1983 and 1984, bpNichol used an Apple IIe computer and the Apple BASIC
programming language to create First Screening, a suite of a dozen programmed,
kinetic poems. He distributed First Screening through Underwhich,
an imprint he started in 1979 with a small group of poets. The
Underwhich edition of First Screening consisted of 100 numbered and signed copies
distributed on 5.25" floppies along with printed
Apple IIe soon became obsolete and the poems became essentially inaccessible.
But in 1992, four years after the death of bpNichol, J. B. Hohm, a student
at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, began creating a HyperCard
version of First Screening with
the approval of Ellie Nichol, bp’s widow, and with assistance from Dennis
Johnson and Fred Wah. In 1993, Red Deer College Press published it
on a 3.5" floppy disk for the Macintosh computer.
The HyperCard version of First Screening was a careful re-creation
and recoding of the original, and it extended the life of First
Screening a few more years. Still, HyperCard eventually died, leaving
the poems unavailable to all but the few who owned a functioning old Mac
or an even older Apple IIe and a readable diskette (unlikely, since the
usual lifetime of a diskette is approximately five years). In 2004, Apple
stopped selling HyperCard, and OSX’s Classic mode was the last Mac operating
system on which it was possible to view HyperCard works.
So we are very
happy to present to you four different versions of First
- The original DSK file of the Underwhich
edition with a freely downloadable Apple IIe emulator (available for
PCs and (maybe) Macs), along with scanned images of the printed matter
distributed with the Underwhich edition. This version is closest to the
by Marko Niemi and Jim Andrews.
- A streaming Quicktime movie of the emulated version.
- The original HyperCard version, which
may, perhaps, become easier to view in the future via a HyperCard Player
emulator or some other means. We’ve also included scans of the printed
matter of this version.
This project has taken us almost three years. We’ve learned much about
bpNichol’s First Screening and how the destiny of digital writing
usually remains the responsibility of the digital writers themselves. As
a group and individually. This project illustrates that work can indeed
survive the obsolescence of technologies if others are still interested
in the work and the artist has provided what is required to implement the
work using later technologies. bpNichol originally created 100 copies of First
distributed them widely, which was important to the propagation of the
bitstream. Fortunately, the source code was relatively easy to extract
and fairly simple to understand. First Screening is some of the earliest
programmed, kinetic poetry. This historical significance, together with
the quality of the work itself and bpNichol’s literary stature (he was
highest literary honour in 1970), have also motivated us to complete this
The recovery started in 2004 when Lionel Kearns showed Jim Andrews
the HyperCard version on an old Mac. Lionel also had three 5.25" floppy
disks bpNichol had given him. Jim took those floppies to Information Services
at the University of Victoria, Canada, where Jeff Rivett, a data analyst,
recovered the data using his own functioning Apple IIe at home.
of First Screening turned out to be incomplete;
Barrie Nichol must have given Lionel these disks while still writing
the piece. Geof Huth  recognized that the disk was missing some of the poems
in the published version and that Lionel’s disk presented the remaining
poems in a different order. In an attempt to preserve these poems,
Geof had stored his 5.25" floppy
of the Underwhich edition carefully, made a silent videotape of the poems
as they played on the Apple IIe, and printed out the source code. He
could no longer view his floppy, since he no longer had an Apple II series
computer, but the printout and the video indicated that three poems were
missing from Lionel’s draft copy: “Reverie,” “Any
of Your Lip,” and “Off-Screen Romance,” along with some
initial and final bibliographic matter.
Following unsuccessful efforts by
the University of Albany to recover the data from Geof’s 5.25" floppy
of the Underwhich edition, Geof shipped the floppy from New York to Dan
Waber and Jason Pimble in Pennsylvania. Dan and Jason were able to recover
the full version from Geof’s 22-year-old floppy using a functioning
Apple IIe computer and a range of open source software.
O ye digital poets:
the past of the art is in your hands and it is you who must recover and
maintain it. Although the history of digital archiving is more than two
decades old, most professional archivists have little interest or training
in the process of preserving and ensuring functional access to digital materials.
For instance, although bpNichol’s work
is archived at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, no one there had or
could copy the data from the Underwhich edition floppy to contemporary
media. They were not uninterested, however, and many thanks to Tony Power
The secret to this project has been a combination of passion and
knowledge. None of us understood the entirety of the situation facing us
at the outset. Each of us brought a different set of skills to the task, and
all of us brought our love of Nichol’s work and our desire to make sure
that others could once again see these early digital poems. We hope our efforts
prove worth it for those who visit these pages now and into the future.