Mallory Hobson

DTC Major / English Minor. Concentration in Media Authoring. Editor in Chief at WSUV's Salmon Creek Journal.

Final Project: Kinetic Poem

Artist Statement

Mallory Hobson

Video Link

For my E-Literature Final Project, I created a kinetic poem in video format. Inspired by both kinetic poetry and cinema writing, I took a poem written for my Creative Writing: Poetry class and adapted it into a fully digital piece of literature. My intention was to evoke the feeling of running from a stressful situation, juxtaposing clear, calm reality with hazy, anxious memory through both text in motion and video cuts.

My first source of inspiration was MUDs and SOFTIEs by David Jhave Johnson. Johnson’s works were the first time I had seen poetry in a video form that wasn’t simply a recording of slam poetry (or written poetry being read aloud) but a truly multisensory experience; I was struck by how intriguing, even intimate, his poetry was, and I wanted to attempt to replicate the emotions he inspired within me.

Other inspirations were Stephanie Strickland, with her piece The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ Rain on the Sea. Strickland’s piece was delicately evocative, weaving a compelling narrative through abstract pieces of poetry; meanwhile, the flashing words of Rain on the Sea forces the reader to take in the story behind the poem almost more quickly than they are able to. In my piece, I tried to capture the fragile nature of Strickland’s piece, while drawing inspiration from Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ quick-moving text in order to capture and keep the attention of my audience.

The topic of cinema writing was another very helpful source of inspiration for my piece, particularly the app Pry by creative media studio Tender Claws, as well as in-class discussions of using shots and montage to create projective, imaginary, and even narrative space. My intention was to employ the unedited daylight shots in such a way that the audience feels they are driving with the character, following her in her flight, within a created space; the more heavily edited nighttime shots were designed to create a stark contrast, an imaginary space that provides backstory through internal narrative. I was greatly inspired by Pry’s use of different styles of footage to switch between thoughts and reality, and I tried to echo that by flickering between night and day footage, showing how my poem’s subject is flickering between what she’s seeing and what she’s frightened of. I added and layered several copyright-free audio pieces from YouTube in order to further heighten that dualistic atmosphere.

In order to create draw all of these pieces together—ideas, inspirations, footage, sound clips, and original poem—I drew a rough storyboard, then created a script that outlined what effects and shots were to pair with which lines. After finding similar footage from YouTube to what I had in mind, I used Adobe After Effects to begin animating my writing. Inspired by David Jhave Johnson’s 3D focal words, I left the opening line ‘she drives’ as a static line throughout my poem, with ‘RUNS’ overlaid onto ‘drives’ during the night footage for added emphasis on the character’s emotional state. While I did use some effects such as curves and posterize on my footage, the text effects were all done using ‘source text’ keyframes. The night footage was shot driving through Portland, mainly on the I-5, while the daytime footage was shot on the I-5 northbound near Castle Rock.

Overall, this was an intriguing and educational exploration into kinetic and cinematic poetry. While I still have a lot to learn about the field of electronic literature and digital poetry, I am proud of what I have accomplished with this project.

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Locative Fiction and 3D Literature

Out of the various forms of divergent streams discussed by Rettberg, the one that really caught my attention was locative fiction, especially in regards to AR. Up until the digital age (and particularly up until smartphones became commonplace), location-based art was fleeting. Street performances, outdoor concerts, flash mobs, and the like could be experienced only if the viewer was physically in the area; videos and retellings of the events are interesting but ultimately inauthentic secondhand narratives, unable to precisely capture the minute details of a live event.

With locative fiction, however, the intimacy of neighborhood performance art is able to be fixed in time and space. It’s able to, in theory, be experienced by people months or even years apart, without any part of that experience becoming diminished through attempted reproduction.

