This award-winning responsive poem focuses on the Australian ghost town Wittenoom, abandoned due to toxic dust caused by asbestos mining. Each of its nine parts focuses on an aspect of the abandoned town and consists of an image from Wittenoom, generally portraying urban decay, an brief looping instrumental audio track, links to other parts of the poem, a title for the section, and a text accessible through different responsive interfaces. A brief parenthetical help text near the bottom left corner of each screen provides encouragement that hints at the interface, promting readers to explore the interactivity and intuit its internal logic. The thematic focus and consistent visual design pull the work together, while the varied interfaces lead to new explorations of the spaces, together producing an experience both jarring and immersive.
This collaborative poem is composed on a “page space” created by Valdeomillos to explore the signal-to-noise-ratio by placing interface, image, and text in a relation by which they create noise for each other. When compared with his collaboration with Lluís Calvo who provided an image and a text that provided a coherent signal, once one had sorted through the noise, we can see Jason Nelson’s goals to be quite different in its strategies and goals.
This collaborative poem places the same text Jody Zellen wrote for “Cut to the Flesh” into a page space designed by Jason Nelson (originally for “Branch/Branch” and “A Tree with Managers and Jittery Boats”). This tree structure is a fascinating way to organize lines of verse because it creates multiple possible readings as the reader opens up branches in the hierarchy. Its cascading effect is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’ variable foot, richly analyzed by Eleanor Berry and many others as follows:
The variable foot has been taken as (1) a temporal unit, each step of a triadic line being equal in duration to every other (Donoghue, Weatherhead, Breslin); (2) a stress-based unit, each step of a triadic line containing a single major stress (Duncan, Hedges); (3) a syntactical unit, each step of a triadic line being a single complete phrase or clause (Solt, Hofstadter); (4) a unit of meaning or attention (Goodman, Hofstadter); (5) a unit of phrasing in reading, the triadic lineation constituting a score for performance (Wagner); and (6) a visual unit (Shapiro, Perloff, Sayre, Cushman).
This collaborative narrative was written by Valdeomillos on a page space developed by Jason Nelson for his poems “Dreamaphage” (the first version) and “Between Treacherous Objects.” This space creates spatial layers with an intuitive navigational interface that allows readers to pan, scan, and move back and forth through layers each of which reveals a portion of the narrative, which is structured by a conversation about memory, photography, past, present, and how much you might know someone that you love. The images, textual arrangements, and layers create clusters of spatially organized language that gesture towards poetry with its lines of verse and stanzas.
Take a look at Jason Nelson’s poems built from this engine and notice how their structure is so different from how Valdeomillos arranges his narrative in this piece, attesting to the versatility of Nelson’s page space.