The RCS Book Is Here!

Purchase a ClubNFT subscription and get the RCS book Free!

Get Your Copy
July 14, 2023

When Poetry Took Over the Blockchain

A groundbreaking exhibition prompts Derek Beaulieu and Alex Estorick to consider the place of poetry in Web3
Now Reading:  
When Poetry Took Over the Blockchain

In recent years, Paris-based L’Avant Galerie Vossen has become a physical outpost for the Web3 avant-garde in Europe, exhibiting artists including ROBNESS and Robbie Barrat, as well as a pair of groundbreaking group shows led by the poetry collective, theVERSEverse. The first of the two, “POÈME OBJKT,” launched late last year, focusing on the movement for blockchain poetry and its connections to a contemporary art world presently grappling with AI, NFTs, and other new digital practices. This summer’s follow-up exhibition, “POÈME SBJKT,” broadens the focus to include writing generated (or augmented) by AI. The show occupies the Librairie Galerie Métamorphoses, a bookstore-gallery with an interest in the convergence of writing and the arts, which, under the guidance of theVERSEverse and L’Avant Galerie Vossen, is now addressing generated poetry and its visual extensions.

Taken together, these two literary exhibitions, augmented by a new companion anthology, represent a unique gathering of poet-artists and artist-poets — a towering testament to the blockchain’s flourishing border economy despite ongoing market volatility. Right Click Save is proud to support the collective efforts of theVERSEverse and the wider movement for poetic and posthuman creativity on the blockchain. Here, Alex Estorick sets the exhibitions in context before Derek Beaulieu establishes the power of poetry as an object to be perceived rather than read.


The advent of Web3 technologies — blockchain, NFTs, and smart contracts — has created the conditions for a vastly expanded cultural economy premised on radical inclusivity. In this new creative sociality, art forms that were previously incapable of mass marketization are gamified and financialized for the benefit of a hybrid community of creator-collectors and subject-objects. Where digital art served as a proof of concept for NFTs, in the past year blockchain poetry has emerged as a new cross-border currency and vital index of human-machine interactions.

Alternative economies have often been founded on toleration and trust, from the hinterland between medieval Byzantium and Islam to the vast hawala networks of South Asia. Today’s ecotone — where different communities cross-fertilize — is instead an exchange of human and machine intelligence. “POÈME SBJKT” widens the pool of posthuman interactions initiated by theVERSEverse, whose community has revived poetry as a potent form of cultural capital.

Taking its cue from Breton’s poem objects that combined art with poetry for the revelation of the unconscious, this exhibition challenges poetry’s canonical limitations by reversing word’s subservience to image. It therefore follows conceptualism in dematerializing art to an idea while at the same time commodifying language through tokenization. It also challenges legacy artistic and literary establishments that continue to depend on centralized controls and old disciplinary divisions. As these creators make abundantly clear, it is porousness and plurality that will found the new cultural economy. 

— Alex Estorick

Installation view of “POÈME SBJKT” (2023) at Librairie Galerie Métamorphoses. Photography by Jean Louis Losi

A Poem Should Not Mean

by Derek Beaulieu

Normative poetry remains ensconced in a 1950s modernist aesthetic: clean design; a logical, controllable narrative of graphic beauty and heroic lyricism. While much contemporary poetry arose from that mandate, we can swerve the beauty away from the sales pitch. Just as logos continuously wash over us, let poetry do the same; part of the written landscape we occupy.

Create reflections and distortions that work to keep poetry current, in flow, a fluidity refusing to solidify around power. The most representative — and perhaps even the most exciting — art form of our age is the advertising logo. Why not create a logo advertising modern poetry, modern art?

Poetry moves toward formal simplification, abbreviated statements on all levels of communication from the headline and the advertising slogan to the scientific formula — the quick, concentrated visual message, in other words. Remarkable words with letters bigger than aqueducts ringed with quicksilver, flamboyant and shocking, like advertising. 

Form is never more than an extension of content. 
Astra Papachristodoulou, Anticipatory, 2023. Courtesy of the artist

Create the liquid and languid, trouble poetic logic, perfection, and power narratives; flow and gather, drip and congeal, slide off the page. Literature is not craftsmanship but an industrial process where the poem is a prototype rather than artistry. The contemporary poem is an understanding of juxtaposition. It focuses on the arrangement of letters and material. Headlines, slogans, groups of sounds and letters give rise to forms that could be models for a new poetry just waiting to be taken up for use. That use has now arrived. 

If the poem is a new product in a world flooded with new products, then it must partake of the nature of the world that created it. 

When most of the language we consume is non-poetic, should poetry not attempt to poetically intervene within these spaces that are not traditionally poetic?

Poetry is not the beautiful expression of emotive truths; it is the archaeological rearrangement of the remains of an ancient civilization. 

