Exploring “This Is Not a Poem”

The poet in me was fascinated to discover the link for “This Is Not a Poem”: http://www.webyarns.com/ThisIsNotAPoem.html.  So, I decided to explore it further.  And I am happy to say that poetry is a part of digital literature, digital literary studies, and the digital humanities.  Digital poetry has entered the 21st century.  It’s Poetry 2.0!  Or, Poetry 3D!  Or, Interactive Poetry!  Or, Poetry as Performance Art!  (You get the point.)  Poetry is no longer stuck on a piece of paper.  Now, with the digital revolution, poetry can appear on a screen, with music, movement, images, and a human’s voice reading the poem, aloud.  The words, lines, and stanzas are able to dance on the screen.  The poem, itself, is performing in multiple ways for its readers, viewers, listeners, spectators, audience (whatever word you prefer to use).

“This Is Not a Poem” appears on the Web site: Webyarns.com, http://webyarns.com, which was created by Alan Bigelow.  At the “Home” page of the Web site, Bigelow explains the purpose of his work and the site: “Welcome to webyarns.com, a collection of my work in electronic literature.  These stories and poems use images, text, audio, video, and other components.  They are non-traditional narratives which employ poetic and occasionally humorous and ironic metaphors.  Often they make statements about contemporary life, culture and politics.  These stories and poems are created for the web, although they also appear in museums, festivals, and galleries as media installations.  I hope you enjoy the work!”

At the “Me?” page of his site, Bigelow’s brief bio reads as follows: “Alan Bigelow’s work, installations, and conversations concerning digital fiction and poetry have appeared in the Library of Congress (USA), SFMOMA, La Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris), Turbulence.org, Rhizome.org, The National Art Center (Tokyo), Los Angeles Center for Digital Arts, FAD, VAD, FreeWaves.org, The Museum of New Art, Art Tech Media, FILE, Blackbird, Drunken Boat, IDEAS, New River Journal, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and many other places worldwide. He is currently a Professor of Humanities at Medaille College in Buffalo, New York, USA.”

Bigelow explains “This Is Not a Poem” as follows: “This work takes the famous poem ‘Trees’ by Joyce Kilmer and, transcribing it onto a ‘scratchable’ disk, makes it into a toy, a game, and a language engine…”  He then asks the question: “Is Your Computer’s Sound On?”  The irony is that this is exactly a poem of six stanzas with two lines in each stanza.  It is a poem about trees.  And it is a digital presentation of that poem.  And yet, it is so much more than just a poem on a page.

After clicking the word, “begin,” which appears as “[Begin]” below Bigelow’s question in the middle of the screen, we are taken to the next screen on which the entire poem is written on a disk.  We then press the play icon to see the disk spin, to hear a voice reading the poem, and to hear music in the background.  When we move the computer’s mouse or arrow over the poem and disk, the words scatter to the margins of the disk.  After all of the words scatter from the center of the disk to the margins, and the poem is no longer in stanzas, a video appears on the screen, showing a tree in a forest being logged by a machine.  The video of the destruction of the forest is making a statement about this poem that is also not a poem, and this digital presentation that can be so many things.

*****

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
(taken from The Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/12744)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

*****

Bigelow’s digital presentation of Kilmer’s poem, which is meant to be interactive, made me think of my own interactive piece that I recently published.  However, my verse/prose piece is only interactive in that it asks the readers to answer questions.  I do not have the talent and knowledge to create an interactive digital presentation like Bigelow.

“Education as Political Act! Educator as Political Activist!: An Interactive Experimental Narrative and Manifesto” by Michael Carosone

(published September 2016, in Lunch Review, on http://www.lunchreview.org/education-as-political-act–educator-as-)

“Literature offers –a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It’s a finding place.” –Jeanette Winterson

In my dream—
the same recurring dream
for months now—
I am with:
Theodore Adorno,
Antonio Gramsci,
Karl Marx,
Edward Said, and
Howard Zinn—
all men, I know,
but I can’t censor a dream for feminism;
women will appear soon—
and Noam Chomsky appears, too,
but the other five won’t let him stay;
they say that he still has too much work to do on Earth,
so I have to talk to him alone back on the planet.
The six of us are not in heaven;
we don’t believe in that crap;
we are either in my apartment,
or in a classroom,
or in a park or a forest,
or in a protest line,
sometimes at a café,
and we are always talking about the political acts
of education, of reading, or writing,
of speaking, of listening, of breathing,
of living every second of every day.
I am teaching them creative writing—
absurd, I know—
and I tell them to :

~~~~~

Write a postmodern poem in which you advocate for one or all of the following:

  1. Education as political act;
  2. Educator as political activist;
  3. Intellectual as speaker of truth to power;
  4. Auschwitz never to happen again;
  5. Literature to effect positive change, literature as social justice.

~~~~~

Dear Reader,

Now, I want you to use those prompts, above, to write your own poems!  Go!

~~~~~

We have questions for postmodern educators:

  1. How can education be a political act in a positive way?
  2. How can an educator (intellectual) be an activist who effects positive change?
  3. How can we be educator-activists when teaching literature?
  4. How can we use literature to make sure that the Holocaust never happens again?
  5. How can we use literature, literacy, reading, and writing as social justice?

Now, I want you to answer those questions! Go!

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