Just finished Media Poetry edited by Eduardo Kac and although it's a bit old (2007), it really got my ideas flowing for some new pieces and solidified my thinking around what I want to do.
I created a few new things:
Just finished Media Poetry edited by Eduardo Kac and although it's a bit old (2007), it really got my ideas flowing for some new pieces and solidified my thinking around what I want to do.
I created a few new things:
I just finished reading The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich. Three things I can say about this book. One is that it's written like a textbook and is very, very dry. If you're not serious about New Media pieces, I would skip this book. Two, there's a lot of philosophy of new media culture here that is much broader than simply talking about art on computer and film (there's actually a lot about film chat here). This book is about how these tools (databases, navigable space, computer collage) change our thinking, just as media changes have always tweaked our view of the world. And three, no other book has ever given me more ideas about digital projects than this one. It was slow going, but it was really crunchy food for thought.
And predictably, after finishing the book I was inspired to experiment with a slew of new media, e-lit poems: https://www.marymccray.com/audio-clips.html.
One goal of mine was to give my e-lit projects some higher emotional content. My slim surveys (to-date) around the e-lit landscape have shown me lots of cool projects that use language as mostly raw material in order to experiment with the new technologies. Not many artists have gone beyond post-modernist and modernist kinds of intellectual experiments around language to use poetry in a more traditional way but still incorporating new media platforms. That's not entirely true, but for the most part.
This is a question I'm always asking: what affordances (or attributes) about a book or an HTML page help serve the poem better than without those affordances? The same with e-lit stories. How does the platform serve the story or poem? And if it doesn't, it's not an integral part of the poem or story. It's just an alternate-delivery device.
So, there are really three things I was interested in: using (1) crafted sentence (versus randomly generated material) with (2) emotional content (vs. content with ironic distance or an intellectual message) in play with (3) new media platforms (HTML, Forms, PowerPoint, Graphs/Images, etc.).
And all that equals e-lit love poems, doesn't it? Of course it does.
You may have seen this video by Gary Turk about disengaging from technology. It was recommended, ironically, by someone high up in our IT department.
Which is amazing in and of itself. This is the same person who told us last year to stop emailing each other so much and pick up a phone. I think people (even in tech) are starting to see the damage that tech can do to social engagement and work processes.
Another amazing thing: I took me a minute and 40 seconds to realize the video was a poem!
There's some great shots in the video, especially the time progression of the poet standing looking at his phone while tons of life passes him by unseen.
I found a not-so-nasty but rebuttal of a parody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Jhd3HXcaEk
Although the parody is too dismissive of the problems in tech-dependency, it does make some good points. Like when your bike breaks, you can learn to fix it on YouTube. My family leaned on Zoom technology this weekend to enable more family to attend my aunt's funeral in the time of Covid-19. It's not all bad. It's just bad if you can't stop.
Good albeit old news. I'm in the not-so-latest issue of Blue Unicorn, February & June 2009 issue!
(not the same cover, left)
Back in 2008 I lived in Venice, California, with Mr. Cher Scholar and had the poem "Bluestone" from Why Photographers Commit Suicide accepted by this journal. But then we moved to Redondo Beach in early 2009 and it's possible my contributors copies did not forward.
Anyway, I assumed the magazine folded or they changed their mind. But years later I found a spreadsheet of my acceptances and I was reminded about this one. So for ten years my to-do list has included the task of researching the missing contributors copies.
I tried to email the magazine years ago but the email bounced. I tried again last month and they responded. And sent me my belated copies! Whoo hoo!
Inside is one of my many name experiments: I'm listed as Mary Elizabeth Ladd.
I just finished iPad reading this interactive novel called Weirdwood Manor. Although the word finished is relative. After spending money for 6 books in the series, I got to the end only to realize the end hasn’t been written. I was so pissed off. There was no warning about this fact when I purchased the first 6 “books.” It’s like buying a novel and then getting to the end to find out you need to buy another novel that contains the real ending.
