cite this article as
Currents in Electronic Literacy
Fall 2001 (5),
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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.
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.
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
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
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.
excites you about this new medium for poetry? And what particular
drawbacks (if any) does working with electronic technology
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!
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.
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
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.
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.