In March 2016 I was invited by the poet Katy Parra to participate in the first Ártemis 2016 poetry festival, which would be held on the weekend of the 14 May 2016. Parra leads a poetry network in the South East of Spain called “Colectivo Di-versos” that I am part of, as I was born and lived in the Region of Murcia until the age of 26. I have known some of those poets for several years now.
The Ártemis 2016 Festival was supported not only by this network but, crucially, by Raspabook, an up-and-coming high-quality publisher who has established itself in the last years in a competitive and saturated book market by presenting its product in a very appealing way.
In the Festival, more than 30 poets would share and discuss their work in various sessions expanding over the weekend. A good deal of them are very well known nationally and even internationally and hold important awards (Enrique Gracia, Inma Pelegrín, Juan Pablo Zapater and Katy Parra herself to name a few).
As a passionate Open Educational Resources scholar, I saw immediately the potential of this event for the production of quality digital learning resources of great educational value and decided to attend the festival wearing my two hats of poet and educator at the same time.
Several months later, we have published through a variety of digital channels “The Arrows of Ártemis” (“Las flechas de Ártemis”), a collection of 30 videos of mini-interviews with the poets and another 30 videos featuring poems read by each one of the authors.
In the next paragraphs, I will provide an outline of the project and discuss its rationale with an emphasis on the educational and cultural potential of the digital assets produced and the open practice strategies proposed. There are several questions that I think deserve our attention: a) What new opportunities for using poetry in language learning does the digital paradigm present us with? b) In what ways does the digital paradigm change the relationship between poets, educators and learners? c) What critical and creative journeys can poets and students follow?
UNIVERSITIES AND ARTISTIC PRODUCTION
The role of Universities in supporting artistic external production is relatively limited for two main reasons. Firstly, there is a very well-defined line dividing the role of the academic and the role of the artist: the artist produces art and the academic reflects upon it. Universities produce research and learning resources, but, generally, do not sponsor artistic creation nor engage in artistic production as part of their core remits of research and teaching. The role of the academic in this context is meant to be as neutral as possible. She does not interfere in the dynamics and processes underpinning the production of art. Any reputational value added to the work of the artist stemming from the critique formulated by the academic is seen as an unavoidable, yet healthy, consequence of the interest generated by the work of the artist among academically qualified audiences. Secondly, academic researchers only work on areas of their research expertise. This means that often there are only a very small handful of individuals in each institution who can justify engaging with a given artistic product from a fully informed professional perspective. In the case of university departments of foreign languages and cultures the lack of specialists in minority subjects like contemporary poetry is noticeable, even in large units.
These perceived constrains present to me as many dilemmas as opportunities around two issues: 1) my own position as an academic practitioner, and therefore the position of the University, in relation to a festival that I was part of as an artist; 2) the appropriateness of an activity such as the digitisation of art, which clearly goes beyond the remit of the traditional role of academics. Perhaps in other disciplines like Fine Art or Music this situation is not that uncommon, but in Languages it is relatively exceptional.
The answer I provided to these two dilemmas stems primarily from a reflection about my own professional identity: I consider myself an educator and a scholar committed to my own students as well as to the wider global society, beyond the research frameworks established by government agencies for the funding of some our activities. The production and dissemination of OER is clearly a part of my professional remit, which I have pursued institutionally and personally with passion. Literature may not be my professional research expertise, but the integration of literature within language learning falls very well within my scholar interests and features prominently in my teaching.
Additionally, we, the language tutors, are not only a vehicle for our student’s intercultural journey but, somehow, one of the destinations. Who we are, culturally and ethnically, matters slightly more for language students than for others. We, as members of the speaking community that our students are interested on, are in a way part of the subject of study. Therefore, by incorporating any relevant cultural activities of the educator, providing this does not represent a breach of our personal and social intimacy, we can enrich further our students’ learning and humanistic development. This focalisation on the person who teaches is not exclusive of Languages. In other subjects of study, such as Engineering, Business or Law, an analogous relationship with the students’ learning can appear when a university teaching fellow who comes from industry introduces her students, as part of the curriculum, to her industry experiences and her professional identity.
Finally, there are barriers between all sorts of communities of practice, including between artists and educators, that we must try to reduce for the common good. For our institution, I believe there are great reputational and educational reasons, which I will explore in the next sections, to engage in this project. Hopefully, this symbiotic partnership between art and education will be transformative not only for students but for poets themselves and the readers.
