cite this article as
Currents in Electronic Literacy
Fall 2001 (5),
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Larsen has been a confirmed electronic literature addict
for over a decade. In 1988, Larsen tried to go beyond linear
text to show the connections between women in a Colorado mining
town. She wrote poems and connected them on a model train railway
bed, with differently colored embroidery thread to signify connections.
This didn't work-one couldn't see the threads after a while.
A friend suggested using a computer-which can show links through
a click of a mouse. This first work,
Marble Springs ( Eastgate, 1993), is now a collaborative
hypertext where readers can add their own stories and connections.
next works revealed her innate fascination for complex structures
and furthered the addiction. Samplers: Nine Vicious
Little Hypertexts (Eastgate, 1996) uses quilt patterns
to show the geometrical structure and quilt stitching to show
the inner connections in this bunch of short stories with everything
from sentient traffic barriers to coyotes who can destroy the
Wheels , the inaugural Iowa Review Web work,
tells a story of a ferris wheel ride, as the heroine takes spaceships
and subatomic particles into account before answering a marriage
proposal. Stained Word Windows from Word
Circuits is a geometric poem about rifts and views. The Pines at Walden Pond, at Cauldron & Net,
lets the reader click on pine branches to explore branching
thoughts on visiting Thoreau's pines.
show the deeper connections between meaning and layout, Larsen
turned to Japanese kanjis. She superimposed English words over
the structure of the ideograms, eliciting resonances within
the placement of the strokes. These little works, or kanji-kus,
appear in many Web journals, including Sea Whispers published in this issue
of Currents, Bubbles
at Electronic Poetry Center, Ghost Moons at Akenatondocks,
Power Moves at Cauldron
& Net, Mountain Rumbles at New River, Spiritual Comfort at
Dream Merging at Aileron, and The Language of the Void
at Riding the Meridian.
took this idea one step further and created a multiple layer
mystery novel using the kanji structure. Disappearing Rain is a mystery
about Anna, a Japanese-American college freshman who has disappeared,
leaving only an open Internet connection. The titles of each
section form part of a kanji-ku. Thus, the poem forms a structure
for navigating through a story. These haikus then bring new
layers of meaning and resonances to both the series of poems
and the story.
Larsen is experimenting with structure as a direct metaphor.
Her latest work, e:electron,
in collaboration with Geoffrey Gatza, is forthcoming from the
Blue Moon Review. The poem is a complex interweaving of
three very different ways to use the periodic table of elements
as an extended metaphor for a love affair. The periodic table
itself becomes a double acrostic poem where love is the bond
between elements. Clicking on each element adds a new electron,
or word-memory, to the atomic structure. An underlying philosophical
treatise, Poly-linear Valances, uses the seven valances, or
energy levels of atoms, as the structure for showing relationships
and connections between atomic theory and life.
do you define your work--what categorizations/classifications
(traditional or otherwise) would you use to distinguish
e-poetry in general and your work in particular?
I define my work as a completely
new genre - it is different from poetry, different from novels,
different from any linear writing. Imagine having to explain
that sculpture is different from painting - that it is a three
dimensional art form. In the same way, electronic writing
is multidimensional, using structure, links, sound, motion,
are you doing in e-poetry that cannot be done in more traditional
modes (such as linear paper)?
I show structure as metaphor.
In "Samplers," I used geometric patterns to show
a structure - for example, my story about incest follows
two interlocking diamonds - one with the experience with
the father and one with the experience with the lover. In
my kanji-kus such as "Sea Whispers," the structure
takes on a literal meaning - I use the Japanese kanji or
ideogram as the starting point for the work. My new work,
"e:electron" with Geoffrey Gatza, uses the structure
of the periodic table of elements to discuss bonding and
love in various stages or orbit shells of a relationship.
Just as John Donne used a compass as an underlying metaphor
for circling his love in "A Valediction Forbidding
Mourning," we use the bonding structure of the atoms
as an underlying metaphor for a love that lasts a lifetime.
Each atomic structure shows one additional electron and
in "e:electron," we show one additional word to
indicate another memory, another event in the relationship.
I am now also experimenting with Flash to determine structure
inherent in images such as Michelangelo's David.
you "collaborate" with others (for instance, outsource particular
technological aspects of a "poem"), do you feel this affects
the poem's "authorship?"
