e-Lit Resource
The PO.EX Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature: A Review

The entry was drafted at the University of Bergen, Norway during the Winter 2013-14 term, as part of the author's doctoral program.

PO.EX (http://po-ex.net) is a digital archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature that began in 2005. This literary database is coordinated by Rui Torres, at the University Fernando Pessoa in Oporto, Portugal, and was funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia [Foundation for Science and Technology] (FCT) and the European Union under two main research projects: “CD-ROM da PO.EX: Poesia Experimental Portuguesa, Cadernos e Catálogos” [The PO.EX CD-ROM: Portuguese Experimental Poetry, Notebooks and Catalogues] (2005-2008) and “PO.EX’70-80: Arquivo Digital da Literatura Experimental Portuguesa” [PO.EX’70-80: Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature] (2010-2013).

The first project sought to conduct a survey – inventorying, documenting, researching and spreading the knowledge – about Portuguese experimental literature. This initiative has collected and digitized materials from the PO.EX movement, a movement of EXperimental POetry launched in the 1960s. With the publication of two main anthologies or cadernos (chapbooks), Poesia Experimental 1 [Experimental Poetry 1] (1964), edited by António Aragão and Herberto Helder, and Poesia Experimental 2 [Experimental Poetry 2] (1966), edited by the same authors and E.M. de Melo e Castro, an active movement of writers, artists and musicians was settled (the PO.EX): Álvaro Neto (Liberto Cruz), Ana Hatherly, António Aragão, E.M. de Melo e Castro, Herberto Helder, Jorge Peixinho, José-Alberto Marques and Salette Tavares. The heterogeneity of these authors – as well as Melo e Castro’s organization of the magazines Operação 1 (1967) and Hidra 2 (1969), in which several of the authors from Cadernos de Poesia Experimental, but also Silvestre Pestana, collaborate – extended the spectrum of its creative production, addressing and causing the notion that the Portuguese experimentalism could neither summarize itself, nor be summarized by critics, as a concrete poetry movement, but rather as a proliferation of creative vectors with an open and truly “experimental” character. These experimental practices clustered around visual poetry, conceptual poetry, conceptual art, sound poetry, “object-poetry,” “poetic action” (or happening) and exhibitions.

Taking this perspective into account, the first research project of PO.EX focused on these practices and genres, building a digital archive of the main works, particularly the 1964 and 1966 chapbooks, catalogs, literary magazines and publications from the ‘60s. Besides boosting the engagement of several researchers and a number of published articles, book chapters and monographs (e.g. Baldwin and Torres 2014, Portela 2013), the key outcomes of the first stage were the digital remediation or recreation of concrete and visual poems in ActionScript (releituras, i.e. reinterpretations, literally meaning 'rereadings'), and the production of a CD-ROM (available at http://po-ex.net/evaluation/), in which one can access these reenactments and the theoretical volumes contextualizing the project, as well as read and manipulate the original digitized editions.

The second research project assimilated the continuity flux of the experimental movement in the 1970s and ‘80s, by collecting new material related not only to experimental fiction and intermedia poetry (visual, sound and videopoetry), but also to cybernetic literature, or cyberliterature (Barbosa 1996). Indeed, the PO.EX movement expanded in number and genres. Therefore, from the 1960s until the late 1980s, among several new magazines, anthologies, publications and exhibitions, other authors, such as Abílio-José Santos, Armando Macatrão, Antero de Alda, António Barros, António Dantas, António Nelos, César Figueiredo, Emerenciano, Fernando Aguiar, Gabriel Rui Silva, Pedro Barbosa and Silvestre Pestana joined or were somehow connected with the movement, widening the experimental practices with performances, happenings, installations, videopoetry, computer-generated literature (CGL) and infopoetry (electronic poetry). Thus, in this context emerges the first version of the PO.EX database, built in DSpace, providing the authors’ biographies and a theoretical framework on the movement and the project, with various scientific articles.

In 2014, after nearly ten years of effort, rescuing, digitalizing and emulating, the full archive appears. All the assembled material, which had long been out of print, only accessible via printed monographs (e.g. Melo e Castro 1988) or inaccessible, is really impressive. Among many others, E.M. de Melo e Castro’s videopoems (1968, 1980s, ‘90s, ‘00s) and infopoems are available; Pedro Barbosa’s first works of computer-generated poetry and fiction (1970s and ‘80s) were digitalized and emulated, containing the source code programmed in FORTRAN, ALGOL, NEAT and BASIC on a mainframe computer; and it is ready, although not yet available, Silvestre Pestana’s Computer Poetry (1981-83) emulations, a series of poems programmed in BASIC on a Sinclair ZX-81 and Spectrum, whose screenshots (photographs and printouts) one could just most likely acknowledge in the printed anthology Poemografias: Perspectivas da Poesia Visual Portuguesa (1985).

