There are two threads that are repeated in our readings of digital composition: the belief that producers must offer over some control over the creation of meaning of a text to their audience, and we should be arranging ideas/information differently-focusing on associative rather than linear connections.
So, how do these ideas fit in with poetry and electronic literature? Word choice is one way. As I mentioned in my other reflection, given the generative poem’s code structures-think poetry formatting rules like iambic pentameter or haiku and you’ve got it-writers aren’t really sure when and where any given word will appear. They can estimate where in the poem a word will appear by looking at where they add it into the code, but beyond that, it’s random. What does this mean? That word choice cannot be as “random” as it appears. The thought that electronic literature is simply a lot of randomly generated text is a fairly disparaging idea that is bandied about too much. The words in generative poems are not randomly selected, rather like traditional print poems they are governed by form.
Further dispelling the myth of random selection-as in all poetry, the words that appear in a generative poem are selected because they are deemed effective and connected to the topic by the writer. So it goes with generative poems. However, this must be taken a step further. Words in generative poetry must be especially effective, since as stated above we remain unsure when and where they will appear. That means the poet must carefully select words that will impact and further the idea/topic of the poem. The poet cannot have any weak words, each must be able to be associated to the poem. Takei, George provides a fine example. Lines about warp factors, rapiers, internment camps, action figures, and homosexuality seem odd, to say the least. Until you as a reader begin to think in an associative way, looking for connections. Then we can see that the lines are telling us about Mr. Takei’s life-from a childhood in an internment camp during WW2, to popularity as Star Trek’s rapier-wielding Mr. Sulu to becoming a leading figure in the gay community.
Associative thinking also encourages the handing over of the control and creation of meaning. We as writers must recognize that meaning is ultimately decided by the reader, what they put into a piece, what they attach to words. Generative poetry naturally extends this. Go back to Takei, George. It does not start with the same line it did when you first went there. This is a conscious decision made by the producer of the poem/poem’s code. It is designed to remove the idea that there is only ONE spot to start reading, and only ONE spot to end, which means that you can be reading a poem the wrong way. Random line generation, as well appearance and disappearance of lines, removes the idea that there is only one way to read the poem. This hopefully focuses the reader on absorbing the words, rather than focusing on the style-since they generate fairly rapidly, the reader must pay them all of the attention. The style also forces the poet into favoring short phrases and individual words, so they can never be quite sure how a line will end up looking. for readers, this means the poet cannot lead the reader to a conclusion, as is the case in print.
It is strange that generative poetry not be considered as serious a literary style as print genre. Such poems certainly fit the definition of poetry. Even if readers (wrongly) approach generative poetry with opinions based off of traditional literature, it cannot be denied that generative poetry is as evocative as its print counterpart, and that the two share more stylistic heritages than might be suspected. If creators and consumers can begin to approach generative poetry and elit on their own terms, than there is no reason that the body of literature cannot make room for these genres.