- Demystifying the Digital, Re-animating the Book: A Digital Poetics
There is no single epigraph that can suitably frame this review of Loss Glazier’s Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm. Loss Glazier’s 2003 collection of poetry is simply too variable, straddling well-established print poetry practices (ranging from the work of the Objectivists to language poetry to so-called post-language poetry) and the still supple practice of digital poetry (ranging from generated, hypertext, kinetic, and codework poems). Even the book’s representation of “Loss Glazier” is malleable as the author repeatedly puns on “loss” to the point of effacing Loss altogether—“Loss Glazier” is anything from simply “glazier at ak-soo” (27) to a “loss” who “is mired in some kind of rhyme / game” (44) and who “picks / city for final drawn out stanzas” to call it “Leaving Loss Glazier” (64). Just as confounding is the “real” Loss Glazier whose poems move between English, Spanish, and computer languages and who founded and directs the Electronic Poetry Center—a poetry resource equally committed to digital poetry, print-based contemporary poetry, new media writing, and literary programming.
Likewise reflecting these hybridities and border-crossings, Glazier’s 2001 Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries is, as the title implies, a critical work as well as a statement of poetics that ought to be read alongside Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm. On the one hand Glazier’s critical work is an important attempt to forge a thoroughgoing theoretical framework to account adequately for digital poetry; on the other hand his critical work is also fundamentally inseparable from his creative work. Taking after Charles Bernstein’s A Poetics and Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, his books comment on each other, quote from each other, expand on and digress from each other in ways that make it impossible to ignore the fact that Glazier’s whole work to-date represents a lucid, coherent, and clearly articulated project.
As Sandy Baldwin puts it in his review of Digital Poetics in Postmodern Culture, Glazier attempts to position digital poetry as a form of poiesis in order to broaden “the scope of poetic innovation and raise the question of ‘What are we making here?’” Baldwin also claims that the value of Digital Poetics lies in its attempt to “grasp the textuality of e-poetry in the antique textuality of the book.” Such an attempt means, first of all, de-mystifying the digital as either an ideal medium for those poets who still adhere to Pound’s dictum to “make it new” or as a far-from-ideal medium which threatens to ruin reading and writing as we know it. Effectively sidestepping either extreme, Glazier combines the aesthetics and politics made familiar by Bernstein and Howe with a critical approach to new media art articulated by critics such as Espen Aarseth, Johanna Drucker, and Lev Manovich—all of whom look retrospectively at print texts through the lens of the digital—to argue that the digital shares an emphases on method, visual dynamics, and materiality with twentieth-century print-based poetry. For Glazier, a digital poet like Simon Biggs, for instance, uses to similar effect the same text-generating methods based on combinatory mathematics that are also used by print-based poets Louis Zukofsky, John Cage, and Jackson MacLow.
However, what is new about digital writing, according to Glazier, is the materials and processes it offers—materials that make possible the ability to generate text from a vast and complex array of sources, to transform flip-books and concrete poems into kinetic poems, to create extensive hypertextual works and processes to make poetry that may now include computer languages, unix processes, and computer errors. As he puts it in an endnote to “The Parts,” the title poem in the first of three sections comprising Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm: “In these poems, I was motivated by the new possibilities of the medium, driven by the difficulties of casting words in the pre-web digital environment, excited by their transmissibility, and influenced by the vocabulary of early technology: mark-up conventions, network protocols, and computer code...