Welcome to the second edition of The New River, which consists in its entirety of "Turning Away," Curtis Harell's revolving haiku. It had been my original intention to publish two or more hypertexts in each issue of The New River, but it hasn't taken long to figure out that, at least for the time being, that won't always be possible. Submissions to The New River arrive at a trickle. A slow trickle. I don't know what I expected--in terms of submissions--when I started a journal for hypertext writing. That hypertexts would come pouring in by the dozens? If that's what I was thinking, it seems unreasonable. Hypertext is a new and evolving medium, and it's clear to me now that there aren't large numbers of writers seriously experimenting with it. There are several, to be sure. Michael Joyce has just published Twilight (Eastgate Systems), his new hypertext novel that incorporates images, sound, and video; and he has a hypertext short story entitled "Twelve Blue," published on Eastgate's home page. Stuart Moulthrop continues to publish his own hypertexts and to actively support the hypertext publications of other writers. Beyond these two most-famous names in the field of Hypertext Lit, there are at least another couple of dozen writers who are betting their literary futures on the future of hypertext. The number of writers working with hypertext is clearly large enough to constitute a small avant garde movement in the already tiny world of literature--but it's not large enough to stock a literary e-zine with multiple poems and stories in three or more issues per year. Still, as long as work as good as Harrell's "Turning Away," manages to find it's way toThe New River with at least some regularity, the small numbers of hypertext writers shouldn't be an insurmountable problem.
Harrell's revolving haiku represents an elegant use of technology to create a poem. Actually, I don't think you can fairly call "Turning Away," a genuine hypertext work, since there are no links in the poem, and the reader's relationship to the work is passive. We need only sit back in our comfortable desk chairs and watch the poem happen. Nonetheless, "Turning Away" passes the first test of hypertext lit: the work created is inappropriate for the page. Harrell's revolving haiku can only be experienced on the computer screen, and so constitutes an honest computer-based text. More important, "Turning Away" passes a second and harder test: it's a good poem. The traditional poem--I mean to make a contrast here with the fascinating and innovative work of hypertext poet Jim Rosenberg--attempts to control the responses of the reader in a effort to produce meaning and emotional effect. Doing this well is always difficult, in any medium, but it's all the more difficult in hypertext, where the poet typically has to give up the ability to control the order in which the various segments of a poem are read. In hypertext, the poem as a timing device is exploded. Harell has dealt with this problem simply: he doesn't entirely give up control of timing. In "Turning Away," Harell has used computer animation to make the three lines of his haiku appear and disappear in a regular if unpredictable order. Each of the haiku's three lines of five, seven, and five syllables appear and disappear, one at a time, every few seconds, always altering and shifting the meaning of the haiku stanza. The cumulative effect is to create a poem that is wonderfully musical and lyrical; a haiku that reads like a ballad; that sounds, at least to this reader's ear, like a melancholy song.
I hope you'll spend some time with "Turning Away," and I also hope you'll help spread the word that The New River is looking for good hypertext lit and art.
Let us see what you've got. Let us see what's out there.
Edward Falco Blacksburg, Virginia 15 March 1997