On May 21, 2009, following his publisher’s suggestion, William Poundstone started his Twitter account. He seemed unsure what to do with it, as evidenced by his second tweet (a month later), in which he described himself as “an impostor pretending to be a Twitter user.” Two tweets later, on August 9, 2009, he found the concept and constraint that was to shape how he used his Twitter account and made his tweeted: “Anagram Movie Review: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS = GO INSULT SERIOUS BRAD.” Three and a half years and 785 tweets later, he is still going strong with this idea, only occasionally varying it with a retweet or posting on a topic of his interest.
This conceptual video poem takes the idea of scheduled presentation to a mind-boggling scale. It consists of 19 lines from the @georgelazenby Twitter feed presented in 5-second loops times its factorial factorial, so upon launching, the first line will play right away (5×0), the second will play after 5 seconds (5×1), the third after 10 seconds (5×2), the fourth after 30 seconds (5×6), the fifth after 2 minutes (5×24), the sixth after 10 minutes (5×120), the seventh after 1 hour (5×720), the eighth after 7 hours (5×5040), the eighth after 2 days and 8 hours (5×40320), the ninth after 21 days (5×362880), and… you get the idea. It not only becomes impractical but humanly impossible, since the time scale continues to grow line by line until it is longer than the age of the universe. Can you keep the computer running continuously for more than the 6 years it takes to reach line 11? How about the 75 years after that to reach line 12?
This series of visual poems use an artistic writerly method developed by Tom Philips for his famous artist book, A Humument. Philips extracted a poetic narrative about a character named Toge— who showed up when the words “together” or “altogether” were present on a page of W. H. Mallock’s Victorian novel A Human Document. Poundstone uses this method to poetically and artistically deconstruct Ann Coulter’s writing, exposing some of the ideological content hidden in her inflammatory prose. The parallels between Mallock’s Victorian sensibilities and Coulter’s conservative insensibility are apparent when juxtaposed with this mash-up, suggesting that she is “a crazy self referential Victorian.”
These four short video poems use language attributed to four persons (or shall I say personalities?): George Kayatta, Ed Leedskalnin, Marie Bashkirtseff, and @georgelazenby. All four of these people were interested in personal media: journal writing, science, and artworks for public consumption: painting, sculpture, poetry, Tweets, etc. Two of them are of uncertain origin: George Kayatta is a self-described Renaissance Man, who attributes many feats and accomplishments to himself, including a translation of the Bible into English in rhyming couplets, and the coining the term “spime.” It is unclear whether the author of the Twitter identity @georgelazenby is George Lazenby, an actor famous for playing the role of James Bond only once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, whose career never quite reached its initial promise (see Lazenby Factor).
These poems were written from 2007-2011, during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Keep this context in mind while reading words attributed to U.S. immigrants whose lives have been characterized by job insecurity, eccentricity, and the fickle nature of notoriety and anonymity. Consider also the impact of the visuals, sounds, and pacing of the language in what is being said.
This poem is inspired on spam (unsolicited commercial mail), the “wars” that have developed around them, their impact on language generated for distribution in digital environments, and the poetry that can result from such dynamics. The poem’s paratext links to a 2002 essay by Graham that proposes “naive Bayesian filters” to identify language patterns in spam and produce effective filters with low false positives. Poundstone notes that the response from spammers was to shift tactics to generating more “poetic” messages, along with mining literary texts for human generated language and language patterns.
This poem has a very clear voice, an “I” whose beliefs are expressed throughout this work, which some readers may interpret as William Poundstone’s (or at least a persona he has created). From the outset, however, Poundstone explains that this poem was created from searches of the words “I believe” with various online engines, and that “Some texts have been recombined using a travesty algorithm.” He also provides a long list of people quoted for this poem in the page titled “Huh?” This subverts the notion of a single voice by acknowledging the multiplicity of sources and people quoted and the transformations potentially applied to the texts.
This suite of three exquisitely paced narrative poems tell stories labelled as allegories of “Genius,” “Ambition,” and “Envy” yet structured as instructions for the design of bottle imps. <—-(This would be the place where I would normally place a link to a resource, but it is unnecessary for this work because Poundstone has put together a meticulously researched and insightful FAQ page.) In this FAQ page, he makes a case for these automata as fitting metaphors for electronic literature, because they are life-like creatures that are animated by mechanisms to produce a looping behavior on a scheduled performance. Indeed, these poems enact the metaphor very well as looping Flash animations used to deliver a narrative through tactical portioning and formatting of a prose text into lines, stanzas, and other visual organizational structures and carefully scheduled delivery of each portion. The careful attention to line structure elevates the prosaic language to poetry, and its scheduled presentation to e-poetry.
Engagingly witty narratives, gorgeous graphic design, and poetic complexity, presented with impeccable timing punctuated with sound— these are works worth savoring.
This poem reads like a riddle in the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition evidenced in Beowulf and the Exeter Book. A common characteristic is for the object to be the speaker describing itself through personification, metaphor, and double entendres (often sexual). This poem certainly has many of these figures of speech, pointing towards something that I will not reveal to avoid reducing interpretations of this puzzling piece.
Published the same year as New Digital Emblems (2000), these four short kinetic poems read like subverted graphic design experiments. The bright monochromatic, textured, shaded, or divided backgrounds contained by a borderless window serve as a stage into which words move in from several directions to form and develop the poems. The electronica inspired sounds punctuate moments in each poem, such as the apparition of words or the twist at the end of “Nil,” also emphasizing the rhythm of the scheduled presentation.
Like many of his books and digital works, Poundstone has researched and thought deeply about the material he is writing about. At a certain level, this work is a series of insightful and well informed essays on art, literature, the OULIPO, Surrealism, mathematics, and so much more. At another, this is a work of digital Web art, assembling graphical and linguistic elements to create emblems— critiquing a tendency in Web design a good decade before the DML “Badges for Lifelong Learning” competition tried to make it hip again. This is also a work that contain brief, yet intense moments of visual poetry in which his language oscillates between the functionally communicative and the visual art of each emblem.
Every layer in this rich work is worth reading carefully. Within the short time frame of the Web, this piece is both timely and timeless.