Originally published in Display Holography (Fourth International Symposium - Proc. SPIE 1600), Tung H. Jeong, Editor (Bellingham, WA: SPIE, 1991), pp. 229-236. This paper gives an overview of the development of visual poetry in the twentieth century; it then introduces theoretical issues in holopoetry and discusses new holopoems created between 1989 and 1991.


Eduardo Kac

Holographic poetry is better understood in the context of the multiple directions that visual poetry took in the twentieth century, and in order to make clear some theoretical issues of holopoetry which will be discussed ahead I shall proceed to summarize some of the highlights in the development of this literary genre.

Drawing from a long tradition of verbal-pictorial synthesis that goes from ancient Greece to the experiments with white spaces of the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé at the end of the nineteenth century, several poets in the early decades of the twentieth century moved beyond the line as the structural unit of poetry. In search for what he called "wireless imagination", the Italian Futurist Filippo Tomasso Marinetti launched in 1909 a manifesto that would have profound impact in modern art and poetry. The Futurists moved beyond the free verse and developed what they termed le parole in libertá (free words), i.e., verbal compositions in which words took on visual properties and were freely arranged on the page so as to reflect dynamic aspects of modern life. At the same time, Guillaume Apollinaire sought a Cubist approach to poetry. In certain poems he employed fragments of sounds and images among words scattered on the page to convey the perception of a given scene or moment from a variety of perspectives, paralleling the pictorial strategies of his friends Picasso and Braque. In other works he created compositions of concise visual rhythm and rarified semantic density. In the poem reproduced below, which was originally published in 1914,(1) he develops an appreciation of the female first name "Linda" (which means "pretty") through a random sequence of anagrams:

One of the outstanding contributors to the development of visual poetry is Russian Vasili Kamensky, whose work is as important as is little known. Working in an experimental atmosphere that would lead to the birth of Constructivism in the 1920s, Kamensky developed what he called "zhelezobetonny"(2) poems, which he defined as being organized in the space of a single page and whose elements, mostly nouns, were connected by non-syntactical (i.e., visual) associations. In his most innovative book, Tango with Cows, published in 1914, he pushed the limits of typography. The book includes the poem "Telephone", a radical experimentation with multiple fonts(3):

Taking advantage of the code of the typewriter, with its regular spacing and its vertical and horizontal movements, American poet E. E. Cummings imploded the linear configuration of words and reinvented the poetic space with the resulting fragments. His most innovative texts, written in the '20s and onwards, have rigorous structures, often creating visual rhythms with left and right margins, punctuation marks and the alternation between standard upper and lower cases.

In 1944, Italian poet Carlo Belloli published Testi-Poemi Murali ("Wall Text-Poems") and Parole per la Guerra ("Words for the War"), two collections of works that were marked by economy of poetic means. These works consisted of words laid out on the page in complex arrays and patterns (see example below). The meticulous use of typography was meant to allow for visualization of the words before they could be read and interpreted. I have translated one of his pieces from 1943 below. In an introduction to Testi-Poemi Murali, Futurist P.T. Marinetti wrote(4) that Belloli's text-poems "anticipate a language of word-signs set in the communicational network of a mathematical civilization which will be marked by restraint in the use of dialogue, gestures and feelings". Belloli is still active today and open to new possibilities for visual poetry. He created in the early '80s holographic pieces that he refers to as "anticipateurs de l'holopoésie".(5)

After the Second World War, Romanian-born Isidore Isou came to Paris and, taking further the work of Dada pioneers Ball, Hausmann and Schwitters, lead the movement called "Lettrism", which focused on the letter as a new poetic compositional unit. Isou, Lemaître, Dufrêne and the other lettrists aspired to revitalize poetry and painting, initially by replacing the verse with clusters of phonemes freed from semantics and by solving the abstract-figurative dichotomy with the sole presence of visual representations of language within the pictorial space. The Lettrist group is still working in France today.

