Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Poetry and Hyperlinks

At Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand there is a three-dimensional maze. At each of its four corners there is a tower - the red tower, the blue tower, the green tower and the yellow tower. The object of the maze is to visit each of the four towers and then find one's way to the finish. But just as you think you are nearing a corner, you are confronted by a flight of steps, and an overhead bridge which suddenly takes you to the opposite side of the maze, well away from where you thought you were heading.

Hyperlinks can do that. This week at readwritepoem Juliette suggested we write poetry with hyperlinks in it. She gave the example of her poetry in which she will often link the name of a British bird, which might be unfamiliar to an overseas reader, with a website which gives an image of the bird.

I could do that, of course. I could put hyperlinks in my poetry to elucidate some of the words I use - local usage or New Zealand slang that might be unfamiliar with my readers. There are two problems with that. One, of course, is that I could equally well put the information in a footnote. (Less so, for an image which may be copyright, so Juliette's idea of a link is a good one).

The other aspect that I don't like is that it leads the reader away from the poem, and the only way to return is the "back" button. To truly use the possibilities of hyperlinks as an integral feature of the poem, I'd like to see something a bit more essential. Something that is as much a part of the poem as the overhead bridges are a part of the maze. The trouble is that to do it, I would really need my own website rather than trying to do it within the confines of a blog. I envisage a poem in which a line or stanza has two or three hyperlinks for the reader to choose from. Each would lead to a different line or stanza with two or three more links. These would lead further, and further... I imagine an intricate, branching network, so that each time the poem is read, it would be a different poem. Apart from not having my own website, the other reason for not having tried this over the past week is that it would be a lot more work than writing one of my usual poems which are rather short. But it certainly has me thinking.

Someone who has explored the possibilities of new media, and hyperlinks in particular, is Hazel Smith, who discusses them in her book The Writing Experiment. There is a website associated with this book, where The City and the Body an example of this sort of poem can be found. It's well worth taking a look at.

Since I didn't write a hyperlinked poem, I thought I would write one using the words from the Wordle at readwritepoem. And then nothing came - until this afternoon. So, it is rather rushed, but here is my first draft (currently untitled). Words used were fence, jetty, carve, sediment, mosaic, slither.

There's a hill in it. There's a house
with a white fence, and a city at the foot of the hill
and a harbour on the other side. There's a small bay
and a jetty that carves a slice across the water.

There are memories in layers of sediment.
Here we are, digging again. We might find
a fossil skeleton, whole and complete.
More likely, a mosaic of broken shards
that we don't quite know how to piece together.
Or tidal ooze, that will not hold our weight.
We sink in, held fast, while unnamed creatures
slither at the water's edge.


Ana said...


First, amazing visuals for memory as layers in a familiar environment.

Second, it is called hypertext poetry and I guess the idea is that the poem is part of a wider context and hyperlinking re-places the art work in its context. It is a little more complex, as you noticed, than our readwriteproject...

Dana said...

I love the sense of place and discovery you create in this piece. I can't believe it's from a Wordle. Nicely done.

Wayne Pitchko said...

I agree,,nicely done for the hyperlink...i agree with you I think...but...i dont know how to hyperlink anyways

Andy Sewina said...

Cool poetry and an informative little article to boot!

James said...

Love the poem. You paint a vivid picture.

I tried the hyperlinking and went with hyperlinking every word, just letting myself free-associate. It was an interesting exercise. You make good points, though, about the links taking the reader away from the poem rather than deeper into it.