THE AGE OF EVERSION
There have been abundant discussions about what makes new media poetry distinctively different from old traditional page verse and about the aesthetics of new forms of poetic art in the digital era. One of the most informative yet insightful accounts of these debates can be found in Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age. In Chapter 7, Kevin Stein highlights the difficulty to identify and categorise Digital Poetry. The work of Stein gives us also a taste of the chiasm between the old poetry and the new digital poetry and the lack of interest professed by experts in both subjects for each other’s field.
Over the centuries a substantial part of poetic creation has evolved, at different paces across the world, into written genres designed primarily to be read, often in silence, by an unspecific and remote audience. Paper wordsmiths poets can assume rightly that their audiences will also have the time to taste and decipher the elusiveness of their work. Readers can, and do, read backwards and forwards and even research and reflect as part of their experience. Moreover, the move from hand-writing poetry into type-written poetry, and later to word-processed poetry, has altered even further the creative process of traditional literary verse writing, as Stein explains, accentuating the drift towards labour-intense poetic-production.
In our literate world, the vocally silent inner voice of the poet as she composes her strophes in writing, and the equally silent inner voice of the reader as he accesses the written text, have superseded the loud physical voices of old oral poetry. A similar point could be made about the loss of performativity and physical presence of the poet. The mediation of paper killed the star of the show, the body language and the setting for the delivery.
The 20th Century represented a turning point for poetry. Recording of sounds and images as well as the transmission of the recordings became possible. This paved the way for the first forms of audio-visual poetry and for the good old tapes, or audio-books. With the irruption in the 21st Century of mass-accessible tools for multimodal production, the intertwining of linguistic texts with voice, other sounds and images became mainstream. The Internet, which brought about ubiquitous instant interconnectivity, had also a transformative impact in the new poetics of the 21st Century. Additionally, software introduced the possibility of computer-generated poems, which opens the door to some sort of Artistic Artificial Intelligence (AAI).
This treble revolution (media tools, internet and AAI) has provoked the appearance of the so-called digitally native poetry, designed as multimodal from its inception and sometimes supplanting the word choices of the poet with those of algorithms. However, the story does not end there. Technological changes are also shaping conventional poetic production. They have ushered all sorts of combinations of poems with amalgamated images and sounds, as well as collaborative poetry. Traditional verse poets are adapting their authorial practices to the new landscape. I dare to say that there is also a move toward more cinematic written forms and a recovery of aloud-readability as a touchstone. I believe that in the next decades more wordsmith endeavours will be directed onto the construction of new types of elusiveness and increasingly visual and sonic aesthetics.
With all this in mind, it seems that the division between old and new poetry is somehow artificial, as the former is being shaped by the very transformative forces that underpin the latter. A more holistic and comprehensive theoretical framework should be outlined to account for this new reality. Since changes resulting from the technological revolution are not exclusive to poetry, it is worth considering the extrapolation to our field of the idea of eversion, which Steven Jones advanced in The Emergence of Digital Humanities in order to articulate a broad framing for Humanities in the 21st Century.
Eversion is a concept originally coined by William Gibson to explain the phenomenon of the turning inside out of cyberspace. Jones represents eversion with a picture of Kelly Goeller’s “Pixel pour” street art featuring a fire hydrant vomiting water-like pixels over our old physical reality.
In my view, this technological flooding, where different kinds of immersions and emersions are occurring, provides the defining and hermeneutic context for a wide range of present and future transformations in poetry and poetics. This rich metaphor acknowledges and embodies both the water-like pervasiveness and consubstantiality of the technological triad outlined before (media tools, internet and AAI), as well as the messy richness of the marsh. The great advantage of this approach is that it is totally inclusive toward traditional written poetry, bringing together a wide range of poetic realities that are exposed to the same external yet structural global forces.
THE MAKING OF THE ARROWS OF ÁRTEMIS
After receiving the invitation to participate as a poet in Ártemis 2016, and moved by some of these reflections, I contacted the organisers of the festival and suggested the idea of recording one poem and one mini-interview with each poet for our collection of educational videos. These would be then disseminated as Open Educational Resources through University of Leeds channels and beyond. I managed to recruit into the project the film-maker Dany Campos. I prepared consent forms to obtain permission to publish the recordings with an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike Creative Commons License (BY-NC-SA). Raspabook, the publisher, the organisers and the writers welcomed the idea. After all, there is always reputational value in collaborations with Universities. The videos would help them reach new audiences. In return, they were giving their art, their thoughts, some of their time and their intellectual property to us and to the rest of the global community.
The poets were given three set of questions for the interview several weeks in advance, but they were allowed to suggest others: a) What is poetry for you? b) What do you try to achieve with it? c) Why did you start / continue writing poetry?
