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what does the e-poets network do?

So explain this art you're into... What do you do? precipitates cultural and literary encounters through new media. Our main method through 2003 was through telepresent performance. We produced videoconferences where audiences and literary artists saw and heard each other "across geographical and cultural frontiers" (a phrase we coined right here in Chicago). This was not big science, just appropriate science.

Since then, we've fostered encounters through the web and hypermedia. The many poets we encountered through the videoconferences also jumpstarted our collection of spoken word recordings. When the recordings started going online, they took on a life of their own. We've embarked on trips abroad to record on location, while poets abroad have found us and submitted recordings. We came online just in time to support the emergence of a more aural literary culture worldwide.

Partners and associates of this website also embark on their own literary ventures. These include (but are not limited to): literary blogging, experimental creative writing in online formats, using Flash and other technologies to animate poetry, sound collage and audio poetry, and poetry video.

Were your videoconferences staged as a play?
No, though some people have done so with their own productions, particularly one group called the Gertrude Stein Theater, of New York.

We're more about not obliging the talent to act, but to give us their best rendering of the text. After all, it is a poet's prerogative not to act. Our shows tend to work like poetry readings or performance art events, albeit in two places at once. It's a performance where a fourth wall may be 1000 kilometers away. There's a blend of literature, theater, and technology.

So, why settle on poetry with this 2-way medium?
Poetry was what I was doing in addition to video in the 1980s. And by training, I was a technologist. So I followed my own creative urges and eventually came in contact with other people who did the same. Jean Howard, co-founder of the Uptown Poetry Slam, discovered Merilene Murphy on a tour of Los Angeles, and thought of me right away. Jean put me in touch with Merilene and her videophone poetry readings. At first, I was very skeptic that the process worked at all. Then I tried it, and I was hooked.

Poetry is both a robust genre for its economy of word, and a delicate genre for its subtlety of meaning. One could simply distribute a poem as an e-mail or a piece of paper. But when the living writer is there to render it in their own voice, so much more comes through.

Is there an anthropological factor, too?
Yes, absolutely. As much as telepresent performance is a collaborative exercise in literature, theater, and new media, it's also a potential tool in the humanities for revealing cultures to each other, audience to audience, public eye to public eye. This idea returns us to that theme I stated before: We wish to use poetry to precipitate a cultural encounter. People tend to come for the art, but they can go home with a snapshot of another culture, another place, another body politic. As the medium exposes the artist, so it also exposes the artist's culture.

What do artists do in these shows?
They do as they want. Anything goes. Rants, raves, raps. Lyrical stuff. Classicist poetry. Monologue. Political, religious, or ethnic literature. There's room for everything to be seen and heard.

Mostly, with poetry or performance art, the artist can simply speak, and people watch from here and "there," wherever "there" happens to be. Sometimes there's music. On other occasions, there are supplementary film or video images. The artists can take the audience wherever they want to go.

Do you have program standards?
Yes, but only in terms of quality. I don't book artists who write their sets on the bus on their way to the show. And my partners express the same degree of scrutiny for their guest artists, too. Nobody wants to waste our hard work and the audience's attention on poorly considered literature.

So do you ever have to censor?
No. This is art, and not TV. We are representing ourselves in this medium. Why would we want to censor ourselves?

You get a kick out of this, don't you?
You betcha.

Do you webcast your events live?
We did a webcast once as a proof of concept project, with Radio Free Monterey (RFM). We published some of our experiences about this in Stanford University's journal, Mantis 1: poetry and community (2000).

So why didn't you webcast everything?
Only one of our partners, RFM, had the means. And they didn't stay in operation much past 2003. Live webcasts are expensive to undertake when you have a audiences numbering more than 20. Poets don't have big bucks. So budget and technical means kept us from doing webcasts very much from Chicago.

We were also weighing epistemology at that time, and it remains a valid concern today. In a webcast, nobody can hear you scream (if you're in the audience). I believe it's important for the poetry to be heard and understood; but regardless, it's equally important that the audience can offer real feedback to an artist in the moment the work is uttered. While my work is all about media in many ways, the force of the work is to un-mediate the communication. By going point-to-point with a bi-directional A/V link, a poem has a better chance of being understood partly as a result of the audience also being understood. Including a community-based text chat alongside the webcast makes great sense, too.

Presenting our events on a theatrical stage reinforces the psychology that it is something to watch and contemplate, or that there is a way to stand up and be heard. It frames the art in a familiar context without impinging on the medium's ability to expand the art's significance in cultural, political, and geographic ways. Poets and the public can walk in and participate, no computer necessary.

In the summer of 1999, I started collaborating with RFM. The station encouraged audience response and interaction by running a live chat channel alongside their RealMedia webcasts. Viewers and the "on-air" talent interacted as they please through the text-based chat. This combination of pictures, sounds, and dialog was infectious and fun. And it was not dumbed down. It supported genuine conversation. In effect, e-poets and RFM reclaimed some of the space lost to live audiences since the beginning of radio and TV broadcasting. Our audience -- the public viewing us from their own homes -- told us immediately what was on their minds. copyright © 1999-2016 e-poets network
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