P.o.E.M.M. = Poems for Excitable Mobile Media

Hello Netartery! Jason Edward Lewis here. I’ve been working on digital texts and electronic poetry for a couple of decades, and I teach in the Computation Arts program at Concordia University in Montreal.

Jim invited me to contribute to this blog, and I thought it appropriate that my first post be an invitation to you all to check out Speak, my first art/poem app. It just went live on the iTunes app store: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/speak/id406078727?mt=8#ls=1.

Speak is the mobile version of What They Speak When They Speak to Me. It works on all i-devices, but looks best on the iPad.

This is the first publication in our Poems for Excitable Mobile Media series. P.o.E.M.M. is a research/creation project looking at how to write and implement poetry designed for touch interaction on mobile devices. It’s an attempt to sketch out the space of possibilities for a poetic structure that incorporates dynamic, interactive and tactile strategies as a core component of the writing process and presentation.

Give it swing, let me (j@jasonlewis.org) know if there are any technical glitches.

3 Responses to “P.o.E.M.M. = Poems for Excitable Mobile Media”

  • Thanks, Jason, and welcome to netartery. I’ve updated the bio page at http://netartery.vispo.com/?page_id=173 to include yours among the other writers writing netartery.

    I’ve also looked at the video of “What They Speak When They Speak to Me”. The title, of course, reminds me of the Raymond Carver story title “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. He wrote just across the water from where I live, could see his lights from here across the dark ocean, beautiful light.

    I note an awareness, in your title, of the subtle but crucial difference between ‘talking about’ or ‘speaking about’ something versus simply ‘speaking’ something. Your title is not ‘What They Speak About When They Speak About Me’ (which is more a Psycho III title) or ‘What They Speak About When They Speak To Me’ (which is more paranoid or challenged) but “What They Speak When They Speak To Me”. The emphasis on ‘aboutness’ is not present–except insofar as one can barely speak something without also speaking *about* something–if, for no other reason, than that we interpret how speech represents other things even when the speech is meaningless syllables pronouncing affect alone.

    I can see how the title relates to the video–though it would be great to have a net version of the interactive piece. But maybe it wouldn’t work as well as mouse interactive rather than touch interactive. I don’t have an iThing of any sort.

    However, the video and pics are quite strong as persuasive documentation. It was hard to tell, though, whether the text spoke ‘about’ anything. One infers it doesn’t, really, because if it did, the title would be different.

    Still, I suppose part of the point of it is that what we see in the video shows it being an interesting, engaging language experience, and/or experience of/with/through/amid/between langu(im)age(s) of letters and visual/artistic-moving-and-related-elements–in some sense, sometimes the letters almost cease being letters so much as visual/artistic-elements-in-process.

    Almost makes me go get an IThing, Jason. But it definitely does make me want to experience it on one–or on the big screen. I’ll have to get a friend with an iThing to get the app. I see it costs $0.99. Cool.

    Do you think it would work OK as a mouse interactive piece on the net?

    You describe the piece thus:

    “What They Speak When They Speak to Me is a poem about mistaken identity and the confusion–-amusing and alarming–-that happens when people believe you are somebody you are not. Written in the middle of many a travelling adventure, it attempts to capture both the beauty and the difficulty of communicating without much of a common language.”

    It was hard to understand, without experiencing the interactive piece itself, how the piece was about mistaken identity. Is that something that becomes more clear in the actual experience of the piece?

    But the video showed us something about “the beauty and the difficulty of communicating without much of a common language.”

    T.S. Eliot said something like “poetry can communicate before it’s understood”. It can also communicate as a fascinating mixture of letter/word/sentence/subject and, on the other hand (but simultaneously) image/animation/process/string/trace/outline/shape, which seems to be going on in the video and pics of “What They Speak When They Speak to Me”.

    Again, welcome to netartery, Jason, and thanks for the interesting piece.

  • Hello Jason! I downloaded “What They Speak When They Speak to Me” to my iPad and I really enjoyed pulling the strings of text out of the milling crowd of letters. I particularly like the way, depending on which direction you pull, the words appear to be in a foreign language and flip round into English when you change direction. I had a lot of fun with that – translating the backwards sentences before they flip, or holding sentences folded over, hovering between sense and non[-]sense, making the sen[ten]se[s] spin round and round, back and forth, in and out of commonsensical understanding. It’s a lovely metaphor for the state of being somewhere “without much of a common language.”