There were some good things about the story: it's a good example of narrative gaming (happily more heavily on the narrative than most) and it’s all about the love of books. There is a good system of hints to help you find every hidden thing, although you can’t easily get back to items you’ve missed unless you reread the entire book and touch all its hidden areas again, which is crazy. Since there wasn’t much payoff for peaking behind every hiding place, I stopped trying to go back and get a perfect "score." I also got tired of the puzzles after a while; they took too much manual dexterity for me (an old fart who never plays online games) and I can only imagine how kids with disabilities would do with them.
The music is great and the story is full of fun allusions to other fairy tales. But the end dissolves into a tangle of imaginative theory about the nature of imagination.
Next book release date? Nowhere to be found doing a quick Google search so I’m moving on. Hope it all turns out.
I finished a few other essay books this year….
The Language of the Poet, Verbal Artistry in Frost, Steven’s and Moore by Marie Borroff. Some people would, in fact, find Marie a real bore-off. Ha! This was a very difficult and dry book, literally it’s about classifying and counting words in the poems of its example poets, two notoriously difficult ones. But I actually loved this book (even though I had to read it very slowly) and came out with a deeper understanding about all of these three poets and about what the difference was between diction and syntax (which I’ve never been able to figure out before).
Diction is about word choice, the difference between the words lightness and buoyancy and what meaning changes happen as a result of those word choices or between concrete to abstract synonyms, synonyms that differ in terms of class differences and occasion.
Syntax is about sentence construction and how simple or complicated sentences can get. When someone says, “I couldn’t follow his syntax” (which I do all the time with Wallace Stevens poems), they usually mean the subordinate clause and verb layers are too complicated to make sense of. In writing class they would tell us to break those monster sentences up into shorter sentences for easier digestion. But for some poets, the fun of the thing is trying to push a sentence to its limits. And that’s okay.
This is now my favorite book on the current affairs of digital literature. It’s so concise and yet the most expansive book on the subject. And it’s so friendly and reasonable!
Hammond starts with a historical review of the criticisms and rebuttals of electronic literature (very fairly handled), then moves onto issues of digitizing existing literature (including history around Virginia Woolf’s interest in that area) and issues around accessibility, then moving over into talking about quantitative studies in literature. He ends talking with “born digital” pieces and alterations in our ideas about authorship.
If you hate this subject (kids today!) but what to be literate about it, this is the book for you. If you don’t know anything about it and are elit-curious, this is the book for you. It’s a must have for anybody studying the most contemporary literatures, including narrative video games.
Not video games! I know what you’re thinking. Hammond provided two excellent examples of literary video games, which you can view online as walkthroughs:
The Stanley Parable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgmIk_aOCRs
I loved this branching story, a very literate take on the absurdity of video games!
Going Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXwuqG3FVNs
The walkthroughs are a big speedy which made me a bit
dizzy so I haven’t finished it but the game is full of things to read and reading is a big part of the game. It’s a story about a missing family in a big shadowy house.
I also read the mass of materials known as Building Stories by artist Chris Ware. It comes in a board-game box full of graphic stories of different shapes and sizes (see pic left, click to open in larger size). This is a story about a woman’s life trajectory and a sub-story about bees. The amazing thing is the reading order affects how you understand and "compile" the story in your head, how you decide to order and interact with all the materials, which include a game board artifact.
I decided to read them all from smallest to largest. My friend just randomly picked up booklets to read. I labeled the main character as the woman with one leg because I learned about her leg situation before I learned anything else and I learned about her accident which caused this situation at the very end of my readings. So that was the trajectory my brain designed for the story. My friend labeled the same character “the mother” because that’s what she learned first. The leg situation was never very important to her. Check out what the whole story looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uwFGU3w8Hs
Whether or not you feel resistance to non-paper-based stories or computer experiments, the truth is that many of the experiments are often the same between language poets and computer poets: randomness, parataxis, and auto generation. We get it, people matrix! My favorite experiments, however, have moved beyond matrixing or assembling meaning from collage.
Words can come to life outside of paper. Why would a story told through a series of inter-linked blogs or in a game be much different than a paper version in terms of intensity or truth telling? There’s no reason.
I’ve completed a few new free online classes (or MOOCS) this year: one on William Wordsworth, one on scientist/poet Humprhy Davy (both University of Lancaster classes hosted on FutureLearn) and a Harvard EdX course on Shakespeare.
