“Face the Facts” by Dan Waber

Screen capture from "Face the Facts" by Dan Waber. Black text against a white background, instructions line the bottom. Majority of text is faded out, remaining words form a column of words which communicate something different from their original intended meaning. Text: "facts/boys/and/girls/do/not/mean/a/thing/when/we/create/ mouse below the line to se all, move mouse L-R above the line to see all columns, mouse up the right side to see lines."
Open “Face the Facts” by Dan Waber

This poem is built on a two dimensional array with a simple interface that allows people to read the text horizontally and vertically. The position of the pointer (or a contact point on a touchscreen device) triggers which line or column of text is highlighted for readability. Extracted from an ambitious work titled Unbound, this interface illustrates some of the reading strategies necessary for the larger work, which is implemented in a printable form.

Paying close attention to this work, a few details stand out:

  • The text is rendered with a fixed-width font (one in which each character occupies the same amount of space), which allows the creation of a precise grid.
  • Each line is divided in half, forming a visually perceptible caesura right down the middle of its 45 character lines.
  • Each half of each line contains exactly 22 characters, including spaces.
  • All but one of the half-lines contain 5 words. The bottom line in the left column has 4 words.
  • There is no punctuation in this poem.
  • Most of the horizontal and vertical lines make perfect sense, though some are more challenging than others.

These are some fascinating constraints to write under, and they are methodically adhered to. One can notice how the first line and first column are very clear and the most thematic— they are the least constrained, or at least the easiest to write. But as one descends down the grid, the lines become increasingly opaque as the kinds of words that can be used become more constrained. This is not as noticeable in the columns because there are only 5 columns per half-line, restarting on the 6th column, but there are 12 lines in the poem, which makes it exponentially more difficult.

Considering how well this piece holds together, this is an impressive performance. And I shudder to think of the effort needed to write a 220-page work exploring and expanding on that concept, which took Waber 6 years to complete. I look forward to reading that work— soon.

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