Currents in Electronic Literacy

E-poets on the State of their Electronic Art:

Stephanie Strickland


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Stephanie Strickland is the author of the prizewinning book-length hypertext True North (Eastgate Systems). Her hypertext poem, "Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot," won an Best of the Net Award. Other Web poems are "To Be Here as Stone Is" and "Errand Upon Which We Came." Her book V (forthcoming from Penguin with one section only available on the Web) won the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her previous three printed books of poems have won three national prizes, and her other awards include the Boston Review Prize and NEA and NEH fellowships. She will hold the McEver Chair in Writing in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2002. Strickland's Web site is located at

  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?

    I use a variety of terms, all of them quite contested, such as hypertext poetry, new media poetry, and digital media poetry. Code poetry is another contested term and can have many meanings. The entire situation is fluid and open and interesting.

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

    None of my e-poetry can be done on paper, but I am particularly interested in how a work can exist between electronic and print forms and two of my longer poems explore this space in some depth. True North began life as a print manuscript which then became, differently, both a print book and a Storyspace hypertext. Each of these forms does things the other cannot.

    For me, True North really exists between and across them. In some sense, one is a translation or transformation of the other. Another book, V, forthcoming from Penguin, uses the space between electronic and print differently. In itself it has two parts, "V: The WaveSon.nets" and "V: Losing L'una," which converge in the V of the book's center (one part is printed upside down to the other) at a Web address. The third part of V, available at that address, is the part that rises off the page. It is being done in Director and has many kinds of functionality that the book doesn't, and in fact a more basic verse text in tercets that is accessible only online.

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

    I do collaborate, and I enjoy it tremendously. Each of my collaborations has had a different character. In some, I make all the visual and interface and textual decisions, but I don't do the coding. I have pretty severe RSI [Repetitve Strain Injury] issues and I have to limit use of my hands. In other collaborations, particularly those with Marjorie Luesebrink (M.D. Coverley), we've worked together in front of a monitor to make design decisions of every kind. In our latest work-in-process, every element has been collaboratively generated from scratch. I think I wouldn't be able to do work that requires that much trust if we hadn't done the earlier work. One has to learn a lot about any new coding system, be it Storyspace, Flash, Director, etc., in order to translate--that word again--one's vision/concept. I find that each person learns in these encounters. What seems impossible to one will actually work out okay, but without the other's suggestion it would never have been tried.

  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?

    I teach New Media Poetry and also traditional poetry workshops. I also give e-readings and traditional readings. The audience isn't the same, but there is a lot of cross-over. It is much harder to give an e-reading because of equipment issues, but if done well, people always have lots of appreciation and/or questions. If traditional writers had better access to and knowledge of the new media works, there would be even more--appreciation and questions. There is a process of learning to read these works that isn't being taught. It's dive-in and learn-to-swim fast. Not everyone is comfortable. I find traditional MFA writing students very alive to the issues that e-poetry brings up, very appreciative of certain works, and very eager to "dive in," if they are given a chance and given support.

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

    Poetry wants to get off the page, where it once always was--in the voice, in the life of the community, on the walls of the cities, as part of performance that includes music and spectacle and dance--the Greek tragedies, for instance. Now there are entirely new ways for it to do this. The position of the reader, who is sometimes a possible collaborator, has shifted. This is just one shift in a long history of shifts in reading. We don't really know the "future of reading," but we know it will be different. The fact that all the arts can be represented digitally--and not just the arts obviously--makes a big difference today.

    The drawbacks of working with technology is that technology is not oriented to the user who is an artist or one who reads for enjoyment and nourishment. Marjorie Luesebrink's "Mirror" piece makes specific a lot of the aspects of technology--its extremely brief lifetime, its lack of backward compatibility, its lack of compatibility with rival technologies, etc.--that make life difficult.

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

    By using software such as Flash and Director where this can be programmed from within. Also, part of the project of design is exactly this issue.

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

    Many, many aesthetics are emerging. One central rivalry at the moment is between works that are more narrative and those that are more game-like.

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

    Nothing guaranteed. For those who have been involved with drama and the ethic of performance, who realize that what happens happens here, now, only, and has a special non-reproducible magic, this lack of guarantee is familiar. People whose art involves improvisation also experience this. I think the world is subtly, or not so subtly, shifting--what we think is real is shifting. An Australian artist at Siggraph told how he was taken to task by some Northern Europeans for having overly bright colors in his digital works, that looked to them artificial. In fact it was a digital photograph that he had held up in front of the very beachfront photographed, and people looking on were fooled by it. The Europeans' idea of visual reality had been trained by the smog they always saw through. Each of us has our own material reality, very specific, in this sense. Our audiences are increasingly available over a huge network that has its own emergent behaviors. Artists and poets need to understand a lot more about each of those truths.

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