For some reason only a few of the gifs are working in the post. Click on the image to see the poem or follow the link provided to the collected poems.
Something Old Something New: Placing the Anipoems of Ana Maria Uribe in a Literary Tradition
The poems of Ana Maria Uribe are simply a collection of animated gifs. Initially I hesitated before picking choosing this particular work; poetry has never been my forte and Ana Maria Uribe is a Spanish language poet. However, the electronic literature directory listed her as Spanish and English so I decided to click through and see what the poems were all about.
Conceptually Uribe’s poetry has its roots in the concrete poetry of the early 1900s. The words of the poem are arranged so that form literally mimics content. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes are a great example of concrete poetry. Even though the text of the poem itself is in French, you do not need to understand French to understand that the poem “Il Pleut” is about rain. (To see more of Apollinaire’s work I have provided a link to a site not unlike the e.e.cummings site we looked at in class together.) Similarly the language which the text of Uribe’s poems is written in becomes irrelevant. The text is arranged in such a way to resemble the subject of the poem itself. The Anipoem “Dry Red Leaves” features the words “hojas rojas secas” (which, according to Google Translate translates to “dry red leaves”) in autumnal colors. The “s”s tumble down the white background of the gif mimicking the motion of leaves falling to the ground in an autumn breeze.
While Apollinaire’s text is French and understanding of French is ultimately essential for a thorough understanding of the poem, Uribe takes the idea of concrete poetry and pushes it a step beyond simple content-form equivocation. In traditional semiotics a sign indicates a signifier. What this breaks down to is a word represents a concrete material object. What Uribe’s poetry does is have the letter become the sign. Singular letters become the ideas around which Uribe builds her poem. Those letters are then arranged into the forms of traditional concrete poetry.
The letter itself as art is then an extrapolation of the word as art or text as art. Like concrete poetry, this is a concept that goes back well beyond the tech boom of the 1990s (the animpoems were written in 1998). Illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages illustrate the blending of the literary arts with the visual arts. The blending of the two media allows the artists to express ideas with more exactitude than available outside of the mixed media platform. The broadened range of expression derives from the manipulation of the sign and signifier.
Uribe adds yet another layer of expression by animating the text. The poems are a collection of animated gifs with the text moving in simple patterns. The animation of the letters allows the viewer to realize, and to further explore, the ideas behind the letters. For example, the poem “A Herd of Centaurs” consists of a footed letter “h” moving right to left across the screen. The counter-intuitive motion of the letter transforms the character into a simulacrum of a centaur.
Without the animation Uribe’s poetry would lack the form which creates the content. The herd of centaurs, if simply written down in plain text would read: “hh hhhhhh hh hhh hhhhhhhh h,” or something which very closely resembles that grouping of characters. Perhaps the suggestion of the centaur form is present based on the shape of the letter, which is the basis of Uribe’s semiotic pun, but the poem would be essentially unreadable without the inclusion of motion to solidify the connection between form, text, and title.
Similarly, in Uribe’s “Pas de Deux” there is no way to separate the text from the animation and retain the poetic integrity of the work. The letters “R I P” cycle through continuously, side by side. In every other cycle the R and the P are flipped into mirror images of themselves. The cycling of the feet of the letters allows them to resemble the positions of the ballerinas which would be dancing the pas de deux side by side. Without the animation, the text is never spelled out. The function of the work as a whimsical mediation on morbidity is removed without the inclusion of the digital aspect of the work.
In the realm of digital literature Uribe’s work is rather simplistic in execution. A large part of the simplicity has to do with the technology available in 1998 that Uribe was working with to create her anipoems. However, even with the comparatively basic level of animation Uribe was still able to integrate the digital world into her work so thoroughly that the animated text cannot be separated without sacrificing the integrity of the work. The playfulness of the poems relies on the visual artistry of the animated gif. And, while the anipoems are a work of digital literature, they draw upon and reinvent a long literary tradition.