Analysis: On Rhetoric, Writing, and Pedagogy

Since so much of what is now considered new media (or digital media) depends on convergence of media forms, multi-modality, and multi-genre work, it only stands to reason that Funkhouser has foregrounded digital poetry as an important subject of study. Scholars of visual rhetoric might do well to examine digital poetry more closely because of its conflation and complication of the acts of looking and reading. As Funkhouser says, “digital poems [. . .] are a combination of forms that demand viewers react to text and immediately engage with it on an intellectual (rather than purely imaginative) level” (90). The research detailed in the book also reinforces the argument that visual rhetoric has been important to poetry much longer than poetry has been part of the digital landscape. Chapter Two, devoted to visual and kinetic digital poetry, offers a wealth of visual influences on printed poetry and other language arts prior to the digital era, revealing that poetry has always been concerned with the interaction between text and image. In this sense, poetry’s visual rhetoric has much to offer pedagogically, particularly when styles and genres converge as they do in digital poetry.

Research associated with poetry is often considered to be the foray of literary studies, or perhaps specialized work in education or cultural studies. Yet all of the literate and discursive practices associated with writing, reading, publishing, distributing, and promoting poetry are rhetorical. With Prehistoric Digital Poetry, Funkhouser states that his purpose is to “divulge the role that digital technology has begun to play in the composition of poetry” (221-2). As such, digital writing researchers can use Funkhouser’s text to study the formation of digital poetry as a genre, and rhetorically examine the evolution of the many composing processes and completed texts detailed in the work. The richness of the history he offers, along with the book’s many notes, appendices, and links to still-active poetic works online, provide sufficient context to anchor a rhetorical examination of the writing cultures that produced these digital poetries. Because poetry and its associated writing activities are essentially cultural practices embedded in power structures, it is essential to critically examine what happens when poetry goes digital, and to have this discussion with students. The question “what does it mean to make meaning?” is continually asked new modes and by new media. Poetry’s take on this question has always been inherently complex, and thus introducing digital poetry into our writing and rhetoric classrooms offers researchers, teachers, and students an opportunity for newer and richer kinds of analysis and composition.

Work Cited

Funkhouser, C.T. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007.