Digital poetry is a form of electronic literature, displaying a wide range of approaches to poetry, with a prominent and crucial use of computers. Digital poetry can be available in form of CD-ROM, DVD, as installations in art galleries, in certain cases also recorded as digital video or films, as digital holograms, on the World Wide Web or Internet, and as mobile phone apps.
A significant portion of current publications of poetry are available either only online or via some combination of online and offline publication. There are many types of 'digital poetry' such as hypertext, kinetic poetry, computer generated animation, digital visual poetry, interactive poetry, code poetry, holographic poetry (holopoetry), experimental video poetry, and poetries that take advantage of the programmable nature of the computer to create works that are interactive, or use generative or combinatorial approach to create text (or one of its states), or involve sound poetry, or take advantage of things like listservs, blogs, and other forms of network communication to create communities of collaborative writing and publication (as in poetical wikis).
Digital platforms allow the creation of art that spans different media: text, images, sounds, and interactivity via programming. Contemporary poetries have, therefore, taken advantage of this toward the creation of works that synthesize both arts and media. Whether a work is poetry or visual art or music or programming is sometimes not clear, but we expect an intense engagement with language in poetical works.
Early digital poems include Christopher Strachey's love letter generator (1952), the stochastic texts which were indirectly produced by the German mathematician Theo Lutz in 1959 by programming a Z22 of Konrad Zuse; Nanni Balestrini's "Tape Mark I" in Italian, published in 1961; and Brion Gysin's English permutation poems from around 1959, done automatically with the collaboration of Ian Somerville. These and other early digital poems are discussed in C. T. Funkhouser's Prehistoric Digital Poetry.
Hypertext poetry is a form of digital poetry that uses links using hypertext mark-up. It is a very visual form, and is related to hypertext fiction and visual arts. The links mean that a hypertext poem has no set order, the poem moving or being generated in response to the links that the reader/user chooses. It can either involve set words, phrases, lines, etc. that are presented in variable order but sit on the page much as traditional poetry does, or it can contain parts of the poem that move and / or mutate. It is usually found online, though CD-ROM and diskette versions exist. The earliest examples date to no later than the mid 1980s.
Interactive poetry is a form of digital poetry by which the reader may or must contribute to the content, form, or performance of the work, thereby influencing the meaning and experience of the poem. Interaction allows the reader to participate and influence the work and their experience of it.
Interactive poetry is limited to a digital medium as it cannot perform the same function in other media such as print, which limits accessibility. Interactive poetry can also provide a different experience with each reading or from reader to reader and so analysis of this type of poetry can be challenging as the experience is not static.