Currents in Electronic Literacy

E-poets on the State of their Electronic Art:

Christy Sheffield Sanford


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Christy Sheffield Sanford has received state, regional, and national grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She is the author of seven books, including The H's: The Spasm of a Requiem, The Italian Smoking Piece, and Only the Nude Can Redeem the Landscape. Hundreds of her individual pieces have appeared in small press literary magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, Central Park, Fiction International, and Mississippi Mud. For fifteen years Sanford pioneered "Genre Fusion," primarily working with fiction and poetry but also with biography and nonfiction. For the last six years, she has been engaged in defining Web-Specific Art-Writing. She has over thirty-five online projects which include Red Mona, The Rock Garden of Love, Flower Fall, No Pink, and ~~Water~~Water~~Water~~, a commissioned collaboration with the German artist-poet Reiner Strasser. Sanford was the first trAce Virtual Writer-in-Residence and an Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellow. Her online work has been published by Light and Dust, Enterzone, Beehive, The Little Magazine, Salt Hill, and many other ezines and project sites.

  1. How 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?

    Web-specific is the term I coined for my work and my Web site. I've always been interested in the possibilities of the Web as a medium. I like the techniques, conventions and immediacy. I'm interested in CD's and installation, but my primary focus has been the Web which is capable of exploring new scripts and ideas and presenting them immediately and free to a wide audience.

  2. What are you doing in e-poetry that cannot be done in more traditional modes (such as linear paper)?

    I now have the ability to show a number of texts that are temporally and spatially interesting, texts that can be arranged or even removed by the viewer. Show hide and drag and drop scripts have given the viewer more power. Mallarmé's experimental poem, Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance) which moves musically across the page, didn't have the influence it might have on poetry in the 20th century. The Web encourages a more spatial orientation; text on the page has been liberated. Before coming onto the Web in the mid 1990's, I'd been experimenting with visual presentations of text in print; the Web made that easily realizable.

  3. If you "collaborate" with others (for instance, outsource particular technological aspects of a "poem"), do you feel this affects the poem's "authorship?"

    My last collaboration with the German artist and poet Reiner Strasser was not outsourced. In ~~Water~~Water~~Water~~ we had a true collaboration with a shared Web site. We both created art, writing and scripts. Reiner was working with pop out windows that moved. I was
    working with Flash movies. We complemented each other's efforts and worked quite closely. A shared Web site was key. We could take each others images and scripts and art and play with those products. Thrilling. I worked collaboratively on a project after that, which hasn't been published. Seven or eight mature Web artists-writers worked on the Current Project (a working title for a project involving ideas about "panorama" with many excursions into other subjects such as war, sex and the landscape), which explored the idea of the panorama, a convention with many scripts that intrigued us.

  4. 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?

    The audience for Web-specific poetry has always seemed to me more responsive. The ability to send a quick e-mail giving feedback is more appealing to many than the gestalt involved in responding via the post. The work can then profit by comments/critiques. That is, revision can be instantaneous and endless. A wide range of adults--academic and nonacademic, men and women--have emailed me.

    I've found colleagues and friends among those exploring the work. Audience carries a passive connotation. Participant is closer to what I think is evolving. People are still often shy.

  5. What excites you about this new medium for poetry? And what particular drawbacks (if any) does working with electronic technology present?

    What has consistently excited me has been the ability to join image and text in ways in which each maintains its integrity; that is, the image doesn't illustrate the text, and the text doesn't explicate the image. The ability of the medium to engross participants in an interactive way is also exciting.

    Drawbacks: I've been suffering this past year with rotator cuff problems. I'm not alone; most of those who have been working for 5 years or more have something disturbing, usually carpal tunnel but other repetitive stress injuries, as well. I've been doing more writing recently in an effort to heal the shoulder. Photoshop demands small movements, which I could do all night--so addictive do I find it!

  6. How are you integrating/embracing other media such as sound, animation, and navigation?

    The individual piece often determines what media are used. On the other hand, I've often been inspired by Java scripts and new conventions. For about five years, I tackled every new convention I thought had a wide range of possibilities: tables, frames, animation, popouts, rollovers, layers, timelines, various Java scripts.

  7. What kind of aesthetic is emerging in the field?

    There are many. I like work that is replicable, that is, work that can be used and developed by others--work that is defining the medium. Although I enjoy one-of-a-kind installations/projects, my own aim and the aim of those I most admire is to create a new art form, a medium that could encompass a wide variety of themes and genres and unique conventions, just as the book and movie have.

    The blurring of genres or combining of genres has emerged. For fifteen years, I was working on what I called genre fusion. The tendency on the Web to encourage this trend seemed natural to me. I felt combining the strengths of various genres would lead to new forms. The trick is to choose the most vital strengths of a genre.

    The dependence on endless linking has weakened in favor of show hide scripts and scripts that allow a number of documents to open simultaneously or in tandem. This allows improved visual tracking and a smoother, more dramatic means of working with poetry. The ability to work with space time has grown more sophisticated. Text can be delivered in temporally interesting ways--meditative or staccato. Dynamic html implies infinite depth. I think this concept will metaphorically transfer to encourage deeper electronic and Web-specific poetry.

  8. What do you think the future holds for e-poets and e-poetry?

    Surely as much as for print. The electronic medium is rich and powerful; however, in the real world, porn, commerce and education are more popular than poetry. To me, the Web has been the most beautiful medium I've encountered. We're a privileged society; we're allowed to write poetry and show it to others. And now we can invite the viewer-reader to be a part of the creative process. A unique environment. A great opportunity.

Please cite this article as Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (5),