The uneasy death of print media, one Cheap Trick song at a time.
ALL POETRY IS SITE-SPECIFIC.
You read “Lady Lazarus” differently in the Norton Anthology
than you do when it’s scrawled in lipstick on your girlfriend’s bedroom wall. Dan Graham’s “Poem, March 1966” makes this site-specificity impossible to ignore: Composed according to a “schema” that includes twenty-eight variables such as “(weight of) paper sheet,” “(number of) conjunctions”, and “(name of) typeface,” each poem is a precise description of the circumstances of its own publication. If the poem is set in Universe 55 instead of Times Roman, for example, the tally in the fourteenth line of the poem—“(number of) numbers”—will increase by two. If the poem is published in Seventeen
rather than in Art-Language
, not only will the reader’s expectations for the poem change, but because these magazines use different typefaces and layouts, the text of the poem itself will necessarily change, too.
This version takes as its starting point Graham’s suggestion that “it would be possible to ‘compose’ the entire set of permutationally possible poems and to select the applicable variant(s) with the aid of a computer which could ‘see’ the ensemble instantly.” The program we have written goes a step beyond composition: It publishes the poem for you, right on the Internet.
You’re the poet. Or maybe Graham is the poet and you’re the editor. Maybe Triple Canopy is the printer. Online publishing complicates the logic of Graham’s piece. The terms he uses to describe the materiality of a printed text—“(weight of) paper sheet”; “(type) paper stock”—don’t make sense here. But the Internet, despite its seemingly weightless shimmer, has its own materiality. We replaced variables like “(percentage of) area not occupied by type” with “(seconds of) execution time.” “(Type) paper stock” became “(type) background.” And we added “(name of) MIDI” because you can put a MIDI in your poem. That’s something those 1960s magazine editors couldn’t do, and that is why print media is dying.
Do you want your poem to look like it was published in Dragon Magazine
? You can. Do you wish it had been the featured poem on Poetry Daily on October 4, 2009? You can. Do you want to pretend it’s a real poem published in real life on high-quality linen paper? Or that you scribbled it in a fever of inspiration on several cocktail napkins? You can. Do you miss the presence of the lyric voice? Choose a MIDI with a pronoun in it. This isn’t print, so you can make the font as big as you want. That might make the background look bad, but that’s your prerogative. You’re the editor, and this is the Internet.
Previous pages: Dan Graham, “Poem, March 1966,” Aspen 5 + 6 (Fall–Winter 1967).