The God's Diaries (1950), Isidore Isou

Visual poetry acquired world-wide attention in the '50s and '60s, when Concrete poetry was launched as an international movement as a consequence of experiments performed in Switzerland and Brazil. Working in Switzerland in the '40s, Bolivian-born poet Eugen Gomringer was aware of the work of Max Bill and other concrete visual artists, who inherited the name "Concrete Art" and the interest for geometric abstractions from Theo VanDoesburg. In search of new possibilities for poetry akin to the non-representational investigation of the concrete painters, in 1953 Gomringer published his first book of concrete poems, Konstellationen ("Constellations"), in which poems are composed with white spaces and few words -- as in the example reproduced below.

In the same year, Ferreira Gullar finished his book A Luta Corporal ("The Corporeal Struggle"), in which poems are written with fractured words and imploded syntax. Still in 1953, Augusto de Campos wrote Poetamenos ("Poetminus"), a set of poems inspired by the "tone-color melodies" of composer Anton Webern in which several colors are integrated into the non-syntactical structure. The colors gave reading directions and functioned as theme designators.In addition to Gullar's and Augusto de Campos' work, Concrete poetry was developed early in Brazil by Haroldo de Campos, Décio Pignatari, Ronaldo Azeredo and Wlademir Dias-Pino. Dias-Pino's pioneering work (A Ave, 1956), prompting readerly intervention and creating meaning between verbal and non-verbal elements, was also very influential. In 1959, Gullar, Reynaldo Jardim and others launched Neo-Concrete poetry, producing installation-like and interactive three-dimensional poems out of hard materials, like wood and glass, that had to be manipulated by the viewer in order to be read.

Lembra ("Remember"), 1959, neo-concrete poem by Ferreira Gullar

Yet, in 1964, taking Dias-Pino's work into a new direction, Pignatari and Luiz Angelo Pinto developed a kind of poetry to be written without words, which they called Semiotic poetry. It consisted of sequences of intermingled designs, like a black square or a white triangle, for example, to which semantical meanings where attached. If the black square was given the meaning "tomorrow" and the white triangle was given the meaning "yesterday", the image of a black square inside a white triangle would signify something different from, say, two black triangles juxtaposed to a white square. The scope was to expand syntax and signification beyond a linear writing process. In 1968, Dias-Pino launched "Process/Poem", a poetics that dispensed with words altogether, opening the way for a purely visual poetry.

Among the relatively recent, as well the ongoing poetic research with which holographic poetry could be related in broader terms are the interactive computer poem "Cybernetic Landscape I"(6) created by the American Aaron Marcus in 1975 in anticipation of Virtual Reality, the videopoetry of Ernesto Melo e Castro, from Portugal, which was first created and broadcasted in 1969 and resumed in the '80s, the holographic pieces German Dieter Jung produced in collaboration with diverse writers, the interactive text "The Legible City" by Jeffrey Shaw, who was born in Australia and works in Amsterdam, the multimedia writing by American Richard Kostelanetz, the Hyperpoems by American writers Jim Rosenberg and William Dickey, and the digital-poetic incursions of Brazilian André Vallias.

Theoretical Issues in holopoetry

Twentieth century visual poetry evolved having the printed page as its basic structuring agent, as a support upon which ink is laid to form the verbal composition. As a physical surface where the poem is inscribed, the white on the page gained meaning and in most cases contrasted as silence with the verbal inscriptions that often resonated as representations of sounds. Once printed, the verbal sign is fixed on the surface and its signification is bound by the rigidity of the page, very much like a line drawn on a canvas. The comparison with painting is not accidental, because both modern poetry and modern art searched for the specificity of their materials simultaneously, leading to non-narrative poetry and non-figurative art. As modern painting moved away from the pictorial becoming abstract, modern poetry moved away from the linear becoming fragmented. Some poets tried to give a new direction to the ancient "figurative poem" ( i.e., a poem in the shape of an object), but this tendency is a minor part of modern and contemporary literary experiments. Even in Apollinaire's oeuvre, shaped words not always signify straightforwardly the subjects of the shapes they were molded into, creating an ideogrammatic tension between the symbolic [verbal] and the iconic [visual].

