Multimedia Fiction

For this post, I chose to focus on “Cityfish” by J. R. Carpenter and “Loss of Grasp” by Serge Bouchardon.

I read Cityfish first, and even before I got into the story, I enjoyed the unique page layout. I think it does a lot to show how time passes for the narrator, literally moving the story along as it does so figuratively as well. I also enjoyed the collage-like aesthetic, since it seemed to very accurately portray a young person’s thoughts and memories: fragments of photographs, mental maps, illustrations, snippets of foreign languages and even pieces of poetry and quotes…they all come together to form a cohesive picture of the narrator, Lynne.

Something else I liked in this story was the various pieces of ephemera (such as the Transit Authority buttons) that took you forwards and back. For me, I didn’t realize they were links until partway through the story, and when I clicked on one, it took me backwards in the story. I took this as showing how Lynne feels about her New York summers–repetitious and jarring–and so again, really helped to add to the character.

The videos included also did a lot to build the atmosphere. Rather than showcasing smooth, glamorous shots of the New York skyline, the videos are all rather banal, showing rows upon rows of marketplace goods, blurred grey views from transit windows, shadows of passerby moving over the concrete…again, it helped a lot to place me in the scene with the characters, and fit Lynne’s bored and annoyed mindset very well.

All in all, I felt that Cityfish wasn’t abstract per se, since while it was fragmented, each piece was concrete and vivid, but it was definitely immersive and told an interesting story about family dynamics and feeling like an outsider. It was somewhat interactive in that it invited the reader to explore the world being built, but it was overall pretty linear, as it did have a specific plot with pretty definite forward motion, going from Nova Scotia, through New York, to the Aunt and Uncle’s apartment with the fish being fried at the end.

Loss of Grasp was more abstract, but still had a strong character, as well as an immersive kinetic setting. I liked how the interactive quality of it also told a story. A good example is in chapter 1: when the character is describing feeling in control of his surroundings, the mouse controls a series of glowing, musical orbs. When the narrator begins to have doubts, however, and finally realizes he has little to no control, the orbs explode into random patterns, no longer following your cursor at all.

A great example of interactivity and character/plot work involving kinetic typography is in chapter 4, when the narrator reads a portion of an essay written by his son. In it, the son describes not having a hero, and the narrator is instantly betrayed.

“How can he do this to me?”



After the essay is read by the son, you can click on a paragraph and the letters fly aside, revealing what the narrator is actually taking from it: phrases like “I don’t want anything from you” and “You are not a model.”

The other text transitions themselves are also very insightful and do a lot to help portray the mindset of the narrator. Instead of cleanly moving from one thought to the next, they flash through a mess of gibberish symbols and letters. This is pretty much constant throughout the story, and it good continuity as well as character work.

Overall, this piece includes a lot of vivid kinetic typography, interactivity, and intriguing narrative. While it is a little abstract (the narrator and characters aren’t given names, no true setting is given, etc) it does follow the story of this man’s life and mental instability.


I was introduced to an earlier chapter of How to Rob a Bank in a Digital Storytelling class last semester. In the earlier chapter the focus was not at all on the character as a person, but all the actions he was doing on his phone. What he was doing made it clear that he was a not so bright bank robber. In this fourth chapter, the focus is on a different person’s phone. It looks to be the wife “Sarah” typing things in. She treats it as a blog and reveals much more detail then her husband did. She seems to be acting just like any other enthusiastic mother would about her child, except for the very awkward fact that she bluntly states that she and her husband are still both into bank robbing. Sarah and the husband who looks to be named “Robert” are even using aliases to hide themselves. What makes all these chapters immersive is that they directly simulate through screen-caps the experience of looking at a smart phone. It made a whole world and story just through screen-caps.  In CityFish, the story and characters are mostly fleshed out through text, but its world is built through the various photos and videos spread throughout.

Soot, Sand, and Digital Poetry

Out of the poems here, the ones that interested me the most were “The Ballad of Soot and Harry Sand” by Stephanie Strickland, and “MUDs” by  David Jhave Johnson.

