"I reject hypertext," one of us may have blurted out during a more frustrating moment editing this journal.
That could have easily been our mantra two years ago sitting in Ed Falco's New Media Creative Writing workshop--at least, that's what went through our minds in the beginning. We were both first years, so not only did we have to wrap our brains around the concept of operating as newly-minted MFA students, but we also had to deal with this newfangled idea of digital writing. One of us may have dealt with it better than the other, so much so that during a quick dinner at a McDonald's across the street from the English department, she had the audacity to suggest we edit The New River together. That's when one of us may have refused this suggestion as she chewed on a limp French fry because she was still in her I reject hypertext phase. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and months turned into years until finally, both of us were ready--and willing--to tackle editing the journal together. Here's the thing about hypertext: It can get under your skin, introducing you to new methods of composition, and forcing you to expand and redefine your limited perspective on writing.
There were numerous debates in our class about the relevance of digital writing. What place does digital writing have in the larger picture of contemporary literature? What combination of elements taken from both writing and technology form a successful hypertext? Let's face it: some digital writing falls as flat as Rick Moody's recent disastrous attempt at tweeting a short story. In this case, during our time as editors, we were lucky enough to find work that is worthy of recognition.
We like to think of Susan M. Gibb's "Blueberries" as a tribute to classic old-school hypertexts of yore. In her artist statement, Gibbs talks about using the digital writing genre to play with time; it's as if she's slipped back to the early days of hypertext writing to tell a story of an artist preparing for her first show.
Roxanne Carter's "Housing Problems" borrows its title from a book by Susan Bernstein and its structure from an essay by Susan Sontag to invoke "the texture of domestic space through language and image." Carter explores depths and shading of traditionally unconsidered space and actions in her work: the ringing of an alarm clock, the act of turning on and off a light fixture, the fracturing of light through curtains. Salvador Barajas's "Tech-ila Sunrise: un/a remix" also borrows, but in this case, from a performance piece of the same name, adding "a de-colonial lime twist" of hypertext to the work.
One thing we learned in Ed's class was that digital writing offers the reader an opportunity to participate in the creation of the work. Pieces by Jason Nelson and A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz incite the reader into interaction. Nelson's newest art/poetry game, "Evidence of Everything Exploding," takes the reader through ten levels of increasing difficulty, even "harming" the reader/player when an error is made during gameplay. The poems in Liszkiewicz's digital chapbook, Count as One, challenge the reader to play in "constrained compositional space" with "received linguistic units." When's the last time you interacted with poetry?
Reminiscing about our workshop led us to wonder about what is currently being produced here at Virginia Tech. Second year poetry MFA Megan Moriarty offers up an example. Her work, "Jointed Autumn," started as a project for this fall's New Media Creative Writing workshop. Her experience in the course has led her "to think of all writing as living objects" and has changed the way she approaches her poetry.
In conclusion, the editors have come a long way since the fall of 2007. We no longer reject--okay, we did a little rejecting as editors because it's part of the job--but celebrate hypertext. The process of editing The New River has assured us that digital writing is alive and well, and that authors continue to compose new work that helps readers to redefine what shapes and forms writing can take.
However, we couldn't have done it all by ourselves. Our great thanks to the U.S. ISSN Center at the Library of Congress for their assistance with acquiring an ISSN for The New River. Ed Falco, director of Virginia Tech's creative writing MFA program, provided us with guidance, patience, boundless wisdom, and the opportunity to carry on the stewardship of the journal he created in 1996. Much appreciation to Jeremy Hunsinger of Virginia Tech's Center for Digital Discourse and Culture for his technical assistance, and the Community Arts Information Office in downtown Blacksburg for providing workspace for the editors. Most of all, we would like to thank our many talented contributors.
Josette Torres and Amy Vance, Managing Editors
December 17, 2009