All posts by abbeyharris

Blog Essay 2

 

Anipoems: How Simple Technology Can Enhance the Meaning of Text on a Page

As an avid reader of poetry, I jumped on the opportunity to explore Ana Maria Uribe’s anipoems.  These short texts are animated letters or words that bring the title of the poem to life.  Though this type of technological poetry was created in 1998, they resemble the gifs that we often see in popular culture today.  They integrate the elements of text, movement, and visuals to not only simulate the contents of the title (e.g. the poem entitled “hojas rojas secas,” translated as “dry red leaves” depicts the s’s falling like leaves from the words) but also to add a layer of playfulness to these short poems.

hojaschicb

The anipoems seem to redefine the idea of concrete poetry.  Uribe was not, of course, the first poet to think of the concept of “shaped” or “patterned” poetry.  This literary tradition dates back to poets like George Herbert, who wrote two famous shaped poems–“Easter Wings” and “The Altar”—which serve as religious emblems.  In the same way, the form of Uribe’s poems suggest their meaning.  However, she takes this art beyond the tradition of the shape poem by minimizing the actual text and enhancing the visual aspect with color and movement.   In some poems, like “more centaurs,” Uribe just uses repetition of one letter and animation to create a literary piece.

This begs the question: Is this really poetry?  According to Merriam Webster, poetry can be defined as “something very beautiful or graceful” or “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sounds, and rhythm.”  In my opinion, Uribe’s works fit this description, as they play with language/ sound to produce an experiential reading for viewers.  However, the way in which we read these digital poems differs from the way we read traditional texts, or words that run from left to right on a page. The anipoems are multimodal texts that require the reader/ viewer to process a plethora of mediums all at once.

That is not to say that the anipoems are particularly complicated.  To the contrary, they seem to refute the idea that technology is too complex and overwhelming for the average reader.  The sense of minimalism that they evoke in the technological world is actually very refreshing; they are unapologetically simplistic and yet meaningful at the same time.  For instance, on the surface, Uribe’s “pas de deux” is simply the black letters “R,” “I,” and “P” flashing in mirror-image pairs on a white backdrop.  Upon closer inspection, I found that the French “pas de deux” is a ballet maneuver that literally translates to “step of two.” The morbidity of the R.I.P becomes even more interesting and complex when juxtaposed with the idea of the graceful ballet duet, leaving us to question how one relates to the other.  One might even say it’s a poetic treatise on mortality.   The fact that the poet can say so much in just three letters is no less than incredible.  In this way, Uribe not only redefines the genre of poetry but proves that her work is the antithesis of the cognitive overload that is the technological boom of the 21st Century.

Flarf Poem

Marilyn Manson Candy Crack

 

I. Alcohol

Marilyn Manson is far better

in Funny or Die videos

than on Talking Dead,

joyously licking a Ring Pop

in the Most Disturbing

80’s Style Candy Commercial Ever.

 

II. Amphetamine

The Seven Most Gruesome Rock-and-Roll Legends—

Filth lyrics, Speed of pain, and Jagger

eating a candy bar out of someone’s crotch.

 

III. Crack/ Cocaine

Dance Tracks of the Week:

Like a pi?ta you crack open

my little candy man.

Devil’s dandruff teased

his need to kill.

 

IV. Ecstasy

Party Monster, that’s not a crack hole,

that’s a rat hole with some crackling

house music and candy guts,

a library full of dandelion tufts.

 

V. “The Dope Show”

METALHEAD, ticket seller

I am the face of piss and shit and sugar.

Let them be eye candy

with semi intelligent insights

just sparkly enough to get ratings.

 

This flarf poem was generated by googling the terms “Marilyn Manson,” “candy,” and “crack,” hence the title of the piece.  I then combined song lyrics, online trash magazine headlines, and user comments to craft the lines.  The poem as a whole is a list, with each stanza numbered and titled with a different kind of drug.  This was inspired by one of the search results, which categorized various songs by the drugs they describe.