Through these questions, I wanted to offer the students and the audience an introduction to poetry from the poets themselves, an audio-visual synthesis of their poetic persona, a less intimidating approach to writing. I also wanted to record responses that could be of interest for research purposes in the future. In these respects, the interviews were successful.
The analysis of the responses deserves a separate article, looking at issues such as the construction of artistic identity in poetry networks. However, I cannot avoid making a quick reference to some of the interviews in the context of one of the many debates about what poetry, and indeed literature, is, as synthesised in the work of Emerson: whereas for Freud, poetry was a fantasy-play, a way of releasing guilt, a psychic safe, Vygotsky believed that art is not an antidote for humankind vice and that through literature we learn who we are not and who we will become. Foucault and other philosophers of language, meanwhile, shared this more positive view and pointed at the liberating value of literature. If we look at the contents of the Ártemis 2016 interviews, we can identify the aforementioned intellectual tensions in the words of the poets themselves and, why not, in their own conflicting discourses and identities. In their responses, a good deal of the poets described writing as a form of personal liberation. For Soto, poetry it is an act of redemption, “a red flower in the middle of a rubbish tip”. The provocative De la Orden refers to the pressure-valve effect achieved by writing poetry as he considers it a pleasure “greater than that of masturbating”. A more matter-of-fact Gracia dismisses these interpretations by saying that poetry is no cure for our inner beings, that the best remedy for that is “a psychiatrist or some good alcohol”.
The choice of the poem to be recorded in 2016 was very straightforward. Each poet was asked to read the poem that had published in the plaquette edited by Raspabook.
Although all the poems are very pleasant to the ear and enjoyable even for non-speakers of Spanish, translation is important. That is why I involved the Centre for Translation Studies of the University of Leeds. They were keen to provide their students with opportunities to work with the videos of the poems and the interviews, both translating and subtitling into English.
In the Ártemis 2016 collection of videos, the persona of the poet, represented by her appearance, manners, diction, accent, rhythm and texture of the voice, is a thick and rich wrapping layer of meaning that we should not underestimate. Rather than an accessory to the poem, the sound and the images take over it, yet respecting its linguistic content, amplifying the emotions. As a process of collage, the video is extremely faithful to the written poem. Not a single word of the text was changed. The voice of the poet becomes a realisation of the inner voice of the writer, albeit as it blends with the images, the video becomes a product of its own. It can be clearly said that this collection represents an example of written-to-be-read digitised poetry or non-native video poetry. Somehow the videos are a metaphor of the digital chrysalis of written-to-be read poetry in the face of technological eversion.
The multimodal choices made in this collection were driven by the need to put the writer at the centre of the writing, with a very heavy focus on her own voice, her own work and on her reflections on it. The framing in the video reflects the esteem that universities have for the work of the poet and the poets themselves. A simple combination of two frontal takes is consistent with the desire of the producer not to intervene much in the poem, or indeed in the interview. In order to be reader-focused, or in this case, spectator-focused, paradoxically the poet needs to be the protagonist. By showing the poet’s work and her persona in a warmer and more personal way, the reader-spectator will feel inclined to the type of emotional, and even interpersonal engagement that it is necessary for the fulfilment of the educational aims outlined in the next section.
60 poets have participated in the Ártemis Festival 2017. For this new collection, which will be the subject of future scholarly work, a wider range of questions was suggested for each poet to choose, in addition to the 2016 set of questions. These are some of them: a) Tell us a short story or anecdote that helps the audience to understand your poetics or your trajectory as a poet. b) Tell us how you work your poems through. c) Tell us how social media and dialogue with readers shape your work. d) Tell us about the sonority of your poetry. e) Tell us what triggered you to write one of your poems. f) Tell us about one of your poems and how it could blend with images and/or sound.
As part of the project, an online learning prototype has been developed with the contribution of Cristina López Cal, one of our Erasmus MA students from the Universitat de Girona, in Spain. As explained in the video below, the prototype includes a presentation in Articulate with exercises, both Articulate-native and from other platforms such as CILT, as well as a WordPress blog. In these resources, we have realised many of the educational principles discussed below, which apply to all sort of combinations of online and traditional physical learning spaces.
Ártemis learning designs have to be informed by a strong sense of inclusiveness, for teachers and learners, even in the most language-focused courses where the poems may be seen as a mere instrument. Nevertheless, ideally the tutor will have to feel comfortable working with poetry. In this respect, one of the advantages of the poems chosen for the Ártemis 2016 collection is that they are linguistically and aesthetically accessible. This makes them suitable for a wider range of students and language teaching professionals.
