TECHNOLOGY Changes the SHAPE of an Art
by Vicki Lewis
One if the main problems that confront the teacher of literature in the middle/high school classroom is the challenge of communicating not only message and theme, but also the rhythm and tone of a poem. There is a genre of poetry that relies on the visual - lines, colors and proportions for apt communication of its message. It is known as "concrete" or "visual poetry." See the poem " Ping Pong" by Eugene Gomringer for example:
ping pong ping
pong ping pong
Paul Kloppenborg, author of the article "Concrete to Computer: The Future of Visual Poetry," comments that the visual and semantic elements constituting the form as well as the content of a poem define its structure so that the poem cam be a "reality in itself and not a poem about something or other." While visual language is achieved through an awareness of graphic space, the concrete poem uses word arrangement, sounds, syllables and words as a means of presentation (2-3).
Some poems, however, cannot rely on textual representation alone to transmit
an experience. Basil Bunting, critical writer and Modernist, makes the following
comment in his essay, "The Poet's Point of View":
A skilled reader can try to hear, mentally, what his eyes see in print: but nothing will satisfy him till his ears hear it as real sound in the air. Poetry must be read aloud ... Without the sound, the reader looks at the lines as he looks at prose, seeking a meaning. Prose exists to convey meaning, and no meaning such as prose conveys can be expressed as well in poetry. That is not poetry's business. Poetry is seeking to make not meaning, but beauty. (80 - 1)
to Bunting's closing statement however, poetry can be both meaningful and
beautiful. The written word captivates, inspires, and enlightens; its
value is immeasurable. Prose, on the other hand, sometimes fails to
capture the condensed passion that can be expressed in the spoken language
of poetry but each form of literature serves its purpose. The beauty
about which Bunting speaks is communicated through listening. Students
should be given the opportunity to extract meaning from spoken literature.
Tasked with making literature and poetry a beneficial experience for students, instructors are responsible for exposing them to techniques that will make the edification process more enjoyable. One such technique that may help to accomplish this daunting task is the use of electronic media. Due to the evolving shift in literary culture, modern poetry can be enjoyed by using Web sites, audio files, CD's, etc.
Having recently been introduced to the Paul Laurence Dunbar Web Site which houses readings of the poet's standard English and Black dialect poems,
I can personally attest to the fact that one does not really know a poem until he or she has heard it read aloud.
Dana Gioia, celebrated poet and author of Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture, maintains that literary poetry has separated into four distinct groups: performance poetry, oral poetry, audiovisual, and visual poetry.
Hear with your Eyes
Poetry reading communicates verbal, physical, and mental images to its audience.
... In a society with too many books and too little time for reading, especially serious literary reading, a book of poems, no matter how superb, can no longer be sure of attracting an audience by means of print alone. The poetry reading - despite its high-art aura - fulfills the prerequisites of the new orality: like radio, television, film, and recordings, it takes language off the printed page ... it links the spoken word to the physical presence of the speaker. (21-2)
"Poetry reading" describes a performance (from a published text, of course) before a well-behaved, often academic audience. 'Spoken-word poetry' - so redundant from a historical perspective - identifies voiced verbal art, verse that is lifted off the page and into the world of presence and experience. (30)The method of delivery is, therefore, dependent on the intended audience. Either way, recipients are taken to a level that is more dramatic than what eyes alone could perceive.
Across the spans of human societies, oral poetic traditions encode what we call history, anthropology, folklore, mythology, law, philosophy, medicine, and numerous other disciplines ... we are in the habit of understanding poetry as a species of written poetry, not the other way around ... when viewed fairly, verbal art turns out to be much more extensive, more diverse, and more fascinating than we customarily presume, and our practice of "reading oral poetry" must respond to that challenging diversity. (28-9)Poetry must be respected as a reflection of life and its multiple layers because it is often a personal account of what has been seen, heard, of experienced.