“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?

One reason for this and other complementary design choices is to give the readers a sense of the age of these poetic traditions. We can see Medievalism in its use of paper images, the ornate borders on each page, the choice of poetic examples using Early Modern English, the references to hermetic texts— such as the Smaragdine Tablet, which is called a sonnet by virtue of its 14 lines— and by using grid structures to organize language into letters for horizontal, vertical, and diagonal reading. With references to obscure and famous sonnet structures from Italian, English, and German traditions (Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus) and a few invented ones based on Medieval traditions, this work reminds us that we can look to the past as a source of rich poetic experimentation.

I suspect that successfully taking this “psychometric test” leads to “an unequivocal sense of certainty.” I’m just not certain of what.

Read more about this work at ELMCIP.

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