From capacity to truncation: What can happens in 30 seconds of digital poetry

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This paper makes observations about digital poetry through thematic connections derived from a 1969 short story by Robert Coover (“The Elevator”) and a poetics statement written forty years later by critic Janez Strehovec (“The Poetics of Elevator Pitch”). Strehovec’s essay addresses poetry in the age of short attention spans, and in which compositional designs are mosaics, hybrid. Contemporary works are unstable, precarious, and relations between textual components have evolved. Digital poetry is a textual, meta-textual, linguistic, and sometimes non-linguistic practice requiring new forms of perception. Because our observational skills have changed, Strehovec proclaims the importance of first impressions, getting viewers excited and immediately involved with language. He promotes the notion of an “elevator pitch” as a temporal ideal for digital poetry—the idea that the poem, “can be delivered in the time of an elevator ride (e.g., thirty seconds or 100-150 words)”, “which hooks the reader/user within a very short temporal unit”—an idea perhaps more relevant to authors of projected works than those who invite their audience to participate. Coover’s story, written as a series of mosaic passages, also points to the potential for instability in any moment but acknowledges unexpected possibilities that happen over time. Coover’s elevator reflects the awkward occurrences that gradually occur in a single place, how a familiar vehicle can bring someone to unfamiliar places, and how sometimes people are forced to solve problems caused by someone else’s statements. Through actions, in space, over time, social and communicative interaction is altered. The unknown, unexpected, and fantasy celebrated by Coover are the “space, time, motion, magnitude, class” of a given place. Yet, in the manner the life of the story’s protagonist Martin is spared we might conclude that walking—rather that riding quickly—through difficulties is a viable way to proceed. As authors strive for novel, complex, and sophisticated procedures, is it fair to use the elevator pitch as a model for engagement? Can an audience ably make conclusions in such a short amount of time? What can (and does) happen in the first 30 seconds of a digital poem? Examining works as diverse as John Cayley’s wotclock, Mary Flanagan’s [theHouse], geniwaite’s Concatenation, and others, this paper look at the possibilities held, and techniques used, by expert practitioners in the opening moments of their works. While certain works resist being quickly judged, others strive to be immediate. Artists working in the field often make a lot happen quickly but have not rejected depth—even if that, in Strehovec’s view, might be seen as self-defeating. If Strehovec’s digital vision trumps Coover’s analog speculations, projective authors can practice (and fine-tune) spectacle forever, but how will authors of participatory works employ language to keep audience engaged?

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Audun Andreassen