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Feature: Moving Words
Jason Nelson

Birds Still Warm From Flying
A Cube Creation

When Ernő Rubik invented the Rubics Cube he connected two almost innate human fascinations: the cube and the puzzle. With six sides and nine squares per side, the ability to twist and move every line and row, the Rubic’s Cube is an interactive toy built on the geometric mystery of moving from chaos to perfection, of realigning the visual field to clean categories and equations. The toy has long been a physical platform for poetry, with students often replacing the coloured stickers with words and symbols.

And yet oddly nothing in the digital realm had been built to not only function as a Rubics cube, but more importantly offer the artist / poet the ability to replace the various squares with whatever content in whatever sizes and dimensions the digital poem needed.

I’ve been chasing this cube for as long as I’ve even considered the idea of digital poetry. One of my earliest works (In an unrelated sequence comes) uses a morphing cube format, forcing the user to click on squares to reveal the text. But its interactivity was severely limited, with only a basic click and no variation in dimension, linearity or the incorporation of multimedia aside from background sound. Then in 2006 I created another digital poem uses the cube form. The work (the Poetry Cube) offered two directional dimensionality, up/down and depth, and used a PhP database to allow web based user entry directly into the interface. But it lacked left/right, side to side interaction and again multimedia elements were near impossible to include. So this Cube digital poetry interface both includes the features of full dimensionality and the possibility of multimedia elements and offers the additional feature of individually movable squares within the cube.

And from this history two questions arise. Why are these elements of dimensionality / multimedia / interactivity important in a digital poem? And also does the newest Cube version make the previous creations (like updated versions of software) failures and delete-able? As for the later question, I would love to wax romantic about how all creations are important, either within a historical context or because they hold together as digital poems despite their shortcomings. And while this might be true for scholars or readers of my work, as an artist I see the first two cubes as experiments, trial runs, explorations of a form. I suppose an argument could be made about how all creations are experiments leading to the next generation of poets. And while this is something I will revisit later, I can say my intentions with the first two were firmly as playgrounds. While the last cube is an attempt at a complete work, or rather a complete interface. I make the distinction between work and interface, because most of the digital poems I create are in flux, in constant states of revision.

One of the reasons I’ve concentrated on the creation of digital poetry interfaces, is because I view all of my digital poems as incomplete works. This isn’t because individual works aren’t accomplishing my artist / poetic goals. Nor am I indicating that I’ve simply not finished works, or am intentionally leaving them open-ended for some thematic purpose. Instead I feel digital poets should always be searching for ways to change / combine / recreate / reuse what they create. As I’ve stated previously a digital poet must create their own language, texts of image and sound, interface and motion, word and code. And this language is an always evolving process, designed for any component of any digital poem to be pulled apart and applied / married to, destroyed by other digital creations.

The fact that this interface comes directly from a toy, an existing puzzle is something the writer should consider. Any sort of interface that resembles a game immediately compels the reader to solve, to win, to dissect and uncover the hidden meanings. I would rather the reader explore the work than seek a resolution, a pathway to victory. Therefore in creating this work, I clearly numbered a possible print order for the lines of text.

One possible reading of the cube interface is as 3-dimensional concrete poetry sculpture generator. Concrete poetry is usually a print form where the text / word elements are used to create both a readable poem, and a visual college. Words and lines of various sizes, fonts, placements, colors, shapes are placed strategically on the page. Sometimes these concrete poems resemble specific objects / animals, with the letters used as graphical build blocks. Other concrete work is attempting more abstract designs, attempting to approximate chaos or emotion or less “concrete” descriptors (poor pun yes and no). The cube interface allows the reader to move the interface in 3-dimesional space, with the all elements placed on the cube transforming in proportion to the cube’s movement, perspective and warping is reasonably maintained as the cube is moved. Furthermore, each of the rows and columns can be moved to further recreate the placement and graphical nature of the poem.

[click image to view show]
Poetic Cube by Jason Nelson



Jason NelsonBorn from the computerless land of farmers and spring thunderstorms, Jason Nelson somehow stumbled into creating awkward and wondrous digital poems and interactive stories of odd lives. Currently he teaches Net Art and Electronic Literature at Griffith University in the Gold Coast's contradictory lands. Aside from coaxing his students into breaking, playing and morphing their creativity with all manner of technologies, he exhibits widely in galleries and journals, with work featured around globe in New York, Mexico, Taiwan, Spain, Singapore and Brazil, at FILE, ACM, LEA, ISEA, ACM, ELO and dozens of other acronyms. But in the web based realm where his work resides, Jason is most proud of the millions of visitors his artwork/digital poetry portal attracts each year.


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