Poetry as a Digital Entity – Zach Nathan

In the words of Benjamin Peters, digits, or the digital indexing used by computers, is used to “count the symbolic[…] index the real, and once combined and coordinated […] manipulate the social” (3). This definition seems very similar to poetry, which uses literary devices such as imagery, metaphor, and symbolism in order to allow the reader to share an experience, memory, or situation without actually having experienced it. Much like a computer system references material and files for the user without actually having the ability to comprehend that information, poems do the same with words, shaping a reality for the reader through references to information that they can understand and relate to but have not actually experienced directly.

I am also of the opinion that poetry such as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” now exists as a digital entity as well as a physical one. Much like Manovich asserts when stating how “analog media [can be] converted to a digital representation,” (13-2) I would go a step further and say that poetry can be made entirely through digital interface. After some research, I saw that it is possible for computers to create poems that are indistinguishable from those written by humans (for examples, go to botpoet.com). Poetry, like other forms of expression, has begun moving from a physical art form to a digital one, with most authors creating their books entirely in digital format using word processors instead of writing their book contents physically first. It could be said now that any form of literature that we print out, whether it was written this year or 200 years ago, is now considered digital since anything that has become digital, even when printed in physical form, originated or was at some point transcribed into digital form.


2 thoughts on “Poetry as a Digital Entity – Zach Nathan

  1. Zach, I agree that Benjamin Peters’ words show a strong overlap between poetry and digital indexing. After going to botpoet.com, I also have to agree that has begun to move towards a digital form of expression. The art of writing a poem from scratch has been lost. As Manovich states, “a typical essay has, in some sense, a modular structure—with sections, paragraphs, sentences, and words that have a certain amount of independence and can be modified separately—one of the aims of writing an essay is precisely to reduce their independence, to tie these elements together in a sequential, logical manner.” Similarly, in the past, poetry was written using unique rhyme schemes, verses, and meter to create a unique thumb print for every poem. Recently, digital poems have lost the unique forms and gained very uniform structures.
    Although we are reading this poem on paper, it still seems digital because it is clear that the poem was formatted on a computer. Overall, I am on the same page as Zach with the points he made.

  2. Zach makes an excellent point on how poetry, like a digital system, can give the reader an experience through references that they are unable to interact with directly. Poetry, in this analogy, is perhaps even more digital than general literature and novels, because poetry uses units of stanzas, imagery, metaphor, and other somewhat representational forms to convey information, just as an online database or coding would use references, links, and binary to convey their messages. Zach also pointed out that the process of writing poetry itself has become digitized through the use of online bots.

    Adams agreed with both of Zach’s points. However, he also posited that “the art of writing a poem from scratch” has been lost due to these digital forms of writing, and that because of the digitization of poetry, poetry has lost the uniqueness and fluidity of form that it had before computerization. I would politely disagree. Long before computers, there were forms of poetry shunned by the writing community as inauthentic and unoriginal, such as blackout poetry or found (quote) poetry. Also, true poets never use online bots to write their poetry, because it would defy authorship, so writing from scratch still lives on to this day, though yes, it may be a dying breed. I would also argue that all past poetry (unless it was free verse) used “uniform structures,” like specific types of poetry (sonnets, quatrains, haikus, etc.) or even just any type of rhyme scheme, but yes, digitized sites do tend to use specific algorithms. Overall, the definition of poetry itself has always been fluid, and perhaps the new digitized poems will only add to that pool.

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