The Hermit Poet

February 4, 2005

Imagining Poetry in a Digital Age – Pt. I

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:51 pm

Last night I attended a lecture entitled “Imagining Poetry in the Digital Age” given by Robert Pinsky (former US Poet Laureate). The lecture was part of an ongoing series presented as part of the UC Riverside Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture series.

It was a bit of let down.

First, while Pinsky was his usual charismatic self, he failed to address the topic head on. Instead, he talked at some length on the primordial urge for poetry — poetry as it arises out of the “grunts” we use to pass knowledge and wisdom down to the next generation. Probably the most interesting comment he made was in relation to the medium of the poem as being the body of the individual reader – and by extension that a poem operates on the human scale (all overtones of meaning carefully noted).

Second, the digital aspect of his lecture consisted of the showing us excerpts from a DVD of “ordinary” people reading their favorite poems (this was a product of his Favorite Poems project). As one of the audience members queried afterward in the Q&A panel section, are these true depictions of people reading poetry or are they manufactured? How can video truly communicate a person’s emotional response to poetry? And, as I wondered, were these single take productions, or did the film crew film the same person reading the same poem multiple times. The introduction of the film crew certainly would affect a reader — it’s an intrusion into the personal space in which the poem is enacted. Pinsky, to his credit, did ask the film makers to resist the urge to accompany the reader’s reading with visual elements. Just film the reading, he directed them. Still, showing us digital video of people reading isn’t really addressing the larger issue of how digital media affects poetry.

Third, what I wished had been covered was a more extensive exploration of how poetry has been influenced by the digital age. The panel which followed featured Robert Pinsky(poet/professor), Juan Felipe Herrera (poet/professor), and Toby Miller (film/media studies/women studies). Toby Miller had some interesting comments, but these never had a chance of being fully explored. This I thought was a shame. He commented a little on the role of the internet in the rapid dessimination of poetry — mainly in light of blogs, web pages, and poet & press web presences.

2 Responses to “Imagining Poetry in a Digital Age – Pt. I”

  1. Michael Hoerman Says:

    Pinsky is about as appropriate to discuss poetry in the digital age as I am to discuss fear of going before a tenure committee.

  2. Anonymous Poet Says:

    I “saw” Pinsky once too, recently. Except what I mainly saw, like you, was the video. I suppose that is nice if you are a teacher. But for my $20 I wanted to hear more from the poet. Pinsky was engaging and charismatic when he spoke. The problem is that he really didn’t speak that much. It was mainly that video.

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