Essay 1: The Products of the Feed

“They learn to resist the feed,” says Titus near the end of the novel (297).  But this begs the question: Do they ever successfully resist the feed?  Though characters like Violet, her father, and even Titus are aware of the feed’s detrimental impact on humanity and openly rebel against it (Titus more so toward the end), they find that, ultimately, they too are guilty of perpetuating this new order of society.  In M.T. Anderson’s novel Feed, this new technology becomes so omnipotent, that it imprisons its consumers and, in turn, consumes them—body and mind.  In the end, it is terrifyingly clear that the feed is no longer a product of the humans; they are a product of it.

Because the feed has literally become so ingrained in the characters’ minds, all of their emotions and desires are tainted by it.  For instance, in her last days, Violet wants to resist the generic flow of life by doing “things that show [she’s] alive”: eating “huge meals with wine,” going to the mountains, visiting the Mayan temples, etcetera (216-217).  However, she soon realizes that these fantasies are “all sitcom openers,” all preconceived by the feed.  Violet wonders if her thoughts are truly her own or merely seeds planted by the feed: “My god. What am I, without the feed? It’s all from the feed credits. My idea of life” (217).  This dissident finds that she can never really “get the hell out of [there]”; in other words, no matter where she goes or what she does, she will never fully escape the feed (217).

In the same way, even after Titus has a change of heart (and speech), he is still under the feed’s influence.  When he returns to Violet’s deathbed, he shows a side of himself that we have never seen before—his affectionate and more articulate side.  No longer is he embracing the dumbed-down teen speak, stumbling over his words and abbreviating everything.  This seems to be his way of not only showing his respects toward Violet but also his way of pushing back against the popular language and lifestyle.  Still, though, the more he talks, the more we realize how present the feed is in his mind:

I cried, sitting by her bed, and I told her

the story of us. “It’s about the feed,” I said.  “It’s

about this meg normal guy, who doesn’t think

about anything until one wacky day, when he

meets a dissident with a heart of gold.” I said, “Set

against the backdrop of America in its final days,

it’s the high-spirited story of their love together,

it’s laugh-out-loud funny, really heartwarming, and

a visual feast…” (296-97).

Despite his sincerity, Titus becomes a walking movie trailer, expressing his emotions through the language of consumerism, unable to resist the popular notion of love that the media has fed him and wants him to buy into.

Even in Titus’ most human moment, he cannot shut out the feed.  After he sees Violet’s grotesque condition, he goes home and has somewhat of a mental breakdown: “I tore at my pants.  I was trying so hard to get them off that they ripped…I threw my boxers against the wall. I was naked. Completely naked” (293). As he rids himself of his “things,” he reveals the raw human being behind the machine—the human being with deeply human anger.  However, in his attempt to repudiate the feed, he goes into overdrive and starts haphazardly ordering dozens of pants—“It was a real bargain,” he says (293).  Titus simply cannot control himself and gives, even if it’s only out of spite and anger.  He is programmed to buy, buy, and buy some more.

Finally, the feed not only dictates how the characters think but also how they live, making it nearly impossible for them to function in society without this technology. For instance, Violet’s father tells the story about the time he went for a job interview and was turned down because he did not have a feed: “They found this funny. Risible” (288).  For this reason, he decided to give Violet a feed, knowing that she “had to live in the world” (288).  This highlights the fact that those who do not possess a feed are shunned as outcasts and limited in their opportunities.  Because the social pressure to have a feed is so omnipresent, even Violet’s father—a rebel almost to a fault, with his absurdly hifalutin way of speaking—succumbs to it.

Earlier in the story, Violet remarks that humans are the only species that produce trash (174).  Then, later she becomes a discarded item herself—a “prop” (186)—no longer of use once the show is over.  Violet’s father, in reference to the shell that was once his daughter, chides Titus and society as a whole for their indifference towards their “products” and “what happens to them…once we throw them away” (290).  Violet, like everyone else in the novel, is just that: A product of the feed.  No matter how much the characters try to resist it, this technology has become so much a part of them, so much a part of their social fabric that they cannot escape its influence.  Anderson seems to take this a step further during Titus’ ending monologue by suggesting that his own novel can be read as a generic dystopian love story.  In this meta-reflective moment, he turns a mirror on himself and his readers to reveal that they too have bought into the popular, movie-trailer notions of love—that in a way, the book itself is a product of the feed.

