Moving Poetry: Freeing Words from the Page

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The technology of printing limited the movement of text in poetry. Whether affixed to papyrus, paper or canvas by brush, quill, or the printing press, text has been static for most of history. Once laid down on the page, the position of the text doesn’t change over time. Although it might be strictly possible to incorporate moving text into poetry using old technology (image a flip book presentation of a poem), the advent of film, video and digital technology has freed text from its inherently static nature. Now, the poet can experiment with motion as well as text positioning and white space.

The following are four examples of moving poetry. Some of these moving poems are short and some are much longer. However, each poem demonstrates that introducing movement to the textual elements alters the experiencing of “reading” the poem. The reader not only reads the word, but also sees the words move across the screen. Movement is nothing more than the change in position, shape, color or size over time. When one reads static poetry on a page, the temporal element is determined by the reader–whether the reader lingers on one word or moves quickly through the poem. In contrast, the moving poem gives the poet more control over how the reader experiences the poem over time as well as the associations and connections the reader discovers between the text.

(Brian Kim Stefans, The Dreamlife of Letters). Stefans uses the movement of words to encourage the user to find new connections and relationships between the text. When words are free to move around the page, which is made possible (or at least considerably easier) by digital technology, the reader/viewer is opened to new connections between the text. When words are juxtaposed against different words over time, new possibilities arise. Stefans’ work is similar to the magnetic poetry product that encourages people to write poetry on their fridge by moving words around.

(David Small and Tom White, Stream of Consciousness: An Interactive Poetic Garden, 1997-98). Although Stream of Consciousness is an interactive work where text is projected onto a moving stream, this video provides a sense of what the reader/viewer would experience interacting with this moving poem. Of course, because of the other visual elements, this work might be considered more video art as opposed to moving poetry. However, the utilization of digital technology allows us to see text in a new way.

(Jim Andrews, Asteroids). Andrew’s Asteroids is derived from the famous 1970s arcade game by the same name. Instead of shooting asteroids with a spacecraft, words are broken up by the user controlled word “desire.” As words are fragmented and spin and careen off the screen, the viewer experiences associations and connections that would not otherwise arise.

(Eduardo Kac, Reversed Mirror, 1997). Teemu Ikonen, in “Moving text in avant-garde poetry. Towards a poetics of textual motion“comments on Kac’s Reversed Mirror

Eduardo Kac’s work shows sensitivity to the different in-betweens in which a sign loses its identity and becomes other. “Reversed Mirror” (1997), a digital videopoem, deals with “the subtle dissolution and reconfiguration of verbal particles”.

Imbuing text with motion moves it from the purely communicative into the artistic realm.