Komninos Zervos Reviews Papertiger #3

13 May 2004

Papertiger New World Poetry #3 (CD-ROM for PC)
Paul Hardacre & BR Dionysius (eds)
papertiger media, Brisbane, 2003

The third CD-ROM of poetry has been released by Papertiger Media and yet again presents the work of many of Australia's finest contemporary poets. As well, the Editors have included an eclectic array of international contributors from Canada, Finland, the UK, the USA and Australasia. More interestingly it is the expanded use of the new digital format of this collection i.e. the CD-ROM.

The CD-ROM accommodates many different forms or representations of poetry and many different ways of seeing, hearing or experiencing the poets, and a very efficient way of presenting a mixed collection of different representations of poetry. The end-user can read poetry from a two dimensional surface, as in print; hear the poet sound their work as a reading or song, as in audio recordings; see poets sounding their work or watch words as they act out their roles in the cyberspace of three dimensional environments, as in video recordings; or interact with poems and determine their direction or outcome.

Although most print reviews of multimedia/digital products always come down to the reviewer's reasons for their preference for print. The Courier-Mail's Phil Brown reviewed papertiger #3 and spent the whole of the article in defending his dislike of accessing poetry via computer and CD-ROM and making the argument that the book will survive this technology as it has survived radio, movies, television, video etc. But the purpose of this review is not to defend the new digital technologies against the more traditional print published literary products with which we have become most comfortable.

The fact is that some contemporary Australian poets and their counterparts in other countries are embracing the digital technologies. The new technologies have caused personal virtualizations or re-thinking of what poetry is in this new medium; caused us to re-ask many of the questions of the ideas domain of poetry; and produced new actualizations that have been realised as digital poetries rather that print or spoken word poetries.

Papertiger #3 allows the wide range of possible representations of poetry presented side by side in one product, and also the publication of certain poems that cannot be published in print. As such it is a much truer representation of the range of poetries that constitute contemporary poetry than is possible in the more traditional media of print, audio and video. But the argument is not between print and digital or analog versus digital at all; one does not judge a meal by the plate it is served on, but the quality of the food on the plate, and in papertiger #3 there is a delectable feast of poetry, and poets; a multicultural smorgasbord of contemporary poetic representations.

Comparing Papertiger #3 with the collections from previous years, Papertiger #1, 2001, and Papertiger #2, 2002, we find a growth from year to year, a progression in the way digital technologies are being used by contemporary poets.

In Papertiger #1 of over 100 poems there were only 2 video poems and 7 audio poems. The video poems of Patricia Smith and Quraysh Ali Lansana were temporally fixed linear cinematic representations of the poems being read, the moving image mirroring the sounded text. The audio tracks were either musically unaccompanied soundings of poems by Michelle Leggott, or poems read to background music by Wanda Phipps. Mike Ladd on the other hand presented a piece where the drum beats and words together created a different and outstanding aural experience.

Papertiger #2 greatly expanded the kinds of digital representation possible. Flash software technology was used to create animated linear temporally-fixed poetry by Jayne Fenton Keane and her programming partner, so too did Sara Moss. Here words image and sound combined to create the poems. These poems need to be read with a mixture of semiotic systems for their interpretation. They were not texts supplemented or decorated by visuals or sound as in Papertiger #1, these works utilized sight, sound and motion in their telling.

The audio poems were more sophisticated, Dan Donahoo and Ian Mc Bryde exploring the use of sampled sounds and words and beats more closely in synch to create an aural experience beyond that of a straight sounding. Wayne Wolfson used sound manipulation of his own voice to create a sharp atmosphere and once again voice and music worked together not to make song but to create a richer textual experience. Mike Ladd's contribution introduced a concept of collaborative authorship that has become possible and popular on the web. His written text was read by random passers-by and then mixed with other sound samples and finally outputted as a sonic collage by Newaural Net. One could definitely detect a greater number and variety of uses of digital technology in Papertiger #2. The successive Papertigers document a development in this area of poetic representation.

