“5 Haitis” by Simon Kerr

Screen capture from "5 Haitis" by Simon Kerr. The background is a poor village with houses made of wood on a dirt road which passes to the left of the houses and two men crossing each other in the road. One of the men is coming out of the river as he crosses the other guy. A river passes on the right side of the wooden houses. The foreground has three textboxes which has the profile of 2 dark skinned women one in each box and a man on the third one. The third box has unintelligile text. Text on the first box: Daily Chores / We must work hard / Guerda. The Lord / must continue to work and so / must we". Text in the Second box: "Daily Chores".
Open “5 Haitis” by Simon Kerr

This multimedia work about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti breathes life into the natural disaster by allowing readers to explore the stories of three characters who experienced it. The winner of the 2011 New Media Writing prize in the student category, this is a truly a work that arises from the logic of new media writing, seamlessly integrating elements of comics, narrative, cyberdrama, electronic literature, and videogames.

The background is a multi-layered drawing of Haiti that creates a parallax effect when the reader explores it by moving the characters around the screen. Each character is framed by a comics panel and their speech is presented in a scheduled stream of letters until a sentence that fits within the panel is completed. When a character is selected it becomes enlarged as it comes to the foreground and the reader can click on different objects in the background image to get the characters to speak on the subject. The characters can also be placed in conversation by stacking them, providing a comics style cyberdrama that unfolds before the reader. The work itself has two moments: before and after the earthquake— an exposition and an aftermath that is powerful in its iconography.

This is a work that is not poetry as we understand the genre, but it is e-literary in its handling of language in digital media. Considering its scheduled presentation, compositional constraint by the panel space, independent looped scheduled presentation for each character, and responsiveness to pointer click and dragging, I suggest that it is written to allow for both narrative and poetic readings. If you read the work as scheduled one could simply read it for its narrative content, but if you position the three characters in proximity to each other and read across their speech, you will be reading a kind of combinatorial poetic work— a slice of three streams of consciousness that produce novel experiences of the piece.

With “5 Haitis” Kerr has engaged electronic media “as a space of poesis,” thinking through writing in this technology, as described by Loss Pequeño Glazier in his 2001 field-defining book Digital Poetics. Or to cite a more recent expression of this idea by Glazier in a recent e-mail to the E-Poetry community: “[E-Poetry is] not a genre but an ORIGIN … making art as a means of realizing, delight in digital literary invention.”

This is a born digital work by a young writer born in a digital era. In its seamless approach to multimodal writing, traditional genres blend as they become part of a new media writer’s toolbox. This is a taste of the future.

Featured in New Media Writing Prize 2011

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