Not Quite Emulating the Past  — Geof Huth
Thursday, August 12, 2004, 11:47 pm
The best thing about life—and the worst—is that you never know what the day will bring. Or the night.
Tonight, I had no intention of looking back at the digital poetry of the 1980s, but I needed to find the videotape I made of my 1980s digital poetry. And finding it surprised me. The tape was stored in my closet, so I found it quickly enough, but I’d no idea that I’d transferred onto this videotape all of my digital poems as well as all of the digital poetry publications I owned that were written in Apple Basic.
The tape’s quality is not perfect but it was quite good, better than I had remembered. I created it by setting up a video camera on a tripod, zooming onto the computer screen, and shooting two hours of tape. Unfortunately, the tape is silent even though the poems are occasionally aural. I couldn’t capture the audio directly from my trusty Apple IIe computer (or was it just an Apple II?). Since I didn’t want to capture all the ambient sound on the tape (including my typing command on the computer keyboard), I shot the whole tape MOS.
My second surprise was that my poems in Things Moving Against Electric Current are much more vibrantly colored than their faint paper versions. I was happy to see that bpNichol’s First Screening, programmed in Apple Basic, still surprised occasionally. And my kids and I actually laughed at cute little visual and kinetic puns in the opening to my own Basic poems, ENDEMIC BATTLE COLLAGE, my best work in the form.
But I found Marco Fraticelli’s digital haiku in Deja Vu to be too heavy. First, as haiku, they were too wordy. Second, the visual representations he used were a bit clumsy. Too much visualization to too little purpose. Too many asterisks denoting snow, for instance. But I appreciated how the white swaths of snow in “SUNDAY AFTERNOON” (not asterisks this time, but sheets of white) fully covered the page and surprised me by burying the white text in white. Third, after presenting each haiku visually and piece by piece, Fraticelli still showed us each poem over again, static on the screen, laid out like a haiku on the page—just so we wouldn’t miss it.
As I had remembered, Richard M. O’Donnell’s Rice Wine was too long. He was probably the best programmer of the four of us, but one of the weaker writers. I couldn’t sit through his opening visual story, let alone the poems that followed.
All of this digital nostalgia made me want to see the poems on a computer screen again. So I found an Apple II emulator online, which would allow me to experience these old digital poems as they were meant to be experienced. I downloaded and installed the emulator without any difficulty, and then I could see it make my computer emulate an old Apple II running a computer game called Roulette.
Apple // Emulator Screen
My next step was to rekey the printout for the shortest of my digital poems, “CLEAVE” and try to run it with the emulator:
Unfortunately, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the emulator to recognize the ASCII text I saved, so the process of revivifying my old digital files continues, but I’m getting closer.
110 SPEED= 100
120 VTAB 8: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE”
130 VTAB 9: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE”
140 FOR PAUSE = 1 TO
150: NEXT 150 SPEED= 250
160 VTAB 8: HTAB 26: PRINT “ AVE”
170 VTAB 9: HTAB 26: PRINT “ AVE”
180 FOR PAUSE = 1 TO 2000: NEXT
190 VTAB 8: HTAB 23: PRINT “ ”
200 VTAB 7: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLE AVE”
210 VTAB 9: HTAB 23: PRINT “ ”
220 VTAB 10: HTAB 23: PRINT “ ”
230 FOR PAUSE = 1 TO 1000: NEXT
240 VTAB 7: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE ”
250 VTAB 10: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE ”
260 FOR PAUSE = 1 TO 1000: NEXT
270 VTAB 7: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE”
280 VTAB 8: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE”
290 VTAB 10: HTAB 23: PRINT “ ”
300 VTAB 9: HTAB 23: PRINT “CLEAVE”
310 VTAB 9: HTAB 23: PRINT “ ”
320 FOR PAUSE = 1 TO 2000: NEXT
340 REM WRITTEN 29 NOV 1987, JOHNSTOWN, NY
For an interesting timeline of the work of early digital poets, see Chris Funkhouser’s “skeletal outline” of digital poetry. I was happy to see that I’m actually part of two items in this list: the [Internalational] Dictionary of Neologisms (listed as first appearing in 1985, but you can see it in its growing web version here) and The Little Magazine’s digital poetry issue of 1995 (which included the aural and visual version of my Dreams of the Fishwife).
Here, in their sequence, are the collections and individual poems on this videotape. (Note that I’m using “hyperscript” below as the digital equivalent of “manuscript.”)
Huth, G. Things Moving Against Electric Current. Unpublished hyperscript, 1987. (Digital slideshow of full-color static computer-designed poems, which became a single-copy publication in 1992.)
Nichol, bp. First Screening. Toronto: Underwhich Editions, 1984. (Digital poetry.)
The Alchemist II:1. Edited by Marco Fraticelli. 1984. (Diskette magazine of digital writing.)
Huth, G. ENDEMIC BATTLE COLLAGE: KINETIC FUNCTION: RE ARRANGEMENTS ACROSS A DIVERSE PLANE: RUN : AURAL AND KINETIC POEMS FOR THE COMPUTER SCREEN. Unpublished hyperscript, 1986-1987. (A completed sequence of digital poems.)
Fraticelli, Marco. Deja Vu: Poetry for the Computer Screen. Montreal: Guernica Editions, 1983. (Digital haiku.)
O’Donnell, Richard M. Rice Wine. Montreal: Guernica Editions, 1983. (Digital fiction and digital poetry.)
Huth, G. "the mist." Unpublished hyperscript, 1987. (from Wrapping My Breath in Foil, a never-completed series of digital haiku.)
Huth, G. "CLEAVE." Unpublished hyperscript, 1987. (from Magnetic Definitions, a never-completed series of definitional digital poems.)