[NetBehaviour] netpoetic launch (Jason Nelson)

Edward Picot edwardpicot at beeb.net
Sun Apr 6 20:22:43 CEST 2008

Jason -

I thought this was very interesting and informative, and a good introduction to certain aspects of electronic poetry - basically, different ways of introducing three-dimensionality or a topographical feel into the display of text, so that readers can interact with the way the text is displayed on-screen, maybe dragging it around, maybe twisting it about, or maybe zooming through it. You clearly have a very spontaneous and funny lecturing style, and you're agreeably tongue-in-cheek about the whole electronic poetry enterprise, not to mention your own status as a practitioner. On the other hand I did find myself feeling frustrating at a number of points. The first one was that you've obviously got a more up-to-date version of Flash than me (which is hardly a surprise), so that when I downloaded one of your demonstration files, to have a play with the Action Script as you kept encouraging me to do, I found that I couldn't open it. This is a problem with using non-open-source software, of course; but I can appreciate that open-source alternatives to Flash are pretty thin on the ground.

Secondly, there was a certain amount of vagueness about how the Flash actually worked. This came into focus for me in the third of the presentations, WithinSpace, which I found both the most interesting and the most frustrating. On the one hand you seemed to expect that your audience would be Flash-savvy, so it was okay to just say "You call know how Flash works, so you'll understand more or less how this is done". Then you seemed to be launching into an explanation, and went as far as to say that the different bits of text were on different layers, and to demonstrate how extra text could be added to a layer. But the crucial bit, of course, it to get it all going larger and smaller, so that the viewer/reader seems to be zooming through the layers as he or she goes mousing around the piece, and I think you needed to say something about the technicalities of attaching code to the "on Press" or "on Release" instructions in the piece, and how you use this to control sizes, and so forth. I don't think you actually need to go into the detail of how it's done, but at least a theoretical sketch of the method would be handy, even for a Flash-savvy audience.

The counter-argument to this would be that your real concern was not with how to achieve this or that effect in Flash, but to demonstrate how Flash allows an opening-out of the text in dramatic and dynamic ways, and to make your audience think about how this might affect the possibilities of poetry - how it might make electronic poetry a different creature from printed poetry. But here again you seemed frustratingly vague. At one point it seemed to be getting quite interesting - you were talking about the possibility of concealing bits of text behind other things, such as squares of colour, so that people would have to go searching around inside a piece - and you said the real question which needed to be asked was what kind of poetry would be suitable for display in this environment? But you left the question hanging. I daresay the intention was to make your audience think for themselves, but in an educational piece like this you might at least give them a few starting-points, some idea of how to judge the difference between what works and what doesn't work in this kind of display-space. At one point you did actually reference your own piece, "Between Disparate Objects", as an example, and to my mind you could have made some points about why that works - basically the feeling that you have to travel through three-dimensional space inside the piece to get from one of the objects to another becomes a kind of metaphor for the ideas of between-ness and disparity which are mentioned in the title. On the other hand, if you were to put an oldfashioned poetic text such as "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" inside the same display-space, you wouldn't be doing it any favours, because you'd be disrupting all the close interplay of rhymes, enjambement, images, metaphors and what have you which makes a text like that work on the page. If you make a comparison like that then you at least start to give a sense of what kind of text works better in an interactive new media environment, and what kind is better off left on the printed page. 

The trouble is, I think you fall foul of this distinction yourself at times. If you look at the Christine Hume text in your Rubik's cube piece -

pound at your belief until it's empty of you
loaded with lords aft and boxes of foward lucifers
but how could a lucifer get fire in this crying night

- I'm not at all clear that it benefits from being loaded onto a virtual cube so that readers can dynamically swivel it around all over the place: in fact I feel fairly sure that it would be better off in print.

All this having been said, however, I do think you're putting together a very approachable and thought-provoking introduction to some of the possibilities of electronic poetry. 

- Edward
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