Part Ⅳ. The “Dicapoem” Movement

  • onMarch 10, 2016
  • Vol.31 Spring 2016
  • byLee Sang-ok

Digital Communication and the “Dicapoem” Movement


Dicapoem: A Multi-Language Art Form

Poetry read from a printed text is the product of print communications that came to flourish following the invention of the Gutenberg letterpress in the fifteenth century. The large-scale circulation of knowledge and information made possible by print communication paved the way for the Renaissance, the Reformation, and subsequent civil revolutions that, in the end, led to the dawn of modernity. It is in this context that the history of humanity can be said to coincide with the evolutionary history of media technology.

By opening up a new era of digital communication where almost anyone anywhere in the world can freely access a worldwide computer network, the Internet heralded new progress in human history. Smartphones, which are basically handheld computers, have brought about the digital media era of the individual where communication takes place in the condensed time and space of social media.

As we can see in everyday social media exchanges, digital communication goes beyond text to communicate in multiple languages (text, image, etc.) simultaneously. The power of this second Gutenbergian revolution of digital communication has been too strong for poetry to continue following the tradition of only using written text. Accordingly, the “dicapoem” has emerged as a new poetry movement for the digital communication age, creating new prospects for poetry as a multi-language art form harnessing image along with written text.

As dicapoems establish the textuality of words and images, the image and the text are completely inseparable. This is very different from the common practice of making a “photo poem” by juxtaposing a text poem with an appropriate photograph. Photo poems combine a stand alone poem with another stand alone photograph to bolster the effectiveness of each, which means that the image and text are independent—the combination of photograph and written text a temporary arrangement. A dicapoem, on the other hand, is the result of a poet feeling inspiration in nature or an object and capturing what they have seen with a digital camera, then expressing their inspiration in writing and combining these two elements as a single text “written” in multiple “languages.” If you examine the image and written text of a dicapoem separately each loses its reason for being as neither image nor text has independent value as photographic art or written poetry. The culmination of that poetic inspiration is then instantly communicated via social media.


Experimentation and École

I coined the word “dicapoem” in 2004 by combining the word “dica,” short hand in Korean for “digital camera,” with “poem.” Following this, from April-June 2004, a total of fifty dicapoems were published online, and in September of the same year the concept of the dicapoem was brought before the public eye with the publication of the dicapoem anthology, The Way to Goseong. In the beginning the concept of a dicapoem arose from individual experimentation. However, soon enough, with the opening of an online forum in 2004 and the creation of the “mook” (magazine-book), Dicapoem Mania (2006), the bi-annual publication, Dicapoem (2007), and the 2008 establishment of a dicapoem festival held in Goseong, South Gyeongsang Province, I joined with other poets such as Choe Gwangim and Cha Mingi to form an école and thus began dicapoetry as a literary movement centered around the Goseong region.

Professor Kim Jonghoi has said of dicapoetry: “Standing at the cutting edge of the era, this poetry movement, much like the modernist poetic movement led by Kim Gwang-gyun in the 1930s, sets a cultural standard working to invigorate the reputation of an entire region and I believe it will surely develop its own important festival.” Indeed, the dicapoem has been heralded as a new classic form, working to restore the significance of poetry in the age of digital imagery and communicate with readers via digital media.

The specialist dicapoem magazine is now on its sixteenth edition with poets such as Cho Jeonggwon, Jeong Hanyong, Kim Wangno, Choe Chunhui, Byeon Jongtae, Kim Yeongtak, Park Seoyeong, Park U-dam, Kim Ryung, Cheon Yunghui, Jo Yeongrae, Yi Kiyong, and Jeong Da-in. At the same time, critics such as Kim Jonghoi, Lee Byeongheon, Lee Jaebok, Kim Jongtae, Kim Seokjun, and Oh Hongjin have gotten involved, and even academic articles and university dissertations have been written on the subject. Not only that, Chae Hoseok’s The History of Korean Modern Literature (2009) for young readers includes my dicapoem “The Way to Goseong” and offers dicapoetry as a new poetic genre for the Internet era.

Dicapoems go beyond print books, being communicated to a wide online aud ience instantaneously through social media and online news outlets. Currently, in the online newspaper Money Today, a twice-weekly column entitled “Dicapoems brought to you by poet Choe Gwangim” is being published (138 editions as of January 1st, 2016), while various dicapoems, such as Kong Kwang-kyu’s “Farming Pants Pattern,” Kim Back-kyum’s “Autumn Sunflower,” Kwon Jeong-u’s “As the Sun Sets,” Ban Chil-hwan’s “A Flower’s Home Address,” Seo Donggyun’s “Spring,” and Kim Miryang’s “Underlining,” have been featured on the mobile-version homepage of the search engine and portal site Naver, recording over 100,000 hits. With the popularity of dicapoems growing, from 2009 to 2011 an outdoor evening poetry reading called “Seoul Flowing with Poems” was held, and since 2013, the “Gwanghwamun Kyobo Book Centre Dicapoem Reading” event has been staged quarterly. Last year, the event “A Night at Gyeolseong Hyanggyo (Confucian School)” was held, bringing together dicapoems and traditional heritage, and in 2015, at the Lee Byeong-Ju Hadong International Literature Festival, the first dicapoem competition and award ceremony was held.


Significance and Outlook

As smartphones have enabled us to capture a moment and instantly share that moment via social media, this new means of expression has opened up opportunities for real-time interactive communication, and as we have seen, dicapoetry continues to grow in popularity. In terms of creative aesthetics, if traditional written poetry is the result of one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent imagination, dicapoems turn that notion around as they are formed from ninetynine percent inspiration and one percent imagination. As dicapoetry takes momentary poetic inspiration as poetic completion, it has garnered a fate by which even five lines of text seems long and, accordingly, a dicapoem will be a short witty statement of only two or three lines. 


by Lee Sang-ok
Poet and Professor
Zhengzhou University of Light Industry