This past summer I had the luxury of indulging in every passing intellectual whim (learning Processing, playing with old Commodore 64s, learning about typography, reading every digital poem I came across, etc.) at the same time as I tried to assimilate these nearly absurdly diverse interests into a coherent book project. I thought I would briefly post on what I’m loosely clustering together under the category of digital poetry or digital poetry-precursors that may be called concrete/kinetic/cinematic poetry and typography. To that end, while driving from Boulder, Colorado to Edmonton, Alberta I finally read – from cover-to-cover – Emmett Williams’ An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, published in 1967 by Something Else Press. What a collection of astonishing works that can serve as a kind of laboratory for exploring or thinking through what’s gained and lost when a bookbound poem evokes or imitates movement and when a digital poem in fact moves.
For example, “VELOCIDADE” by Ronaldo Azeredo (1957) includes commentary by Haroldo de Campos who writes “The Futurists tried to paint motion. It was an iconic motion, imitative of reality…Azeredo’s poem has a different purpose: its dynamic structure moves—and by itself.” But what does it mean for a structure to move “by itself”? Is it that any repeating pattern is a kind of movement that does not necessarily need to involve actual kinesis?
It seems that Ernst Jandl would say “yes” as he introduces his 1964 untitled poem by declaring “This poem is a film” and not “this poem is like a film.”
Or there’s Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Semi-idiotic poem” which Williams informs us is a “contribution to the semiotic or code-poem genre invented by Decio Pignatari and Luiz Angelo Pinto.” Am I alone in my naïve belief that “code-poem” was a term that emerged out of the digital poetry practices of those such as Alan Sondheim, Mez Breeze et al? What does it mean that, in Florian Cramer’s words, “‘mezangelle’…uses elements of programming language syntax as material” whereas Finlay’s “Semi-idiotic poem,” presumably a code-work equal to any written in Mezangelle, seems to literalize this focus on matter and materiality by presenting us with a poem of non-semantic symbols? Is it possible that code-poems or code-works are the one genre not in the least affected by their medium of presentation?