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This work is a kind of hypertext edition of Langston Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” contextualizes the poem by placing it in conversation with historical and biographical events, culture, music, poetry, visual arts, and its publication history.
Its interface is simple (though unexplained): when you click on an image of a line from the poem on the “Arriving” column the image changes to one from a different printing of the poem, displaying its date on the left, and loading a random set of lines and images on the “Departing” column. Each date brings up a scanned image of the print publication as a visceral lesson on the impact of the materiality and socialization of texts, as Jerome McGann demonstrated in The Textual Condition. The lines and images in the “Departing” column are excerpts from other materials— clicking on them brings up an image, text, or embedded video (note: currently works best in Chrome) beneath the column. The title links to an “About” page, which is a scholarly short article that goes into detail on the contexts, inspiration, and theory that informs the work.
This digital re-reading — operating as both a detourned archive and an artistic re-imagining — puts the many editions of Hughes’ poem in direct contact with a constellation of images, texts and voices that respond to its call.
If the Emancipation Proclamation is in the National Archives in Washington DC, where is Langston Hughes’ poem? It survives in versions, editions, printings, copies, recordings, web pages, and more, each one imparting form and context to the work. Each production and reproduction is a performance, waiting for a reader to make it come to life with their own reception performance. The poem is in those interactions between text and reader, writer, editor, and text.
Moore and Trettien have crystallized their scholarly reading of the poem in this creative edition of the work, leveraging technologies and resources available to them in 2009 and encoded into the work’s materiality. This is e-poetry as editorial scholarship in the age of the Digital Humanities.