FACT have recently hosted two symposia regarding poetry: Send and Receive and Torque #2, both well received, really challenging, and questioning what is at the beating heart of UK contemporary poetry.
FACT, in association with the University of Liverpool, PoetryFilm and The Poetry Society, hosted a day of talks, performances and events discussing the current state of the intersection between art, technology and poetry and where the future may lie, under the banner ‘Send and Receive’.
Torque #2, on the other hand, wants us to question the act of reading from the perspectives of contemporary finance, technology and performance.
We can see some common threads starting to emerge, particularly regarding art, technology, poetry and performance, and hopefully by discussing some of the speakers and their work we will be able to tease out several more.
George Szirtes projected an image of a fragmented world, through which users, and especially young people, navigate as soulless, anonymous human ghosts disconnected from the real world and only interested in the latest meme and the newest illegal file shares. He views it like a subway train, that loops around the web with some sort of start and end point, although no-one really knows where. However, the internet is not as nefarious and ill-willing as some believe, and Szirtes takes great joy in presenting his tweet poems that start to stitch up some of the gaps in meaning left behind in the internet’s wake. He makes the proposition that the internet is like an inner city with its hidden corners and idling thoroughfares; is he himself, by observing and reporting on them, some sort of internet gate keeper? Certainly with the theatrical nature of some of his tweet poetry, Szirtes is a voice to be reckoned with. He is also organising his poetry into a pre-determined shape, showing focus in an area of the internet that is tailspinning out of control.
However, even Szirtes role as a tweet poet is under threat. Judith Palmer reported that there is a new app randomly generating poetry out of tweets. Does this have any merit beyond the immediate, asks Palmer? For the fast food generation yes, but maybe not beyond that. What is indubitable is that poetry houses are looking beyond the traditional avenues to find new writers. They are combing the web for bloggers, tweeters and all in between for the latest talent. It raises the question as to whether there is just a lot of poor content, or if there is a larger pool of untapped talent out there. What will truly stand the test of time is perhaps the yardstick to measure internet poetry by.
Elsewhere, Katherine Hayles underlined that sentient robots with a consciousness and sense of self are currently being developed. She views the art of writing as an externalisation of our inner lives, an expression of consciousness and tools to aid memory. The book’s death knell is not tolling yet!
Esther Leslie was a similar proponent of traditional modes of communication. For her, books are a true joy and there is a real craft to a well-penned letter. She describes the internet as a ‘shadowy realm that the post EU bulbs engender’, a wonderful expression of the creeping malignancy of some areas of the web.
What all of the speakers seemed to agree upon is that the internet, if left unchecked, could mutate into something monstrous. We already have the murky dark web, and it is up to parents in particular to make sure they monitor what their kids look at online.
However, it can be a great place to publicise creative work and source creative inspiration. Communication is evolving, and always will. Perhaps there will be a time in the future when we laugh at that time spent tapping poetry into machines, but for now the future seems limitless, as long as we police its borders.