Close Reading “Marble Springs 3.0” by Deena Larsen (part 3 of 4)

Close Reading “Marble Springs 3.0” by Deena Larsen (part 3 of 4)

This hypertext epic about the lives of the inhabitants of Marble Springs, a fictional gold rush town in Colorado is an ambitious project 25 years in the making. For the past two entries, I have focused on issues of publication, obsolescence, documentation, and representation of her creative vision. This entry will examine a character’s page / lexia / node— Mandy Turner’s—analyzing its design, poetic language, and link structures.

The page design contains information organized in the following sections: “what we know,” a poem about the character, an image of the 2.0 HyperCard node, footnotes, “Connections,” a “Portal” (sources and links to other character’s relations to certain objects), and tags for the page. See the image above and below for screenshots of the page (split in half).

As may become immediately apparent, the structure and logic of a wiki pervade this version of Marble Springs. This type of Web 2.0 authoring system, made famous by Wikipedia, produces a community managed databases with entries, version histories, commentary, and metadata. In this version, Mandy Turner is not just a character, but an entry in what could be called the Marble Springs Encyclopedia (in a move which resonates with Jorge Luis Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,”). The contrast between the logic of the online wiki and that of the pre-Web authoring software HyperCard. Here’s the image of the same node in Marble Springs 2.0, as embedded in the node:

The 2.0 version is much more graphical in its representation and is metaphorically close to the library card catalog— an analog database. Each card in the Marble Springs 2.0 stack is divided into title, text, margins, and bibliography, and offers a variety of tools with icons on the left hand column. Consider how the Wikidot-powered 3.0 version has everything in one page, and a very text-based one at that, but also has an elaborate categorization and tagging system, including a tag cloud in the left sidebar. Technology has come a long way since the late 1980s, and yet the sophistication and powerfully programmable functionality of HyperCard hasn’t really been matched. Is functionality the price to pay for front-end ease of use and graphical interfaces?

It seems like Larsen’s design choices favor creating an encyclopedic archive of the original because “nothing represents what hypercard can do (hidden buttons, transitions from screens, shifting screens)” (from an e-mail to me). The text of the poem is squeezed into a tight column by the image of the 2.0 version, which affects the intended line breaks, but leaves the original text at a readable size. Therefore the whole 3.0 entry feels like an archival version of 2.0, including a transcript of the original text (one that includes links) and a new categorization layers and tools (such as a search engine).

Having described most of the overall page design, I will focus some attention on the text of the poem to identify some of Larsen’s poetic technique.

Striking Silver

After Will died in the third
explosion at the Sugar Boy mine,
Mandy thought of her four children
and the dollar-a-week piecework
she could get from Cole’s store.                  5
She donned Will’s overalls and
went to Old Joe Cattering
asking for the job.
Billie Rose went with her
into the miners’ dry shack1                          10
to change before each shift,
and Mandy singlejacked2
in the dripping dark,
placing her blows carefully
under the low shimmering                            15
of a single candle.
Her thoughts melted into a prairie hen
she found once after
a Kansas blizzard—
her chicks stuffed under its dead wing,        20
stiff with care.

A reader unfamiliar with Marble Springs landing on this poem gets a deceptively straighforward narrative poem in free verse. Its lines have strong enjambment to keep the narrative flow, varying with occasional complete phrases to create lines that punctuate moments of lyric intensity. Notice the difference between the straightforward storytelling in the first eight mostly open lines and how lines 9-16 are mostly closed to slow down the narrative flow and emphasize the moment. To further draw attention to Mandy’s situation, she ends lines 10-15 with near-rhymes: “shack” “shift” “singlejacked” and “dark” are quite similar, resonating in the ear with alliterative words (/sh/) and voiceless stops /t/ and /k/, while the 3-syllable words “carefully” and “shimmering” are both dactyls following the rhyming “blows” and “low.” To deepen the pathos of the situation, the alliteration in the hopeful title, with its crisp sibilants ( “Striking Silver”) clashes brutally with the only other alliteration in the poem: the misery of working in the “dripping dark” by the light “of a single candle” (note the internal rhyme). To lend further support to the situation, Larsen’s mostly nonmetrical lines lull us into focusing on the story, only to burst into brief patterns of regularity, as she does with spondees in line 10 & 11 “dry shack” and “each shift,” dactyls in lines 14 & 15 and the final line of the poem “stiff with care,” which I cannot help but read with three strong stresses, given the devastating analogy Mandy sees between her situation and that of the prairie hen.

One e-literary device is yet unaccounted for in this close reading: the link. Every linked word (and I’ve preserved the links to the wiki in the quote above) create a connection between a word and a person, place, situation, or more. While some links lead to background information, or further narrative contexts, other links can be understood as a literary allusions, analogies, metaphors, symbols, ironic counterpoints, contrasts, or more. We cannot help but notice the irony between Mandy’s and Billie Rose’s inverted narrative trajectories, or see how the candle and the prairie hen lead to very different contrasts in tone.

An interface used to explore the links extracted from the poem forms a kind of metadata poem by itself with rich juxtapositions, found at the bottom of the page:

Portal caption and links

A drawing of miner swinging a pickaxe at a rock face, her long hair bound in a braid back. /
Edith Gaylor on the pickaxe as she would have used it
Bridget O’Shanty on the rock face to chisel away sorrows
Zandra Miller on the head as she also used her head to survive.
Billie Rose Cattering on the body for protection
Caroline Croft on the lamp for lamp light in another difficult situation.

I could wax eloquent on how each line begins with the name of one of the women whose stories Larsen evokes with poems just as compressed as Mandy Turner’s, but I prefer to send you on the path of discovery. A good starting point is Deena Larsen’s recommendations for studying Marble Springs, which provide a set of questions and pointers that are revealing of her intentions for the piece and lead towards insight.

There are riches to be found in Marble Springs. Go visit, mine a few texts, and leave your mark in the history of this fictional town.