The Upright Script

Modernist Mediations and Contemporary Data Poetics


My work as a scholar extends my poetic interest in how texts take on a physical life of their own in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, whether that life is within the rapidly changing moment of modernism or the increasingly digital mediascape of the contemporary era. My scholarly monograph in progress examines the conspicuous foregrounding of mediation in poetry by Gertrude Stein, Blaise Cendrars, and H.D., which alerts the reader to a physical intervention between poet and page. Read alongside the rise of graphic design, which placed what Walter Benjamin called “the upright script” on billboards, in newspapers, and on movie screens, these poems engage the dialogue surrounding media between the wars that promised access to language and images beyond the page.

Through dictation, typewriting, and spirit photography, these writers emphasize the distance between poet and paper in order to make space for new models of inspiration more fitting their changing sense of authorship. The book traces a continuum between these writers and contemporary conceptual and digital writers like Kenneth Goldsmith and Ander Monson to suggest their poems do not simply indulge in the technophilia or cult of newness we associate with the modern period, but in fact take part in a history of technologized writing that has licensed poets to access language outside themselves: a kind of mediated muse.

Poets have historically been seen as drawing words from the air through ecstasis, divine inspiration, or intertextual reference. I argue that technology opens up different ways of reaching this upright script that, for twentieth-century writers, provide an alternative to Romantic interiority. The modernist sensitivity to words in space and upright script is central to experimental and innovative poetics today, which hinges on the feeling that invisible text augments the world around us in clouds of information being transmitted electronically from one person to another all the time. In attempting to harness this floating text, conceptual writers like Ara Shirinyan and digital poets like David Jhave Johnston have developed a data poetics that takes part in a lineage of modernists who use mediation to access a world of words that is constantly available to be remixed, revised, and re-arranged.

Published Essays

“The Upright Script: Words in Space and on the Page.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 14.2 (2011), special issue, Digital Poetry.

“‘There Have Been Pictures Here’: Spirit Photography and Projective Mediumship in H.D.’s Tribute to Freud.” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 10.2 (2010), special issue, H.D. and the Archaeology of Religion: 65-82.

“‘Ma belle machine à écrire:’ Poet and Typewriter in the work of Blaise Cendrars.” Writing Technologies 2.1 (2008): n. pag. (24 pages).