The HyperPoetry Project



William Harris


  • Hyper Poems Index ...... a list of new work . . .


  • The HyperPoems open the door to multi-theme asynchronous moving poetry, as a new way of reading words which are constantly rearranging themsleves. The scrolling lines start all together, but since the lines have different lengths, they get out of sync quickly. Since the motion is slow, you can read parts of different lines at will, moving over the range of the poem in a new and surprising mode. Try to read snatches of lines as your eye moves up and down while the words move right to left. Stay with the poem a while, reading and remembering phrases and how they fit together, for an entirely different poetic experience.

    Authoring is done through MS "marquee" program, which was introduced in early version's of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Deprecated because of difficulty of web spiders to scan a moving text, it now works on IE 5/6, on Netscape 7, on iCab for Mac and elsewhere, and is retained for legacy files on Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Firefox.

    My primary concern is with text and what can be done with it in a poetry medium. We often think of poetic text as composed first and permanently written in ink or etched in stone, missing the possibilities of a poem in fluid text medium. Here I have used a very simple program which has often been used for minor and even frivolous purposes. I hand code my material for html as I always do, so I have complete control over the primary level. The poem is not written out first and then transferred into the motile form, but written line by line on the screen as I compare contrasts and inner meanings for each group of two or three lines. But the order of the lines is not changed, only the internal organization of each line as it confronts another.

    The Microsoft program offer a short list of variable elements, including speed of horizontal travel, right and left, a possible but useless up and down, a frame delay, and some screen color possibilities. Using just the text basics, I can concentrate as an author on the content of my text , avoiding complex programming and some of the problems which complexity involves.

    This would sound all too simple except for one factor. Since the lines of text are uneven in length, this affects the scrolled repetition which is thrown into its own seeming quasi-programmed a-synchronicity. So lines will never match up as with the first reading, they will continue to get further and further away as individual components from my "ur text". Thus the reader is given more and more discrete projections of recurring poetic motions, which in a ten line piece with perhaps three nodes of meaning or "events' per line, will be displaying to the reader's eye about twenty groupings of words continually appearing in different conjugations.

    Thus each poem is continually evolving out of its own internal history, which at times may give a very different appearance to the whole display on the screen. The first appearance will be even like any text. Next some lines will start to go in different directions, and some will have a different programmed speed while other re-speed themselves later. Later, as a surprise, groups of words may possibly arrange themselves to the right and left of the screen leaving the center empty, or they may all congregate centrally before starting to wander sideways. The interesting thing about this variability is that as the poem progresses, more of the text obeys the internal patterning generated by the running program, and less and less the initial pattern which I have set up.

    In the last twenty years, our visual comprehension of momentary chunks of text has developed to a remarkable degree. A tenth of a second on a typical TV display will give a real sense of a picture or of a chunk of advertising wording. Everything has speeded up as we learned how to scan rather than to read, how to intuit ideas rather than investigate them. Look at the slow text sections of an old silent movie and you will see the difference in reading speeds in less than a century.

    A desire to break out of the fixedness of text appeared already in the later 19th century, when Mallarmé in his "Coup de dés. . . . ." tried to imitate something like fortuitous reading on a printed page. In the world of Dada words appeared everywhere, in designs and by pure chance, always suggesting that they were loose and mobile in some sense. But little could be done with real mobility until we moved into the electronic age; these new HyperPoems which I have been working with are the front fringe of a very different new set of sensibilities.

    Some people who have been heavily schooled to be linear, cannot "read" these new motion poems, which are as if one were walking into a flowering meadow and standing a moment taking it all in bit by bit. There is no order but just what you see, and your eye will rove rather than classify as it moves from edge to edge. When you come back tomorrow there will be changes in the meadow and also in your perception, because all is in change as Heraclitus well said. So the walk in the meadow or the perusal of a HyperPoem for several minutes might be considered as an investigative essay in changeability and variety. It could be in the world of nature, while in these poems it will be in words and text.

    I want a poem to be meditated, not read through. So by taking it off the page and making it a variable field of words, I think we are trying something new and something possibly very interesting.



    William Harris
    Middlebury College
    website: www.middlebury.edu/~harris