Poetry Without People?

For most of human history, poetry has been an auditory medium. Think about it — the invention of written language is relatively new, and even then widespread literacy only became possible after the the invention of the movable type printing press in the 1400s. So, the traditional idea of poetry as spoken language (and the various structural assumptions that go with it) have been around for quite a while. Two of these traditional assumptions are quite basic: they assume that one or more people purposefully wrote the poem and that the poem has a persona, or “voice,” that is speaking to us. This makes a lot of sense, because they are almost always true.

Except for in cases like posthuman and visual poetry. Posthumanism is a way of analyzing a poem where the people — the author and the reader — can be taken out of the equation. When looking at a traditional poem, it makes almost no sense, because this frame of thought takes out almost any intent or agency from the author that clearly wrote the poem. No, it’s best applied to newer forms of poetry, such as found or computer generated poetry. These genres blur the lines of authorship. The found poem “Sometimes I Tease Animals” is an excellent example, since each line seems to have been taken from a report. This makes authorship a more difficult question, since yes, one person did find and arrange these lines, but countless people wrote/said them. Are they also authors?

Persona becomes another interesting topic when it comes to visual poetry. When a poem’s language is so abstracted that it becomes an image, can there be a speaker? For example, this is the poem”Creation of Adam”:

The words Adam and Eve are used, but the rest is nearly illegible. It’s obvious that the arrangemet of the letters and words are far more important than any concrete statement. So, since there are no phrases or intelligible statements, can this poem have a speaker? I would argue that it does not — at least, not in the traditional sense of the word. And that’s the beauty of these types of poetry. They can make readers rethink what they thought was possible with language and art, expanding their minds for new possibilities and ideas.




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