H. L. Hix: I get a lot of signals about its interest in digital media before the book begins, in the jacket copy, in the fact of its having an accompanying cd, etc. If I were to start with the creaky false distinction between what is “inside” and “outside” the text, I would note the double entendre of “beam” on p. 5 — beam of steel or wood, beam of light — as the point at which I begin to understand from “within” the text that these poems will worry over our placement historically/culturally in the industrial age or the information age. From your position as the writer “outside” the text, how do you experience the process of inviting slower readers such as myself, who came to poetry strictly through books, into the contemporary aesthetic/political issues raised for and about poetry by digital media?
Stephanie Strickland: I came to poetry orally, through nursery rhymes, lullabies, jump rope, and hopscotch; but I grew up with books in the industrial age, my father an engineer and my grandmothers both great, idiosyncratic readers. Even then, however, in the fifties of the last century, there were oscilloscopes in my basement.
I was introduced to digital literature (then, e-fiction) in the mid-nineties, attending the first NEH summer seminar on digital lit, taught by N. Katherine Hayles, to which I applied as an “independent scholar,” poet, and representative from a public arts center.
Almost everyone I know today has more digital equipment than I do (since I don’t own even a cell phone), and most also have a firmer (more aggressive, or more ideological) idea about what poetry is. Though the most salient characteristic of urban life in the wealthier parts of the globe is the complex inter-penetration of virtual and gravitational, and though many can’t remember a pre-digital world, they’re still not sure what e-poetry is—an art in its infancy swiftly evolving.
I find the best way to invite people toward e-poetry is to show it to them, read it to them, and talk with them about it. Often one needs to learn how to “work” or “play” e-poetry, as it is an application, a poetic “instrument” which creates a poetry of movement and behavior. To invite writers, specifically, toward e-poetry, I teach workshops which greatly extend the kinds of poems they write and appreciate. We read e-poetry but don’t directly write it unless, as often happens, the students’ own written experiments lead them on. I do refer to examples, like Emily Dickinson’s folded envelope poems made with pins, the 3-d appreciation of which requires a digitally implemented presentation.
Processes of play, discovery, and reflection generally bring people to digital literature unless they have a fixed commitment to the fixity of print. The fixity of print, however, is a 500-year-old anomaly in the many-thousand-year-old history of world poetry, evolving and adaptive in both oral and written forms.
Strickland, Stephanie. Zone : Zero. Ahsahta Press, 2008.