New River 8 Visited

by Gerhard Rolletschek, Munich

New River 8 can be found at


  Hypertext poetry has come a long way since the appearance of the first texts that understood themselves as being dependent on a digital writing space in order to transgress textual linearity. Different to its predecessors in print – media – ages (one might think of Mallarmé, for example), hypertext poetry in a stricter sense is aware of the technical possibilities in terms of instant displaying, transmitting and reproducing information.

  Looking back at the evolution of hypertext poetry, we might try to state periods of this process while keeping in mind that the lines we draw are at least to some degree arbitrary. Claiming a linear development with a fixed outcome would be somewhat inappropiate considering the before mentioned characteristica of hypertext. Therefore, we should rather think of it as a contingent evolution with significant breaks, twists and leaps of innovation.

  The early era of hypertext poetry exploited the link, which was (and is still) thought as the epithome of hypertextuality. Their poetic expression was mainly constituted by them branching off and thus creating a textual network. There are different paradigms of "docuverses" which can be described perhaps best by metaphores: the octopus (one central document and some peripheral documents linked to it), the pole (one main thread of documents and subdocuments linked to it, as in a sequence of chapters with annotations to them), the tree (a starting point and several threads leading away from it) and, of course, the rhizome, a network without starting point and without hierarchy. Hypertext poetry favoured the last, not only because it meant the farthest step from print media, but, one may argue, mainly for the visibile impact of the rhizome paradigm on transparency, causal relations and structural hierarchy. To put that into the terms of rhetoric tradition: obscuritas, not perspicuitas was deemed as the right mode of conveying poetic speaking.

  In the following years, while the multimedia capabilites of desktop computers rose to regions that were once reserved to high-end-machines and state-of-the-art software, hypertext poetry shifted to hypermedia poetry. Images appeared on the sites along with animations and short movie clips. Links had not to start from words, but could as well be triggered by clicks on embedded multimedia content, thus allowing non-textual associations to be represented. Although this opened up and broadened the concept of poetic text on the web, technical possibilities sometimes confluenced the artistic expression a bit too strongly: their long-eagered availability seemed to demand their use.

  In most recent hypertext poetry, however, we face a broad diversity of poetic means. For example, the texts differ strongly in the extent to which they make use of technical possibilities. While some may feature web scriptings that allow movement and interaction on the screen, others show a very basic setting. In a way, hypertext poetry has loosened the bond that tied it to state-of-the-art digital representation. Naturally that bond was never too tight anyway, simply for the reason that state-of-the-art designing and programming are never available for everyone. Still, we perceive in current publications, such as New River 8, an astonishing range of poetic means. Hypertext poetry is hence poetry on the move, not only synchronically, but also diachronically, opening new rooms of poetic expression with a considerate and purposeful access to digital representation.

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