I’ve long loved the aesthetic of Aya Karpinska’s/Daniel C. Howe’s three-dimensional poem space in open.ended. Although I’m not sure that there’s a substantial, thorough-going literary engagement here (lines such as “Eyes closed / I am / Anywhere” don’t particularly grab me), open.ended … entrances me. Here’s how the authors describe their work:
With real-time 3D rendering & dynamic text generation, open.ended attempts to refigure the poetic experience through spatialization & interaction. As visitors manipulate a joystick to control interlocking geometric surfaces, stanzas, lines, & words move slowly in & out of focus, while dynamically updating text maintains semantic coherence. Order is deliberately ambiguous & multiple readings encouraged as meaning is actively & spatially constructed in collaborative fashion & new potentials for juxtaposition, association & interpretation are revealed.
And not surprisingly, given what I’ve been writing over these weeks, these beautiful little poem-spaces seem to come right out of a dream William Carlos Williams might have had – I wrote last week:
He has activated “blank” space and in this way turned it into what Charles Olson would soon see as a field of energy—a pulsating, fluctuating space that girds the words, as if Williams wants the words themselves to pulsate but, given the limits of the bookbound page, he settles for the surrounding space of the page which is unmarred and open for any appropriation. Further, since “. . . to talk in the American idiom you can’t talk as Shakespeare used to talk, or Milton, or Eliot. You have finally to get away from this pattern of speech and invent another speech . . .”, how else to reinvent language but to do so negatively, taking advantage of the flexibility of the blank space of the page—space that can be shaped, again and again, to reshape in turn the language of Shakespeare, Milton, and Eliot? “I’ve got myself in wrong before the critics by attempting to bring in the idea of mathematics. Of Einstein. Not Einstein, we’ll say, but Einstein’s ideas. The uncertainty of space” (Interviews 45).
Or maybe open.ended is also the opposite of Williams’ dream? Like so many digital poems I’ve looked at, quite in contrast with Williams’ firm belief in the redemptiveness of the particular, the way in which the ground, the ground of history and language, forms us, open.ended seems to be in love with the pure, abstract spaces made possible by the digital – spaces that we may visit but that are seemingly completely independent of the messy, organic world. This abstract quality is only exaggerated with the interactivity built into the poem that not only puts the abstract poem in touch, literally, with the organic world, but that also introduces chance into the poem. The reader/user can move the poem-cube in any direction, moving around, on top, or inside the cube; the reader/user can also double click on any wall of words to “create” the poem as it is simultaneously being read by the authors. But I still argue that this digital poem, just like those by Simon Biggs (see, for example, his web-work Book of Books) gives us the illusion of chance, the illusion of genuinely participating in the unfolding of the poem. It’s not unlike a Choose Your Own Adventure book: true, you have three choices, but not only are they predetermined choices, but the predetermined choices also have a predermined outcome set out by the poet/programmer. Thinking about the version of Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poemes that’s published by Gallimard – here each line of the poem has been cut across the page so that the reader really can construct “cent mille milliard” readings of the poem – how could it be that a bookbound poem offers us genuine chance operations, options for the reader/user creation of a poem that are as close to infinite as possible?