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This award-winning Web documentary about a short-lived mining town in Canada made the 2011 New Media Writing Award shortlist. A masterful, lovingly produced piece is challenging to categorize in terms of genre: is it a video (its interactivity and born-digital ontology make it difficult to label as “film”), memoir, narrative, poem, or an artistic website? As a multimedia work (using audio, video, text, images) that requires multimodal engagement (reading, listening, viewing, interaction) from its audience, it is fittingly multi-generic.
So to approach this work as poetry is to focus on a particular use of language that enters into a conversation with poetic conventions and tradition. In this case, we could argue that by virtue of having its language cut into lines, even when mostly at the service of telling a story (see image above), can be considered free verse. Some might suggest that it is simply prose formatted to share the screen-space with the other visual and interactive elements of the work, but there are many instances of tactical line breaks in the work that show a deliberate engagement with how language is shaped by verse (see example below).
The first four lines in this excerpt establish a visual and syntactic rhythm, if not metrical or otherwise aural, that reinforces a moment of lyrical reflection. The second stanza returns to narrative mode and the language is more prosy (though not prosaic) but deliberately so, using enjambment to de-emphasize the line break. Part of the appeal of this piece is its lyrical reflection on the topic of memory, people, and place and it is powerfully used in conjunction with narrative and visual and aural elements to move its audience.
As you experience this remarkable born-digital documentary, consider whether poetry is a means or an end in digital media art.
Featured in New Media Writing Prize 2011