Among the linguistic conventions of the West is the left-to-right orientation of the reading process, which is an arbitrary representation of the linear chain of spoken language. This is valid also for the two-dimensional page, which inherited the norm and is read from left to right and from top to bottom. In a sense, the reading from top to bottom follows an ordinary perception of reality, which is regulated by the action of gravity upon elements. A sequence of pages in a book is conventionally read from left to right as well, resembling the chain formed by sequences of words in a sentence. It is impossible not to take into account the limits imposed upon poetic creation by the physical properties of the visual space the poet works with. The poets' challenge is exactly to disregard conventions and to create new codes, moving language beyond the redundant, the verbose and the ordinary. So modern visual poets distributed words freely on the page, or created self-referential structures, sometimes with permutational reading possibilities between the words in the fixed structure. They printed fragments of words, enhancing their visual nature, or made the word an image in itself; Always within the perimeter of the immutable page, or the tangible boundaries of firm and stable three-dimensional materials. The immutability and stability of two-dimensional and three-dimensional surfaces conditioned the signifying spectrum of visual poetry thus far.

In a reaction against fixed structures, holographic poetry seeks to create a space where the linguistic ordering factor of surfaces is disregarded in favor of an irregular fluctuation of signs that can never be grasped at once by the reader. This turbulent space, with bifurcations which can take on an indefinite number of rhythms, allows for the creation of what will be called here textual instability. By textual instability I mean precisely that condition according to which a text does not preserve a single visual structure in time as it is read by the viewer, producing different and transitory verbal configurations in response to the beholder's perceptual exploration. I shall make it clear that I still consider the holographic poem under the general category of text, a verbal composition that operates within the linguistic code. Its difference in relation to other kinds of visual poetry is marked by a set of characteristics that work together to destabilize the text, to plunge it into its specificity as written [text] as opposed to graphic representation [of speech], to create a syntax based on fleeting transformations and discrete leaps.

As Derrida has suggested, (7) no text can be fully controlled by its author, to whom its inherent contradictions and collateral meanings inevitably escape. The precise positioning of [apparently stable] words on the [innanimate] surface of the page gives author and reader the illusion of control, of mastery and command of the text (and often of the exterior reality it refers to). Holographic poetry tries to exhibit the impossibility of an absolute textual structure, it attempts to create verbal patterns with disturbances that magnify small changes in meaning according to the perceptual inquiry of the reader. That does not mean that one cannot go back to the viewing zone where any specific word appears; it is possible to see the same word again but the word seen just before or right after could be different, or relate to that specific word differently. But the point is not to try to draw similarities between holopoetry and other forms of experimental writing. Instead, the specificity of the former is what must be emphasized. For example: a syntactical structure can be created in which one could see twenty or more words occupying the same space without overlapping; a word could also transform itself into another word/shape or vanish momentarily. Letters can collapse and reconstruct themselves or move to form other words in a time-reversal transition. These and all other latent expressive possibilities of holopoetry are unique to its grammar and they are only possible in part because its space, as I seek to create it, is an oscillatory field of diffracting light as opposed to the tangible surfaces of pages and objects. The white on the page which represented silence is removed and what remains is empty space, an absence of (printing) support which has no primary symbolic value. The vacuous gaps between words and letters do not represent positively absence of sound, because the photonic inscriptions don't stand essentially for its presence. We are in the domain of spatiotemporal writing, four- dimensional writing, if we wish, where spatial gaps don't point to anything except for the potential presence of graphemes. The voids are not to be "seen", unlike the white on the page. They are, to take Derrida's words literally, an interplay of absence and presence.(8)

Both Peirce and Saussure agreed on the physical nature of what they called, respectively, sign and signifier. For Saussure, the signifier is the "sound-image" (the word "arbor", for example) that carries the signified (the concept "tree"). Both together form Saussure's sign. For Peirce, the sign is something that is perceivable by our senses (like photographs, smoke or printed words) and that produces meaning by referring to something different than itself, like an object (the word 'apple'), event (the sight of smoke indicating fire) or scene (landscape photography) in the world. Needless to say, for the written word AIRPLANE to refer to [to mean] the vehicle that transports people and objects by air, it must belong to the proper textual and cultural contexts and its letters must be perceived by our senses in the proper sequence. The word that results from the sequence of letters must remain visually constant. In visual poetry, the verbal sign has been subjected to a number of graphic treatments that contributed to extend the meaning of the words beyond their conventional associations. But once a printed word is sliced, fragmented and/or incorporated into a collage, it cannot escape the immutability of the final composition.

