The New River is enjoying its fourteenth anniversary. If the journal was a dog, it’d be graying, arthritic, and exude a variety of rotten odors, but as multimedia technology continues to grow more accessible, intuitive, and integrated (not to mention that the old guard—those literary fogeys who are themselves now the arthritic and smelly—is steadily being replaced by those scarily adept Millennials who cut their teeth on superphones and iPads and what have you), Digital Writing is not only still in its infancy, but on the verge of becoming a necessary form of expression (how many trees can be left in this ravaged world, after all?). Perhaps there will always be a place for literature as it’s widely accepted now—printed, bound, reified—that people will always want to physically dog-ear a page and scribble imagined profundities in its margins, but the ability to access anything—including literature—on a personalized level, of discovering innovation in the way we approach and read a story or experience a poem, will continue to breathe new life into the myriad possibilities of Digital Writing. We’re still witnessing the first tentative lappings of a sea change as more and more people read from the screen, but the tide is rolling in, and it won’t abate until we run out of natural resources.
Jason Nelson points out in one of the video interviews included in this issue that while interest in Digital Writing has steadily grown, it seems that more people are studying it than actually producing it, an unsustainable model (much like needing trees to print our paper on). The managing editors here at The New River can attest to that: we seem to receive more submissions from traditional authors for each issue than composers of Digital Writing. We look for pieces that exploit the possibilities of integrated media. Rather than reading one line after another, Digital Writing forces the reader to actively participate. Conventionally, we view literature as that space where the author’s intentions end and the readers’ perceptions begin. This, of course, is still the case with Digital Writing, but Digital Writing requires readers to navigate through the text rather than allow themselves to be led. The author, then, becomes more concerned with fashioning a realm of possible actions for the readers—not a god so much as a curator of a space where readers can bounce around.
These spaces take many forms.
Alan Bigelow offers us each a chance to continually dismantle and reassemble an old chestnut of a poem—Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”—as a computerized voice tries to make sense of the scraps we’ve left it. “This Is Not a Poem,” as Bigelow notes, is infinitely playable, and, on one level is something like a playable turntable, but on another level it asks its readers (or, perhaps, inter-actors) to deconstruct an archaic poem and reconstruct it in ever changing ways. It is not only a re-envisioning of an antiquated piece of art, but a challenge to the whole realm of such artifacts. By co-opting Kilmer’s “Trees,” it could be argued that Bigelow is making a statement about not only the Earth’s actual environment, but about the old “Trees” of writing, those standby materials and forms that may or may not have outlived their usefulness. In this issue, Alan Bigelow also offers us a FAQ page for young or newly interested digital writers the page.
Megan Moriarty, who a year ago showed us how everything’s connected in “Jointed Autumn”—not just the skeletal concerns of knee bones and shinbones and ulnas (although there was plenty of that, too), but also the amorphous experiences of memory, sensation, and reasoning—returns with “Answers Blowing through a Wind-Tunnel,” a multiple choice test with distinct poetic overtones (and undertones, of course, as well as side- and back-tones). Here Moriarty approaches the inter-actor on several fronts. The piece has the structure of one of those ubiquitous Facebook or MySpace tests that ostensibly rate anything from your mental age to your date-ability. And on one level, that’s exactly what “Answers Blowing through a Wind-Tunnel” is: a whimsy test or maybe a personality meter. But on another level, like with Bigelow’s piece, we are constructing a poem. We are given parts of a line, and our choices reveal to us the sort of poem we choose to read and how closely we choose to read it. “Answers Blowing through a Wind-Tunnel” could be easily dismissed as mere trickery or fancifulness, except that certain choices and pairings allow for so many diverse meanings, and choosing to see each line as fanciful is to ignore all of the possibilities that “looking back from a moving train” contains. There are possibilities of horror and sadness and timidity and longing and peacefulness and joy. By handing the controls to the inter-actor, Moriarty has made us something like poem-testers or perhaps test-poets.
And last but not least, Jason Nelson returns with a series of “Videographs Fictions,” schizophrenic rewritings of our favorite eighties-era commercials and news clips. Nelson here has strayed from the games that have made him a name, relying more on distinct narrative threads that chronicle the tragic rise and fall of Pac Man, the havoc Hubba Bubba once wreaked on our nationally treasured cowboys, battery-powered presidents, and more. With his patented brand of satiric humor and absurdity, Nelson takes on all his old foes—consumerism, politics, entertainment, intellectual property, meaning—and the reader comes away the winner. Watch, navigate, read, enjoy.
With this issue, Jason Nelson, by our count (which may or may not be accurate—we’re wordy guys, after all, not numbers men), has appeared across the glossy pixels of The New River a grand total of eight times! We’re not sure who’s thanking whom, but Mr. Nelson suggested we interview him for this latest issue, and he kindly indulged us (and—he’ll readily admit, we think—himself) by sending us video responses to some questions we composed. He gives us the touching story of his chance encounter with Digital Poetry on a bus, the how and why a digital poet is sexy and widely beloved, his grandfather’s blunted and rusty Samurai sword that he finds useful in shaping his compositions, as well as some insights into his creations, the monstrous and forever mutating “genre” that is Digital Poetry (over here at The New River we call it Digital Writing, but whatever), and his hopes, dreams, and fears about where this all might lead us. It’s not often that you get a chance to watch a digital poet eat apples in echoing stairwells while discussing his craft—we hope you take the opportunity.
So, without further ado: prepare to be dazzled and perplexed, tickled and bruised, as you bravely navigate your way through the latest edition of The New River.