Tag Archives: Poetry

Review – Tao: The Tranquility of the Surreal

The Tranquility of the Surreal
by Sophia M.

“Tao” is a short cinematographic Flash poem, created by Alan Sondheim and Reiner Strasser, that combines film, poetry and limited interactivity with haunting, melodic music to create a surreal yet soothing meditative experience. By utilizing the strengths of the work’s three individual elements to create cohesion and mood, “Tao” presents an ethereal moment that is simultaneously haunting, peaceful, beautiful and surreal.

“Tao” consists of three main elements: two screens playing the same 38 seconds of film, a short poem, and an audio track. The film shows identical views of Great Salt Lake in Utah (and in the distance the shores of Antelope Island) as viewed from the window of a moving vehicle. Both films feature an animated element of a large, amorphous, disk-like shape (comprised of fragmented frames of the film) that floats, pivots and undulates across the screens. As the film plays, a red line scrolls beneath the screens and slowly reveals the three lines of a short poem. As the words unfold, the reader can interact with the video, rotating both films so that the road either slopes into itself, away from itself, or progresses in tandem. The separate elements of film and text are united by the work’s soundtrack, which consists of a shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and faint, ghostly singing.

Taken separately the individual elements of poetry, film and song are strong enough to stand as complete pieces on their own, however, it is the seamless melding of these fractions that makes “Tao” a truly impressive work. The Taoist idea of existing in harmony is exemplified by the way the three media mesh together to form a cohesive whole, and the perfect balance allows the work to achieve a moment of tranquility that is unusual for the often frenetic, overwhelming medium of electronic literature.

As a meditative, transient moment, “Tao” is a success, however, the overall tranquility does not mean that “Tao” lacks conflict. Chaos and violence are suggested within the text of the poem, creating a dichotomy between the meditative balance of the form and the hostility of the content. Explosions are suggested in the text “earth blown out to stars,” however, far from being grisly, there is a serene acceptance of the chaos, as if it takes place in another place and time. The surreal quality of the film and the haunting tone of the music denude “Tao” of a firm grounding in reality, allowing it to escape into the realm of the surreal, further achieving the effect of an otherworldly calm.

Though short in length, “Tao” is a strong poetic work that functions within a realm of dualities that are simultaneously placid and violent, realistic and surreal. Running along the highway of a haunting melodic soundscape, “Tao” delves deep into the poetry not only of words, but also of images and sounds. Uniting elements of video, text and song, “Tao” achieves the difficult task of balancing poetic tranquility with concepts of destruction and disillusionment, creating an idyll moment of digital calm that is a pleasure to watch and absorb.

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ELC Review 2- Urbanalities

Urbanalities is a non-interactive piece of electronic literature depicting the nature of urban life. Authors Babel and Escha take an antagonistic view which touches on major issues of urbanization including, discrimination, stresses of everyday living, life on the streets, loose morals, and consumerism. Each of these issues is poetically illustrated throughout eight separate scenes that are just absorbed as would a movie or television show. Urbanalities is set up like a comic strip with the addition of movement and sound. It makes you think twice about the developed world.

Urbanalities is an engaging piece from start to finish. It’s made appealing through the use of bold colours and images as well as a soundtrack that is appropriate and ties in seamlessly with the piece. Each scene describes a different issue, and with that a different vibe that many urban dwellers can relate to or have witnessed. Unlike many of the other non-interactive pieces of the ELC1, Urbanalities is easy enough to understand and successfully maintains the attention of the viewer.

Along with the positive aspects of urbanization, come many downfalls which are highlighted in this piece using the bold colours, images and sound mentioned above. It forces the individual to re-access their own life with regards to the major downfalls and raises questions such as “Am I contributing to these problems?” and “What can I do to stop this?”. After engaging in this piece, the viewer feels encouraged to slow down and not get caught up in all these pitfalls of urban life.

Urbanalities is well put together, bold, clear and memorable. When compared to man of the other pieces, Urbanalities gets its’ message across clear to the viewer. It seems professionally put together and is therefore more interesting to the viewer. The print moves quickly but it repeats to connect the idea. Another great feature of the piece is the bar at the top of the screen which allows the viewer to backtrack at their own discretion. The only issue that the viewer may have with this piece is that it’s quite lengthy, and with no pause button their attention needs to remain on the screen for the full ten minutes.

Overall this is a very entertaining piece of electronic literature. The authors’ antagonistic views on urban living come across in a very engaging medium. It’s not very often that we as a society are forced to sit back and really contemplate how we live. Urbanalities effectively embodies the problems of modern, urban society in a bold, entertaining and thought-provoking format which keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end.

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Finding Synergy in Electric Poetry: A Reader’s Journey


A Review of Tao, authored by Reiner Strasser and Alan Sondheim

Reiner Strasser and Alan Sondheim’s entry, Tao, is a self described “interactive cinematographic Flash piece”. Tao opens with two matching videos, one brown and one green, shown concurrently, which are referred to by the authors as mirrors on a vehicle. In both videos, a flag flies over the ground towards a distant island acknowledged by Strasser and Sondheim as Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. The videos are accompanied by Japanese flute music. As the videos progress, a short poem is unveiled slowly by a red cursor underneath the visuals:

“earth blown out to stars

stars blown down to earth by fast cars

baghdad and addresses of the invisible”

There are three interactive controls: underneath each video is a control that allows the reader to change the direction and flow of the flag. The third control allows the reader to begin the poem again. To watch the entire poem unfold takes 38 seconds; when the reader restart the poem, the cursor moves backwards, deleting the words before beginning again.