The dissolution of the solidity of the poetic space, which makes the discontinuous syntax of holopoetry possible, also affects the signifying units of the poem, i.e., the word and the letter. One of the elements of holopoetry, which nevertheless does not necessarily appear in all holographic texts, is what will be called here the fluid sign. It is essentially a verbal sign that changes its overall visual configuration in time, therefore escaping the constancy of meaning a printed sign would have as described above. Fluid signs are time-reversible, which means that the transformations can flow from pole to pole as the beholder wishes, and they can also become smaller compositional units in much larger texts, where each fluid sign will be connected to other fluid signs through discontinuous syntaxes. Fluid signs create a new kind of verbal unit, in which a sign is not either one thing or another thing. A fluid sign is perceptually relative. For two or more viewers reading together from distinct perspectives it can be different things at one time; for a non-stationary reader it can reverse itself and change uninterruptedly between as many poles as featured in the text.

Fluid signs can also operate metamorphoses between a word and an abstract shape, or between a word and a scene or object. When this happens, both poles reciprocally alter each others' meanings. A transfiguration takes place and it produces in-between meanings that are dynamic and as important in holopoetry as the meanings produced momentarily at the poles. The meanings of in-between configurations can not be substituted by a verbal description, like the word AIRPLANE can be substituted in the proper context by its definition [i.e., "the vehicle that transports people and objects by air"]. Neither can it be replaced by a specific word, as grey suggests a specific intermediary position or a meaning between black and white. In holopoetry transient clusters of letters or ephemeral shapes that lay between a word and an image aim to dynamically stretch the poetic imagination and suggest meanings, ideas and feelings that are not possible to convey by traditional means.

New holopoems

While still living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I produced seven holographic poems, from Holo/Olho (1983) to Quando??(1987/88).(9) These early pieces were made either in Brazil or in the US. In 1989 I moved to Chicago, where I have been able to work and experiment on an ongoing basis. Below I describe briefly the poems I made since my arrival. These descriptions are meant solely as initial guidelines for the reader of the actual holopoems and by no means are intended to exhaust their signifying possibilities.

My first piece in Chicago was Phoenix (1989), a poem composed of only one letter that draws attention to its visual properties instead of representing a particular sound. Designed with ambiguity, the letter W might be perceived as a stylized bird with open wings. It floats in front of the holographic film plane (20 inches away from it) and is transfixed by a vertical open flame that can be read as the letter I and which moves randomly according to air currents. The laser transmission letter-image produces a curious harmony with the actual flame, suggesting perhaps that we are as fascinated by laser images today as the primeval man was by fire. Where the laser red meets the blue flame, a hybrid magenta is perceived.

Conceived in collaboration with Richard Kostelanetz, the holopoem Lilith (1987/89) employs words in French and English to comment upon the legend that gives it its title. In Jewish popular etymology, Lilith means "devil of the night". Its understanding as the "female devil" has Babilonic roots, but Lilith also stands for any myth of "female devils". In Jewish mystic literature, she is the Queen of the Demons. According to another legend, still, she was the first wife of Adam. As opposed to Eve, Lilith was not created from Adam's body and therefore was totally independent of him. According to this legend, it was only after Lilith left Adam that Eve was created. In traditional cabalistic literature -- until recently a male-dominated field -- she is the symbol of sensuality and sexual temptation. The transformations that take place in the poem between the words HE, EL (short for "Elohim", or "God"), ELLE ("she" in French and mirror image of EL) and HELL are meant to unveil and criticize the bias that surrounds the myth of Lilith, product of a male dominated culture creating God in its own (male) image.

