The research project “Poetry in the Digital Age” investigates contemporary poetry and its forms of medial presentation. Funded by an Advanced Grant of the European Research Concil (ERC), it is situated between literary studies, cultural studies and inter-art research (acronym: PoetryDA).
This research project is situated between literary studies, cultural studies and interart research. It will develop tools to analyze today’s multifaceted poetry formats, ranging from pop culture to works of ‘high’ art, by scrutinizing their forms and sites of presentation and performance. Research will be structured into three sub-projects, focusing on (1) poetry and performance, (2) poetry and music, as well as (3) poetry and visual culture. An interdisciplinary team comprising scholars from the fields of literary studies, media and film studies, performance studies, sound studies, speech science and visual culture studies will work together to map this field.
Runtime: 2021-2025, funded by the European Research Foundation (ERC Advanced Grant)
About the Project
Contemporary modes of poetry presentation are often located beyond the book, e.g. on stages or the internet. Such performative forms, supplementing poetic language by music or visual components as well as the physical presence of the poet, are opening up access to a genre that has frequently been considered abstract and elitist. Sophisticated ‘book poetry’ is being enhanced by popular formats and vice versa. Poetry is also gaining new functions, creating communities characterized by physical or virtual co-presence. Popular poetry formats and online practices promote the self-staging of the poet. Poetry may also serve as a tool for political activism, the expression of opinions and the playful negotiation of transculturality and multilingualism.
This project is situated between literary, cultural and interart studies. It will develop tools to analyze today’s multifaceted poetry formats, ranging from pop culture to works of ‘high’ art, by scrutinizing their forms and sites of presentation and performance – ranging from the theater stage to social media, from the written page to the urban space. It will answer the following questions: What factors have contributed to poetry’s current popularity? What is the best way to systemize its sub-genres? What new methods and theories are required to analyze them? How do entertainment and ‘high’ culture oppose one another, interact or mix? Which are the functions (aesthetic, cultural, social, political) of these new forms and modes of presentation?
Research will be structured into three sub-projects, focusing on (1) poetry and performance, (2) poetry and music, and (3) poetry and visual culture.
Sub-project 1 investigates the relationship between poetry on the page, on the stage, as video or audio recordings. It examines three fields: live poetry performances (readings, spoken-word, poetry slams), created through the co-presence of audience and performer; mediatized spoken poetry, e.g. recordings of events published or posted on modular websites; and contemporary audio poetry: spoken poems recorded in sound studios and distributed on CDs or online, produced for acoustic reception. Researchers from literary studies, performance studies and media studies collaborate in this sub-project.
Sub-project 2 examines the impact of digitalization on musical poetry. It examines poets who perform with musicians, who manipulate their voices digitally or who add sounds or electronic beats to audio recordings, as well as other hybrid genres between music and poetry. Furthermore, it investigates voice, rhythm, and melody in poetry in relation to music (e.g. poetry performers using rap styles). A further research topic revolves around ‘poetry clips’ – edited videos of poems being performed by the author and illustrated visually. The team of this sub-project comprises researchers from literary studies, sound studies/musicology and speech science/linguistics.
Sub-project 3 analyzes contemporary (audio-)visual poetry. Iconic and kinetic script are innovative elements of online formats, employing poetry techniques such as repetition and variation or using the visual appearance of script systems to achieve alienation effects. Another research topic is concerned with poetry films, utilizing verse on a conceptual level through image-sound-combinations, transforming literary devices into audiovisual art. The sub-project also researches popular online phenomena such as poetry on social media sites. The team for this sub-project includes researchers with a background in literary studies, visual culture studies/art history and film studies.
The Theory Forum connects the three sub-projects and functions as a research platform for the discussion and development of theories, methods and approaches that are essential for the overall project. The Theory Forum allows researchers to comparatively investigate and mutually assess the topic areas.
By writing a ‘poetics of new forms,’ the research Project “Poetry in the Digital Age” will be the first to study the great diversity, medial spectrum and dissemination of contemporary poetry. Its results will modify and extend the definition of poetry, changing the way that scholars, poets and the general public view this literary genre.
This project has received subsidies from the European Research Council (ERC) within the European Union's framework programme "Horizon 2020" for research and innovation (Grant Agreement No. 884177).
Audioliterary Poetry between Performance and Mediatization (SP1)
The sub-project investigates the relationship between poetry on the page, on the stage, as video or audio recordings. In particular it examines three fields: (1) live poetry performances (readings, spoken-word, poetry slams) created through the co-presence of audience and performer; (2) the mediatization of performed poetry, e.g. recordings of events published or posted online, situated in and framed by a media landscape transformed by digitalization; (3) contemporary audio poetry: spoken poems recorded in sound studios, produced for acoustic reception and distributed on recordings (CDs etc.) or online. Such performative forms significantly broaden the genre of poetry. They add levels of meaning to poems, by using the body or the voice, by the role of interaction with the audience, by using visual and auditory effects or by experimenting with poetic techniques like cutting, mixing and sampling.
The theoretical and methodological framework of the sub-project is interdisciplinary, fusing approaches from literary, media and performance studies, including theories of the voice. It employs the notion of the “poet-performer” (Julia Novak), highlighting the double role of the author and speaker of a poem. Moreover, the sub-project uses the concept of “audio-literariness” (Ludwig Jäger), which denotes “transcriptions” between the visual-scriptural and the auditive-vocal text. Audiobook research must be considered as well as literary theories, e.g. theories on the avantgarde. Theories of mediatization need to be expanded in order to analyze the circulation of lyrical works and their recordings across multimodal online platforms. For the investigation of spoken poetry, the “Manual for the analysis of audio poetry” developed by Wiebke Vorrath, will be applied.