They were all good in their own way, but I’ve noticed a trend in MOOCs, similar to the trend of tomato sauce cans getting perceptibly smaller year after year.
The original appeal for MOOCS was two things: they could be self-paced and they were free. Plus you get access to people and institutions all around the world. Colleges benefit from showing off their wares a bit and encouraging continuing, public, adult education (especially considering most MOOC offeringss are general education classes or liberal arts (and coding probably). But no one is offering a degree as a result of MOOCs or any kind of college credit for them. But they have the opportunity to collect a great deal of data on you and how you fared through the material, what tools worked and what kind of content was most effective. They study your learning in other words. Plus they gather information through polls, papers and discussion boards.
It seems that either the cost of creating these courses has become an issue or they're just are trying to squeeze more revenue out of a once-revenue-free stream. Lately there’s been a move to monetize these courses but still making they seem free. They first tried this by offering a certificate. But at $50 most students didn’t go for it. What could that certificate be used for? Nothing. It’s just a piece of paper.
Then they started restricting access to grading and discussions (no big deal if you’re taking the course archived anyway). Now the tactic is to put a timer on the days you have access to the class, thereby removing the self-paced feature. Some give you less than a month! And once the time runs out, you lose all access to the class and prior work, including your own comments.
I’ve responded to this by skipping all the interactive features of the classes. Who has time for that? And why give up any data when all the benefits are disappearing? In the Shakespeare class there was a participation check you could only access if you paid for the class, which was absurd because as users we don’t need to verify your own participation. That feature was created for their benefit. Why would we pay for that?
Here’s the thing. I think teachers should be paid. I believe the adjunct system is bankrupting higher education. It’s signaling to everyone that teachers don’t matter. And teachers are literally the product here so institutions devaluing them in salary and benefits in institutional insanity. It also hints at some real gangrene dysfunction in the whole system.
So I’m not opposed to paying something for each class. After all, it takes labor and time to make these things. But at $50 a class, I’m close to the price point for a real live community college class. Not as convenient, sure. But it has sociability benefits and relationship building opportunities MOOCs don't have. So I wouldn't say one is more valuable than the other.
And I’m completely not interested in a monthly or yearly subscription model. Whole years go by where I don’t see classes I want to take. So a subscription plan feels like a waste of money. I want to pay as I go and retain access to work I’ve already done. Since these classes are truly massively attended, Udemy is good platform to study what price-points users will bear. A small amount ($15-25) purchased massively should pay for the creation of the class. Add that to the benefits gained from all of our data and that should be more reasonable for all of us.
But then there’s the tomato can issue, classes are getting really slim: shorter required readings, shorter videos, shorter syllabi. It all makes me wonder if MOOCs have run their course. If they’re truly not providing both students and providers with dividends, what’s the point? I surely don’t want to feel I’m giving up a lot of effort and data. I'm all for data gathering and educational improvements. I just participated in a user study for one of the MOOC to provide feedback on a very cool new tool they had developed. But if there’s no common path for all of us, I’ll just go back to the library or my local college.
This week I dug out tree wells. A tree guy came over (he's also a painter and editor of a lit mag) and helped look at all the trees in the yard. He told us how dire things are for ABQ trees due to climate change, how the bugs are gaining ground and killing all the trees. All of them!
This week's prompt:
"Wherever you are is the place you need to be."
- Various people, source unknown
First task is to sit for a meditation on that for 5-10 minutes or however long you feel is good to you.
...inspired by my drawing:
When all the world lies
across the glittering sea,
sparrows in the tree
Daunting task dealing with climate issues, ecology (and relationships). But you have to start where you are and not regret being somewhere else.
Now it's your turn.
The Digital Lit Class
For the class we were asked to set up a blog and so I created one to review Electric Lit, https://digital-lit-reviews.blogspot.com that tracked my progress in the class. I was able to read a few new pieces that I really liked, such as:
I've updated my master reading list: https://www.marymccray.com/elit-reading-list.html
My teacher and I also did a Podcast together about creating Digital Lit, thinking maybe we'd start a real serial podcast about writing.
About My Twitter Poem
So then we were asked to create our own project. I spent weeks working on mine. I blogged about the whole process in my class blog.