I thought that “The Ballad of Soot and Harry Sand” was engaging because not only does it offer unique characterization, but also has a multilinear quality that reminded me of some of the other pieces of e-literature we read in class. Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy a lot of the digital poetry until I read this piece.

I believe it is part traditional poem (it does follow a narrative and the words do make sense, unlike some of the Dada and Dada-inspired poems both mentioned by Rettburg and within this module) but also part Lettristic, as a lot of the poem seems to rely on the sound of the words. For example, this section:


Tangy Soot. Tang-I-Bull Soot.


Trua-vir Sand. Liv-a-Tru Sand.
Physics: The Movie. R.I.P.,
crown assays in a bathtub,
or Galileo, trekking to the far side
of the valley to touch that blue
boulder on the ridge.
And would this prove he saw
mountains on the moon in any case,
Sand asks.

Or this section:


Sand panned speed. Languid was she. Oh seeming fast, fine foil for

de…lay, lo, slow. Some slip…age, she…


                                                         He, Harry, hurried, harried host.

“Tang-I-Bull” in the first example made me pause, as I read it first phonetically and then as the word ‘tangible,’ which made me go back and reread ‘Tangy Soot’ with a hard ng, like the actual word tangy, and then a soft g as in the word tangible. There are also a lot of cases where it seems the author used particular word combinations both for the meaning and for the intense alliteration. There are some other words and combinations such as the sentences “Trua-vir Sand. Liv-a-Tru Sand.” where I wasn’t sure if they held a deeper meaning or not. I tried googling the words and some other variations and couldn’t find anything, but thought it might mean “live a true” as in Sand being blunt and true to himself–or else just an interesting combination of sounds. If anyone else read this piece and has feedback or ideas about this I would love to hear them.

The second example I included because it did some character work as well as played more with the sounds of words as well as the meaning.

Another reason I liked this piece because it kept giving me cause to pause and reassess the characters. At times I wondered if Sand was actually a computer or program, because she was continuously associated with binary, light, glass, colors, and other computer related imagery, such as “a screen of violet / silver unscrolled,” while Harry Soot is compared to much more mundane, human scenes, such as grinding his keys in his pockets, defacing his Metrocard.

Sand is also surrounded with both musical and natural metaphors, though, so after reading it through a few times I think that they are both human. All in all, it was a really intriguing poem about two people, and I thought the multilinear nature of it really enhanced the experience by inviting the reader to become involved with the story of it.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I actually like MUDs, or if I’m just intrigued by it. I did really enjoy “Because,” and I believe that the others are very visually appealing, but a lot also made me uncomfortable. I did not like “Fur” for that reason, and I didn’t think it was interesting enough either to make up for that discomfort.

Another one that I liked was “Truth.” I believe that “MUDs” overall is a great example of concrete poetry, as the shape of the title word plays a huge part in shaping the meaning of the poem. In “Truth” in particular, the meaning would be incredibly altered if it was displayed in static text, or even in the same video but with the word ‘TRUTH’ simply hanging unchanging. Similarly, in the poem “Because,” the title word growing increasingly mangled adds a lot of depth to the poem in a way that would be impossible to replicate on paper. Overall, I am not in love with these poems, but I respect the idea behind them.

Kinetic and Interactive Poetry

The first piece of poetry, that I read, that I found to have stood out was Stephanie Strickland’s “The Ballad of Soot and Sand.” I found the poem to be amusing in a way that it shows how different-colored texts can show more meaning to the poem than others. It also shows progression in a way that you feel peeks your interest with how you feel. It can also show us that multilinear can work on a much deeper level and more than just games but you can also read poetry with choices. the multi-color effect also gives people a sort of what is what, like the topics of being discussed in the panel and the corresponding picture that is shown and how they are sort of similar.

Another poem that I found to be very interesting is Brian Kim Stefan’s “The Dreamlife of Letters.” I liked the poem because it did something that I think is a good addition to Kinetic poetry and that is “Visual Poetry” for people who don’t necessarily like to just read with their eyes but see what the action of the words within the poem itself.