The term locative fiction encompassed a wide range of e-literature styles, such as net art, kinetic poetry, or even hypertext fiction (perhaps the hyperlinks within the story change depending on where you are in a neighborhood?); they can also be wholly digital (such as a story that appears on your phone), or could be augmented or even virtual reality. Rettberg describes just how varied locative fiction can be:

We could investigate a murder mystery by retracting the steps of the killer at the scene of the crime. We could situate historical fiction set in a different era on the streets of the contemporary city. We could write poems, layered in augmented realty in the sky above the mountains they describe, as we sweep across the landscape and watch the live video on the screens of our phones (184).

In my opinion, the idea of augmented reality is full of the most intriguing literary possibilities. What if the historical fiction wasn’t simply a locative story, but a locative story set in AR? By tracing a path with your phone’s camera, you could watch the stories of famous figures unfolding in your very own city, with the modern world setting a sharp contrast–or, perhaps even show you how little your town (or the town you’re visiting) has changed by highlighting historical sites. Or, a library could have a multilinear story that shifts between genres depending on where you go within the building, leading you to suggestions for similar reading (digital and physical!).

Combining the intimacy and personality of a physical location with the creativity and wide-open nature of locative fiction, the possibilities are endless.

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Pry

Overall, I really enjoyed Pry. It was cinematic, atmospheric, and really drew me into the character and his story. From the beginning, I liked how it seemed to be divided into clear sections of narrative–reality, lucid thoughts, and intrusive thoughts–but that quickly became blurred with the imagined Jessie appearing and looming over his bed, and continued bleeding into each other as the story progressed…until even you, the reader, is uncertain as to what exactly is James’ memories or imagination and what is actually happening (or has happened). The mechanics of opening James’ eyes, or ‘pinching’ them further shut and retreating into memories and intrusive thoughts, was both visually compelling as well as helped to build James as a character.

I also liked the metaphor of his current career. As a construction worker, he is literally trying to build something of his life, but all he is able to do is tear it (buildings, his life) all down in explosions both literally and metaphoric. The braille motif was very interesting as well. I liked the mechanics behind it, running your finger over the images of the dots to see what it means to James, as well as the symbolic nature of the motif. I took it as foreshadowing concerning his vision: as James’ mental health deteriorates, he is unable to ‘see’ what is actually happening in his life and what is his own intrusive thoughts and flashbacks…and so he’s becoming literally unable to see as well, relying on braille and memories to find his way through the world.

Finally, I thought that the overall story was really intriguing. I thought the author did a great job of crafting a realistic world and characters, immersing the reader into James’ state of mind and being. The cinematography helped to portray James’ mental state as well, from the clear, steady camerawork of the prologue, to later scenes with off coloring or tilted cameras as James’ view of the world around him grows more skewed and distorted. I can’t wait to keep reading and find out what happens next.

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HeyNetworkHeyWriting

I really enjoyed most of these pieces–even if I didn’t like the plot exactly, I appreciated the medium. My favorites, however, were HeyHarryHeyMatilda, The Fall of the Site of Marsha, and I Love Alaska.

HeyHarryHeyMatilda was interesting not only for the plot (which wasn’t fantastic but was still fun to read, in my opinion) but for the way it utilized Instagram. I don’t know if I would call it a full ‘novel’ (although the author did publish an actual novel of the story) but it did weave a compelling narrative as well as made me pause and wonder what story I am telling with my own social media accounts.

HEY HARRY,

 

I think you’re right. I get the signs but not the message. I’m like a highly attuned, extremely useless oracle.

I like this quote in particular because it reminds me a lot of how most people interact with social media. We see what’s on it, but not always how it all fits together to form our stories (or at least, the stories we send out to the world).

I did think that it was a bit of an odd choice on the author’s behalf, however, to compose the story in the form of emails posted as Instagram captions rather than simply Instagram posts. Obviously, that would have somewhat changed the dynamic of the piece: two twins sharing one Instagram account rather than exchanging emails. I guess Harry would have to have given Vera access as well, which does differ from Vera just getting Matilda’s email address…but I think it would have strengthened the usage of Instagram as a storytelling medium.