    To pick up on Jim’s point, I’m not sure I would have perceived that the poem was about mistaken identity either if I hadn’t read the introduction before I experienced the piece. Another thing that puzzled me – the punctuation. One line ends with a semicolon, another with a full stop. This suggests the poem was originally written for the page, or at least, some form of relatively static presentation. As a P.o.E.M.M., the punctuation seems unnecessary, even distracting. Or, in keeping with the theme, did you want to keep the punctuation as a sign that the poem has been translated from one cultural form to another?

    Incidentally, the title also made me think immediately of Raymond Carver’s story.

    I look forward to reading/playing more P.o.E.M.M.s. It certainly is nice to handle/read the text with my fingertips, ambidextrously too.

  • Jason Lewis:

    Thanks, Jim, Christine, for the comments.

    I regret to say that I haven’t read the Carver piece, but it’s now on its way to me via Amazon. I’m interested to see how deeply the resonance goes.

    Both of you commented on how the content of the poem is apprehended through the description and not necessarily through actually reading it. What I struggle with is how to write an interactive/dynamic text that is neither obvious nor game-like. By the latter I mean, ‘if you do x steps m times, and then do y steps n times, you’ll finish the text’. In the same way I’m not excited about having my print poetry ‘solved’ I’m not excited about having these poems ‘solved’. I want the reader to move through the letters, words, lines, to play with them, to try teasing apart the different strands, to always feel like there is more…which is what (good) traditional poetry forces me to do, albeit all in my head.

    However, I often don’t get the balance correct. That may be the case here, that the work does not give the reader enough. It is written/designed the way it is because I felt the effort involved in reading it resonated with the text’s meditation on the effort involved in making myself understood as I travelled around. Yet the line between ‘making the reader/viewer work a bit’ and ‘poorly designed interaction’ is thin; trying to consistently create work on the right side of that line is a major focus of the P.o.E.M.M. series.

    To that end, I was pleased with Christine’s comment “…depending on which direction you pull, the words appear to be in a foreign language…” When we were first prototyping this, we observed that most peoples’ (right-handers, really) first gesture was to pull it in the ‘wrong’ direction. We talked a lot about whether we need to reconceptualize the interaction—until a colleague did it and said “what language is that in?” I thought, “perfect”. That goes directly to the heart of the poem, and so we left it that way.

    Christine’s comment about the punctuation is spot on. Much of the punctuation to moderate rhythm–colons, semicolons, dashes, etc.–doesn’t really belong in a text such as this. The rhythm of the piece has been handed over, to a certain extent, to the reader and manner and pace in which she draws out the text. This is something I’ve been writing about for years so I’m a bit embarrassed that I let it slip through as it traveled from pen to screen.

    A useful bit of context is that we were preparing three distinct versions at once. One was for the iPhone/iPod Touch, one for the iPad and one for a 50″ touchscreen version that is on exhibition at La Biblioteque Nationale here in Montreal. The text for each version is slightly different, the line-breaking is vastly different and the punctuation, as a consequence of modifying the line-breaks, *should* also be quite different. I’ll re-examine the iPad version and push out an update that will hopefully deal with that issue more elegantly. (In another post I’ll write more about the process of rewriting/redesigning the poem for the three different display surfaces.)

    Jim, you asked about a net version. We have it, and I’ll even send you a link to it by email. But it’s only online to provide support material for grant application purposes; it’s not linked from anywhere. Why? Because it falls flat as mouse experience and in a web-browser. The interactive gestures take on a certain depth in the touch versions, whereas they feel brittle with a mouse. Both the installation version and the mobile versions create a focused context for reading, where the browser does not. I realized that I felt the net version was not an acceptable version, and so I’ve hidden it.

    I’ll come back in yet another post to the whole issue of if we should charge, what we should charge, what we’re thinking of charging in the future, limited editions (only 100 or 1000 downloads, and then it gets pulled from the store), etc.

    Thanks again! (I’m off to the in-laws for the weekend; I look forward to reading more comments on Monday.)

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