Dada and the History of Digital Poetry

February 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm (Digital Lit)

As I read the Nicholls’ overview of Dada I see a reflection of the current thought about Dada, that tends to divide the movement out into a number of very different movements that are only loosely related, and that are heavily influenced by the geography of the post-WWI Europe. One of the things that several of these movements have in common is their interest in poetry. Thus, we can see that digital poetry has its roots in Dada not simply in one unified source, but coming from several different angles, and slightly different traditions of Dada.

One of these angles of history that is clearly connected to digital poetry is an interest in sound poetry. This comes from the very earliest days of Dada, with the performance of sound poetry in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, for example, Hugo Ball’s “Karawane.” This tradition continues through several iterations of Dada, and it is obviously still and interest in contemporary digital poetry, as exemplified by work like Jorg Pieringer’s.

Other Dada practice takes the form of what I call “randomized” poetry, poetry that is created by taking a set of words and assembling them through some mechanism to create a poem. Kurt Schwitters, among others, recommends creating poetry by taking a newspaper article, cutting it into individual words, and drawing those words to create a poem. This resembles the method of early digital poets whose work we have examined, like Alan Sondheim’s calculator poems. The method of selecting words is in a slightly more sophisticated format than drawing from a paper bag, but the process is essentially the same. One has a set of words and they are somehow assembled into a finished work of poetry.

I am also interested in how other Dada practices might historicize digital poetry. There is a strong tradition of theater in Dada, as mentioned by Nicholls, and there are certainly performative aspects of some digital poems, but I’m not sure that these performances are directly related or if they are maybe secondarily related with a group like Fluxus taking a crucial middle step.  I am also interested in how Dada visual practice may intersect with visual digital poetry. Nicholls characterizes Dada, and I have to agree, as a movement that is driven by poetry. However, like digital poetry, Dada also has a large amount of visual output. Is the visual output of Dada, particularly the visual output that includes words related to contemporary visual poetry?


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