<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Review of Prehistoric Digital Poetry

Chapter 2: Visual and Kinetic Digital Poems

The second chapter is focused on poetry that employs “mutation” more than permutation. While Funkhouser does not explain this term with great clarity, he seems to imply that these poems are overtly conscious of their look and visual presence. This is not a new idea in poetry; Funkhouser references concrete poetry, the practices of e.e. cummings, and even medieval illuminated manuscripts to show that poetry’s connection to the visual was already well-established by the time poets began to use digital technologies. The poems in this chapter, however, utilize the hardware and graphical programs of the 1960’s and the animation programs of the 1980’s to call increased attention to the material conditions of language. One prominent example of this phenomenon is Eduardo Kac’s 1982 poem “Não.” This poem presents five words—neologisms, in fact—that roll across the computer screen in the way an LED screen might. Kac explained that there was a “visual rhythm” to the work consisting of the appearance and disappearance of text, and this asked the reader to semantically link the words as they rolled by.  

Funkhouser's typology becomes more nuanced in this chapter, as he separates these visual and kinetic works into static and dynamic works, and poems that ask for reader/viewer interaction. In this section, one can connect changes in reading and viewing to changes in technology long before hypertext and the WWW were widely accessible. A drawback here is the limitation of print text in presenting such works. While Funkhouser includes grayscale screenshots of some of the poems, they are hardly sufficient enough to illustrate his points, particularly since the poems in this chapter are literally in motion. Because these poems in particular make the materiality of the poetic work apparent, Funkhouser might have made greater impact had he included some kind of digital supplement to the book.