After hearing Professor Galey talk about the digital experiments over at Coach House Books, I decided to poke around on their website to see if any digital versions were open to the public. There are a great number of digital titles which can be accessed free of charge (http://chbooks.com/online), but the one I will discuss here is an animated poem called The Dreamlife of Letters, by Brian Stefan Kims (http://archives.chbooks.com/online_books/dreamlife_of_letters/).
Based on the author’s introduction to the poem, he wanted to write something that was different from the “antique “concrete” mode” and he explains that it is not interactive, rather “much more like a short film than an interactive piece, and there didn’t seem any natural place to let the viewer in that way.” It runs about 11 minutes in total, and is composed using the words from another version of the poem, rearranged to be listed in alphabetical order.
It’s difficult to explain how the animation plays out, as it is so different from page to page. (My use of the word page here could be contested, as the poem plays out on a single window screen, but I am counting each time the screen is shown blank and filled up again as a separate “page” for the purposes of this discussion.) Sometimes the words come in from left to right, sometimes from top to bottom or vice versa. Other times words start in the middle of the page and work outwards, and still others words are pushed off to one side or appear diagonally. In any case, the conventional text block of a page which reads from left to right and top to bottom is challenged. So too is the concept of the margin, as evidenced by the page in which “me” is repeated, column-style, down the far right side.
While there is a good amount of white space (or orange space, in this case) in each “page” or frame, the whole page is used over the course of the poem. No holds are barred in terms of where letters can appear, or how they can appear. Because of this, I think Brian Stefan Kims succeeded in innovating the page, and indeed innovating our notions of how a digital text can be presented to a reader or “viewer.” Since the poem plays out as a video, there is no allowance for different reading paces, or breaks, as a matter of fact, since there is no speed option or “pause” button. The reader is left at the mercy of the author, as opposed to the other way around.