West Virginia University faculty and students are letting their imaginations roam the digital depths of cyberspace, courtesy of an online literary site called The Loop .

The Web site helps place WVU s English Department in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences in the forefront of contemporary literature, featuring work by students, faculty and internationally known writers on the cusp of digital writing and art.

“Computers permeate our lives,”said Sandy Baldwin, assistant professor of English and director of the Center for Literary Computing.”Today, everyone uses a computer to write, if only for word processing. The Loop takes this seriously as a poetics, as a method of writing.”

WVU has long been a leader in literary computing, going back to professor Patrick Conners founding of the Center for Literary Computing in 1991. The Loop continues WVU s ongoing research and creativity in the field of electronic literature. The site is designed and created by a team of English Department students under Baldwins supervision.

While literature written with computers may be unfamiliar to many, electronic literature is neither new nor a rarity. Poets and storytellers have been writing literature with computers for more than 50 years. Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky writes extensively using computer programs. But only recently has interest in electronic literature been so great as to create a true field of study.

One look at The Loop Web site shows this challenging and refreshing quality of digital literature: The site looks and feels a little mysterious, a little playful, filled with images, sounds and animations. Baldwin said the objective was to make the experience of reading, viewing and listening to the site go beyond the individual pieces.

“Our concern is with literary computing, so we wanted to foreground the computer as a place of art, adventure, discovery and play,”he said.”For example, we used a lot of pop-up windows, which many Web surfers think of as an annoyance.

“But every day were barraged with input from many sources such as email, cell phones, TVs, radios, CDs, DVDs,”he added.”The pop-up windows mirror this information overload. Weve created a literature of multiple data streams, much like our contemporary experience.”

As the site itself mirrors the bustle of a 24/7 world, so does the content of The Loop reflect the dynamic,”world-wide”nature of computers, Baldwin explained.

“Id break work in this field into two areas,”he said.”The first is �€~code work�€literature that incorporates computer codes or is processed by a computer. For instance, we invited work from well-known writers Alan Sondheim and Kenji Siratori, who use codes and terminologies drawn from Internet chat rooms, programming languages and biotechnology. My own work is in this area.

“The second kind of work Id call �€~software art,where the technology helps the writer take advantage of creative possibilities not found in the printed text,”he added.”For example, many of the works in The Loop incorporate images, sound and animation. The computer adds new ways of telling stories and making meaning.”

Baldwin said The Loop design team is already looking ahead to next years edition, with plans to include more narratives. The current Loop focuses on poetry.

“We have a number of students in WVU s new Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing program who are developing stories using hytertext,”he said.”The results are impressive: Readers can find multiple paths to the story, leading to a richer and more diverse experience.”

To view The Loop , go towww.clc.wvu.edu/loop.