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The Graph Poem–A Manifesto

September 7th, 2016 margento

Photo (c) Benediktas Janusevicius

The manifesto was presented at the TEXT-WORLD — World-TEXT Symposium (on the relationship between experimentation, politics, and literature) at Forum Stadtpark (Graz, Austria), June 17-18, 2016; the symposium was organized as part of the CROWD Omnibus Reading Tour (http://crowdlitbus.eu/eu.crowd-literature/#/start).

Also published on frACTalia, http://www.fractalia.ro/2016/06/01/chris-tanasescu-margento/

The Graph Poem. A Manifesto

Graphs—networks of nodes connected by (multiple) edges, ever-ramifying, ever-expanding, ever (dis)connecting—are both the micro- and the macrocosmos of poetry. A poem works when there is coherence between its microcosm and its macrocosm, its quantum level and its multiverse, its inner and outer graphs, its code and its interface—when the “personal” is indeed political and the political is inevitably (im/non/multi)personal.

When the community is so mathematically and digitally translatable that it loses both its (projected) commonalities and its uni([d]enti)ty/ies in translation, and the graph poem reassembles it as toolkit and database.
(We’re actually already there; the question is now what kind of database; it is perhaps for no reason that on the semantic web and in scalable RDF storage, the cutting-edge are… graph databases.)

Poetry iterates (Falstaff: “O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint”) translation within iconization through re(im)mediation.

The graph [within/as/around the] poem renders translation topological (Theseus: “to airy nothing/ a local habitation and a name”), iconization asemic (within and without the vernacular; also, Peter Barry: “there is no such thing as reading […], rather, there is ‘just looking’”), and absorbs remediation into intermedia & polymedia(tion).

Abigail Susik: “[T]he operations of the meme suddenly empty the image of one meaning only to fill it with the next. This occurs through a rash of collectively executed permutations, exhausting the image’s reserves and precluding canonical preservation in the future. The meme is constantly recoded by perceivers, rather than decoded […]”

Charles Bernstein wrote some years ago: “Digital poetry 2003: In 1975, everyone was worried about the idea that language is code; in 2003, everyone is worried that code is language.”

In 2015, everybody is thrilled that the digital has a reality principle of its own, as digital space goes beyond the real-virtual binary opposition. We don’t need and we can’t afford to wait another 30 years as in Bernstein’s statement to see the flip side of the coin. It’s not only that the digital is a universe in its own right. Physicists say there is actually a possibility that our world itself is merely a simulation. The universe is a computational app. Interfering with that, accounting for that, enacting that is the job of contemporary poetry.

Tell that, tell the world is an app to the victims of the civil war in Syria, to the refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean and elsewhere, to those in the Afghan hospital recently bombed by the Americans “by mistake.” To the children starving and not affording education in Somalia. To the victims of the Russian troops illegally stationed and “secretly” backing up the Russophone separatists in Transnistria, Moldova. In Kenya a woman is raped every 30 minutes. In India—every 20 minutes. Tell those women the world is an app. Then give them a voice. That is also contemporary poetry’s job.

Literally. If there are people in the “3rd world” starving but still owning a cell or even a smartphone—and if this proves the worldwide penetration of the military-industrial complex—this also represents an opportunity for “us,” the “others,” to hear everybody, be connected to everybody, include everybody in our performance/poem while we are included in theirs. Poetry is the tab, the pad, and the board.

“The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station.

‘Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,’ Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.” (Mattew Brunwasser, “A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone,” New York Times)

Hi, I am Youjin! I’m making the first real documentary on digital nomads. For the last few years, I’ve interviewed traveling freelancers, remote workers and founders of distributed startups. I feel a revolution is happening with many people replacing the “template” life at home and instead flying out in to the world, to live and work from anywhere. They are people buying a one way ticket and I want to tell their stories. I need your help to make this possible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLe8GPIAc1-T-zzofV33On0G9ZsfsRgblP&v=Mnm0q4husfU

The lines of flight the migrant can take across maps—quite often thanks to the “territorializing” mapping apps—are both prompted and sectioned by thick mapping and by (the music’s, by the livestream across-border-and-across-time-zone collective performances’) vertical time:


Fragments as echoic nomadic statements, echostates. On-journey-through-the-states recyclopedia. Echostates in chaos media.

[An echostate from a forthcoming article on Gellu Naum:]. In his development and exemplification (by analyzing George Oppen’s poem “Route”) of the concept of “placing poetry,” Ian Davidson seems more preoccupied with “circulating entities” which represent or bring about the “place of travel [that] becomes place,” such as the car (or the invading Nazi tank in Oppen’s poem) “continually placing its occupants in different contexts.”6 While journeying and movement are ubiquitous in Gellu Naum’s poetry, I find more relevant to his poetics a question that Davidson asks a bit later in relation to placing: “Is it possible to conceive of a language that is on the move, which users are always placing, but is never placed?”7 This latter direction is perhaps more useful in examining Naum’s poetry—and not only—, but it still needs to be taken to the next level, particularly with a further emphasis on “placing” read as an action expressed by an intransitive verb, place-in-progress, place-as-process, and specifically, place-as-performance, especially if corroborated with studying the dynamism and processuality instilled and explored by poetry in (and as) place/ing.

Poets—secret legislators? Rather Mechanical Turk annotators.

Manual annotators, manuscript manufacturing manumitting amanuenses.

Dealing with, employing, and producing Big Data. Out of and into big data through data intensive approaches, that will be the way of contemporary poetry. The contemporary (graph) poem has to draw on “distant reading” and “cultural analytics” approaches; moreover, it has to represent an instance of distant reading in its own right; and it will have to become a distant reading tool.

The Manifold Scholarship platform of “iterative and networked monographs,” for instance, has done in the field of academic publishing what poetry has to do in the field of everything and everybody. Actually, the (graph) poem not only has to cover—culturally, (multi)lingually, performatively, in cross-artform and intermedia fashions—what the manifold monograph does academically, but it also has do the job of platforms as well. That is what the contemporary (graph) poem has to be like—iterative, networked, interactive, boundless, live—while also hosting and/or employing other poems, apps, [digital humanities] projects & tools, users, social media, games, virtual & augment(ally)ed reality, search engines, poems as queries to datasets, “conditional texts,” [real time] performance(s) and venue networks, updates, chatting, comments, etc.

The poetry graph is a multimonograph,
and its manifold form is that of the platform.

Where is the body (in a world of poetry as networked poems/people and platforms)? Most likely at the intersection of the “technological unconscious” and the “new unconscious.” Where the border between the digital and the flesh is totally blurred. The “traditional” (“page”) poem is the body as (re)created by the vibrations of (virtually) sensory subjective/self-perception. The digital poem is the body (re)shaped by the interaction with the virtual as digital affordance. In both, the poem is the (convergence of) media; the body included, as comm(onal/oral/)(un)ity. The graph poem is both of them, in both their [app(aren’t)] discrete differentiation and their contiguous asympto[(auto)ma]tic conjunction.

Speaking of scale, the graph poem proves being in
finite as a palpable inexhaustible di
(uni/multi)vers(e)ity; in terms of temp
orality and loc(k)al(l)ity, co-(t)here
nce brings about improbable connections, I(’)m-pro
viso others, and vicinities,
while asymptotically merging inkOherence & Inc
ou(n)ters into tempLate temples.

3 Martin Heidegger quoted in David M. Berry, Critical Theory and the Digital, 60.

4 Jerome Rothenberg, “The Steward’s Testimony,” in Triptych, 33.

5 David M. Berry, id., ibid.


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