You can read about the project planning of it here: https://digital-lit-reviews.blogspot.com/2019/04/project-planning-twitter-poem.html
I finished the poem over a month ago and I noticed Twitter has already deleted some of the posts from my TrollGuy character, even though the insults were just nonsensical. Luckily I archived it in full already. But what a bummer.
The Jist of It: This is a collage poem about media history, trolling culture and pundit's soft-alarm-isms. Trolling is mostly between the authors William Blake, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and Hart Crane, an idea seeded in my head from a fellow student's tweet quoted from the fake Oscar Wilde site: https://twitter.com/oscarwilde. That blew my mind and I created accounts for the four dead poets. It wasn't easy in the post-Trump land of Twitter. Read more about that in the project planning link above.
Ways to Read It
There are various ways to approach digital lit pieces:
1. Interactively on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BellsTroll
Pros: You can play all the fun videos, animated gifs, click on the links and discover the hidden comment threads.
Cons: You might miss the hidden comment threads and all that multimedia in your haste to read it. Clues for hidden conversations are under these symbols at the bottom of each tweet:
Sometimes there are many more comments than one. Also, click anything that says “more replies.”
2. The archived, static version on my website: https://www.marymccray.com/bell-trolls.html
Pros: You won't miss any of the comment threads or profiles. And you'll see the comments Twitter has removed already.
Cons: You will miss all the fun videos and links. Boo!
3. The most comprehensive way would be to read the static poem (https://www.marymccray.com/bell-trolls.html) and then try to find the interactions in the live version (https://twitter.com/BellsTroll).
Here's a new batch of movies about writers I've previewed for Big Bang Poetry.
This is a movie about France's most celebrated writer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and how she climbs out from under her famous Claudine books which appeared under the pseudonym of her husband. This might remind you of the recent movie Big Eyes about Margaret and Walter Keane and a similar husband's swindle on his wife's intellectual capital, but in this case we're talking about a bigger allegorical story of female emancipation in writing, sex and self-sufficiency. The movie stars Keira Knightley and Dominic West as the power-writing couple and also includes Eleanor Tomlinson playing a Southern-speaking American. The movie is, in many ways, about sexual exploration and there are sex scenes between West and Tomlinson, Knightly and Tomlinson and Knightly and Denise Gough who plays Colette's longtime lover Mathilde de Morny.
But there's also plenty of writing and watching Colette struggling with writing, being forced to write, thinking over what she'll write, editing her writing with the help of her husband who taught her everything he knew. Like Cher claiming there would be no Cher without Sonny, Colette appreciated the support her husband provided as long as she could, until he got greedy. The movie's main focus is on the Claudine years and Colette's time as a stage performer. You also see how these writers dealt with the test of massive fame and commodification, how writing collaborations worked for them. The movie also goes into marketing and the legalities of publishing at the time.
I wish the movie (already two hours) could have addressed her later years, when most of her solo pieces were composed and her fame was at its peak, if only to see reference to one of my biggest guilty pleasures, Gigi.
Tom and Viv is about another husband and wife collaboration team with Willen Defoe as the poet T. S. Eliot and Miranda Richardson starring his wife Vivienne. Unfortunately this movie is the dullest of the three. The young Willem does an excellent job playing the dull-sack Elliot, down to his droning boringness and weary incantations and Richardson does the best she can with the material of a stereotypical angry madwoman. But the movie is too long (again, two hours) and the the payoff is too little. Besides that, whole swaths of history were ignored completely. It's acknowledged that Vivienne helped Eliot write "The Waste Land" but the entire character of Ezra Pound was written out (gone!) to instead imply a strong writing relationship with Bertrand Russel.
And I just read a book about the subject, the literary year of 1922 when "The Waste Land" was written. The books, The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein, is a mini-biography of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, all struggling with the recent publications of Proust in English and James Joyce's Ulysses. The book goes into detail about Ezra Pound's contributions to Eliot's poem (Eliot himself confirmed it) and so although Ezra Pound is an unsavory character seen retrospectively, you can't erase him from the T.S. Eliot story.