Blog Post #2: For Better, For Verse

This site functions as a pedagogy tool–to help teach people how to scan lines of poetry and find the rhyme scheme.  It presents you with a number of poems categorized by difficulty in terms of identifying the meter.  You can then move your cursor above each syllable and click for the stress (once for  accented, twice for unaccented).  Once complete, you click on an icon to the right of the poem that tells you if your scansion was correct or problematic.  Essentially, you can do the same thing with the meter and rhyme–try it first yourself and then check your work.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 6.21.09 PM

 

Scansion, though tedious, is important when learning the intricacies of poetry.  I like how the site describes the stress as the “bones” and the meter as the “flesh” of poetry.  Stress, meter, feet, and rhyme all work behind the scenes to give poetry its music–its rhythms and beats.  Just by looking at a poem on the page, we aren’t able to see “what makes it tick.” On For Better For Verse, viewers can discover the  authors’  deliberate metrical choices by scanning and re-scanning the lines as many times as they want without the messy erasures or mark-outs.  Another related feature that I thought was particularly clever is the lightbulb icon that appears beside lines with interesting or out-of-the-ordinary features.  By clicking on the icon, the viewer can get a short explanation of the line/ an analysis of the author’s intent.  This is a great tool for students who are learning to interpret rhyme or meter in the context of the poem as a whole.

This site could be useful for researchers studying the metrical patterns (or the diversions from pattern) of a particular poem or poet.  However, I think it’s much more useful as a pedagogy tool for English teachers or students.  I just wish this site had a feature that enabled sound so that viewers could not only see but also hear the rhythms that they are uncovering.  That way, the music of the poetry could actually come to life! Maybe For Better For Verse could team up with Incredibox (http://www.incredibox.com/)  or something similar to make the music happen.

Blog Post #1: Love vs. Sex

I was interested in comparing the historical significances of two somewhat related terms: Love and sex.  According to the OED, love–“a feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness for someone”–is a word as old as the English language itself.  While “sex” obviously has many definitions, I was interested in the one most related to the word “love”: “Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual intercourse, copulation. to have sex (with) : to engage in sexual intercourse (with).” Used in this particular way, “sex” is only about a hundred or so years old–a fact which was pretty surprising.  While one word refers to people’s emotions, the other refers to a physical act. I was interested in seeing how these terms intersect (if they even do) in more contemporary literature.

Using Ngram, I found that “love” has been used much more frequently than “sex.” However, though there has not been any intersection of the terms to date, “love” is on the decline, and “sex” is on the rise.  The use of “sex” was pretty consistent until about 1920 possibly due to the cultural edge of the Roaring Twenties.  Around the time that this particular usage of “sex” cropped up (around 1900), the term “love” began its gradual fall. This makes me wonder: What terms were people using to refer to the act of sexual intercourse before 1900?  Were those terms mainly euphemistic? Were people using “love” as a substitute?  How often were these words interchangeably used?

I predicted that “sex” would be on the rise, but the downfall of “love” sheds a new light on this issue.  Does this mean that society is more sex-crazed than ever before, or that we are starting to value hook-up culture more than actual romantic relationships?  I don’t think that the rise of “sex” is a bad thing at all, but I am a little concerned about the degeneration of “love.”

Overall, I think the OED was more helpful in giving me specific information regarding the history of words.  Also, Ngram could not detect which definition of the word “sex” or “love” I was referring to.  However, the graph that Ngram provided gave me a clear picture of where these terms are headed.  I think that these tools, when used in conjunction, can give us a lot of insight into how  and why our language is perpetually shifting.