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  • Bionanomedia Expression
  • Chris Funkhouser (bio)
Review of: Media Poetry: An International Anthology, ed. Eduardo Kac. Chicago: Intellect Books, 2007, and Kac, Hodibis Potax. Ivry-sur-Seine (France): Édition Action Poétique, 2007.

Poetry liberates language from ordinary constraints. Media Poetry is a paramount agent in pushing language into a new and exciting domain of human experience.

Eduardo Kac, Media Poetry

Introducing Eduardo Kac’s collection Hodibis Potax, the fictional author “Philip Sidney” (identified as “Director of Thermal Ion Verbodynamics Division” in a “Department of Literary Timeshift Experiments” at an “Eternaut Training Center” in Shanghai, who refers to the artifact in hand as a “qbook”) recalls Kac wanting to send holopoems (holographically displayed poetry) towards Andromeda in 1986. Set in the future, the introduction describes the collection—a short and beautifully rendered bilingual edition of Kac’s work over the past twenty-five years—and situates his artistic output as a whole as being ahead of its time. Poetry, writes Sidney, “makes things either better than nature brings forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature” (7). For him, this trait is literally apparent in the work in Hodibis Potax (a curious title for a printed retrospective, since it is devoid of overt meaning). These playful gestures, and the lofty statements offered by Sidney with regard to Kac, are an interesting reflection—as match and counterpoint—to works presented both in this monograph and in Media Poetry: An International Anthology, an anthology Kac recently edited. Whereas Kac’s own inventions are futuristic and fanciful explorations of non-literary territory, relying on good-natured cleverness to deliver a message or concept, the poetry and poetics illuminated in Media Poetry are absolutely contemporary (often reporting on completed works), and are for the most part serious discussions of process and product.

In 1996, Kac edited a special issue of the journal Visible Language devoted to “New Media Poetry: Poetic Innovation and New Technologies.” The first anthology of its kind, it was one of the few authoritative texts about diverse global practices in digital poetry, containing many useful references to historic artworks, artists, and theories. The value of the writing and images Kac initially collected is signaled in his introduction: “The revolutionary change in writing and reading strategies new media poetry promotes,” he writes, “are likely to have a long lasting presence” (100). A decade later, Kac—now more widely known as a biological artist than a pioneering author, theorist, and curator of digital poetry—has revisited his influential (yet somewhat obscure) anthology and has published a revised edition titled Media Poetry: An International Anthology. He has also issued a partial catalog of his own artworks via Hodibis Potax. Together the two volumes intimately chronicle a trajectory of digital poetry through the lenses of major critics and practitioners, and offer an in-depth catalog of a single artist, Kac himself. Extensively updated, Media Poetry combines original content (with amendments) alongside new essays important to the study and practice of electronic literature, and proves Kac’s initial observation correct. Poetry created with computers and by other scientific means is no brief trend; this volume provides expert viewpoints on emerging media poetry practiced since before the emergence of the World Wide Web. Scholars will almost certainly use these writings to fortify discussions about the subject for years to come. Hodibis Potax complimentarily spotlights one artist’s range of elegant output in fields the anthology historicizes but can only partly divulge (e.g., Holopoetry, Digital Poetry, Biopoetry, Space Poetry).

Media Poetry is valuable both as an historical record and, as it is intended, as “a contemporary tool meant to be instrumental in the wider dissemination of the poets’ achievements—the poems” (9). The book is organized into three sections—Digital Poetry, Multimedia Poetics, Historical and Critical Perspectives—although these distinctions rather fluidly demarcate the artistic practices under investigation. A set of appendices include an up-to-date “Media Poetry Chronology,” a “Selected Webliography,” sources, and biographies. Covering past and present areas of inquiry, essays in “Digital Poetry” and “Multimedia Poetics” share practically identical approaches: the author uses her/his own artworks to explain a particular perspective on computer-based poetics. This characteristic diminishes in the...

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