That said, I liked how the author interacted with commenters as Harry or Matilda, as if they really were the ones running the account; it gave it a realistic and modern depth in a way that a paper novel is incapable of. I also started noticing a few commenters creating friendships and even weaving their own little storylines in the comments, which was fun to see. I’m not sure how fictional or otherwise these commenters were, but it was an interesting branching of the narrative that I bet not even the author predicted.

The Fall of the Site of Marsha and I Love Alaska were both interesting because they were both about humans turning to the internet to cope with their tragic (or, as some might see it, maudlin) lives. I liked The Fall of the Site of Marsha as a statement, a story, and in an aesthetic sense: I thought it was really impressive how a single website with just a few pages gave such a sense of character. I took the Throne Angels and their interactions with Marsha as a metaphor for the dangers of using the internet as a crutch–even as a kind of false faith. I also enjoyed the website being broken as a visual for Marsha’s life falling apart. With I Love Alaska, I thought it was a bit more poignant since it was a real person and not a fictional account, although I didn’t actually like the woman herself. I thought it was another interesting example of how we turn to the anonymity and perceived safety of the internet in times of stress or other negative emotions, as well as the dangers of those actions. A person turning to the internet for comfort can easily be abused, as in Marsha’s case, or revealed unexpectedly, as in the case of User 711391.

As a side note–I liked the website Degenerative, too, and thought it was a pretty neat concept. However, when I click the ‘read more’ button on the first page, it takes me to http://www.motorhueso.net/degenerative/about/ which reads ‘Hacked by Nero Hacker!’ It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the piece, so I think it really was ‘hacked’ by someone? Or am I misunderstanding something here?

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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?”

 

-Narrator

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.

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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:

1

Tangy Soot. Tang-I-Bull Soot.

 

0
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:

  0

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

de…lay, lo, slow. Some slip…age, she…

  1

                                                         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.

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Hypertext

While the rapid rise of social media does reduce the novelty of hypertext fiction, I believe that this rise, as well as the rise of personal video games (as opposed to games at an arcade), could lead to a resurgence and possible eventual widespread awareness of hypertext fiction and other forms of e-literature. Both social media and video games encourage many of the facets of e-literature: multilinearity (open world games), stories with various concurrent viewpoints (multiple users Tweeting about a breaking event), link structure (moving between pages, sites, accounts, stories, etc from a central social media site)…with these (and more) interactive aspects becoming regular parts of our everyday lives, as well as the growing community of Twine creators and readers, I believe that hypertext fiction could easily grow in public awareness in the coming years.

As far as expressing that which print cannot, I believe that e-literature allows us to experience a story in more dynamic, more personal, and even more lifelike ways. Firstly, a reader is able to more or less choose how they want to navigate through any given e-literature piece, which is a freedom not readily available with traditional printed literature, but is closer to the flexible nature of our own thoughts and memories. The flexible nature of e-literature is also increasingly reminiscent of our own lives: hyperlinks embedded within stories are no longer something strange and startling, but are natural to the modern reader, even lending an air of familiarity or intimacy to the work. I believe this flexible multilinearity also allows a broader kind of story than traditional literature is capable of.

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My Boyfriend Came Back from the War

After (at least partially) reading all three of the net.art fiction pieces, I decided to focus on My Boyfriend Came Back from the War by Olia Lialina. I was struck by the stark and emotive quality of this piece, as well as the literal and figurative fragmenting of the narrative. While it doesn’t have have the randomized quality of combinatory poetics per se (reloading the page or clicking in different orders did not change which piece of text came after which), it does achieve a state of multilinearity and variability by virtue of the aforementioned fragmentation. As the narrative and screens continue to break down, the reader can choose to follow one thread until its end before moving onto the next, to click each panel in an order (say, clockwise), randomly, or a combination thereof. I read through it a few times in different orders and while the overarching story is the same, different reading orders do lend different tones to the narrative.