“Considering the relation between writing and technology, visual poet Derek Beaulieu writes that he proposes a poetic where the author-function is fulfilled both by the biological ‘author’ of the text and the technology by which it is created” (Beaulieu, 2012, p. 74)

This tells me that authors and poets alike wants to show a different way of telling stories to readers by having them to be shown.

Digital Poetry

“The actual experience of interacting with IF can however sometimes seem more like conversing via telegraph with a precocious chimpanzee who has worked out a compass and the possession of objects than conversing with an adult human.”


I feel like this quote from the book encompasses how I felt reading it. The ones I was most drawn to were the works that embodied concrete poetry. The visuals helped the meaning come across more clearly. Cruising was visually captivating, although I liked the simplicity of Shy boy.

However, Rain on the Sea, in contrast, is a simple black and white text-based video. Although the words flash so quickly on the screen the viewer must be very focused. I think I understood what the author was trying to say although, I will admit even after viewing it a few times I know I missed some of the words. I think the poem is talking about relationships and a bit of inner turmoil. In the first part, the character is talking to God whom it seems like she is thanking for getting her out of a bad marriage? At least that’s what I thought the story was about. I do think that others could take different interpretations of the poem.

I would be interested in looking more into A is for apple. Most of the links seemed broken, which I guess can happen to any digital piece.

Kinetic Poetry

Rettberg’s chapter on Kinetic and Interactive poetry covers many types of digital poetry. The sections I found myself most interested in were those on visual and sound poetry. I appreciate the kinetic aspects and found that digital poetry that combined sound and text as images held my interest best.

“Rain on the Sea” by Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES was incredible. It took me by surprise (as did most of the works we studied this week) because I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t explored their work before. After experiencing “Rain on the Sea” I found more of their work to see what else they’re doing, and found that they have a style. The use of Flash, and pacing their text to upbeat music so that words are presented almost too quickly to comprehend created a juxtaposition. I found myself enjoying the music but trying to follow the story, and feeling oddly conflicted trying to experience the story, visual art, and music all together. I grew a little frustrated with the edges of the text being cut off and flashing by so quickly, but liked the story and the music. At the end I was left feeling both wrung-out and exhilarated.

Tachistoscope was another piece I really enjoyed. The presentation of single words (mostly) atop images that at times enforced and other times contradicted the text was visually interesting, and I enjoyed the story that Poundstone was telling. The addition of sound drew me in more and kind of helped me keep pace with the story. I went through it a few times, trying to focus more on the words in white font and find out how they’re affecting my experience or interpretation. It was difficult but I think I got more of the story that way.

This class module is very interesting and I’m super enjoying exploring it!

Kinetic and Interactive Poetry

The first pieced I looked at was “Cruising” by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar. It was a really cool and interesting way to tell the story. As you move the mouse side to side, it goes through a slideshow type strip a the bottom. When you pull the mouse up or down it will either zoom in or zoom out of the story. Although it was a really cool idea, I’m not sure I exactly liked it. It was pretty hard to control, at least for me, and the constant moving and zooming in and out actually made me feel a little nauseous. It is possible iI was just doing it wrong though. The second one I looked at was “The Dreamlife of Letters” by Brian Kim Stefans. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really understand this one either. I’ve never been a huge fan of poetry, especially poetry that is made to be confusing on purpose. I do understand the importance of poetry and interactive poetry, it’s just not really anything I think I will ever be interested in. I did try really hard on this assignment to find one of them that I did like. I went through each one but either I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to do them, or they didn’t really make sense to me.

*EDIT* I’ve just now realized that I never got past the introduction part of “The Dreamlife of Letters”. I’m not sure how I didn’t get past it before, since I looked at it for a good 5-10 minutes. Now that I’ve explored this piece deeper, I actually really enjoyed it. I love how it flows through without anyone having to interact with it at all. Out of all of them, I think this one ended up being my favorite piece to explore through.

Like I said before, I understand that they are an important piece of history in literature, and interactive poetry is very important in electronic literature. But this is a type of electronic literature that really challenged me. I did like that there were some in video form such as “Rain on the Sea” that I found myself understanding a little more. It goes by really fast, complete with music to match the speed of the switching letters and numbers on the screen.

