Research and Practice in Electronic Poetry in Ireland

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This panel focuses on the production and criticism of electronic poetry in the Irish context. The participants in this panel represent both practitioners and scholars of electronic poetry and poetics in, and from, Ireland. While critics have frequently commented on the relatively conservative poetic culture in Ireland, the various contexts of the production, reception and criticism of poetry disseminated via new media technologies in Ireland remain patchily explored. The emergence of a body of poetry disseminated in electronic formats also raises questions that go beyond questions of “Irishness” and relate to the wider topic of electronic poetry as a form of cultural production. What is the role of national culture in the emergence of electronic/digital literature, and how does this relate to its irreverence of geographical and cultural boundaries? What constitutes poetry, and what is read as poetry, in the multimodal contexts enabled by the emergence of new media? What is the role of the publishing industry and literary scholarship in the emergence, reception and evaluation of electronic poetry? How does poetry that makes use of new media relate to the existing poetic tradition, on and off the page? And finally, is the end (or purpose) of electronic or digital poetry to seek ends of other kinds, as it challenges the existing institutions and canons of (Irish) poetic culture?
The End of Landscape: Graham Allen's Holes
Anne Karhio (National University of Ireland, Galway / University of Bergen)

This paper focuses on the possibility, or rather impossibility, of representing landscape in the Cork-based Graham Allen’s digital poem Holes. Holes, published online since 23 December 2006, consists of daily one-line entries of strictly ten syllables each, preceded by the date for each entry, but is otherwise flexible in terms of formal elements like metre and rhyme. Holes is unfinished in the sense that it has no stated date of completion, and is still being written, more than 8 years later – it is, to date, a poem without end. As well as the lines of the poem, its web page includes a series of close-up colour photographs of stone surfaces of various kinds, and walls made of different building materials. These images of the material environment are too close for a view of the wider landscape within which they are set, and thus offer a visual correlative to the brief entries that make up the verbal fabric of the poem.

In an introduction to the first year of the poem, published in print as “365 Holes” (Theory & Event, 2009), Allen wrote that it offers “[l]ittle peepholes, like the stars are peepholes, onto a reality that is beyond structure, and is beyond our comprehension of what structure could be, on to a world of pure relations” and is based on the idea of the “most simplistic of structures, say one line per day, each line equally weighted, in the recognition of the inadequacy of all structures to represent that thing we call a life. And once it promoted that idea, poetry would never after need to end, until the end”.

Landscape as a form of literary and artistic representation could be understood as one such “structure” – it is often presented as a panoramic or totalizing view from afar, or above, a mastery of an expanse of space through vision or visual imagery. In that sense Allen’s poem, in its unending evolution, can be seen to represent the impossibility or “end” of landscape, one of the most prominent motifs in contemporary Irish poetry. Landscape as a wider structure, an expanse of perceived space, cannot reflect the detailed immediacy of experience. In the words of Tim Ingold, “landscape [...] is not a totality that you or anyone else can look at [but] the world in which we stand taking up a point of view of our surroundings” (The Perception of Environment, 192). The only way it can be brought into being is through the accumulation of the “peephole” snap shots that constitute the poem in its digital environment.
Multicultural Translations in the Digital Space
Jeneen Naji (National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

This paper will describe the process and results of a multicultural digital poetry research project conducted under the rubric of a Fulbright TechImpact award at the Department of Literary Arts, Brown University. This project used Brown University’s interactive and immersive stereo 3D audiovisual environment (Cave) to make a digitally mediated work of poetic language art, while studying the Cave as a media system for digital literary practice. This project used the Cave to explore notions of translation, multiculturalism, and the impact of technological affordances on literary expression and reception. This was done through creating a digital version of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one that allows the user to experience, simultaneously, different translations that exist for this work. Potentially, this provides the reader with an opportunity to gain equal access to alternative versions, some of which may fall outside the mainstream. For example, the digital Cave version not only includes the well-known translation by Edward Fitzgerald but also an unknown version by a Mrs H. M. Caldwell, a Persian scholar who dedicated her life to this translation and the study of the Persian language. The Arabic translation of the poem by Egyptian poet Ahmed Rami is also included as well as the original text in Farsi, and an Irish version intended to represent the research-author’s multicultural identity.
Digitalvitalism.com and John Pat McNamara
Michael J. Maguire (DIME)