To examine audio-literary poetry, its performance and mediatization, researchers from literary studies, performance studies and media studies will collaborate in the sub-project.
Current research in the sub-project:
Music(alization) and the Lyric: Recent Medial Correlations (SP2)
The sub-project examines poetry and music. Unlike existing studies, which argue using the genre theory of the lyric and historic literary practices (e.g. the medieval song), this sub-project inquires into the impact of digitalization on musical poetry. It examines poets who collaborate with musicians and sound artists, who manipulate their voices – e.g. using loop pads – or use fully synthesized voices in their performances, who add sounds or electronic beats to audio recordings, as well as other hybrid genres between music and poetry, e.g. between the ballad and hip hop, or the sonnet as a reference in indie pop. Furthermore, it investigates rhythm and melody in poetry in relation to music, e.g. poetry performers using rap styles. One of the features of popular poetry (e.g. in spoken word) is its return to formal elements, to rhyme and meter, for instance, which were considered outdated in both contemporary poetry theory and poetic practice. A related topic will be ‘poetry clips’ – short edited videos of poems being spoken by their authors and illustrated visually as in music clips – both produced professionally and in the context of online participatory culture.
Research in this field needs to make use of publications that have adapted concepts and analytical methods of musicology and sound studies, for instance, the application of musical parameters to poetry, such as timbre/tone color, tone duration, pitch and volume. For the analysis of the mediated voice, terms and methods from speech science such as Ines Bose’s parameters of “vocal-articulatory expression” are relevant. They need to be combined with current reflections on acoustic media, technologies and listening practices from sound studies. Research can also benefit from speech science by applying the concept of the melodizing of speech to poetry. Investigating the relationship between poetry and music, research on the (technically modified) voice is of interest as well.
The team of sub-project 2 comprises researchers from literary studies, sound studies/musicology and speech science/linguistics.
Current research in the sub-project:
Poetry and Contemporary Visual Culture (SP3)
The sub-project investigates (audio)visual poetry. New Media poetry transforms devices invented by the avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes. Iconic and kinetic script are innovative elements, employing poetry techniques such as repetition and variation, or using the visual appearance of foreign scripts to achieve alienation effects. Some new media poets ‘program’ their texts, e.g. by using algorithms to generate visual poems. Studies that suggest genre classifications for digital poetry will form the basis for more comprehensive research on the topic, integrating, e.g., multilinguality. In terms of digital poetry, one important task will be adapting international research, another to investigate its potential as a medial transformation of concrete poetry. A new feature of digital concrete poetry is its time-basedness, which can be seen as a transition “from object to event” (N. Katherine Hayles).
In the age of “scrolling literature” (Molly McElwee), phenomena of digitalization in popular culture, such as Instapoetry or poems on Twitter, are also relevant, as these short, often plain and easy-to-grasp poems designed for smartphones are adorned with visual elements, such as handwriting, ornaments, drawings or photos. In addition, this aesthetic and visually appealing composition often also exhibits relevant socio-political functions.
Poetry films are another topic of the sub-project: Unlike poetry clips as a pop cultural genre (cf. sub-project 2), these artworks utilize poetry on a conceptual level, often with elegiac image-sound-combinations that transform literary devices into moving-image compositions. Stephanie Orphal’s book “Poetry Film: Poetry in the Audiovisual Medium” is as well a relevant precursor to the present endeavor as is the study of Claudia Benthien, Jordis Lau and Mareike M. Marxsen on the “Literariness of Media Art”.
Research and theory from visual culture studies, art history and film studies will be valuable. For the aesthetics of (kinetic) script, studies on writing in the visual arts will be relevant. Research on ‘poetic films’ and the use of poetry in avant-garde and experimental film will be another important source of reference.
The team for this sub-project will include researchers from literary studies, visual culture studies/art history and film studies.
Current research in the sub-project:
- Dr. Wiebke Vorrath: "Beneath the Surface: Coded Writing and Writing as Code in Digital Poetry"
- Magdalena Korecka: "Visual Poetry on Social Media Platforms: New Media Aesthetic and Digital Activism"
Also connected to the domain of the sub-project is the book project:
The sub-projects will be connected by the Theory Forum, Poetry Cultures, Media and Genres, a research platform for the discussion and development of theories, methods and approaches that will be essential for the overall project. In particular, it will focus on the following theory complexes that form intersections between the three sub-projects:
- Current genre theory of the lyric
- Orality/aurality and writtenness/visuality
- Framing, translating: interdisciplinary approaches
- Poetry in social media, private settings and public spaces
- Debates about art vs. pop culture
The Theory Forum will allow researchers to comparatively investigate and mutually assess the topic areas. One essential element of the Theory Forum will be the four Poetry Debates series, aiming to create a dialogue between theory and literary practice. Poet readings and lectures on poetics in combination with scholarly input will also be important tools for public knowledge transfer. Furthermore, three international and interdisciplinary conferences on the sub-projects’ topic areas are planned. The sub-projects and the Theory Forum will be supported by visiting scholars as well as four research advisory boards. The presence of external scholars will ensure that the research process is subject to continuous assessment. Experts from different disciplines and academic cultures will be integrated into the research process in order to achieve the project’s broad perspective and comparative objectives.