“There’s something quite beautiful in seeing how a poem can be made to move, not just through time as you’re reading it, but also visually across the page.”

— Ana Maria Caballero

In our digital era, digital and visual poetry offer new paths for poetic expression, underscoring the dialogue between our time and technology. Echoing T.S. Eliot’s idea of poetry as an emotional escape, they provide an innovative departure from tradition and a venture into fresh creative territories.

Digital poetry, a blend of language, bits, and bytes, exemplifies our tech-influenced society. It harmonizes the rhythm of words with the technological pulse, creating a novel synergy of the poetic and the digital. Visual poetry, meanwhile, extends the poetic journey to our visual perception. Building upon William S. Burroughs’ idea of words as viruses, it infects not just the mind but the sight, transforming text into tangible shapes.

This exploration invites both newcomers and experts to traverse this digital-visual poetry landscape. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision — a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” 

So let’s set off on this exploration, bearing the necessary bread of curiosity in our pockets.

Understanding Digital and Visual Poetry

Digital poetry blends human and computer languages in a novel fusion. It’s no longer bound to the printed page, but flourishes dynamically, as seen in generative poems such as Lai-Tze Fan and Nick Montfort’s Dial. The remixing concept in digital poetry provides interactive exploration, as shown in Montfort’s generative poem, Taroko Gorge, which spurred a flurry of remixes from various poets.

Visual poetry harnesses the synergy of text and imagery. Though not new—think William Blake’s engraved poems—digital technologies breathe new life into this form, allowing for vibrant digital embellishments.

Happiness by William Blake

Digital poetry interacts with other digital forms too, like gaming, as exemplified by Jason Nelson’s game, game, game, and again game. Further, code poetry, at the junction of poetry and programming, uses computer language, needing coding understanding for full comprehension, and symbolizes the diversity of digital poetry.

Visual poetry prompts demonstrate its workings, showcasing the use of diagrams, spatial dialogues, letterforms as visual objects, visual event scoring, and asemic writing to blur the line between language and visual art.

Digital and visual poetry, more than mere extensions of traditional poetry, are innovative forms that reflect our evolving interaction with language and technology. They show that poetry, like language, is a dynamic medium that continually adapts and inspires.

A still from game, game, game, and again game (2007) by Jason Nelson.

The Intersection of Digital and Visual Poetry

The fusion of poetry and visuals, dating back to William Blake’s engraved artwork, has been reinvigorated through digital technologies. Qianxun Chen’s Shan Shui, generating a new poem and corresponding traditional Chinese landscape painting per click, illustrates this powerful interplay.

Emerging gaming and virtual reality technologies offer fresh platforms for poetic expression. Drawing on text-based computer games like Zork, digital poets and authors have explored interactive avenues for creating a new kind of literature. Mez Breeze’s V[R]ignettes: A Microstory Series, blending poetic text, 3D models, and sound design, exemplify this trend. 

The work of Porpentine Charity Heartscape likewise fuses poetry, fiction, and gameplay in fascinating new ways while Mark Wilson’s PowerPoint Eulogy leverages the most mundane of softwares for a perfectly calibrated new literary form. Similarly, director Patrick Eakin Young created AMONG THE FLOWERS, a 10-minute Instagram opera, featuring text by Sam Kentridge and music by Matt Huxley. 

Still from Patrick Eakin Young’s AMONG THE FLOWERS

Code poetry merges traditional poetry with computer language, creating a unique blend requiring computer language understanding. Ishac Bertran’s print collection code {poems} showcases this genre.

While these genres represent the frontier of digital poetry, they also invite participation. A series of prompts from the Poetry Foundation provides a gateway for those interested in exploring visual poetry. From diagramming sequences, visualizing voices, to creating visual poems from newspaper and magazine headlines, these prompts provide a practical introduction to the art of visual poetry​.

“Body” from code {poems} by Ishac Bertran

Digital Poetry On Chain

The concept of crypto poetry is not simply about the digitization of poems; it goes deeper, encompassing the spirit of decentralization, the power of smart contracts, and the potential for immutable ownership. It is about the intersection of the written word with the cryptographic hash, the bridging of the abstract and the concrete, the old and the new, the traditional and the innovative.

Crypto poetry allows for a unique confluence of perspectives. It brings together poets, technologists, collectors, and enthusiasts, all of whom can appreciate the value of a well-crafted verse as well as the power of blockchain technology. It offers a new way to think about the value of a poet’s work, challenging us to reconsider what it means to own a piece of literature.

Still from Ana Maria Caballero’s generative poem, POME

According to OG crypto poet Ana Maria Caballero, “poetry = art.” Alongside Sasha Stiles and Kalen Iwamoto, Caballero has made good on that declaration by cofounding the VERSEverse, the first gallery of crypto poetry to celebrate the confluence of digital poetry, visual poetry, and web3. 

Their championing of the digital and the visual in poetry is, as you’ve seen, not an altogether new approach to poetry but instead builds upon a quiet revolution that has long been underway. Hybridization is in art’s very nature and the crypto poetry movement has added another layer to a long and rich tradition of exploding the boundaries of the poetic form. 

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