Writer in Residence

In Poetry, Some Assembly is Required!

By Edward Carson

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A poem becomes a self-organizing model of the media and a mind’s neural networks.

Each new electronic/digital medium through which we communicate has become a critical new partner in the evolution in language.

Poetry today is working hard at looking at, often trying to resolve or unpack issues arising out of the confluence of the mind, the media, and the metaphorical design and patterned structures of language.

Ultimately, for the poet as well as the reader, some assembly is required.

A poem becomes a self-organizing model of the media and mind’s neural network, algorithmically and heuristically creating the paradoxes, fallacies and insights, the planned and unintended thoughts and feelings.

We are all only beginning to understand the degree to which the electronic media – for better or worse – alters and shapes our thought processes, our language and creative decisions and reach.

The effects in our writing show up as:

changes in presentation                                   expanded narrative styles

new structure of works                                   enlarges vocabulary

increases in distractions                                  broadening of uses for technology

expands multitasking                                      blurs digital divide of writer/reader

imagery shaped by search engines                  content added from search engines

modular reading/writing habits                        modified syntax, punctuation

fragmented phrase/sentences                          quicker research time

digital memory vs. neural memory                 fragmented ownership

technology as teacher                                      technology as ‘the muse”

For better and worse, technology has become the ultimate disruptive heart of modernity.

What might all of this mean?

With electronic media available, everything is possible within the poem, which means an infinitely variable array of probabilities in both content and form are a keystroke away.

Learning how to reorganize itself to read from a book, the brain must now learn to reroute the same neural circuits as it reads from the desktop, laptop, handheld.

Technology has been helping the brain to research or communicate. How is the brain responding to that technology?

You can be guided by or you can guide the media you use by materially expanding the range and reach of your interests.

Electronic media urges upon the brain a new choreography to language.

In poetry, adaptations in response bring changes in compositional pace and spacing of diction as well as in its syntactic sequencing and stride.

Maneuvering in grammar and punctuation is more intricate, stylistically varied and narratively sophisticated.

The resulting slide and pivot, pause, leap and momentum of the poetic line take on the appearance of a more nonchalant control whereas the actual outcome is often far more technically controlled, complex and rhythmically exact 

Today, poetry from the technologically enhanced brain is a data-river, feeding on and into every aspect of human experience.

It wraps its way around each bend, continues to flow, though never depending on the same solution it finds a place to slow and rest, then flows once more forward into the quick white cataracts and sulphur blue pools of the poem.

Inside it there is only the way forward, with no way of return. It constantly renews and feeds itself by the waters of its source and those joining with it.

The data-river is always moving ahead, distracting itself in tributaries, then gathering together the substance of its past, the momentum of its future, the evidence of its flow.

Throughout its path and direction, the signatures of its presence, the shores and bedrock of its being are the measure and evidence of its additions and subtractions.

Stand in the river. It is always changing around us. It meanders. It becomes an emblem of the continuous mind, an eloquent extension of what you think is where you are going:

the data-river  a  periodic  and  anti-symmetrical  self-induced  distortion   meanders  inside   the  will  of  its  own  nature  retaining   no   obvious  sense   of  shape  though  freely  fine-tuning  its  method   drifting  downstream  according to  the direction of  a slope  where  ripple  ramble  loop  and  roam bend  and  flow  within  the average  mean curves of  oscillation  or  amplitude   and  yet  the  mind  immersed  as it  is  on  a  path  of  which   little  is  known   also  knows  itself   as  a medium   often  at   times indifferent   and  unmeasured  where  riffle  range  chart  and  pool  will modify  its scale  of change  knowing  what  plan  its  course  will  take  will   likewise  shape  an  outcome  where  word  after  word  appears and  disappears  the  continuous  mind  thinking  in  a  geography  of  thought  chasing   a  vanishing  point  of   no    return   no   longer   obvious   or  self-evident

It is always changing. It is a change in complex systems or organization, replacing former ways of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking, composing or configuration.

Tune in for my next poetry post on Friday, April 12 when we'll look into, "Poetry’s Curve Towards Infinity"

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Edward Carson, writer and photographer, is twice winner of the E.J. Pratt Medal in Poetry and author of Knots, Birds Flock Fish School, and Taking Shape, as well as his most recent collection, Look Here Look Away Look Again. He lives in Toronto.