Three pieces that followed, Albeit (1989), Shema (1989) and Eccentric (1990), approach the issue of structuring a text in discontinuous space in three different ways. Albeit is composed of five words that are duplicated and fragmented in space by means of fourteen masters (the counterpart of "negatives", in photography), so as to produce a dense configuration built upon layers of small color fields and the empty spaces between them. The words are read almost in stroboscopic manner from different viewpoints, multiplying meanings and paralleling, in the process of fragmentation, the contradictory reference to time that the text signifies. The word "take", for example, can be perceived as a verb ("take your time") or as a noun ("your take is over") - a syntactical fluctuation that is instrumental in the textual instability of holopoetry. The word "time", in another instance, can be a subject, as in "time take(s) over", when the letter "s" is read in absentia. But it also can be a direct object, as in "take your time".

Shema is structured with verbal signifiers floating in three expanded color fields that interpenetrate each other, creating a sort of transitional discontinuity between them. The text is in Hebrew and is composed basically of four words and one big letter. The letter modifies the four words to create four new words -- depending on the viewer's decisions as s/he moves in front of the piece. In this sense, the word "maim" (water) is modified by the letter "shien" (S), to produce "shamaim" (sky, heaven). The word "mavet" (death) is modified by "shien" to suggest "Shmvot" (Exodus). The word "mah" (why?, what?), is modified to form "shamah" (desolation, destruction). At last, the word "mash" (to trough off, to remove) becomes "shemesh" (sun). The resulting eight words produce an atmosphere of associations, suggesting feelings about death and emotional loss. The piece is dedicated to Perla Przytyk, in memoriam.

As with the words in the two previous texts, the nine words in Eccentric ("shadows", "sounds", "smells", "nos", "nevers", "nothings", "that", "memories", "erase") can never be seen simultaneously in space. But this time, the viewer can not even perceive the words when s/he looks straight to the holographic space. In order to perceive each word, the reader must invent his/her own topological code. One must look for the words diagonally and decide if s/he will read looking up or to the left alternately or successively, or down and to the right concurrently. The crisscrossing invisible narrow viewing zones that form the poem allow for a highly turbulent syntax. Adverbs ("nevers", "nos") are found in unusual plural form to stretch their meanings and nouns in the plural ("sounds", "smells", "shadows") can be read as verbs in the present tense of the third person singular. The very configuration of the letters within each word suggests different interpretations, like the noun "nothings" implying the phrase "not this sign". In parallel configurations, the pronoun "that", for example, can become a conjunction ("nos that shadows erase"), a deitic pronoum ("smell that nevers"), an adjective ("that shadow(s) that nothings erase"), or a subject ("that sounds memories").

Amalgam (1990) is composed of two sets of two words each ("flower-void" and "vortex-flow"), and each set blends into the other as the viewer tries to read the text. The reader can see the visual transition between the sets as an attempt to produce a semantical transition as well, so that the in-between shapes indicate in-between meanings. In other words, when the left eye sees one set and the right eye sees the other set simultaneously (as opposed to both eyes perceiving slightly different viewpoints of the same set), the viewer is actually seeing a transitional verbal sign that possesses transitional meanings. This is what I call binocular reading. Normally, left and right eyes see, say, the letter A, from their respective viewpoints. Here, for example, the left eye could see the letter A, but the right eye sees at the same time the letter B instead. Both eyes try to force a synthesis that is deterred by the retinal rivalry. Within this process, a complementary reading strategy can be implemented: nouns can be interpreted as verbs as in "flow (and) vortex void flower", or "flower (,) void (and) vortex flow".

The diagram on the left (A) shows two eyes looking at the same object from two different points of view. This is how we usually see the three-dimensional world around us. The diagram on the right (B) illustrates a new situation in which each eye is made to see a completely different image. When this happens, the two images do not fuse into a coherent three-dimensional whole. In holopoetry, when this situation is created, it is called "binocular reading" because each eye reads a completely different letter or word.