“Rain on the Sea” and “Cruising”

“Rain on the Sea” by YHCI and “Cruising” by Ingrid Ankerson and Megan Sapnar  show how motion through text and the utilization of audio can be as an effective form of communication.

“Rain on the Sea” is poem about a man who became a stick. When I was reading it, it reminds of a scene in a film that I unfortunately can’t remember the title to, where it opens with a bullet being created and traveling through the world, eventually being put into a gun and fired into a person. The speed at which it moves is incredibly rapid, as is custom with most YHCI productions. The rapid pace and the jazz soundtrack which is used, creates a sense of urgency, and forces you to be fully engaged. It was actually quite a challenge trying to follow the piece but after a few runs, it became much easier. I was reminded of the section Moving letters in film in Rettberg’s book. YHCI doesn’t use filtering effects or collaged imagery like Len Lye, but YHCI does utilize motion, sound and words extensively. (Rettberg 130)

“Cruising” is an interactive work which engages the reader by giving them control over the speed at which the text moves. It is meant to represent driving a vehicle as explained in the author’s description. When reading this, I was reminded of what Dick Higgins said in 1980, “Dick Higgins (1980) writes that sound poetry is “inherently concerned with communication and its means, linguistic and/or phatic.” (Rettberg 129) The use of motion, sound, as well as visuals also remind me of work by Len Lye, the difference of course being that “Cruising” is not a film.

Kinetic Poetry

“The Ballad of Soot and Sand” by Stephanie Strickland has a hyperlink structure similar to hypertext fiction, while using elements of kinetic and interactive poetry. The poem is traversed nonlinearly through links in the body of the poem, within words that correspond to other passages. Soot and Sand is more navigable and asks less of the viewer than more dense or confusing pieces of hypertext e-literature by having links to other parts of the poem along the bottom of the screen. Links to passages that have been read are in bold. Each passage is formatted differently, with text aligned or oriented in different ways and color is applied to the text, affect how the text is read, at what rate it is read, and giving more significance to passages and words by coloring or orienting them differently than the rest of the text, conveying meaning that might not a have been drawn by the viewer otherwise.

Words and letters are not only carriers of meaning but material objects that themselves have variable properties. -Rettberg

David Jhave Johnson’s “SOFTIES” are a more dramatic example of manipulating the appearance of text to convey meaning. In his piece “Stand Under” he stretches and pulls the word understanding, broken down and rewritten several times to create an abstract kinetic form. The words “stand” and “under” are reiterated and stacked on top of each other under a long stretched letter. As the stretched letter is pushed and pulled the understanding beneath it compresses and contracts. The description of the work states “State under. Humility understands.” The work visually represents the literal meaning of the word understanding and how to achieve understanding through humility, and placing a situation one is trying to understand above oneself. Manipulating text minutely or grandly can be used to communicate major or minor subtext.

For Those Frustrated With Electronic Literature, Here is Your “Bone”

Farinsky Blog 6: Kinetic and Interactive Poetry

Image result for throw me a bone
Not all of us have felt as suave as Austin Powers navigating electronic art.

I will be the first to admit a sort of “hypertext fatigue” which has built over the previous weeks and has deeply challenged me.

Most have been massive works that are told in a deeply unsatisfying, non-linear fashion unless one spends hours pouring over the hundreds of linked pages to try and piece together some sense of story. And with a long list of works to look at each week the frustration is compounded as I fail to understand work after work enough to feel comfortable writing an intelligent blog post about them.

This week was refreshing because the majority of works were in video form. I was able to see the entirety of the piece in under 15 minutes which was more conducive to re-watching, and interpreting.

Here is my “like” list:

Knowing the narrative is a first, critical step, of understanding a literary piece before further analysis, and becoming able to appreciate it stylistically. Two works do this particularly well, “Shy Boy” and “Rain on the Sea”.

“Shy Boy” is a poem that has been produced through a program to bring a kinetic feeling to the work. This work is a strong argument for why Electronic Literature deserves to exist as a genre because it takes the form of traditional poetry, but uses programming to enhance the delivery. The strong literary influence makes this work more than digital art.

