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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.63, No.4, 659 ~ 675, 2017
Visual Poetry and the Poetics of Data Visualization
Brian Reed
In response to current debates about making within the digital humanities, this article proposes an approach to data visualization that is grounded in poetics. After recounting Johanna Drucker’s arguments concerning a humanities-based approach to graphical display, it analyzes works by two contemporary Canadian poets―bpNichol’s “TTA 30: poem as a machine for generating line drawings” and Derek Beaulieu’s “Translating Translating Apollinaire (rasterbator)”―as a mean of illustrating what happens when graphing and other visualization techniques are deployed ludically, that is, for the sheer joy of discovering, and disporting in, their formal and expressive possibilities. Visual poems of this kind remind readers that graphs are artifacts produced through scribing and drawing. While they may function symbolically or referentially, one cannot forget that they also communicate gesturally, too. They convey tone, energy, and intensity through implied movement. Such writing arguably constitutes a form of practice-led research, a distinctly humanistic approach to knowledge creation. Poets have been paradigmatic makers in the West for millennia, and they may at times have more to teach us about a humanities-based approach to visualization than scholars who adhere to the rules and norms that govern conventional academic writing.
Key Words
data visualization, visual poetry, digital humanities, contemporary poetry, Canadian literature
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