Monday, January 31, 2011

Article of the Week

The article I chose this week is from the Winter 2010 (V 35, #4) issue of Children's Literature Association Quarterly. The article is titled, Toward a digital Poetics for Children by Richard Flynn.

 Preview of the article:

I must say at the outset that my title is overly ambitious. In this short paper I can only hope to sketch questions—and not having my crystal ball handy, I can't provide clear direction for the future. The questions I'll sketch grow out of the conclusion to my recent essay for the Cambridge Companion to Children's Literature, "The Fear of Poetry":
The internet has potential for presenting poetry in attractive formats, though it does not seem to have begun to fulfill that potential. And no matter how useful various technologies may be, they are no substitute for the embodied experience that characterizes the young child's first encounter with poetry. Children can only have a valuable 'inter-media-ated' experience if they are media literate, and media literacy can only be learned if there is a foundation of meaningful literacy to build on. Poems that challenge beyond their surface appeal, that will inhabit children and encourage them to inhabit language, are indispensable, if only we can see and hear them.
(89)

In keeping with the conference theme, I decided to take a serious look at the state of digital poetics and children's poetry. Such a poetics, I have discovered, is still in its infancy. While there is a growing and increasingly sophisticated body of criticism about electronic literature, including significant work about digital poetics, little of it takes work for an audience of young people very seriously. Some of what passes for digital poetry is of questionable merit, such as my new favorite, "Stud Poetry," 1 in which I can play card sharp to the symbolists. On the serious side, the Internet has been extraordinarily useful for hosting important archives, such as "PennSound," "UbuWeb," "Electronic Poetry Center," and sites hosted by the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, among others, but these archives either pay scant attention to children's poetry...or they present a picture of children's poetry that is depressingly condescending to young people.

In this article, Flynn laments the current state of digital poetry. A perusal of online poetry sources reveals "games and pedagogical materials that purport to be designed to help teachers get kids excited about poetry but that seems to have the opposite effect" (p. 422). He cites several online websites and reports that purport to promote ways "new media might employ innovative ways to facilitate the making and/or presentation of poetry" (p. 420), but fall short.

I chose this article because it points to what is possible, rather than what's probable with digital poetics. It is easy to get caught up in the revelry of simply having access to traditional print forms of poetry online. Teachers personally buy the majority of books for their classroom libraries, and poetry is often not at the top of the list of genres to be purchased. However, most classrooms across the US have access to one or more computers in the classroom and the Internet. Simply having access to poetry online increases the likelihood that children will have access to it. In addition, access to video clips of Children's Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman reading aloud her poetry and Classical Baby (I'm Grown Up Now): The Poetry Show, which introduces audiences to poetry through animation and song, are added bonuses.

Yet, is having access to poetry online in it's traditional form going to actively engage children in poetic language? Probably not. Multimedia composing with pictures, animation, audio narration, music, transitional cinematic effects, links, and words expressed in various fonts combine in ways that multiply meaning. In other words, taken together, the combination of media presents a more powerful and potentially deeper meaning construction than would words or images or any of the media resources would if they stood alone.

However, as Flynn points out, we are a long way from children being able to create such texts on their own:

Right now, it seems to me that children's agency in navigating digital poetry is hampered not only by their limited repertoire and lack of literary and technological know-how but by the dearth of innovative digital texts. Despite young people's highly developed hand-eye coordination and facility with games and texting on handheld devices, the idea that children are naturally adept at negotiating electronic media is wishfully optimistic romanticism (p. 423).


Flynn does cite one example of innovative digital poetry for children, Chris Joseph's "animalamina" which is described as, "a collection of digital poetry for children that uses interaction, animation and optional sounds and music for children to uncover each poem through movement around an A to Z of interconnected scenes." Flynn describes the site as emphasizing the "materiality of language in the digital realm."

It is easy to see why there are not more of these sites available to children. Joseph collaborated with several traditional visual artists and computer programmers "to translate his 'own love of children's poetry' into the digital realm" (p. 423). How many of us have visual artists and computer programmers at our disposal? "In addition," Joseph writes, "children are relatively invisible as a specific audience for digital works outside of computer games and educational software, with the result there are fewer public arenas for new digital content for young people" (p. 423).

Creating an audience for digital poetics starts with awareness of what is possible and the progression of technology tools for consumers. When educators and parents have access to examples of quality sites such as animalanima, when they see the benefit of such sites for engaging children in poetic language, and when they have access to online tools that are easy for children to access and use, then children's agency in the development of such sites may increase. In the mean time, it is possible that the creation of such sites by people who love poetry, such as Chris Joseph, will continue -- not because they are going to make a ton of money -- rather, because they want to make a difference in children's engagement with poetry, one site at a time. 

Selected poetry websites from those listed in the article:

PennSound:  http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound

UbuWeb: www.ubu.com

EPC Electronic Poetry Center: http://epc.buffalo.edu

The Academy of American Poets site: www.poets.org

The Poetry Foundation:  www.poetryfoundation.org

Children's records on UbuWeb: www.ubu.com/outsiders/365/2007/233.shtml

Animalamina: www.animalamina.com

1 comment:

richflynn17 said...

Wow! I just found this. Thanks for this thoughtful commentary on my article!

Richard Flynn