Digital Poetry: An Overview (revision)

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Digital Poetry: An Overview (revision)

Key Takeaways:

  • The history of digital poetry dates back to 1959.
  • OuLima and ALAMO have been significantly instrumental in the development of digital poetry.
  • The growth of computer accessibility and technology, especially the WWW, created a viable place for the creation and dissemination of poetry.


  • This report provides the history of digital poetry. It also provides the descriptions of various digital poetry genres. Below is an overview of the findings as well as a description of the methodology used.


  • In 1959, a German Computer Scientist named Theo Lutz used a text-generating program named "Stochastiche Text written for the ZUSE Z22 computer" to create the first electronic poetry. Consisting of only 50 commands, the program could theoretically produce over 4 million sentences.
  • With the help of his teacher named Max Bense, they created texts using a random number generator, "where key words were randomly inserted within a set of logical constants in order to create a syntax." The activities in digital history between 1959 and 1995 are sometimes referred to as "prehistoric digital poetry."
  • In 1960, "Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle" (OuLipo) was formed. The group was formed to create, explore, and analyze the constraints to authors, and its algorithmic dimension enabled the enrichment of digital generation. In the same year, Ian Somerville programmed Brion Gysin's poem, "I am that I am."
  • In 1981, OuLimo members created ALAMO, translated as the "Workshop (Atelier in french) of Literature Assisted by Mathematics and Computers (Ordinateurs in french)." At this point, CogiText, a tool that could be used for editing, building and "using large corpuses for text generation under constraints `alaAlamo" was developed.
  • According to a book by Loss Glazier, the growth of computer accessibility and technology, especially the WWW, created a viable place for the creation and dissemination of poetry. He argued that the electronic space is poetry true home, and it has "become the ultimate 'space of poesis'" in the 20th century.
  • Modern (21st century) digital poetry is significantly different from prehistoric e-poetry, and it features more adoption of free verse and artistic expression, with features such as irregular stanzas, non-rhyming schemes, and unkempt syntax. Social media has contributed to the growth, development, and large-scale appreciation of electronic poetry globally. Among the biggest influencers of poetry on social media are poets Lang Leav, Atticus, Rupi Kaur, Nayyirah Waheed, and Pierre A Jeanty, among others.

Generative Poetry

  • Generative poetry can be defined as poetry "produced by programming algorithms and drawing from corpora to create poetic lines."'s definition is a bit more comprehensive; "generative poetry is used to refer to any born-digital poetic project that uses code, algorithm, or other indeterminate means to generate poetic texts. In generative poetic works, a program or algorithm generates a poem or series of poems based on a lexicon or set of lines developed by the authors."
  • Generative poetry is the oldest genre in e-poetics, and still remains relevant via e-literary genres such as social media bots. The Onion, a satirical newspaper, would be considered as generative poetry since it offers artistic articles presented on a tech platform for audiences. James Tenney's and Alison Knowles's 'A House of Dust' is among the first generative poems.

Code Poetry

  • Code Poetry is defined as poetry written for presentation to a dual audience: human and computer readers. Poetry qualifies as code poetry if it was written using coding practices. Stanford University's annual 'Code Poetry Slam' is among events to promote code poetry.
  • The Conversation defines code poetry as poetry that combines computer language with classical poetry. One requires a comprehension of both the original language and computer code to understand or read code poetry. Contributors to the code poetry genre include Ishac Bertran and Stanford University's alumnus Leslie Wu.

Visual Poetry

  • 'I Love Poetry' defines visual poetry as poetry that arises from Lettrist, Concrete, Visual poetic traditions. According to an article on PressBooks,the genre "emphasizes the power of a visual element of media writing a poem for its viewer to read and understand."
  • In essence, visual poetry is poetry with a visual component, and may feature either actual forms of the message or accompanying images, because the content is for the consumer's viewing and listening pleasure. Examples of works of visual poetry include Neil Hennessey's 'Puddle.' Other contributing artists include Ishac Bertran, Andrew Topel, Brentley Frazier, Dona Mayoora, Krista Franklin.

Kinetic Poetry

  • Kinetic poetry leverages the "computer’s ability to display animation and changing information over time." Another source defines kinetic poetry as poetry that leverages spatiotemporal transitions with expressive visual, aural, and literally. Kinetic poetry is believed by some sources to be an extension of visual poetry.
  • With origins tracing back to the Dadaists’ praxis and the "Constructivists' Realisticheskii Manifest," kinetic poetry was composed in the 20th century using varied media, including motorized sculptured, holography, video, celluloid film, and computers. Famous poets who have produced popular kinetic poetry works include Roger McGough and Jorie Graham.

Multimedia Poetry

  • Multimedia Poetry integrates audio, images, video, text, images, and other communication modes in its strategies. This poetry form incorporates these communication modes to create poetry language.
  • Domenico Chiappa's novel 'Tierra de Extracción' is an example of multimedia content because it is entirely extracted from interaction and manipulation of various media forms. A list of the top multimedia poems by category is included in an article by Poetry PP.

Interactive Poetry

  • Interactive Poetry is an e-poetry form that incorporates the reader's input in the electric poem’s expressive strategies. It also allows multiple people to interact and produce the work together. Other forms can be created in a digital and interactive medium, thus allowing readers to interact with it beyond reading.
  • An example of interactive poems includes "Jaime Alejandro Rodríguez's" 'Gabriella Infinita.' According to Poetry Soup, the top interactive poems have been written by Teddy Kimathi, Ilene Bauer, Caren Krutsinger, and Emile Pinet, among others.

Hypertext Poetry

  • Hypertext Poetry leverages links and nodes to structure poems into spaces that the reader can explore. The genre incorporates sound, media, visuals, and words to develop a poem that readers can" follow by clicking each element." It is considered a "form of interactive poetry, but rather incorporates sound and automatic words caused by clicking to create a story for the viewer to see."
  • For hypertext poetry, the order of clicks is irrelevant, while the order of clicks is influential to the reader's understanding. In essence, hypertext poetry is a genre within the digital poetry spectrum that utilizes hypertexts. Peter Howard's "Low Probability of Racoons" and Robert Kendall's 'Penetration' are examples of top works in hypertext poetry.

Research Strategy

To provide information on the history of digital poetry, the research team had to leverage some older sources where newer resources was limited. Our research included leveraging poetry-focused resources, research reports and media articles, among other credible resources. All required information has been provided above.

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