Widodo et al. have provided some degree of evidence about the potential of Poetry 2.0 in foreign language learning and have shown the way forward for many tutors and students wanting to engage creatively with it. One of their conclusions is that students want their poems to be assessed according to humanistic criteria, as for them writing poetry ends up being much more than a way to learn grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation or prosody. I would also add that when providing feedback for the content of the work of students, warm and content-engaged comments focused on the student responses to the poem(s) of any given task, alongside any linguistic feedback, should be the rule. The best content feedback for a poem is probably a literary response to it.
Another academic work to consider in my discussion is Widdowson’s Practical Stylistics: An Approach to Poetry. Widdowson criticises the role given to students in traditional poetry teaching when it comes to the exegesis of the poem. He claims that students often regurgitate the academic interpretations of the poem when confronting the text. That is why his book is aimed, amongst others, at helping tutors to equip the learner for the critical interpretation of the poem with precision regarding the very text in hand, and much less of an emphasis on the academic consistency of the interpretation of the text. This approach makes the teaching of these activities accessible to practitioners who are not research experts in the authors. It also foretells a student journey whose first leg should consist of a) combination of warm-up and language discovery activities, b) viewing and commenting of the video with the poem; c) textual analysis of the poem and d) viewing and discussion of the video interview. Any qualified elaborate academic exegesis, if and when appropriate due to the nature of the course where the activity is carried out, might be provided afterwards for it not to limit student creativity. It can be argued that there always will be some kind of teacher interference. The design and delivery of the initial sequences of activities will be informed by the tutor’s take on the poem, which in turn may have been influenced by academic perspective on it as well as by the producers of the video. However, this is inevitable. Such is the nature of education. In my view, providing that the tutor is aware of the dangers of over-guiding and leaves sufficient room for alternative student-produced lines of enquiry, the tasks will have achieved the gold standard of free criticality. Talking about the way the video came about may provide some extra levers for student criticality.
Widdowson also looked in his work into the well-trodden debates on whether the significance of poetry lays on the intention of the writer, on the text as an artefact or on the reader. Alongside other authors, he agrees that reader of poetry is a creator of meaning, rather than a simple animator. Despite the appearances, there is no contradiction here with the need for precision in the exegesis, but rather an invitation to reach a perfect counter-balance for a calm dialogue of equals between the artist, whose work and persona are carefully considered with little mediation, and the empowered student reader. Both principles should inspire not only the language learning activities but the whole educational strategy of the project.
This takes me to the next point about student’s engagement with poetry and poets themselves. Given that today’s readers are becoming also writers, perhaps in a greater proportion than ever before, it makes sense for students to be actively encouraged and supported in the production and publication of their own artistic and scholar work as part of their learning with the Ártemis videos. The Creative Commons licences of the collection cater for student-produced collages using images and voices of the artists. This approach is consistent with the educational ethos of creative writing courses, very popular in the States, with the ideas about repurposing, remixing and republishing advanced within the OER movement, with Open Practice, with Papson’s bricoleur in Digital Humanities and also with OpenLIVES, a pedagogical initiative aimed at increasing student writers’ criticality by helping them to question and define their own position in society as producers of knowledge.
In a recent exercise that I carried out in a language class, students seemed excited about the fact that the text we had been working with, an invitation to an actual book presentation, had been written specifically to be used for the class by the writer herself and would be considered by her as the draft of the actual invitation. The value of learning with “real writers” who are alive and can be followed in social media cannot be underestimated. Authenticity makes the learner aware of how their work transcends the enclosures of education, adding an extra nudge of motivation. That is why the engagement of students with the Ártemis collections must be regarded as an opportunity for self-expression, artistic, scholar or both, beyond the classroom, and not just a learning strategy. Obviously, students will not be forced to publish their work in social media. As part of the teaching, however, training on the basic of Creative Commons licences will be provided. Any sharing beyond external circles will necessarily be preceded by the feedback provided by the tutor as part of the activity, as well as by guidance on how to contextualise their work and frame their sharing. That way students will have a better understanding of what specific external audience to target and how their work may be received by others.
Blogging has spurred self-publication and editorial autonomy. Communities of artists and audiences have become more inclusive. There is a huge variety of forms of engagement and interaction. New types of collaborative construction of meaning are developing thanks to the proliferation of different digitally-powered tools and platforms, alongside festivals and other more physical gatherings. The distribution of the Ártemis videos in social media will certainly provide a stepping stone for learners, readers and poets to discuss, construct and grow together as a community. The prominence given to the recovered sonority and the recognition of the persona of the artists in the video resources and the possibility for students to be also recognised as artists will precisely reinforce the sense of community. Any sharing and interaction in social media, whether before, during or after the creation of any outputs should be done in spaces where actual readers, educators, students and writers operate (HumBox, JISC Store, literary gatherings, Facebook, Youtube, Poetry Life and Times, etcetera). The learning of the student as a networked producer needs to be supported with strategies that recognise the evolving shape of education and poetry, two human activities whose humanistic essence should remain unaltered. Post-modernity is only a description of the state we live in, not a guiding principle.
