guillermo 
goméz-peña and jayne cortez
to the last poets, to hiphop and dub, first nations poets like 
jeannette armstrong
and to the technicians of the sacred
as jrothenberg one of the few real poet profs called traditionalist 
poets in oral cultures
but in the eworld?
it's still never happened for me
i've never found a poem that is a better poem
or a poet that is a better poet
by virtue of the introduction of an interactive digital element
except for sampling maybe - which has reshaped the aural universe
where would we be without Chuck D?
these days we all love mashups that create new from old
what about FinalScratch? Is that ePoetry?
is Kid Koala the great ePoet of our age?

i like what erik belgum, for one, does with digital cutups of stories
a decade ago my poet-trio AWOL Love Vibe released a CD of poems made 
only of our own sampled, looped and spoken voices
like this one: Internet Jet Set, entirely improvised: 
not that this hadn't been done before or since but it may count as 
ePoetry in some way

and i had great fun with a little word-spraying app called nozzle some 
years back too
actually, come to think of it, that's one interactive app that took 
poems and made something more of them
even though it was basically just an organic tool for creating concrete 
(samples of my nozzle poems here: www.johnsobol.com/nozzle.html)
nifty and fun but hardly a revolution
anyone know who created it? I never was able to find it again after I 
downloaded it.

but, given what I presume to be the goal of ePoetry 2007 - to identify 
and celebrate and nurture poetry's efflorescence in the digital sphere 
– the question is: what can we expect? More techno-baby steps? More 
conference badges? Or will there be a great poetry hope in the neo-oral 
ePoetry sphere sometime soon? Something special that will grab us by 
the short hairs and make us squeal with fear, desire and insight? Will 
it be an app or a language or a collective or a performer or a cult or 
a show or a band or a networked gasp or tragic machine code or a 
building that preaches or a singing canoe created by an Inuit, a child, 
an octogenarian, a walrus avatar? Surely we are dreaming ePoetry dreams 
beyond the peer-reviewed universe?


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