“Larvatus Prodeo” by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter

"Larvatus Prodeo" by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter. Text on white background. Text: "LARVATUS PRODEO / She went out at five o'clock, her crocodile skin handbag nestled under one arm, / her hands busy, rubbing salt between her fingertips. / From the door of the house she emerged in her grey tailored suit / A door soaked in blood, a door at once familiar and mysterious. / The birds in the trees called out, repeating like sirens. / down onto the sidewalk with an air of certainty and stability, / Walking forward she fixed her pillbox hat's netted veil in place, / How could she continue? / as if hooked to the bobby pins in her hair. / The birds in the trees called out, repeating like sirens. / It's not clear why this is happening. / She hurried along as long as anything could happen. / distracted by doll shoes, teeth-marked pencils, bottle caps and acorns. / She agonized over all of this. She bent down to retrieve a penny and, / The birds in the trees called out, repeating like sirens."
Open ““Larvatus Prodeo” by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter

This collaborative poem in three parts makes virtuoso use of the marquee tag, which along with the ever-annoying blink tag, has been disavowed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which imperils its existence in future browsers. Each of its parts uses this tag as a central device for shaping its text in a different way to play with Barthes’ notion of how the past is reduced and turned into “a slim and pure logos” through narrative as well as with Descartes’ use of the latin phrase larvatus prodeo (I come forth, masked).

The first part, depicted above, offers a narrative cut into lines of verse apparently a traditional one, as one begins to read. After a few seconds, the lines begin to disappear and reappear at different rates, cutting up the narrative and forming new stanzas, clusters, and sentences. A look at the source code (is the rendered page a mask?) reveals that each line is represented by a marquee tag with different intervals, which causes some of the clusters to form as they loop to their own rhythm. What comes first in this rapidly reconfigured text?

Screen capture of "Larvatus Prodeo" by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter. Text on white background. Text: "TOO LATE, ALL AT ONCE / Time turned over us, I couldn't catch up to your fading voice, Hover over me"

A screen capture doesn’t do justice to the effect created by the rapid intervals this marquee tag is used for. Each line cascades, echoes on the screen space barely present and hardly absent.

Screen capture of "Larvatus Prodeo" by Braxton Soderman and Roxanne Carter. A little girl stands in a corner looking, as if being reprimanded by her mother. Text: "OH O NO / are nearest... Then do not grasp at stars / rumble / murmur / made on your own accord, but also those made / keep doing this keep doing this keep doing this"

Housekeeping not only uses many different marquee styles, but it has the audacity to use frames to organize its elements. Here, past and present collide in a relation that may have some causal connection with the narrative in part one. The girl in the photograph bears a look that makes it seem like she stands framed by a corner of a room from the house in Grant Wood’s most famous painting. Spooky, especially when juxtaposed with the shifting voices scrolling in the marquees next to her.

This is a complex and beautifully accomplished work, one that has the power to haunt one’s curiosity and prompt multiple readings. This, along with some of J.R. Carpenter’s poems, attest to the expressive power that even a noncomforming feature can muster in the right hands.

Read more about this work at ELMCIP.

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