There exist wide and exciting artistic and educational spaces where all sort of transitions and transformations will take place in the next decades. Poets and readers will navigate through different routes at different paces, usually as part of communities and networks where everyone will be a learner. The old and the new will superimpose upon each other and sometimes blend in constant and varied non-linear dialogue. This process is essentially hybrid, in the sense of hybridity advanced in the field of Education by the Hybrid Pedagogy school of thought, which looks at the intersections, rather than the contradictions, between the physical and the digital, between classrooms and digital classrooms, between individuals (teachers, students and scholars) and collaborative communities and between learning in schools and learning in the World.
TOOLS FOR THE RESOURCES
The tools and spaces used to design and deliver the learning resources produced as part of this project can vary according to the nature of the activities proposed and their fitting within the existing curriculum.
The open-source free software Xerte is an interesting option for tutor-produced media-rich resources for students’ autonomous learning. Its functionality has been substantially improved since its inception. It provides interactivity, accessibility and reusability, as it was designed as an Open Educational Resources tool. Crucially, students can also assemble and embed their own artwork and scholarship in Xerte. However, this is an aspiration more than a reality at the moment in institutions who do not have Xerte installed in their servers. In any case, there will be no technological dogma around the use of software and platforms. Articulate has been used for the delivery of interactive content by the tutor in our prototype.
As per the student production of the raw media assets, the widely available free software Audacity for sound and video editing software, such as Windows Movie Maker, will be more than sufficient. PowerPoint or WordPress are perfect for embedding text, video and sound. Whether the work produced by the student can be classed as scholar, or artistic, or digital-native is irrelevant. The interrelation between the linguistic, visual and aural ingredients of each output and the contents will depend on the type of production route followed by tutors and students in each specific group.
For classroom activities, the use of digital collaborative spaces, such as the ones recently inaugurated at the University of Leeds, will be ideal, but any face-to-face learning design will have a version, when possible, for traditional teaching spaces with a flip-board and flexible seating arrangements.
For Glazier, “poetry has begun a digital voyage from which there is little chance of turning back”. Some commentators augur the death of traditional academic “verse”. However, “traditional” poets can and should assert the artistic potential of their poetics by allowing themselves to be embraced by growing multimodality and interconnectivity, and even cultivate some form of dialogue with Artistic Artificial Intelligence. I do not expect the non-digital poets and non-native digital poets, as collectives, to become Cro-Magnons and perish. In 21st Century poetry, the only uneasy voyage is that of individual poets climbing fast to the very top of a mountain hiding from technological eversion. Sooner or later, their published poetry and their poetics will end up trickling down to the shores of the everted world, or evaporated for it to be rained upon the rest of us.
Fascinating transformations will take place in the next decades as a result of the acceleration in human change brought about by technological revolutions. To me, there should be much more educational and academic focus on the personal journeys and even metamorphosis of individuals (readers, artists, educators) and groups, on the specific drivers for change and on the type of spaces where change happens.
Educational and scholar intervention in artistic creation and dialogue in the face of technological eversion is necessary: we should try to set down buoys, piers and lighthouses, signposting for our students, artists and the public the unchartered waters of our post-modernity.
One of the few things that will remain essentially unaltered in our foreseeable future is our ability to perceive through vision and hearing: As Stain states “we inhabit the Kingdom of the Eye and the Realm of the Ear”. Despite claims that human sensorial and mental processes may be disenfranchised and transformed by brain and body robotics, sound waves and light are deeply embedded in the inevitable physicality of our world.
In 1983, an influential manifesto in the history of Spanish poetry, which originated the Poesía de la Experiencia trend in Spain, was published in El País. The signatories proposed a “new sentimentality” that would enable poets to detach themselves from the mythical foundation of the “yo sensible” (The sensitive I), which served, they claimed, as the moral basis of the bourgeois. Poets were invited to become aware of the deceptive and socially-constructed nature of the poem in order to assert their agency. Some decades later, it seems that time has arrived for more poets and educators to step outside their poems and reach a further layer of criticality by recognising as well the importance of the medium for artistic, educational and political emancipation.
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