Transform,Girl, my generative poem, was a fun and unique writing experience! Check it out, and then read my reflections below!!
My generative poem was largely about the idea of naming and the way that names we use to identify people change during different phases of our lives. Specifically, my poem focuses on “nice” names and “mean” names. The names I chose were all names I have been called throughout my life, both good and bad. In some cases, not all the “mean” names are really mean, but in the context of the poem, and in the context they were used, they were intended to hurt. For example, names like “nerd, geek, and lesbian,” are all in the mean names section, even though there is no real problem self-identifying as though names. I wanted my poem to show the impact that naming can have on people throughout their lifetimes, so I chose names that were related to childhood as well as adulthood, like “Sweet pea” and “Lover,” respectively. Some of the names are more like titles, but they still function as an identifier. I picked verbs that would create a sense of tension between the two names, so that the above (nice) names would be split by either a happy or sad verb. The effect was interesting. The nice names would be split by a sad verb and the transformation would be completed by the mean name. For example, “Dearest becomes choke it back you PSYCHO.,” shows the transformation from “Dearest” to “Psycho.” The verb that splits the nouns is forceful and aggressive. The lines that break the transformative sentences often come out sounding hopeful, for example “My Love escape”,and when sandwiched between two transformative sentences the effect is jarring. Alternatively, when a mean name is next to a nice verb, like “LOSER rejoice,” the effect is more harsh. I like the way it came out, alternating between pain and happiness constantly. I wrote the mean names in all caps to make it feel as though someone was yelling while you were reading, and I like the way it separates the mean words from the rest of the poem and makes them jump out from the page. The indented lines show hope and longing, and are combined with varying adjectives that either sound happy or sad. These breaks are intended to show that no matter how much others may try to break you down, there will still be some shred of hope, even if it is convoluted (by odd adjectives.) I also picked very bright, obnoxious colors to make the poem hard to ignore.
I really enjoyed crafting a poem this way. I think it made me have to think of things from new perspectives, because the poem would always generate differently and be seen by different people at different times with different experiences and perspectives. Because of the nature of the generative poem, I had to write it so that it would be accessible to everyone and make sense (for the most part) no matter how it generated. I also had to pay attention to the way the code looked and the structure of how it was written, for example, all of the above words are nice names, all the below words are mean names, etc. I knew some people would be looking at the code to see how it was structured, so I needed to keep it uniform for appropriate poem-telling and meaningful structure. Overall I loved having to think about poetry in a completely new way. I think it will make my future poetry more nuanced because I will be paying attention to more details!
Cybertext may seem like it does not fall under the category of “literature” because it is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of literature. Although cybertext may not be traditional literature, cybertext is not as different than we think. One of the many complaints about cybertext is its level of nonlinearity. Cybertext tends to be different in each reading, but so is any novel! We all bring different perspectives to literature every time we read. According to Epsen Aarseth’s experiences in his chapter on “Ergodic Literature,” many literary theorists say that “all literature is indeterminate, nonlinear, and different for every reading.” (2). Therefore, even traditional literature is indeterminate! Our interpretations may change for each reading, whether we are reading cybertext or a novel. Likewise, readers of cybertext are often more “in control” of their reading experiences. They are able to make choices and understand text differently because of their individual choices. Different readers may take away different meanings. But Aarseth again cites literary theorists who argue that readers of all literature, cyber or traditional, must make decisions to understand the text (2). This is perhaps why, in a classroom setting, students have more than one interpretation of the same novel. Both of these arguments Aarseth rebuts in his chapter, because he says many literary theorists who make these arguments are not well-versed in cybertext, but I think the theorists may be, in some ways, correct. Cybertext is ergodic literature, in the sense that Aarseth defines ergodic as “requiring work,” because it requires the reader, or user, to become a more active participant. But cybertext is still literature. Cybertext falls into another separate facet of the literature umbrella.
So what does the idea of cybertext as literature say about traditional literature? Well, it means that we need to think more critically about how we structure literature and how we view literature as whole. If literature is written in response to our society and what our society finds interesting/important/pertinent, then cybertext is an outpouring of our ever-changing society. Traditional literature is often a reflection of societal shifts (think Dickens and any of his novels written in response to the industrial revolution!), and, if cybertext is ergodic literature, and thus literature, what is cybertext written in response to? According to Lev Manovich in his piece “Cultural Software” software, or what allows us to create things like cybertext, permeates all areas of contemporary society (7). Therefore, the software that helps shape cybertext is necessitated by society. Think about it, our current society is based on fast-paced technologies, so we can’t expect things like literature to remain entirely stagnant and unchanging. In a society where we can build almost anything our minds can create, why wouldn’t we rethink ways to present literature? The software of cybertext directly influences its presentation and structure, so we build cybertext around the software created by society. HTML and JAVA code exists to run webpages, so authors have adapted this code structure to re-imagine poetry and storytelling. Similarly, our society demands customization and individuality, and cybertext offers Aarseth’s ergodic component of reader-driven experiences, making it work seamlessly with the desires of contemporary readers. In a way, cybertext has sprung up before many of us realized we wanted or needed it, much the way any new form of expression begins. Traditional literature may always remain popular, but cybertext meets many of the new desires of our rapidly changing society.
Cybertext may be met with skepticism at first, like any revolutionary invention, but soon I believe it will be considered functional and beautiful literature. Cybertext forces readers to stretch their minds and work for understanding. It keeps readers on their toes and allows for unique experiences. Cybertext can be revisited and may never become stale and expected. It seems cybertext is the quirky new friend, while traditional literature is the old, steady companion. Neither one if better than the other, and they are still friends–they just bring different things to the party!