Computer holopoems

As a consequence of my search for a turbulent space that is prone to mutability, I began experimenting in 1987 with a new kind of text I call simply computer holopoetry. Because I write computer holopoems in a process of stereoscopic synthesis, as opposed to the well known method of optical recording I use for my other holopoems, they allow me to manipulate each element of the text with more precision. I believe that computer holopoems will let me write texts in which the viewer, just by looking at words and letters, dislocates them from their position in a space zone. The unsettling choreography of my previous texts gains a new motion factor in addition to the "quantum leaps" and the optical fusions that occurred before between two or more zones in space. I can now write pieces in which the reader perceives animated fragmentations and actual metamorphosis within a single zone, or I can incorporate these and other new possibilities into hybrid poems that integrate the optical and the digital. With computer holopoems I hope to extend the solubility of the sign to the verbal particles of written language, the letters themselves, widening the gamut of rhythms and significations of the text.

My writing process can be outlined as follows: 1) generation and manipulation with digital tools of the elements of the text on the simulated space of the computer "world" by means of a raster or vector-based software (this step could also be referred to as the modelling stage); 2) study and previous decomposition of the multiple visual configurations the text will eventually have; 3) rendering of the letters and words, i.e., assignment of shades and textures to the surface of the models (texture maps can be invented at will and shadows can be avoided in situations where they would necessarily exist if we were dealing with tangible models); 4) interpolation, i.e., creation of the animated sequences, which are now stored as a single file on the memory of the computer (this stage could also be referred to as "motion scripting"); 5) exportation of the file to an animation software and editing of the sequences (including post-manipulation of the elements of the text); 6) frame-accurate sequential recording on film of the individual scenes, which correspond to discrete moments of the text; 7) sequential recording of the individual scenes on a laser hologram and 8) final holographic synthesis achieved by transferring the information stored on the laser hologram to a second hologram, now viewable in white light.

The first computer holopoem I created in Chicago was Multiple (1989), in which the sequence of numbers 3309 is seen floating in space. As the viewer moves past the numbers, they rotate around a pivot point, changing to an abstract pattern and then to the word POEM (and vice-versa); at first the three-dimensional form remains the same as it would if it were a regular object -- but then it changes. Parallax is responsible for the production of meaning, which is based on the triple function of the sign (word-image-number). This piece translates a characteristic of the Hebrew alphabet (in which letters also stand for numbers) into the Latin one.

Souvenir D'Andromeda (1990) is composed of a single word, which is also perceived as a set of abstract shapes depending on the beholder's viewpoint. If the viewer reads the word LIMBO at first, as s/he moves, the word rotates (crossing from virtual space to real space and vice-versa) and comes apart (as if it were exploding). As this happens, the fragments of the word, which are not legible anymore, are now perceived as pure forms. This process is reversible.

Souvenir D'Andromeda (1990), Eduardo Kac

If the fragmentation of a sound still produces phonetic resonances, the fragmentation of a letter produces visual shapes -- a process that exhibits the graphic nature of written language as opposed to the phonetic nature of spoken language. The word LIMBO connotes "oblivion", "suspension" and "nothingness" in several languages -- meanings which are enhanced by the visual process of fragmentation.

In Omen (10), from 1990, the word EYES floats and spins, emerging and dissolving in a space defined by luminous smoke. This spinning of the word happens so as to make the letter E, as seen from a specific viewpoint, vanish into the smoke before the whole word does, making the reader perceive the word YES at the edge of legibility and suggesting the word SEE. The smoke is charged with ambiguity, because it is perceived both as an element that blocks vision and as a transparent medium. Through this orchestrated motion, it is my intention to create a metaphor that expresses the hazy vision of a future occurrence.

In the three pieces mentioned above I explored movement, but did not work with syntactical discontinuity as I have done in other texts, such as Abracadabra, Albeit and Eccentric. My interest in writing motion texts with irregular syntactical links in a heterogeneous perceptual field lead to three new pieces produced in 1991.

Adrift is composed basically of seven words that dissolve in space and into each other as the viewer reads them. In one case, the reader may be invited to start reading from the letter which is further away from him/her. In another case, the letter closer to the reader could be the starting point. The reading process occurs back and forth along the Z axis. This piece is also an attempt to work both with the optical and digital, trying to make one lend its properties to the other. The letters that make the words are floating irregularly along several Z axis, except for the word "breathe", which is somewhere integrated into the overall light field. This word is blown by an imaginary wind as its letters actually move away from their original position to dissolve again in the light field. The movement of the letters in this word disrupts the stability of the other words.