I think that this piece is particularly different from the hypertext fiction we looked at last class in that it is all contained on one page, and it is impossible to step backwards (except by completely refreshing the page and starting over). In Joyce’s the afternoon, the reader moves from one concrete page to the next, albeit in nonlinear and sometimes indirect ways, and can return to previous pages. In contrast, readers of Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back from the War must continue forward on one fluid page. I think this technique places the reader deeper into the mindset of Lialina’s story, as it is close to how we experience real life (unable to go back, and while sometimes fragmented, still part of a solid whole).

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The Babysitter & Hypertext Literature

 

With it’s only-semi-linear nature and multiple perspectives occuring at once, The Babysitter by Robert Coover truly set the stage for hypertext fiction. While the story itself was very disturbing, the techniques used to craft it were impressive, and a clear influence on hypertext fiction. While not hypertext fiction itself, it does include many characteristics of hypertext fiction, such as:

fragmented text, the use of associative logic, alternative narrative structures, […] [and] complications of character development and chronology. (Rettburg, 68)

While it is lacking in interactivity, the multiple perspectives, the blending of what’s really happening and what is only being imagined, as well as the shaky time structure (as I mentioned above, I’d consider it semi-linear: there is a time span, but within hour or half-hour blocks, time seem to move forward then loop back and start again, giving the impression both of many plot points occuring at once as well as some never actually happening at all) makes this a clear precursor to interactive e-literature.

On a personal note, while I didn’t enjoy the plot per se (it was very disturbing) I enjoyed the way that The Babysitter was written. The Babysitter seems to challenge readers to second guess what we often take for granted, particularly in regards to the intentions of others. The unreliable narrators and unclear delineation between imagination and reality forces the reader to read carefully or else get tripped up. While in this case the events were primarily imagined, it is easy to see how this could become a piece of interactive fiction where the choices of the reader lead to one or more of the imagined situations becoming real. I did try and read it out of order (I chose various segments to read in random order, while still staying within the linear progression of the story) but as it is now I think you really need all the perspectives to make it a cohesive story. I think you could switch the order slightly of the story’s fragments, but you would definitely need to read all of them to follow what’s happening (as opposed to a ‘choose your own adventure’ style story, where threads of plot can theoretically be left unread without causing confusion, etc, depending on your choices).

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Combinatory Poetry & Taroko Gorge

Before reading these chapters and viewing both the original Taroko Gorge and several other versions, I had heard of blackout poetry and collage, but not combinatory poetry (either physical or digital). Similarly, I had learned about Dada (visual) art in an Art History class, but not much about their textual or audio art, or how that influenced forms of e-literature. With that, I have found a new appreciation for the Dadaists in light of how they paved the way, in a manner of speaking, for Taroko Gorge and other forms of combinatory poetry. Taroko Gorge also seems to have derived at least partially from the surrealists (I believe that this is mentioned in the book as well) as the poems (or poem, if each version is seen as simply one small part of a whole, rather than several distinct versions separate from the source) seem to speak to a subconscious chaos that combines aspects of both Dadaism and surrealism.

I haven’t done much coding (I learned about HTML and CSS in Brenda Grell’s 201 class, but that’s the extent of my experience) but looking at the source codes were very interesting. I would definitely like to learn more about computer coding in order to better understand the digital aspect and the underlying mechanics of e-literature.

Of the other combinatory poems drawn from Taroko Gorge’s code, I especially liked Tournedo Gorge, which combined computer and cooking metaphors in a surprising yet effective way. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the poem showed how both cooking and computer art (or even computer science) are composed of many smaller aspects all lending to a whole, as well as both drawing from the past to build towards the future.

Another that stood out was ‘Wandering through Taroko Gorge’ by James Burling; this poem seemed to draw not only on variables within the code, but with words supplied by each reader. Unfortunately, the website was broken (I believe that the code wasn’t updated enough for Chrome, but again, I don’t know quite enough about code to tell exactly what as going wrong). However, even the broken quality of the poem spoke to the fragility of e-literature, illuminating just how fleeting, and therefore precious, it can be.

Overall, I liked the concept of both Taroko Gorge and combinatory poetry. I believe it builds on both poetic & literary foundations while forging new pathways for artists, writers, and coders alike.

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