As for the poetry that Papertiger #3 contains, Brown commented that 'The ultimate effect of playing this CD-ROM is of entering a somewhat anti-authoritarian subculture' and that the collection of poets selected reflected the view of the editors that poetry was 'a “beat” literary form, existing outside the mainstream'. The implication that this collection of poets fell outside the mainstream was unfortunately the extent of his analysis. That Brown thinks he can know what is the mainstream in a poetic culture that embraced a more pluralist attitude in the 1980s alerts one to his prejudices. Prejudices that are as evident as a simile. If we only consider the poems contained in the CD-ROM presented as text on a flat surface, as in print, we see that Brown is wrong in labeling them 'beat' in style and sentiment.

It is true that many Australian poets favour the line/breath style of 'the beats' and the 'black mountain' projected verse poets, particularly the poets that have developed in the spoken word poetry scene. But there are also poets like Luke Beesley, Laurie Duggan, Jill Jones. Michael Sariban, Patricia Sykes, and John Tranter who write more like the New York school poets using line breaks to unsettle the flow of meaning, to create spaces for the reader to add to the poem, to create unpredictability and surprise. Even more so are the poets who write in the style of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, that actively subvert meaning and use parataxis to clash two thoughts in a line leaving the reader to supply the links between text, even within a line.

Michael Farrell's Dust a striking example of this:

yourself off the unsold vases my dad
saying nuances in the
dark dark the “kiss like the end
of the city lights you give
him) bruce a Movie don't worry I've

and more prevalent amongst the Americans like Barbara Jayne Reyes, Larry Sawyer, Amy Trussell and A. Di Michelle.

As well Papertiger #3 introduces poets who are incorporating computer language and symbolism into poetry. Australian trail-blazer Mary Anne Breeze and Finnish Jukka-Pekka Kervinen provide excellent examples of how the intertwingling of two languages can create alternate pathways through texts.
In this poem RE:OPPO.S[ABLE].I.T[HUMBS]ION!!_Mez (as she is known on-line), intervenes in words to make words within words, tangential journeys to the linearity of the text;

Exe.cut[up]able statements
::do knot a p.arse r.make

In Papertiger #3 the Features section showcases an established Australian poet Gig Ryan, poetry editor of The Age; a relatively un-acknowledged Australian poet, Ted Nielson; and a section on poets from the USA introduced by Michael Rothenberg. As well as published and yet to be published poetry there is an interview with each featured author and Gig Ryan even sings some of her poems, yet another representation of sounded poetry. However the songs tend to tie the interpretation of the words down to one interpretation, ie that of the singer.

For the listener, if you do not like the way the words are being sung then there is no incentive to ensure the words are processed independently of the song. Papertiger #3 also goes one step further that Papertiger #2 by introducing the 'interactive' flash poem, that is not temporally fixed, that the end-user decides exactly how long the experience will be, can physically intervene to change the direction of the poem, and is much more active in the making of the pathway through the text and in making the meaning.

Jason Nelson of Oaklahoma, who now resides and teaches at the Gold Coast, is an internationally acknowledged 'CyberPoet', and his programming and poetics are challenging the way we think of literature on the web and in digital environments.

All in all the CD-ROM is a great slice of Australian and World poetic activity, representative of active poets in all forms of representation of poetry. The collection is well worth its price and I feel will be a collector's item in years to come as the format and editorial choices made are, as the editors claim, innovative and most of all appropriate to what poetry might be today.

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About Komninos Zervos

Komninos Zervos earnt a living as a touring performance poet from 1985 to 1995, taking his poetry to schools, community groups, hotels, music venues, prisons, coffee lounges and universities, radio and television and the internet. He has published two adult collections of poetry with UQP, komninos and komninos by the kupful, a collection of poetry for children illustrated by Peter Viska and published by Oxford University Press, the baby rap and other poems, and a hard cover illustrated children's picture book published by Harper Collins, high street, kew east.


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