The next holopoem I made in this new series is Zero, in which words grow or shrink, or turn and break, to express the drama of an identity crisis in a future world. Rotations, fusions and other actions make the words emphasize their relations and meanings in space. The multiplicity of "Selfs" that would be inexorable with the proliferation of cloning is the ultimate theme of the poem, but for a more attentive reader the answer for the enigma could be found in words residing in other words.

In Adhuc, the third in the series, as the viewer moves relative to the poem trying to read it, s/he perceives the manifold choreography of the basic words of the piece ("whenever", "four years", "or never", "far eve", "forever", "evening"). All the words refer to time in varying ways, contributing to an overall vagueness that could resist assessment at first sight. The muddled interference patterns that blend with the words help to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, not only concerning the visibility of the words but also about the meanings they produce.


The theoretical issues discussed in this paper reflect my quest for a new poetry capable of expressing the global changes under way in this fin de si*cle, such as the cultural relativism promoted by post-structuralism and deconstruction, the new speculative scientific thinking boosted by digital visualization techniques, the holism of telecommunications networks, and the interactive cyberspace of emerging Telepresence and Virtual Reality. Contemporary cultural and scientific studies are breaking away from old models. In society at large we see a questioning of the fundamental positive-negative polarities that formed the structuralist approach, and in the so-called scientific discourse we see the emergence of chaos theory, which destroys the notion of deterministic predictability and helps to form the new holistic paradigm in conjunction with Relativity and quantum theory. Because language shapes our thoughts which in turn shape our world, we can surmise that, in poetry, syntax is one of the basic issues at stake. I'm interested in a syntax of disruptive events; in animated language that evades and deflects interpretation. I'm interested in interactive reading/writing and in propagating light as its medium. In holopoetry, texts are networks animated by motion scripting and discontinuous rendering of words.


1. This permutational poem was part of a set entitled "Quelconqueries" and first appeared in the magazine Lacerba, published by Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini. See Apollinaire; Oeuvres Poétiques, pp. 656-673 and pp. 1146-1148, &EACUTEditions Gallimard, Paris, 1965.

2. In his book The Look of Russian Literature; Avant-Garde Visual Experiments, 1900-1930 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1984, p. 123), Gerald Janecek translates "zhelezobetonny" as "ferroconcrete" or "reinforced concrete". He explains: "The striking similarity between the translation "concrete" here and the much more modern Concrete Poetry movement that began in the late 1950s is an accident of English homonymy. The latter movement defines "concrete" as "tactile, material" (as opposed to "spiritual, abstract"), while Kamensky thinks of "concrete" as something made of hardened cement, as in a building, sidewalk, or other such structure."

3. I translated this poem in collaboration with Russian artist Sergey Mavrody and Puerto-Rican designer Raul Silva.

4. Quoted by M.E. Solt in Concrete Poetry: A World View, p. 38, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1970.

5. Personal letter to the author, dated "Basel, 5.7.91".

6. A. Marcus, "Aaron Marcus", Artist and Computer, Ruth Leavitt, ed., pp. 13-15, Harmony Books, New York, 1976.

7. J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p.58, The John Hopkins University Press, translated by G. C. Spivak, Baltimore and London, 1976. Derrida states that the writer "writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system. And the reading must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer, between what he commands and what he does not command of the patterns of the language that he uses".

8. J. Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences", The Structuralist Controversy; The Languages of Criticism and The Sciences of Man, R. Macksey and E. Donato, ed., p.64, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1982. Derrida: "Freeplay is always an interplay of absence and presence, but if it is to be radically conceived, freeplay must be conceived of before the alternative of presence or absence beginning with the possibility of freeplay and not the other way around."

9. See E. Kac and O. Botelho, "Holopoetry and Fractal Holopoetry: Digital Holography as an Art Medium", Leonardo, Vol.22, No. 3/4, pp. 397-402, 1989.

10. For a more detailed description of "Omen", please see E. Kac and H. Bjelkhagen, "Holopoem blends pulsed and computer holography", Laser News, Vol. XI, No. 1, p. 3, 1991.

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