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Helen Sword’s 2009 web sonnet, “Arachne” is an homage to the mythological encounter of Athena and Arachne. The contrasting stances of human and mortal are set against visuals of green leaves and spiders, with language forming the webbed pattern between them.
The poem advances as the reader clicks on the spiders, the heart of the web, or hovers the cursor over their forms, thereby navigating between either Arachne or Athena’s points of view. For those who might have trouble traversing the poem itself, there are links at the bottom of the page that allow for a full text view of the work as well as an audio version.
Parallel sonnets play out the engagement between these two not simply through its alternating viewpoints, but also by the fact that both sonnets repurpose the same words in the creation of their rhyme scheme. The sonnets are therefore written to be responsive to each other, as well as responsive to the viewer’s navigation of the text. And although a surface reading of the sonnets suggests a direct contrast between Arachne and Athena, the use of the second person also indicates this same interaction being played out between the reader and the author/text. The work playfully indicates that the reader and the author are weaving a new web between them, and therefore underlines the digital nature of the e-poem.