You also can't go into detail about the health issues and mental problems of Vivenne (she was diagnosed with "moral insanity" but was was most likely bipolar) and completely not address the mental breakdowns and recurring health issues of Tom Eliot. What the hell? Not even mentioned that it was at a mental health facility where Eliot finished the bulk of "The Waste Land" or that he suffered from recurring depression after that. There's references to Tom's anglophila, his birthplace St. Louis, and scenes of him writing at a typewriter, but not that many. Here's a shot of the two collaborating over "The Waste Land."
There is one funny line where Vivienne says, "Imagine Tom's poetry as a smashed vase" in an uncomfortable scene where Vivenne tries to explain Tom's poem to her parents. Haven't we all been there? There's another scene where Tom and Viv are proofing the typesetting for "The Waste Land" and they slightly touch on Eliot's theory that poetry should be an escape from emotion not an expression of emotion.
At the end of the movie Monsieur Big Bang expressed fatigue with seeing smart women depicted as mad women. I think this is actually one of the movie's points (as we end up feeling more sympathy to the rattled Vivienne than we do the emotionally impotent Eliot) but the movie takes too long to get to that end and withholds two much evidence that would have balanced out their relationship.
A good counterpoint to Tom and Viv is this James Franco movie. Franco gets a lot of crap for his affectations around poetry but he seems to know what he's doing. He both directs and stars in this movie about the life of Hart Crane, who is often seen as America's counterpoint to T.S. Eliot. Where Eliot saw modernity as profoundly disturbing, Crane found it inspiring. They both wrote very dense, difficult poems. But Franco takes the fragmentary nature of Crane's poems and tries to map them to an experimental film of fragments. He works with word associations in the various poems and tries similar techniques in this black and white film. It's not a comprehensive biography if that's what you're looking for; it's more alluding to his life story with chaotic camerawork and impressions of scenes, plenty of life gaps and moments of introspection.
In fact, Crane is never seen writing so much as thinking about writing, as the cover suggests. Or talking about writing as this memorable scene below conveys, where Crane tells a friend he wants to get "jazz and buildings into poetry," to "Whitmanize T.S. Eliot." And it's awesome to think of the convergence of those three poets: Crane, Eliot and Whitman.
We liked the movie so much we watched the DVD extras where Franco interviews Hart Crane scholars to talk about ways to make the poems come alive in film, including the cognitive leaps.
So last May I took a four week, online class called Reading Literature in the Digital Age on the Future Learn platform. It was taught by Philipp Schweighauser at the University of Basel. It was great, except that Schweighauser was doing a Simon Schama impersonation in every video.
The class was about different reading strategies people employ when reading academically or surfing on the web or in social settings. I learned more about deep reading, distant reading and hyper reading. And I’m a practitioner of all of it, for better or worse.
In fact, I've been noticing reading trends particularly around work groups for almost 30 years. When I started working in offices, desktop computers were rare and windows wasn’t even widely available yet. This was before email and the end of paper memorandums delivered into in-boxes actually sitting on corners of desks. I remember hand delivering stacks of memos.
My job now depends on a light understanding of a plethora of web and project management tools. And instead of seeing an increase in customer service with CRMs, better decision making with data-gathering tools, or quicker decision making with mobile access, I've seen a steady decline in productivity, efficiency and customer service and a steady increase in decision paralysis as each year goes by.
This is primarily because tools (and the frantic drive to develop the next hip one) have become a distraction from the work itself and, more specifically, a distraction from deep thinking and solving problems. We are now so pressed for time due to these "time-saving" tools that we’re forced into a reading survivor mode: skimming, winging-it, the bullshitting that has become prevalent in offices everywhere, the bullshitting that signals immediately: I haven't read it. Add to that the attention deficit introduced when spreading our eyeballs over various online media sites and indulging in fun online things which require even more skim-reading. We're now inundated with noise and a barge of "you should read this."
And it’s causing already bureaucratic organizations to crack from the lack of deep consideration over real business problems. Hyper-reading seems to me both the cause and the symptom of our online agonies. Here's an interview with Schweighauser about the class.
XKCD published this cartoon last year about the Digital Resource Lifespan:
Visit the hosted cartoon at https://xkcd.com/1909/ and roll over the graphic for some funny.
I keep coming back to this graphic and sending it around because it's all about intellectual perishability. The Father of the Internet, Vint Cerf, once warned us that decades of intellectual property would someday perish because it's stuck on outmoded formats. Electronic Lit is particularly vulnerable and perishable.