Similarly, “Rain on the Sea” has a lot of reasons to like it. The work uses text to tell a distinct story using language, sound, and speed to explore past the constraints of print. The soundtrack accompanying this work is an upbeat jazz mix which signals to the reader this work is going to move fast. It is almost incomprehensible it speeds by so quick. However, since this work is a video browser extensions such as Chrome’s Video Speed Controller can be used to slow the video playback speed so a second viewing can focus on reading each word building on the first viewing’s understanding. This makes the work accessible to more people who would otherwise give up on engaging.

Special mention goes to A is for Apple, by David Clark because it is hypertext, and it is easily navigable. The page title is clearly visible as well as a link to restart or find the map which makes this work so much more readable. 

The time I spent with these works was so much more enjoyable than previous weeks because most of my time was not devoted to figuring out the narrative. I was able to understand the text and then dive deeper into the stylistic features and layers of meaning compared to feeling lost and angry at link-based fiction.

Interactive Poetry

I explored, “SOFTIEs”, by David Jhave Johnson, “Dreamlife of Letters”, by Brian Kim Stefans, and “Shy Boy”, by Tom Swiss. Each of these interactive poetry works, incorporated text movement to express the message. “SOFTIEs”, used a variety of text movement to express emotion and meaning. For example, the first piece of the poem is the repeating word, “understanding”. The word is shown as being stepped on and pushed down. The word fights back, and as the clip progresses, more of the word is presented. In “Shy Boy”, the text animation is relatively simple, with fade ins, fade outs, and fading downward. The words are accompanied though by blocks of gray and black that follow the text. I believe that this does a fantastic job of conveying the uncomfortable and dark feelings of the shy boy. No matter what is said, there is a follow up of gray or black. This is almost as if the gray and darkness is following the boy. Lastly, in “Dreamlife of Letters”, text animation is used quite heavily, as it moves along the alphabet. Each word and sequence has a different type of animation. Some are busy and dizzying, and some are as simple as the text fading in and out on the screen.

“Shy Boy” and “SOFTIEs” also used audio. “Shy Boy” used an almost haunting and soft instrumental, while “SOFTIEs” used something that made the listener even more uncomfortable. Throughout the animations, there was a single low note played constantly. This portrayed a feeling of foreboding and mystery. Overall, I really enjoyed each of these three pieces, and what they all provided. I loved their differences, and their creativity.

Kinetic and Interactive Poetry

I found myself enjoying a lot of these works, but two that stood out to me were SOFTIEs by David Jhave Johnson and Shy Boy by Tom Swiss.

Johnson’s use of movement in this piece is what made it so intriguing to me. I was immediately drawn in as I viewed the first poem on the page. He describes Stand Under as a “social-synaptic structure emulated in language” which I think perfectly describes it. As I clicked on each image and viewed the animations, I felt a deeper understanding and connection to the text.

“Kinetic poetry by definition deals in time-based poetics: its main distinctive characteristic is that texts change through animation, and that animation itself conducts meaning.”(Rettberg, 119)

I think that SOFTIEs is a prime example of how animation of text conducts its meaning in this type of poetry. While I was experiencing this work, I would read the poem first, then would view the corresponding video. Initially, I found some of the poems to be confusing as a stand alone, however they made more sense to me after viewing the videos. Johnson’s use of movement illustrates the symbolic meaning behind each one of his poems. I thought this work was absolutely beautiful.

The other work that I took a closer look at  was Shy Boy by Tom Swiss. As with SOFTIEs, I also found the movement of the text in this piece offers the user a deeper understanding of the text. The story is about a school boy who can’t bear his current circumstances and longer. The movement of text illustrates the boy’s feelings of hopelessness and desire to vanish. At one point in the story the word ‘vanish’ does just that, it vanishes. The use of animation actually illustrates what the text is trying to communicate. I also found the music that is played in the background played a role in how I experienced the piece. It sets an almost ominous tone that I feel like purposely makes the reader feel a little uneasy. 

I think that both pieces were very effective at using kinetic movement to enhance the experience and help communicate the message.