In this world, you need to collaborate with others, as the
work demands many different skills, from computer programming
to graphic designs to text writing. It is hard to be a jack-of-all-trades
. . . Further, each aspect carries its own symbolic connotations
or symbiociations. So we have to be very clear about what
the work will do and how it will be created. Authorship
becomes a product of the collaboration - with each aspect
throwing in new nuances and flavors.
Further, each work collaborates
with the reader as the reader chooses which parts to read
and in what order. The reader becomes an active participant,
and the authorship then changes with each reader.
Who are your readers and how are you interacting with
them? How is youraudience similar to and/or different from
that of the traditional poet's?
I try to write for a range of audiences. I arrange my works
so that people unfamiliar with hypertexts can get something
interesting - I always include a default path so that you
can simply press <return> or easily get to the "next"
screen. But my work goes beyond this simple interface to
offer intriguing insights to people who are more experienced
with hypertext and electronic literature. For example, in
"Samplers," I have hidden commentaries in the
names of the links (this is a Storyspace document and Storyspace
lets you name your links). "E:electron" on one
level is a simple love story and on another is an evolved
The audience that reads electronic
literature is different from one reading a poem either in
a book or even in a poetry slam. If I could, I would put
out a sign saying, wanted:
Readers who are not afraid
Readers who want to explore.
Readers who want to have some serious fun.
excites you about this new medium for poetry? And what particular
drawbacks (if any) does working with electronic technology
We live in the most exciting time imaginable - we are present
at the birth of an entirely new genre. Everything is new;
everything is possible. Nothing has been discarded or disproven.
There are no right ways to write this, no conventions that
cannot be shattered. Anything you create will be one of
I love finding a new way to
say something. I get a thrill when two pieces connect in
ways I hadn't planned on but that still work well. The writer's
high of creation is so much more complex and satisfying
in electronic poetry because of all of the connections,
of all of the potential "aha's."
Further, now we have many more
toys to play with than we did even a couple of years ago.
Flash has come into its own as a programming language so
we can create causal links, motion links, new structures,
time sequences, etc. It is still a lot of work to learn
these tools, but practically anything we can imagine we
can make real.
How are you integrating/embracing other media such
as sound, animation, and navigation?
My interest has always been
more in the way the words are put together and the way the
story is told than in sound and animation, so I have been
very slow to integrate these aspects. I am beginning to
integrate a great deal more imagery and a few sounds in
my work now, but I am mostly leaving this promising exploration
I am still fascinated by navigation
and navigation as structure. For me, the way the piece is
put together, where each node or word is in a work is the
most important part. I want to show the spatial relationships
between my concepts. For example, "Ferris Wheels"
is structured as a Ferris Wheel, and each stage in the journey
corresponds to a stage in the character's thought process.
In "Pine Whispers," each branch is in a precise
relationship to the other pine branches of thoughts. The
best print analogue would be the conventions of a sonnet,
where each line has a prescribed place in the overall argument.
I use links, image maps, and other navigational tools to
reinforce this structure.
kind of aesthetic is emerging in the field?
Determining the emerging aesthetic
is like trying to taste a tornado while you are in the middle
of it. The great thing is that there are so many aesthetics
from in-your-face slam Flash to quiet reflections, from
arcane theory to simple storytelling, from elaborate to
simplistic. The one thing that e-poets have in common is
their attempt to find out what this media can do and how
it can work. We are all a bunch of Ernie
Kovacs playing with our new tv toys and finding out
what is and is not effective in this new media.
do you think the future holds for e-poets and e-poetry?
This media is not tv, it is
not radio, it is not even a computer program. It is a many-to-many
worldwide communication network - the first one the human
race has ever had. I hope the future for this communication
is bright and that it will remain in the hands of the many
rather than in the hands of a controlling interest. I hope
that we can keep the internet freeer than tv became. I hope
we can continue to play and to determine what works in this
new media. I wish I were sure of this - but I am deeply
cynical about what business and government interests can
do. The Internet freedom is worth hanging onto and fighting
If we have a many-to-many communication
network in the future, then I think the future is incredibly
bright for e-poets and e-poetry. There won't be a way to
categorize e-poetry because each piece will continue to
be a unique work. We will never run out of new forms of
expression, of new ways to combine words, sound, image,
navigation, links, structure. We will find new links and
new civilizations and boldly go where no text has gone before