The 72-year-old Irish Digital Poet John Pat McNamara is a real flesh and blood person, as evidenced by his video appearances, works of poetry, audio and video interviews and his presence across social media. His life (perhaps à la Kittler) and works have been heavily influenced, if not shaped, by technology. His creative evolution and emergence as a Digital Poet is presented and traced across the website digitalvitalism.com, and viewers or users can read and play his work there, alongside the opportunity to view his interview responses that chart and detail his creative life. From his childhood on Achill Sound on the west coast of Mayo, to scribbling poems in the back of a van while en route to working as a labourer on the motorways in England in the 1960s, forward through his use of early electronic recording equipment, his experiments in video or film poems, to his contemporary use of the computer as his tool for personal creative expression of his personal applied poetics, John Pat’s poetic soul is laid bare for others to view and perhaps recognise.

Digitalvitalism.com provides a frame narrative for the exploration of some of the potential meaning(s) and expression(s) of Irish “born digital” Digital poetry in the 21st century. The proposed paper is a short exploration of that manufactured identity, since John Pat McNamara in the guise of Digital Poet is actually an entirely fictional construct. The concept of digital vitalism is proposed as one (of many) ways to conceptualise or characterise creatively the essentially cybernetic processes that may be occurring during the making of such work. This paper further proposes to introduce and contextualise the concept of Digital Vitalism with reference to the theoretical work of Katharine N. Hayles, Roberto Simanowski, Byron Hawkes and Talan Memmot. The paper will be in a form of a presentation (with accompanying script text available for download) that will seek to theoretically locate the work in a broader history of interpretation.

As a poet John Pat emanates from a cultural tradition that privileges the pastoral and spiritual above technical or the purely empirical poetic purview, thus this paper is also an attempt to explore the tensions and the challenges associated with finding a mode of expression that respects these two seemingly disparate areas of endeavour.
Electronic Literature: A Publisher's Perspective
James O'Sullivan (Pennsylvania State University)

This paper will explore the need for an increased number of publishers willing to support the publication and long-term maintenance of electronic literature. The effects of most e-lit authors having, or indeed choosing, to self-publish their work will be addressed, as well as the ramifications of encouraging a move away from this predominant practice. Restrictions presented to publishers, particularly in relation to issues of sustainability, will be discussed, with a number of potentially viable models for e-lit publishing detailed and problematised.

These discussions will be framed within an Irish context, using New Binary Press as an example. Founded in 2012, New Binary Press publishes literature across a variety of media, including born-digital electronic literature. Included among its authors are leading figures such as Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland. The press published Montfort’s generative piece, Round, in 2013, alongside Duels — Duets, a collaboration between Montfort and Strickland. The first work to be published by New Binary Press was Holes, a collaboration between Graham Allen and James O’Sullivan. Holes is a digital poem which presents a new approach to autobiographical writing. It began on December 23rd, 2006, and is a ten syllable one-line-per-day poem that offers something less and something more than a window on the author’s life. Currently, lines are written daily, but added to the site on a weekly basis.

New Binary Press was established to provide a platform upon which e-lit authors could disseminate their work, without having to worry about long-term sustainability. Unlike some of the field’s major anthologies and collections, New Binary Press hosts all published works on its own servers. However, this has led to a number of technical challenges, as well as financial constraints, the realities of which will be addressed in this presentation. The justifications for having more publishers take this approach are clear: the role of the editor and reviewer comes back into play, ensuring a measure of quality is imposed upon the field, and authors need not worry, to an extent, about promoting and maintaining their work. However, the pragmatics of publishing, the need for literatures to live beyond their imprints, and for such imprints to remain viable options, cannot be ignored.

New Binary Press is an experiment in the production and publication of electronic literature. This paper will situate relevant publishing practices within the wider context of the e-lit movement, using such as a means through which some of the field’s key issues surrounding the establishment, dissemination, and longevity of the canon can be explored. It will present a publisher’s perspective on electronic literature.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans