Erin Costello, A Different Kind of Book

12 Mar

“The Evolution of the Poemedia Installation and Performance”

Aaron Angello had the idea one day, to use radio talk shows and a total inundation of old radios in an installation piece. I won’t say any more about it because he still may someday execute that idea-plus, I‘ll probably get the details wrong. But it was from his idea that Poemedia first began. The driving conceptual force behind both his initial idea and Poemedia, was to overstimulate an audience in a physical environment in order to create a physical manifestation of online media saturation.

But Aaron and I are poets. Aaron is an accomplished musician and I work in video and net art. So naturally, we had always wanted to include as many of these elements as possible in a project. The idea to hang poems from the ceiling was Aaron’s-in fact I think most of the ideas were his, but the project evolved the way our many collaborations always evolve: like bumper cars for the elderly. Gently, over the course of who knows how long, we bounced ideas back and forth until one night (after completing a writing exercise that involved leading one another blindfolded through the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver) we finally sat down in my apartment with a cliché bottle of red wine, and typed up our proposal to install this conglomerate in the ATLAS Black Box theater.

One of the strangest things about Poemedia for me is the live aspect of the installation. The best and worst part about live performances is that something will inevitably go wrong-especially when technology is a major component. This tension is something our teacher/mentor/friend, Mark Amerika has discussed with us often, and is one of the main reasons why we chose to make the installation a live VJ/DJ set in the first place. Prior to Poemedia, I had never done a live VJ set and even though I knew the VDMX software very well at that point, it can be a buggy program. There were moments of erroneous darkness on the floor-like accidental white space in a poem. And that was fine with us, we anticipated glitches and embraced the live nature of our project-even though this we have never actually been able to fully experience the piece ourselves (we were in a booth above the stage with a limited view of the event).

Our proposal to install this project started as a series of questions, and after two performances of Poemedia, I see it as an even longer series of questions. The most interesting one to me came separately but simultaneously in the form of a statement from both poet J. Michael Martinez and digital poetry scholar Dr. Lori Emerson-who called the work, “Electronic literature in print.” Up until that point, that had never occurred to us -we just wanted to make the Internet a place you could physically walk through.

The working definition of electronic literature today is something to the effect of, “literature made on a computer to be experienced on a screen.” I’m paraphrasing but the point is, the definition makes sure that a scanned copy of Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights in Google books is not considered electronic literature. Besides Poemedia, there are other examples of electronic literature where the body moves through text. Two beautiful examples are: Screen by Noah Wardrip Fuin and Text Rain by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv; but the words in these works are not printed, they are digitally rendered and projected. To revisit Emerson and Martinez’s point, Poemedia does have some projected words (in the form of scrolling credits from the film, La Jeteé to name one example), but the majority of the written language appears on pieces of cardstock printed from a laser printer. The idea is, they could have been pages from a book. Some of them actually were poems from a book that Aaron and I wrote together-and we’re actually are not sure anymore who wrote which poems. But I have never read a book like Poemedia before. My first thought during rehearsal was that each page looked like a hanging iPad. Each page had transformed into a screen and the soundscape made the space feel like the strangest dance club you’ve ever not danced in.

Finally, this project just doesn’t happen without a few people who I would like to mention here. As I write this, Aaron and I are about two months away from earning our MFAs in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Mark Amerika, Julie Carr, and Lori Emerson not only exposed us to the possibilities of interdisciplinary experimentation with writing, but we are so fortunate to have their continuing support and encouragement in non-traditional writing practices. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by these talented and brilliant people who have given us the tools and the room to allow us to write a different kind of book.

The next scheduled performance of Poemedia will occur during the Electronic Poetry Center’s e-Poetry Festival in Buffalo, New York May 18-21,2011.

Poemedia is featured in the Anniversary issue (DB 13) of Drunken Boat Magazine.

Erin Costello is a poet and artist living in Denver, CO. Her poetry manuscript, “The Sciences Of” won the 2010 Jovanovich Imaginative Writing Prize and her work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Trickhouse, Umbrella Factory, Edge, Titmouse, Palimpsest, and Crash. She studies and teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado, and she is the co-founder and editor of SpringGun Press.

2 Responses to “Erin Costello, A Different Kind of Book”

  1. web design October 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    this seems to be a nice read.

  2. Artists and Games July 17, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Art and Games

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