“There Are Many Detours Between Information And Instruction” by Joe Milazzo

Screen capture from "There Are Many Detours Between Information And Instruction" by Joe Milazzo. Grey, blue, baby blue, orange and beige pixelated background with a textbox with 4 lines written in it. Text: "Languid / days / are over. / I suppose."
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This poem may seem like a simple slideshow that combines text and images but it is built with born-digital materials that have little to do with print culture. The background images are taken from sprites—graphical objects that form part of a program visual design and contain programmed behaviors. Both in its choice of sprites and fonts, the work favors an 8 and 16 bit videogame aesthetic, evidenced by its pixellation and bold fonts. And even though by turning these materials into images, their programmed behaviors are stripped, they retain cultural impact, particularly for those familiar with their provenance. One doesn’t have to be videogame aficionado to appreciate their aesthetics, since a few decades of exposure to these videogame graphics has caused some cultural burn-in, to the point that they’ve become part of our visual and computational vocabulary.

As you read the poem in all its retro glory, consider how the speaker’s nostalgic language resonates with the materials it was written with.

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“Algorithmic Poems” by Chris Funkhouser

screen capture from "Algorithmic Poems" by Chris Funkhouser.
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This suite of four poems based on W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” was written using GTR Language Workbench— a kind of textual Photoshop that allows users to algorithmically select and transform a text. This free and downloadable Mac & Windows software tool created by Andrew Klobucar and David Ayre can be used to analyze and transform texts, generating new ones using new and historical algorithmic methods, such as the Oulipian N+7. It also allows writers to create new algorithms or sequences of transformations to act upon texts, as seen in its tutorial videos (see the Processors and Mixed Processors tutorials in the program’s Help section).

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“Any Vision” by Zuzana Husárová

“Any Vision” by Zuzana Husárová

This work is published as a video documentation of a simultaneously analog and digital poem— an instance of extreme inscription as described by Matthew Kirschenbaum. Written on a semiconductor alloy with “a focus GA ion beam” at font sizes much smaller than a pixel, requiring an electron microscope with magnification “ranges from 400x all the way to 10000x.” The naked eye cannot read this poem unaided, so the video takes us through an edited journey into the poem’s text reminiscent of Prezi, but much cooler in its materiality.

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“Passing Through” by Alexander Mouton

Screen capture of “Passing Through” by Alexander Mouton. Picture of a barb-wired fence leading to a building.
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This multimedia hypertext work weaves together unpopulated images, ambient sounds, and the text of overheard conversations in several cities to produce an immersive experience of a journey. Best experienced in cinematic conditions (good speakers or headphones, large screen, dark room, no distractions, fullscreen browser window), this is a navigationally minimalist. Each image has an area you can click on to go to the next, and it’s not difficult to find, since it tends to be large and placed over a focal point in the photograph. The simplicity of the interface and knowing from the outset that it is a linear experience, allows readers to relax into the work and not be distracted by wondering about where to go or what decision to make. The sounds and scheduled presentation of the texts also encourage paucity and reflection on the whole sequence of images as a whole.

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“Afghan War Diary” by Matthieu Cherubini

 

“Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney Anne Trettien

Screen shot from “Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney. The background is in black and brown and the picture of a bridge over water is shown, a bridge leading to a city. There are two columns with a fading effect on the picture. The columns (pages), which are place one on the left corner and the other in the middle, are marked as “Arriving” and “Departing”. In the arriving column, which is the one on the left corner, shows different dates: 1941, 1973, 1968, 1921, along with a text beside each year. The departing corner, which is the one on the middle, has the cardinal directions along with the text “to the” before them. Example: “To the north, to the south, to the west, to the east”. Along side north and south there is a text. “To the north text”: Taught my berighted soul to understand”/ “To the South” text: “not yet conscious of the racism awaiting him:”. In west and east there are pictures in rectangle form. The one of the east is of a sky and the one of the west is of musical notes. Below it there are two other pictures one in shape of a rectangle and the other as a square. They both are filled with text and its barely viewable.
Open “Speaking of Rivers” by Jonathan Peter Moore and Whitney Anne Trettien

This work is a kind of hypertext edition of Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” contextualizes the poem by placing it in conversation with historical and biographical events, culture, music, poetry, visual arts, and its publication history.

Its interface is simple (though unexplained): when you click on an image of a line from the poem on the  “Arriving” column the image changes to one from a different printing of the poem, displaying its date on the left, and loading a random set of lines and images on the “Departing” column. Each date brings up a scanned image of the print publication as a visceral lesson on the impact of the materiality and socialization of texts, as Jerome McGann demonstrated in The Textual Condition. The lines and images in the “Departing” column are excerpts from other materials— clicking on them brings up an image, text, or embedded video (note: currently works best in Chrome) beneath the column. The title links to an “About” page, which is a scholarly short article that goes into detail on the contexts, inspiration, and theory that informs the work.

This digital re-reading — operating as both a detourned archive and an artistic re-imagining — puts the many editions of Hughes’ poem in direct contact with a constellation of images, texts and voices that respond to its call.

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“Cannibal Dreams” by Lacy Cunningham and Justin Talbott

“Cannibal Dreams” by Lacy Cunningham and Justin Talbott

This elegant hypertext poem consists of 28 links arranged on an excerpt from a book on bone biology. The links are barely distinguishable from the rest of the text, yet lead to poetic language that forms a distinctive contrast to the scientific text in the paragraph. The relation between the two texts isn’t simply tonal counterpoints: they are deeply interconnected, metaphorically and especially thematically. One key to understanding these relations is in the first link, which leads to the image below:

This diagram maps a relationship, showing alternatives paths a couple can take when faced with the kind of situation described in the scientific text. See where the paths lead and you’ll note recurring elements, most of which are not positive for the health of the relationship.

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“Wittenoom: speculative shell and the cancerous breeze” by Jason Nelson

Open: “Wittenoom: speculative shell and the cancerous breeze” by Jason Nelson

This award-winning responsive poem focuses on the Australian ghost town Wittenoom, abandoned due to toxic dust caused by asbestos mining. Each of its nine parts focuses on an aspect of the abandoned town and consists of an image from Wittenoom, generally portraying urban decay, an brief looping instrumental audio track, links to other parts of the poem, a title for the section, and a text accessible through different responsive interfaces. A brief parenthetical help text near the bottom left corner of each screen provides encouragement that hints at the interface, promting readers to explore the interactivity and intuit its internal logic. The thematic focus and consistent visual design pull the work together, while the varied interfaces lead to new explorations of the spaces, together producing an experience both jarring and immersive.

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“_:terror(aw)ed patches:_” by Mez Breeze and Shane Hinton

 

“Little Book of Prompts” by Sylvanus Shaw

Screen capture of "Little Book of Prompts" by Sylvanus Shaw. A series of virtual pages floating in fixed position, among them a crossword puzzle. Text: "(one page cropped out of view) / RORSCHACH CROSSWORD / Part One / IX. Sequence Problem / _ Y _ _ R _ _ N"
Open “Little Book of Prompts” by Sylvanus Shaw

This work prompts readers to write according to a set of poetic constraints, offering original, famous, and obscure forms and examples. The interface offers a series of virtual pages floating in fixed positions in space, and allowing readers to tilt them, zoom in and out, and flip them over to read the examples on their verso. A close examination of its yellowed pages reveals barely perceptible ink marks from handwriting on the other side, but that information is missing when one flips the page. Why evoke such physicality in the pages?

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