What if the experience of reading a poem as text could have more in common with the experience of a live poetry performance? This is the question that’s driving one of my current projects.
This summer, I took a seminar on digital literature. We talked a lot about what the advent of digital humanities means for the academy, particularly in relation to our own roles as lit scholars. (If you’re interested in an overview of the digital humanities, check out this free text authored by some brilliant minds at MIT.) Ultimately, though, I discovered that my own interest in digital literature extends beyond the academic to encompass the creative, as well. As a creative writer, the possibility of using digital media to produce literary works is a pretty freaking exciting one. I can’t conceive of all the potential applications, much less list them here, but I do want to share my thoughts on one way that digital literature can impact poetry, in particular.
As both a page poet and a slam poet, I sometimes feel caught between the two communities. Granted, there is overlap, but there are also a lot of debates about the importance of content, performance, layout, and form. It’s pretty safe to say that there are some differences between reading a poem in a book or magazine and hearing a life performance at a slam or open mic. One major difference is, of course, that one experience is primarily visual while the other is primarily aural. Another difference is that a performance reveals the poem to the listener line by line. With a printed text, the reader has access to the entire poem at once ( including things like formatting and length),even if she only reads one line at a time. The project I’m sharing here addresses the latter difference. By using a free, online program called Twine, I created an interactive digital version of one of my poems. My goal was to simulate the line-by-line experience of a life performance, while still using text as the primary medium. Each line is added to the poem individually, as the reader navigates. In addition, the poem builds line by line with each consecutive screen, allowing for the reader to consider each line individually and in context of the poem “so far.” While this reconciles only one, small difference between text and performance, it suggests that it’s possible to use digital tools to create “hybrid” poems that unite some of the seemingly disparate qualities of the aural and the visual.
Here’s the link to the project, a digital version of my poem, “Why I Have Stayed With Things That Hurt.” You can navigate between screens via the hyperlinks on each page.