Poetry News

Brian Stefans on Digital Literature for SFMOMA

By Harriet Staff

Open Space, the blog for SFMOMA, has our eyes on a new series of pieces by poet/prof Brian Stefans about digital literature. This is in addition to the abundance of poets giving talks over July and August inspired by The Steins Collect, SFMOMA's exhibit of Gertrude and Leo's art (more on that here). So it seems safe to say that poets and visual art are very happy together over in San Francisco! Stefans, who actually writes from LA, is calling out Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Shelley Jackson, and Stephan Mallarmé, to start, and has this to say:

SFMOMA has asked me to write a weekly column about some of these works and ideas; I’ve, quite apparently, accepted the offer. I don’t have a strict plan — I’d like to reserve the right to offer brilliant commentary on the next politician to bring their career to a , but generally, I will be writing about a series of concepts I’ve been developing called the “simples” of digital literature. Each of these simples describes some element of the deep structure of the text/algorithm interaction inherent in all digital textuality — those places where the mathematical underpinnings of text as it appears on the screen (since there is always something at work keeping the text you are reading now visible) and how artists exploit them to create unique effects.

The usefulness of these simples is that I can use one or two of them to describe relatively simple works of digital literature — the word-movies of YHCHI I link to above — or use a bunch of them to describe something more technologically complex, such as the magisterial work by David Clark called “88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the left hand),” which has moments of text animation like in YHCHI along with other features that require a different simple to describe. Perhaps the literary equivalent for a simple could be found in the various tools we have developed to describe poetry: meter, rhyme, stanza form, assonance, alliteration, etc. No one of these could adequately describe all poems, but taken together they can get us pretty close to describing objectively, say, some of the startling effects of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnets (and might get us a little closer to the “meaning”).

I have also been asked to curate a short series of new digital literature works. To this end, I have commissioned digital artist/writers Jason Nelson, David Clark, Erik Loyer, Alan Bigelow, Jhave, Alison Clifford, Christine Wilks, Benjamin Moreno Ortiz, and joerg piringer to create new pieces for the SFMOMA blog. This group of artists — from Australia, Canada, England, Mexico, Austria and the United States — is among the best of the digital writers out there, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy visiting/playing their works in the weeks to come.

You had us at Gerard Manley Hopkins. Read the whole piece here.

Originally Published: July 7th, 2011