The Broken Poem: Ephemerality, Glitch, and De-Performance in Digital (And Non-Digital) Poetry

Aaron Jason Angello, University of Colorado at Boulder


The Broken Poem: Ephemerality, Glitch, and De-Performance in Digital (and Non-Digital) Poetry explores a few ways in which digital poetry, poetry that is written in programmable media and is intended to be read on computers or other digital devices, is acting to tactically resist various forms of oppression through what I am calling “breakage.” Breakage is, in this sense, an error or disruption in a perceived continuity. For example, I look at digital poems that take advantage of the fact that, because of software or hardware upgrades, they have a limited functional life. The poets’ embrace of their poems’ ephemerality actively resists market forces, cultural or professional demands on the poet to participate in processes of canonization, and the like. I also explore the idea of “glitching poetic language,” in which existing texts are digitally manipulated, digitally “broken” through a process in which the poet provokes errors. This is a remix strategy with aleatoric results that shifts the reader’s focus from the referential elements of the text, or the fragments of text, to an error, a break. I argue that these poems, by breaking, challenge systems that support institutional racism, violence, economic disparity, and other unjust social phenomena. I then explore poetic breakage in live performance. I look specifically at the Black Took Collective, a group of performance poets who utilize digital media in live performance to subvert expectations that an audience might have regarding race, gender, and poetry’s place in the academy. The final chapter is a demonstration of practice-based research and a discussion of the role of this kind of research in an evolving English department. I offer two examples of practice-based research in literary studies: Poemedia 2.0 and The Denver Poetry Map.