Installation view of “POÈME SBJKT” with works: The Wish by Ana María Caballero, W-A-R Zone by Kalen Iwamoto, and the light that is not seen (landscape) by aurèce vettier. Photography by Jean Louis Losi. Courtesy of the artists

Poetry can fully embrace the plasticized space of graphics and glyphs, pixels and projections. Embody the immediate present, the place where poetry is using the language of contemporary existence.

Write not just in the margins, but in the kerning.

Reading has shifted from something that takes place over time (an investment occurring privately, i.e. single readers quietly reading single books) to something that takes place instantaneously (a moment occurring publicly, i.e. momentary scans of logos, headlines, and brand recognition).

Imagine a poetry that learns from the Internet, learns from mass media, and starts to assume different forms of distribution: the website, the tweet, the post, the logo, the advertisement, the targeted ad.

Poets don’t own their work; they just borrow it from the dictionary. 

All that signifies can be sold.

Poetry, like advertising, is anything you can get away with. Readability is key: like a logo, a poem should be instantly recognizable.

Mieke Marple, in marble of a girl, 2023. Photography by Grant Gutierrez. Courtesy of the artists

Poetry endeavors to render all language into poetic icons, much like how everyone can understand the meaning of a folder icon on the computer screen. The contemporary poem as a form most closely echoes the icons used in contemporary computing — the file-folder icon, the floppy disk save icon — not to mention the cool typography of the Mac platform and icon-driven iPad.

While graphic design, advertising, and contemporary design culture expand to redefine and rewrite how we understand communication, poetry struggles against becoming ensconced in the traditional. 

The McDonald’s golden arches, the Nike swoosh, and the Apple logo best represent the aims of contemporary poets.

Like logos for the corporate sponsors of Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel, these poems use the particles of language to represent and promote goods and corporations just out of reach. These imaginary businesses, and the advertising campaigns that support them, promote a poetic dreamscape of alphabetic strangeness. Poems are the street signs, the signage, the advertising logos for the shops and corporations that are just beyond reach.

How far away from poetry can we get and still be writing and reading poetry? 

Installation view of “POÈME SBJKT” with works: 1 the Road, 2023 reiteration by Ross Goodwin; Prédelle (here) #2 by Agnès Thurnauer, Grand Dessein by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, and BIBLIOMECHANICS by Christian Bök. Photography by Jean Louis Losi. Courtesy of the artists

Moments of poetic nostalgia for the signposts of a non-existent past.

Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. A poetry of difference, chance, and eruption.

You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read — or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. Language to be looked at and/or things to be read. 

Type is what meaning looks like. 

Poems are not rarefied jewels carefully chiseled for a bespoke audience, they are nuts and bolts, factory-made, shifting from use to use; they are airport signs manufactured in bulk, they are silkscreens awaiting T-shirts. 

Tina Chang and Emily Edelman, The Beginning is Feminine: spark, 2022. Courtesy of the artists

Poetry can move past declarations of emotion into a form more indicative of how readers process language. It is the realization that the usages of language in poetry of the traditional type are not keeping pace with live processes of language and rapid methods of communication at work in the contemporary world. 

Writing is not about something; it is that something itself. 

It is precisely this distancing from traditional poetics that makes visual poetry both a marginalized form unrecognizable to many poets and a genre perfectly suited to a twenty-first-century readership.

Poetry is an object to be perceived rather than read; the content of the poem is non-literary but completely recognizable. Poems begin in recognition: as soon as we see them, we know a particular object is in question because only that object has just this (and no other) emblem. 

Roy Voragen, ang pangalan mo ay Bughaw, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

A poem is the result of a concentration upon the physical material upon which the poem or text is made. Emotions and ideas are not physical materials.

Poems that refold the old, retrieved from a nowhere cultural memory, fitfully nostalgic for an ethereal, ephemeral moment. Poems made of letters that combine, like so many pieces of orphaned Lego, to form previously unexpected constructions not at all resembling the images on the packaging.

Poets owe nothing to “poetry,” least of all deference.

Every poem explodes because of its staggering absurdity, the enthusiasm of its principles, or its typography.

Poetry belongs to the world of appearances, not to that of actual use.

Poems that refuse linearity in favor of the momentary. 

A poem should not mean / but be.

Protect your NFT collection and discover new artists with ClubNFT

Derek Beaulieu is the author and editor of more than 25 collections of poetry, prose, and criticism. His most recent volume of fiction, Silence, is forthcoming from Sweden’s Timglaset Books, while his most recent volume of poetry, Surface Tension (2022), was published by Toronto’s Coach House Books. Beaulieu has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and dedication to students, the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for his dedication to Albertan literature, and he is the only graduate from the University of Calgary’s Department of English to receive the Faculty of Arts Celebrated Alumni Award. Beaulieu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Roehampton University, abd has served as poet laureate of both Calgary and Banff, and as Director of Literary Arts at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Alex Estorick is Editor-in-Chief at Right Click Save.

A companion anthology, POÈME OBJKT SUBJKT (2023), is available in both digital and physical format.