This feature creates a unique character within the PO.EX database and acquires added value with regard to other literary databases in the field of electronic literature – from those starting in the same period, such as the ELO’s Electronic Literature Directory (http://directory.eliterature.org/) and the NT2 Hypermedia Art and Literature Directory (http://nt2.uqam.ca/) to more recent ones, such as the ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base (http://elmcip.net/) – since the documented works and their multimedia files are primary sources created directly by the project’s team. Furthermore, there are also structural differences, which can be mainly referred to the deep cross-reference record system and the degree of collaboration, e.g. creation of new records by external agents, which is one of the valuable points of the ELMCIP KB and, in lesser degree, of the ELD, more oriented towards the works’ detailed description. However, the CELL consortium (http://eliterature.org/cell/) promises to put into practice a higher interoperability among these databases and others, fostering a shared database search engine, cross-reference and the implementation of a common taxonomy. The current taxonomy of the PO.EX database is well argued (Branco, Portela and Torres 2013) and coherently articulates the diversity of materials and genres, divided in two major areas: materialities and transtextualities.

The role that PO.EX has been developing in recent years has proved critical both in Portugal, Portuguese-speaking communities and the international network of electronic literature – having in mind that the movement of Portuguese experimental literature was mostly theorized by its authors, as insiders (e.g. 1981), one can consider the PO.EX project as its first systematic and comprehensive survey (even if anthologies such as Ribeiro and Sousa 2004 had deeply helped), providing all its archive online, thus enabling researchers and the general public open access to the original works, biographies, bibliographic data, and critical writing. Moreover, its impact has been crucial in disseminating cyberliterature (the “marginal ized” [sic] field, Saraiva 1980, cit. in Torres 2008) within the Portuguese literary studies and establishing Luso-Brazilian synergies and research threads, both in the associated research groups and the academic journal Cibertextualidades.

At the moment, future goals comprise the reassessment of this collection of sources, the consolidation of the project’s continuity and ensuring its organic growth as a database by covering recent decades: 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.


Aguiar, Fernando and Silvestre Pestana (eds.). Poemografias: Perspectivas da Poesia Visual Portuguesa. Lisbon: Ulmeiro, 1985.

Aragão, António and Herberto Helder (eds.). Poesia Experimental 1 (1964).

Aragão, António, Herberto Helder and E.M. de Melo e Castro (eds.). Poesia Experimental 2 (1966).

Barbosa, Pedro. A Literatura Cibernética 1: Autopoemas Gerados por Computador. Oporto: Edicões Árvore, 1977.

---. A Literatura Cibernética 2: Um Sintetizador de Narrativas. Oporto: Edicões Árvore, 1980.

---. Máquinas Pensantes: Aforismos Gerados por Computador. Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 1988.

---. A Ciberliteratura: Criação Literária e Computador. Lisbon: Edições Cosmos, 1996.

Branco, Maria, Manuel Portela and Rui Torres. “Justificação Metodológica da Taxonomia do Arquivo Digital da Literatura Experimental Portuguesa”. 2013. Online. Accessed: January 10, 2014.

Hatherly, Ana and E.M. de Melo e Castro (eds.). PO-EX: Textos Teóricos e Documentos da Poesia Experimental Portuguesa. Lisbon: Moraes Editores, 1981.

Melo e Castro, E.M. de. Poética dos Meios e Arte High Tech. Lisbon: Vega, 1988.

---. “Videopoetry.” New Media Poetry: Poetic Innovation and New Technologies. Visible Language 30:2 (1996), 140-149.

Portela, Manuel. Scripting Reading Motions: The Codex and the Computer as Self-Reflexive Machines. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013.

Ribeiro, Eunice and Carlos Mendes de Sousa (eds.). Antologia da Poesia Experimental Portuguesa: Anos 60 – Anos 80. Coimbra: Angelus Novus, 2004.

Saraiva, Arnaldo. Literatura Marginal izada: Novos Ensaios. Oporto: Edições Árvore, 1980.

Torres, Rui (org.). CD-ROM da PO.EX: Poesia Experimental Portuguesa – Cadernos e Catálogos. Vols. 1 and 2. CD-ROM. Oporto: PO.EX, 2008. Accessed: October 25, 2013.

Torres, Rui and Sandy Baldwin (eds.). PO.EX: Essays from Portugal on Cyberliterature and Intermedia. Morgantown, WV: Center for Literary Computing/West Virginia University Press, 2014.

Other Directories entries

PO.EX entry: http://po-ex.net/sobre-o-projecto/referencias/alvaro-seica-o-poex-uma-re...
ELMCIP entry: http://elmcip.net/node/9167