@DependsUponBot, @JustToSayBot, and @BlackBoughBot by Mark Sample

modernistbots
Open @BlackBoughBot, @DependsUponBot, & @JustToSayBot by Mark Sample

This trio of bots by Mark Sample present riffs on three of the most famous poems of the early Twentieth Century: William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say,” and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” The bots generate new versions of the poems by randomly altering most of the open word classes while keeping the basic syntax, meter and lineation intact, tweeting a new mutation once every two hours (though at the time of writing @DependsUponBot has been inactive since December 2014, for reasons unknown —editor’s note: it has now resumed operations). To my mind, the pleasure of these bots’ tweets lies in the discrepancy between the familiarity of the syntactical structure and the limit-case absurdity of the randomly generated content. For example, the sublime juxtaposition Pound presents the reader –

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iPoe: Effecting the Text

iPoe by Play Creatividad
iPoe by Play Creatividad

The Play Creatividad Editions are more than illustrated editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s texts. The reader can interact with the illustrations to discover what lies beneath (and, Poe being Poe, what lies beneath is generally a nasty surprise). The tales have been supplied with sound and music. But not with the kind of music that one would expect of a repetitive video game: each text has its own piece with a mood and rhythm that complements it perfectly. It is a labor that requires ideas, but also talent and love.

If we take “The Oval Portrait,” for example, the music is sweet and haunting, ultimately sad. The opening of the story, which describes the “chateau” in which the narrator will discover the oval portrait, is set over a grey scene on the background of which is the mansion, illuminated by the moon and surrounded by grey pine trees. In many of the illustrations, the movement of the device causes them to shift their angle. When we least expect it, the howl of the wolf merges with the melody.

The opening of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe
The opening of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe

As we advance in the tale, we discover that some of the phrases of the story are emphasized by using a darker and larger font. Eventually, the candlelight, allows us to illuminate the oval portrait, just after the narrator has discovered it.

The degree to which “The Oval Portrait” achieves the merging of the interactive features and multimedia elements with the original text  goes beyond what the reader would expect. In a print edition, for example, we read:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice: ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!

This could be modified with clever design, but in iPoe, we have a story presented with skilled subtlety.  In one screen we have:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice:

"The Oval Portrait" in iPad
“The Oval Portrait” in iPad

The typography of the last phrases bold and increasing in size (in the iPhone version, the iPad has the same size through that paragraph, as it can be seen in the image above) perhaps referring to the state of excitement exhibited by the character.  In the next page we have the portrait, covering blurry letters.

The portrait in "The Oval Portrait," photographed in an iPad.
The portrait in “The Oval Portrait,” photographed in an iPad.

The reader is forced to move the portrait out of place to discover the dead woman and the text above the corpse: “‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!”

The end of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.
The end of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.

The wonder is of iPoe’s “The Oval Portrait” is that it can enhance the reader’s experience. This is not just Poe’s text in a new edition, it is Poe for the 21st century reader. I, for one, will never teach Poe from print again.

Born-Again Digital: iPoe

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iPoe on iOS and Android

In the next few weeks, a series of entries will appear here that will concern themselves with the notion of a digital rebirth, a sort of digital reincarnation of printed texts. These entries will not refer to merely digitized versions of classic texts. Instead, they will highlight digital publications that present printed texts in a completely new light and that share with born-digital literature the need to be read in specialized devices.

In March last year, my attention was caught by iPoe, an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories specifically designed for mobile devices.  In turn, this sparked my interest in other similar publications and my involvement in the CantApp, an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales conceived for reading in mobile phones and tablets which will be published this year.  This reimagining of classical texts for modern multimedia devices is what I refer to as born-again digital literature.

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