Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rhinoceri and Faith

When a user first opens “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh,” what they see is not that impressive (see screen shot at right), since all there is a picture of a rhinoceros, the title, author - Millie Niss, and start. After clicking ‘start,’ a new window pops up and traditional Indian music starts to play. Written in pink letters is: “this is the title of the poem” (Niss). As there are no instructions for this poem, the user most likely will wave the mouse around on the page and hear a whole lot of noise. The noises that the user hears are voice recordings of many different sentences. Through all of the noise the user might hear: “by moving the mouse slowly you’ll get more out of it” (Niss), which the sentence that you would hear if the user of the poem placed the cursor over the word ‘by.’ There are other similar words to ‘by,’ that when the cursor is placed over them, they will revel a spoken message. The words are: ‘are,’ ‘is,’ ‘the,’ ‘they,’ ‘it,’ ‘a,’ ‘this,’ ‘you,’ ‘isn’t,’ ‘in,’ ‘an,’ ‘aren’t,’ ‘of,’ and ‘to.’
Another thing that the e-poem does that takes a little time to figure out is that when the cursor goes over different words in the poem, like ‘frogs,’ the user will see other words turn pink, and turn it into a poem. ‘Frogs’ would read: “frogs
legs in butter sauce annoy activists” (Niss), which the user would change ‘frogs’ to frog’s within there mind to show the possession of the legs to the frogs. Different examples of these word choices are shown in the screen shots. Each different word adds a little more to the interactive poem, since the user can create their own poem using the poem created my Niss, just by changing around the order of the way they read the words/sentences or hear them being played.
“The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh” is a hard poem to read from start to finish because of the many different ways that someone might reader the poem. The poem seems to be a lot of nonsense sentences, but yet what one of the words, ‘it’ says, makes sense in the poem, “it sounds like newspaper headlines” (Niss). It is almost as if the speaker of the poem read headlines one day and the poem is the path that their thought process led her to explore. Each of the lines in the poem, whether written or spoken, have a certain music to them that makes the reader want to keep reading, even though it might seem a little abstract. The poem is interesting to the reader in that you never really have to read the same poem twice, because of the changing lines that make up the poem’s identity.
“The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh” is one poem that is a good example of what N. Katherine Hayles says in her essay, “Electronic Literature: What is It?,” “Electronic literature tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re-think our assumptions of what literature can do and be” (Hayles 2). “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh” is a good example because it is not a poem that was written first then put into an electronic setting, it was a first generation e-poem and it challenges its readers to really look deep into its words and meanings and see the “hopeful monster” (Hayles) that is waiting to be found and shared with others. Also it is just waiting for the right time to become a normal, accepted type of literature.

“Faith,” by Robert Kendall, from its opening page (see screen shot at left) is interesting to the reader. It gives the authors description of the poem and how to interact with it, which is very helpful to the reader well experiencing electronic poetry, especially for the first time. Also the opening page has a screen shot from the poem itself, which intrigues the reader to want to know more about the poem. Once the reader clicks ‘begin,’ it brings the reader to the poem’s title page, and after clicking ‘Faith,’ a new window opens with the picture that was on the opening page of the poem. On this new page, the reader can choose to experience the poem with or without music. After clicking one or the other and begin, the poem opens before them.
The poem opens with xylophone notes being played as the word ‘logic’ hits Faith and bounces off of the word/title. The poem, once the words that are in a yellow-orange color fly into the screen, reads: “logic can’t bend this” (Kendall) and at the bottom of the screen (see screen shot at left) is the word “So…” (Kendall), which bring the reader to the next screen. The red-orange words are flown in with accompaniment from a harp to add to the pervious part of the poem: “I edge logic out. Can’t the mind press on around the bend to consummate this vision of the deep ‘or’?” (Kendall). At the bottom of the page says, “Maybe. But…” (Kendall), which leads to the next page where a mixture of violin and horn, music, along with the clicking of a button and something sliding against a rough surface, herald the brownish-red words on to the screen. These words push out some of the other letters and words from the pervious two screens to be able to fit themselves into the poem, as is shown in the screen shot at left.
The next screen has the words appear in black to finish the rest of the five stanza poem. The words come in with a score of sounds from the pervious words coming into the poem: xylophone, harp, violin, and horn. During this addition of words, when some of words that denote leaving like, “walking out,” “leave taking,” “forgoing-going-gone,” and “stride out” (Kendall), the words depart, leaving a faded color of themselves behind. The last word of the poem, as it would be at this point of the poem (screen shot at left)
is ‘Leap,’ which almost literally leaps off of the screen by growing bigger and bigger as it leaves the screen. The final screen is that of most of the words that were on the screen, falling down to the bottom of the screen with xylophone notes flowing them down and having Faith fall gently down on the words at the bottom. The words that are left visible at the end of the poem are: “just to sum up: Faith” (Kendall).
“Faith” is an easier poem to be able to look at, compared to “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh,” because of the text and even though it changes, it moves in such a way that the reader is able to understand, make sense, and follow the poem from beginning to end. The language of the poem, especially the first few words, “logic can’t bend this” (Kendall), hold such power in them. The poem basically is saying that the speaker of the poem can not make sense anymore of the thing events that are taking place around, so they are going to step blindly out of their comfort zone and into the unknown, which holds the things that the speaker is wondering about in their life, why everything happens. This is shown through the lines, “I’ll simply stride out of my mind, press my foot firmly / into the black, all-but-bottomless chasm beyond the brink, / around the bend, off the rocker (yippe!), to leave behind / only this consummate poem, this visionary, incorruptible / transcript of the deeper world’s One True Word: / Leap” (Kendall). The lines tell the reader that the speaker leaps into the chasm, but as the next screen depicts, Faith lands gently on top of the other words that were talking about logic; Faith wins the speaker’s thoughts and heart over logic. This is also shown in the very beginning of the poem, where logic is bouncing off of Faith because logic and faith usually do not coincide with one other when using logic in the scientific meaning.
I feel that the two poems almost have to be in the e-poem format for them to be able to make sense to the reader. “Faith” would be able to be written down and read on a flat piece of paper, but then the reader looses the experience of the words when they are flying about the screen, pushing other letters out of the way, and the sounds that make the poem cute. All of the little ‘extras’ would be lost if it was just written on paper. “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh” has to be shown through the medium of e-poetry because of the interactive nature of the poem and the sound that is present in the poem. Without the interactive nature of the poem, “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh” would just be a bunch of words that do not make that much sense when read together. Also with having it be interactive, the poem keeps going allowing the reader to find new word choices with each mouse movement. The reader of these two poems is better off reading them electronically than on a simple, flat, white page of paper.

Works Cited

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What is It?” The Electronic Literature Organization, 2 Jan. 2007. Web. 1 October 2009.

Kendall, Robert. “Faith.” “Electronic Literature Collection.” ed. N. Katherine Hayles, et. al. October 2006. Web. 24 February 2010.

Niss, Millie. “The Dancing Rhinoceri of Bangladesh.” “Word Circuits.” ed. Robert Kendall. September 2002. Web. 24 February 2010.

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