As I have admitted in previous comments on this blog, I have issues with a some of the pieces of the Electronic Literature Collection (ELC), Volume 1, as I have tended to judge them based on construction value and enjoyability. My immediate thoughts about this piece were, “Dueling screen savers and Spa Utopia soundtrack #7.” But my perception has changed after a discussion in class about what “literature” means, and after reading the reviews of some of the pieces from the ELC from other students. I have decided to make a concerted effort to shake the cynicism that is not allowing me to connect with the pieces. Just as the one of the concepts of Taoism is having an active and holistic conception of the world, I have decided to take an active and holistic approach to my review of this electronic poem and not regard it as “parts” to be compared and weighed but rather its merits as a whole.

Re-watching this poem with a fresh perspective made me realize that the poem is actually quite effective. Tao translates loosely in English as “way” or “route”, which nicely corresponds to the movement of the flags in the video. Even when the reader changes the direction of the wind in the video, the flag still moves along the same path. The reader can only see the journey through the reflections of the vehicle mirrors, maybe illustrating that the route one choses is sometimes only clear when reflecting on where one has come from. There is also a sense that the journey never ends, as the reader can restart the poem over and over again, still aiming for Antelope Island, but never reaching it. The use of Flash animation to convey this is very useful to the atmosphere of the poem, which, at least to me, conveyed a sort of mystical road trip (“fast cars”), a sense of uncontrolled movement from one place to another (“blown out/blown down”), and the idea that one can’t see what is ahead of them, the future, only the path that has lead them to this point (“addresses of the invisible”).

This poem by Strasser and Sondheim was an excellent place to start my attempt to end my struggle with electronic literature. I just needed to hit the restart button to find the poem was more than a sum of its parts.


Jordan Harbord


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E-lit, the Final Frontier.

Brendan Brooks

It’s hard, it’s confusing, it’s annoying at times, so why read electronic literature at all? We can all remember back to when we were first read to. Books like Where the Wild Things Are taught us not to fear monsters, Mr Pines Purple House taught us to accept differences and the adventures of Whinny the Poo gave us an imaginary literary friend. Then we started to read to ourselves. Picking our way through the leveled readers until we became comfortable with books that had no pictures. Slowly as we worked our way through reading books became lees and less scary. We were taught the rules and how it worked. Learned that stories usually have a hero and a villain, and we were comfortable. Continue reading

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[theHouse] Has A Life Of Its Own

By Julie Lam

Mary Flanagan’s [theHouse] is an interactive digital poetry piece that exposes the dissension between two people. The work begins with an orderly arrangement of white boxes. Gray cubes accompanied by lyrical couplets gradually emerge within this collection. The lines vary and repeat in designated areas, separating the now irrational clutter into fairly coherent areas which mimic rooms in a house. The text changes with user interaction. If dragged, the entire assortment distorts and swivels on an erratic axis. The piece eventually dissipates with time and reverts back to its original colorless state.

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“Faith” in Electronic Literature

By Brendan Brooks

The kinetic poem “Faith” is meant to mirror the development of mankind’s faith. The piece starts with an illuminated Faith at the top of the screen. Like within our lives, the word faith remains ever present throughout the piece. The poem then is showered by logic. Normally logic is the one thing that can challenge faith. Faith is a belief in something that exists outside of logic and truth. It is a belief based off of experience and emotion. So naturally as logic literally begins to rain down upon our faith, faith remains unaltered. Continue reading

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Nio – Chris Wilcox

Nio: The Audio Tool

By Chris Wilcox

The literary-audio piece Nio is a very short, interactive sound board written and designed by Jim Andrews. Through the use of visual and audio elements, the user experiences their own “poem” that they create based on a limited number of sound selections. To do this, the user plays up to six different sounds at any given time in verse one and four sounds in verse two. The first verse is shown to the user in the form of a circle with several symbols made up of jumbled letters. Each time the user clicks on a symbol it plays a short, recorded “be-bop” like tune which is Andrews’ own voice. In addition to the sound being played, the letters in the symbol selected fly through the center of the circle in a repetitive manner.

While Nio is very fun to play with, I felt that there was a lack of poetry in Andrews’ work. Arguably one might say that the poetry aspect of Nio is in the work as a whole rather than just the sounds. Simply put, the programming by Andrews coupled with the user’s input, creates the poem. This view is shared in the first paragraph of the ELC’s mini introduction about Andrews. The introduction states that Nio is a form of visual poetry which challenges the user to think of literature as something which is not just confined to the world of “words and lines”. Though Nio may be classified as such a work, I did not see it as a leading example.

To me Nio seemed more like that of a neat tool which allows anyone to turn their keyboard and mouse into a music making paintbrush. Andrews even claims in the “About” section of Nio that his goal in this work, as well as previous works, was to be able to create a simple and easy online music making platform through computer programming. In Andrews’ explanation and biography he repeatedly brings up the importance of coding and it’s relation to poetry. While I see the point Andrews is trying to make, I argue that something as simple as a web page or those annoying Flash advertisements could then be looked at as poetry. Both the web page and the advertisement share the same basis as Nio which would be the programming language. Furthermore, they have some sense of interaction and audio or visual experience. Because so many other electronic works out there share such a similar basis, I cannot agree with the idea that Andrews’ works are part of literature.

While the ELC classifies Nio as poetic and literary, I argue that it is just a tool for individual use and leisure. Due to the fact that all of Andrews’ works linger on the border between poetry and programming, I find it hard to fully classify Nio as a poem. Though it is definitely worth taking a look at, someone expecting to glean a deeper meaning out of it will be highly dissatisfied.

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