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WikiPoetry: Abviously a Fobulous Idea

November 7, 2010

Lately everything’s all WikiThis and WikiThat. You’d think “wiki” meant “dyslexic person from New Zealand,” but surprisingly, you would be wrong. It means “fast” in Hawaiian. In 1994, some enterprising cybergentleman created a type of software he called WikiWikiWeb, and now here we are. A butterfly flaps its wings in New York blah blah blah.

But enough lepidoptery. We’ve seen Wikipedia replace books and journal articles as the #1 most popular source of undergraduate student footnotes. And it’s not just college kids who love it: nearly everyone who uses a computer has become a practicing Wikipedophile. Every day, 10,538 people use “Wikipedia” as a verb for the first time, according to a recent report published by the Canadian Bureau of Fictional Statistics.

For those who are not abreast of the concept of wikis, here are some quotations from the Wikipedia article on wikis (talk about metatext!):

Ward Cunningham and co-author Bo Leuf, in their book The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web, described the essence of the Wiki concept as follows:

  • A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a plain-vanilla Web browser without any extra add-ons.
  • Wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages by making page link creation almost intuitively easy and showing whether an intended target page exists or not.
  • A wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape.

Fascinating. Fascinating. These pointform bulletstatements bring us to what is obviously the obvious question:

How can the obnoxious fringe-people of society–poets, novelists, zukunftphilologists, autistic nannies, anal grandmothers, etc.–harness the power of Wiki technology to serve their impractical creative purposes?

I’m no technologist. I’m not even 100% convinced that “technologist” is a word. But believe me when I inform you in all seriousness that wiki software is an amazing opportunity to change the landscape of creativity and language use. Did you read the shit I just quoted up there? The shit about “an ongoing process of creation and collaboration”? This wiki shit takes the outdated concept of the mentally ill alcoholic writer in the 8 x 10 room with the single swinging light bulb and no friends and transforms it into mazillions of writers endlessly reading and changing and commenting on each other’s work. Just a big fuckin’ metatextual key party, and we’re all invited. The next stage in postmodernism: postpostmodernism! PoMo2.0! Imagine hundreds of poets writing a poem together for hundreds of years. 500000 sequential versions of the same poem. With an ongoing commentary and a self-creating apparatus criticus. Marginalia ’til hell won’t have ’em!

You know how no human body contains any of the same molecules it contained ten years ago and yet in certain ways you’re the same person you were in November 2000? And how, to get all Aristotelian up in this piece, if you replace the planks of a ship one by one you end up with a different ship entirely, but the essence of the first one is still kinda there? That same type of kickass metamorphosis could be happening with text!

Think about it: I create a wiki, then I post a poem on it. Whichever poem. Doesn’t matter. One of mine, a friend’s, Hesiod’s Works and Days, whatever. Two minutes later, someone comes on and changes a few words. Then someone else comes on and changes a line. Someone else comes on and adds three lines. Someone else, someone incredibly annoying, comes on and does some fancy pants shit with the metre. Someone else shows up and turns the whole poem into a parody of Jorie Graham (nothing against Jorie Graham; she came to mind because I’ve been reading her lately and she has a really distinctive style that would be super fun to parody). It evolves like some kind of beautiful linguistic organism and we all get to sit here and watch it happen and see bazillions of people’s creative processes having complicated relationships with each other.

Augh, I am peeing my pants just thinking about this!

Or–or!–every Monday or every first Tuesday of the month or whatthefuckever the DomainMaster (??–I keep telling you I don’t know the terminology) posts a poem along with an instruction like Shakespearean sonnet or Poem about cats and sets a time limit of let’s say 12 hours and all the WikiPoets have to transform the poem into whatever the instruction says. And over the course of the day you watch the random poem shape itself into sonnetism or felininity at the hands of hundreds, possibly thousands of authors.

WikiPoetry, you guys!!

I don’t know enough about computers to actually get this started. Like, how do you start a WikiPage? Is that even the word for it? No. It isn’t. But it’s something close to that, I’m guessing. And since a wiki is “not a carefully crafted site,” it can’t be that hard to set one up…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joachim Ayala permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:38 pm

    “Imagine hundreds of poets writing a poem together for hundreds of years.”
    Like the Iliad, just faster…

  2. November 8, 2010 1:53 pm

    There’s no guarantee that it will be around for centuries, but there’s always this:

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