Tools Built By Anonymous Ancestors is a collection of poems by Bill Marsh based around the concept of what he calls "editation," which involves plugging in a specific phrase to web search engines and somehow using the results. In this collection, Marsh uses variations on the phrase "tools built by anonymous ancestors" to generate the poetry, a quote inexplicably taken from a UCLA professor's essay on perception in oceanography. There are only five poems, each of them twelve lines in length, which makes for a very compact and thus more accessible work. The primary point of interest for each poem is the option to reveal the "source" that the poem was somehow generated from. Two of the poems reveal text that shares some words with the derived poetry, and the others reveal sounds, all of which are garbled, eerie, and undoubtedly processed severely. The poetry itself is written in an awkward style that is difficult to decipher, with strange use of punctuation and sentence structure, but vivid imagery.

The final poem, "Weapon," is perhaps the most interesting selection because of the way the text interacts with the reader. When the reader clicks on the "open source" button for this poem, an otherworldly sound starts playing, the source text is revealed in red, and the cursor flashes the words of the source in a large red font. Moving the cursor causes the image and text all about the page to change color or disappear. This combination of dynamic effects creates a haunting feel that complements the poem's dark imagery.

Using the ultimate weapon
to halt the advance of howler monkeys.
So marks the end of supremacy:
a lost fly, a hybrid future, mid-market
businesses sprawling. Oracle, what else?
Primitive tribes receiving visitors
remain anchored to the cannon.
In their enemy's expertise, a partner's
staple diet. Crude user groups create
store and publish their crude sketches:
10 years to face death fully, those other
levels of functionality.

Discussion Questions

1. How can an author use hypertext and interactive text to add to overall impact of the work?

2. The meaning of a text being "derived" from a source can be interpreted in several different ways; what are the limitations on having "source" material? Can derived material simply be inspired by the source?

3. If you cut up text from a single source and rearrange it, can you claim authorship for the work without explicitly crediting the source?

4. How can different modes of writing be affected differently by hypertext? Is nonfiction a harder style to utilize the advantages of hypertext than poetry?

Cyberspace Web Overview Creative Nonfiction related courses

Last modified 4 February 2008