Meet the new poetry. Same as the old?

Jazz, pulsing graphics, and an affinity with the medieval manuscript.

Does the much-anticipated death of the book mean the death of literature? Is reading over?

Not at all, says Jessica Pressman, assistant professor of English, who studies what’s known as “born-digital” literature: the printed book is merely giving way to other modes of reading.

Ten years ago, electronic literature meant “hypertext,” byzantine novels with alternative endings that you clicked your way through with a mouse. Now, Flash and other multimedia software allow an approach that mingles pulsing graphics, words, music, and animation in something akin to experimental poetry.

In her forthcoming book, Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media, Pressman argues that Flash-based literature, with its dizzying artistic experimentation, seems radically new but in fact has venerable historical parallels, including illuminated medieval manuscripts and the layout of Alice in Wonderland.

As an example of new approaches deliberately making reference to old, she points to Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, a Seoul-based partnership of a US and a Korean artist. Pressman calls their work “new but also familiar.” In their poems, a barrage of words is laid out in rapid sequence, synchronized to a rhythmic jazz score.

The new forms, says Pressman, are terrifying to some readers—but they provide “this wonderful opportunity to understand what we thought we understood by literature."  


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