The quote above says it all: “It’s unsettling to realize how quickly digital resources can disappear without ongoing work to maintain them.”
Digital is more labor intensive and perishable than books are for this very reason. And as corporations constantly ask us to switch to new media, we spend money re-buying the same things we already have. And why? As a cross-over example from my other blog interest in Cher, one early Cher album from 1965 has since possibly seen six formats: mono lp, stereo lp, 8-track tape, cassette tape, compact disc and mp3. I have a box of my mother's old 78-records but I can't play them. I have many odd boxes of various types of computer storage systems: 8-inch floppy discs, 3 1/2-inch floppy discs, backup zip cartridges, writable CDs, SD cards, external hard drives, memory sticks. I even have some of my mother's recipes printed on the back of old fortran punch cards my Dad used to bring home from work. Read about the history of removable computer storage.
I also find it interesting that retail stores are now finding “the digital space so crowded” they’re going back to printed catalogs.
It's good we're not killing trees anymore, no doubt. But how to invent a permanent device that beats it for durability; it's hard.
So there’s the quiet, formal, contemplative haiku and then there's the rambunctious, genre-bending, boundary-pushing area of experimental and eLit poetry. On experimental poetries, I found some interesting things:
Monsieur Big Bang recently sent me this link to Marie Osmond from the show Ripley's Believe it or Not. She's in a yellow robe doing a dramatic reading of Dada poems, specifically reading Hugo Ball’s sound poem “Karawane.” All I can say is "Wow Marie, we hardly knew ye."
My friend Maryanne sent me this link to a whole carousel of poetry readings on The New York Times “Read T a Poem" page. It's got a a very clunky user interface. Here’s another list that includes some, but not all the readers, which include Amy Adams, Brian Hutchison, Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Matt Bomer, Michael Benjamin Washington, Lauren Ridloff, Joe Mantello, Charlie Carver and more.
“A metaphorical and poetic journey about finding hope against all odds, Thanner Kuhai transports the reader/player into an immersive cave environment where language becomes intertwined with natural surfaces in a glimmering subterranean world. Navigate a labyrinthine network of flooded tunnels and passageways teeming with strange life and shadows of words. Submerge deeper. Or seek escape to the surface.”
See a preview at http://www.dreamingmethods.com/thanner-kuhai/.
And I know I’ve been insisting here that lyrics and poetry have more in common than not, (since Bob-Dylan-Nobel-Prize-gate last year), and I recently had a very unfortunate hard drive accident, (coupled with a miraculous file recovery), that scared me into backing up all my old files. As I recreate a lot of them into newer formats, I’m finding that (a) I had no idea how lame my early ideas were and (b) I had no idea how appallingly shrill and cocky I sounded in old college essays. It’s been painful. I now wonder if this hard drive accident was the universe kindly trying to delete my old self on my behalf.
And lo and behold, I see I felt the same way about what was and was not poetry back when I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence. In one paper, our professor, poet David Rivard, asked us to write about our favorite poems and the majority of mine were not poems. They were a hodge-podge of poems, song lyrics and found quotes.
I even had this to say before I launched into my list:
“Since we have consistently failed in poetry to at least come up with a working definition of what it is, no one's going to tell me what it isn't.”
Holy crap I was smugly confident! That was a real circle snap. And the whole essay is like that. Painful.
That said, I'm happy to see I included Joni Mitchell's “Last Time I Saw Richard” (which I once memorized and would read aloud as a poem) and I often think about this prose poem I made from a Grary Shandling joke:
that's a problem that's plagued me
throughout my life.
I did not know that there was a picture
on the other side
of the drive-in screen.
I thought all the cars were wrong
who were on the other side.
It was a very philosophical approach.
I thought they were wrong,
I was so convinced of it.
And I never went around to look.
And then there was the Rupert Holmes song “Studio Musician” on the list, a song I once loved from Barry Manilow’s 1977 live album. Barry Manilow even adds his jingle for State Farm at the end of it, reminding us he was a studio musician of sorts, a jingle writer.
All the discomfort of encountering my less-than-charming former self was somewhat alleviated by being reminded of this very lovely thing.