In this book, Funkhouser attends to a series of difficult tasks, not the least of which is cementing digital poetry as a fluid but nonetheless established genre. As he himself notes, some skeptics continue to argue that poetry and computers are intrinsically incompatible, and therefore digital poetry does not exist. Funkhouser’s claim that the techniques and forms of contemporary digital poetry were solidified before widespread access to personal computers and the World Wide Web is supported with myriad examples. For instance, Funkhouser’s discussion of the visual and textual works created using the versatile 1992 program MERZ poems successfully illustrates how more robust digital poetries are produced by interactions between the relatively discrete categories of digital poetry defined in the book.

Existing scholarship on digital poetry—for example, major book-length works such as Loss Pequeño Glazier’s Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries (2002) or Brian Kim Stefans’ Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics (2003)—review contemporary digital poetries and analyze digital poetics, but often stop short of presenting any significant histories before the mid-1990’s. As a result, digital poetry is often presumed to be dependent on recently developed software and the connective capacities of the Internet. Prehistoric Digital Poetry succeeds in dispelling this idea while providing incisive evidence of poets building, and engaging with, pre-WWW technologies that became the foundational forms of the genre. Consequently, the book functions as an invaluable reference for those interested in digital literacy and composition. While Funkhouser’s history does not completely exhaust the theory and artifact of digital poetry, his choice of starting and ending points is logical, and his clear organization of theory, practice and artifact offers the reader a history of digital poetry unlike any that has appeared before.

Despite its many successes in describing and interpreting digital poetry’s past, Funkhouser’s text suffers from a troubling ambivalence over what arguments to advance regarding the future. He is willing to pose, examine and re-examine important questions about what aesthetic considerations poetry must face now that digital technologies are widespread, but his conclusions seem ultimately to look backward, or to stand still. Though he claims that “poetry as it is known historically will never completely change into a digital form” (251), he asserts that digital poetry “has not reached its optimum level of performance” (245). It’s unclear as to what this “optimum performance” might be; when trying to make a pronouncement on the expanding role of digital poetry, Funkhouser himself seems just as conflicted as the multiple critics, artists and scholars he references in his exhaustive research. His conclusions are ultimately concerned with aesthetics and philosophy and less so with culture. Perhaps, then, this is where the digital rhetorician and pedagogue can begin to interpret Prehistoric Digital Poetry.