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what is the e-poets network?

Who are the e-poets?
The e-poets are poets, artists, writers, and performers who embrace the electronic media as a venue and home for their art. In this sense, many people have been e-poets for quite some time. There are well documented heritages in video art, cybernetic and telepresent works, performance art, and hypertext literature to name just a few. As performance poetry built out into a less ephemeral art, and began drawing on the techniques and technologies of electronic literature, its practitioners also came to be e-poets.

This particular website,, is a product of my own pursuit of these electronic and verbal arts since the late 1970s. When I got around in the world, I discovered that others were into poetry and new media, too. I responded to this gravity to form a network that respects and expands such language and new media art in critical terms. With each evolution of the e-poets network, we take steps closer to what looks like a holistic literacy of image, sound, and word.

And who are you?
My name is Kurt Heintz. I am a writer, a new media artist, the publisher of this site, and an advocate of aural literacy.

Regarding my personal identity, the poets in Chicago tend to think of me as "that video guy," although I have no such trouble being recognized as a poet overseas. The video people tend to think of me as "that fellow who's into poetry." Nobody is wrong, but none of these views are completely right. If you really must know more about me, you should visit my personal homepage. But is not about me nor any particular "scene." It's about the art and many other artists.

And this website is... what? Your personal zine? Your blog?
Not at all. It's certainly not a zine. Nor is it a blog. It was running well before the word "blog" was used much, when Jorn Barger (the man who coined the term "blog") was just a guy with a Mac Classic across town. Instead, you could think of it as a library for aural literatures, or a site where spoken word interfaces with e-liturature, or as an online cultural center. Whatever. Take your pick.

So, what is your history?
The e-poets network began in 1998 as an outgrowth of an earlier new media/literature project, called Telepoetics/Chicago. I started with Telepoetics in 1993 as a collaboration between myself (in Chicago), Heather Haley (Vancouver), and Telepoetics Network founder Merilene Murphy (Los Angeles; deceased 2007). Each of our physical sites (not websites) shared live, videoconferenced poetry readings with the others. Our group grew to include several other contributing partners in the US and Canada, and we eventually made electronic bridgeheads in England and the Caribbean. Boston and Seattle became two of my favorite sites for link-ups outside the original trio. The link-ups with Cambridge, England are also very memorable for me.

In due course, Merilene Murphy became an influential mentor in my life, and Heather Haley remains a strong collaborator with me. All three of us were practicing poets and technologists. Certainly online technology has become more accessible in the years since, but the strength of our simultaneous commitment to literature and emerging technology remains distinctive even today.

Telepoetics had its innaugural link-up with Chicago in 1993 using Panasonic videophones over long distance, direct dial telephone lines. The Center for New Television was host to the Chicago portion, and we used a videophone borrowed from Little City. At the same time, Merilene Murphy convened artists at her home studio for the Los Angeles portion. Poets took turns reading back and forth between the two cities on one evening. On the following day, Merilene led a writers workshop in Chicago from her Los Angeles studio. So Telepoetics has a history of live, "telepresent" poetry well before widespread usage of the Internet, online chat, and desktop video.

Shortly after we began, we came to use other videophones, since Merilene discovered that Panasonic videophones were being hoarded by another art organization in the LA area. Our whole philosophy was about media democratization, decentralized cultural authority, and cheap, accessible technology. Yes, we were artist-technologists, but we wanted to save our best energies for the art. Simplifying the technology allowed us to do that. We also had a vision of cultural and political interaction to cultivate peace, as Merilene put it, "... by any medium necessary." We believed our new media poetry could precipitate fundamental change in society. This was an idealistic notion for idealistic times, but I still kindle that idea today. It's Merilene's legacy.

OK. That's about Telepoetics. What about e-poets?

In 1998, I brought stagecraft and new video compression technology to what I learned in Telepoetics, and founded the e-poets network. The e-poets network included videoconferencing partners new and old, and it remains an international group today. From 1998 through 2003, live videoconferenced readings were the group's prime purpose, much as they were in Telepoetics.

From these events, I collected audio and video documentation of many poets. As the Internet became more accessible to schools and individuals, I believed this documentation should be online for the public to enjoy and study. Even before creating the e-poets network, I experimented with delivering poetry in audio and text through my Telepoetics/Chicago website. After was established, I created the Book of Voices and the e-poets Videotheque, for further exploration of poetry online, in sound and vision.

Publishing is very different from videoconferencing. Did this give way to a new agenda?
Yes, absolutely. Today, the Book of Voices is the's cornerstone. It features audio and text of approximately 60 artists, and many more have been recorded for future online release. The collection is absolutely unique. Most recordings are original. Two contributors are National Poetry Prize winners, published in the Book of Voices at least five years prior to their award. At least two other contributors are deceased, and the site remains an archive where their voices are preserved. Originating in Chicago, the Book of Voices has a natural emphasis on local authors. That said, it is hardly bound to a provincial agenda. The site also holds important contributions from poets elsewhere in the US, Canada and Australia. It is also open to work outside the English-language sphere.

The Book of Voices has been used in colleges and high schools, in workshops for writing and performance poetry, and for the personal enjoyment of poetry by thousands of people. The public's total auditioning time of the Book of Voices, conservatively measured in man-hours, would approximate that of a well-attended weekly reading series running about five years… with worldwide attendees, of course. This collection has been freely accessible to all, with no need of subscription, for the entire life of the project. That policy remains so today and will continue.

What's the purpose of the Book of Voices?
Some people regard the Book of Voices as an expression of community, because it represents poets from diverse, sometimes overlapping groups. A few event producers have used the Book of Voices as if it were a talent catalog, inquiring about the featured writers to offer paying opportunities to selected poets.

But to the site's deeper purpose, the Book of Voices is more about presentation than re-presentation. Artists are always invited to contribute what signifies themselves best. Readers are invited to browse, listen critically, and make associations for themselves. Students and educators find stable web pages that they can (and do) cite. The Book of Voices offers some jumping off points for new readers/listeners, such as the catalogs by culture.

In this intermix of aural and written language, the Book of Voices disarmingly advocates aural literacy: understanding language arts through multiple modes of communication. "Page" and "Stage" are not regarded as adversaries here; instead, they complement each other with the shared goals of literary comprehension and cultural exchange. copyright © 1999-2016 e-poets network
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