Introduction — Jim Andrews
I first encountered some of Geof Huth's poetry around 1989 in an
empo baggie. empo was Trudy Mercer's exciting publication from Seattle that focussed
primarily visual—poetry. Huth's work stood out as literary yet strikingly
visual. It seemed to combine various consciousnesses: a sense of visual design;
a reliance on emotional feel in the lines of the work yet a strong sense of
geometric order; an insistence on the presence of the word; and, generally, attention to multiple dimensions.
It was around that time—a little earlier, actually: 1986-87—that
he wrote Endemic Battle Collage and several other poems in the Apple Basic
programming language for the Apple IIe.
These poems are related to bpNichol's 1983-84 First
Screening, which also was done
in Apple Basic for the Apple IIe. Huth comments on the relation in "Digital
These digital poems of mine were influenced by bpNicholís digital
visual writing in First Screening .... I learned how to write my own digital
poems by following Nicholís example and by reading a book on programming in
Apple Basic .
Digital poetry goes back at least to 1959, as you can read in Chris Funkhouser's
Digital Poetry. The Apple IIe's Apple Basic programming language offered
poets the ability to animate language. Up until that time, programmed digital
poetry had not often been animated . Instead, it had concentrated on other types of
It was this filmic possibility that Nichol and Huth concentrated on, being
visual poets. So one may think of this as the point where visual poetry, cinema,
and digital poetry began to intersect.
The Apple IIe became obsolete in a few years. Consequently, Nichol's and
Huth's poems have been unavailable for viewing for many years. I'm very happy
to present them to you on the Internet.
You can view Geof's poems either as streaming videos or, if you want
to experience the Apple IIe environment in a deeper way, you can download and
install a program that emulates the Apple IIe, download the original Huth files
for the Apple IIe, and play the poems through the emulator. You can, of course,
also get a sense of the computing possibilities the Apple IIe offered, via
Geof also wrote four entries from 2004 to 2006 on his dbpq:
visualizing poetics blog concerning his Apple Basic poems, which
are reproduced here. These writings muse on issues ranging from the history
of his poems to digital preservation (he is an archivist for the state of
New York) to the Apple Basic poems of Marco Fraticelli, from whom bpNichol
learned to program in Apple Basic.
Together, this project and bpNichol's First Screening trace out the
sense of excitement Nichol and Huth felt at this incunabular point in the intersection
of visual and digital poetry with the cinematic.
There was earlier work in video, such as Lionel Kearns's 1973 Birth
which takes visual poetry into the realms of cinema (and sound poetry) and
deals with the digital in a very significant sense, but it was video, not programmed.
Artists, of course, are still wrestling with how to program artfully. It
is a type of writing that is quite different from a poet's normal approach
to the act and arc of writing. How to feel it? How to feel that sort of writing with
the electricity of the poet? How to make it human?
That is part of what is
at issue in these poems. It's part of the battle, a battle endemic to an
age in which we all struggle to acclimatize to environments in which computing
has assumed important roles. Some think of it as an era in which we lose our
humanity and become machines. Others think of it as an era in which we extend
our humanity and language into new bodies and minds through a technology currently
operative at the atomic level of thought.
We are changed, in any case. And so is language. And for these poets to
come to grips with programming—as
a writerly act they engage in with artistic creativity—is a dramatic
departure, a dramatic act that we witness in these poems.
||Huth played a crucial role in preserving and recovering bpNichol's First
Screening: he successfully preserved a 5.25" floppy copy of it
for 23 years until the information could be recovered to contemporary media,
and his expertise as an archivist was central to the whole First
Screening project on vispo.com.
||Chris Funkhouser discusses some animated, programmed work by Silvestre Pestana from the early 1980's in Funkhouser's book Prehistoric Digital Poetry.