launch poem the theory (you're here) documentation

aya karpinska
spring 2003
e-mail: aya at technekai dot com
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Spatial relationships are fundamental to every aspect of our lives. I wish to harness our incredible capacity for navigating through and creating meaningful sub-divisions of space, then apply it to poetry. Thousands of years of organizing poetry as a linear literary form has led to many conventions of how we read and understand poems. Extending poetry beyond the printed page into three dimensions will lead to novel ways of representing relationships between words, as well as the evolution of new patterns of reading and rhythm. Text arranged in three dimensions can be constructed and analyzed on the basis of concepts, such as depth and layering, that are severely limited or imprecise when applied to two dimensional text.

I am interested in developing a grammar for three-dimensional space; that is, encoding the basic principles that will guide creators and readers of spatial texts. Rules for understanding the relationship among words written in a straight line are well-established and accessible; e.g. we read English left-to-right. How do we read two sentences at right angles to one another? There are no established rules. What new meanings could emerge? In my three-dimensional poem the arrival of the beeBox l begin to investigate the effect of spatial arrangement on the meaning and experience of text. The concepts I focus on are surface versus depth, the use of regions to organize space, the direction of reading, as well as perceptual distance and motion of verses.



structural analysis



I consider the arrival of the beeBox to be a transition from the two-dimensional page to a three-dimensional environment, more than a surface but not quite a volume. Visually, the poem suggests simultaneously the stability of a cube and the fragility of a skeleton.

The reader must activate the poem to read it, clicking each verse to expand the words into a legible arrangement. As soon as a single verse is expanded, the poem shifts from symmetry to asymmetry. With only a few touches of the interface, the balance of the poem can veer into chaos. The reader can rotate the poem in space, disrupting the even distribution of verses. Words from different verses begin to overlap. New mappings and relationships arise. The reader may create a mess, a chaos of words, and hit the RESET button to artificially return the system to a state of equilibrium.

Interaction in the beeBox is reactive, not generative. The poem is static, essentially the same every time it is read. Nevertheless with each expansion or contraction of a verse, poetic meaning is built up across a plane or is broken down. Verses compete for dominance, blocking other words when expanded. The rotation and zooming tools set the poem into motion, temporarily changing the relationships among the verses. The ability to rotate the whole poem gives the impression that it is an object, something one could hold between one's hands and gaze into. Zooming into the text brings the reader into the actual space of the text, surrounded by verses and the semantic connections that stretch between them. Threads of meaning evolve with the changing spatial relationships among the verses as they rotate and grow or shrink in scale. Words from different verses overlap and form new verses. This dynamic relationship between space and meaning can only be fully explored in three dimensions. Space is an arena where text may become flexible and interactive, where the bond joining language and thought can be explored in a new light.



manifesto of 3D text



Multimedia combines images and sound to stimulate our senses and create a richer experience. Too often, text is relegated to captions and labels, brief introductions and conclusions. The flat, two-dimensional linearity of written language seems awkward and flimsy compared to animated visuals and surround-sound.

Three-dimensional text draws the observer into the object of vision, within and among the letterforms. Unlike flat, two-dimensional perspective, no one point of view is given precedence. We need text that invites the reader to move through it, engage with it. Movement in the text-space will produce an ever-shifting field of view, modifying the apparent relationships between words-as-objects. We must discover to what extend linearity will be useful in a space where sentences can meet at right angles and words can be piled on top of one another.

Layering and depth of text are two concepts that are more easily explored given an extra spatial dimension. Words printed one on top of one another quickly become an unintelligible mass on a flat page, whereas in three-dimensional space an animation or slight adjustment of the viewpoint can reveal the buried layers. We suddenly have access to the backs of words - let's make use of it. Will words read in reverse mean something else, or will they simply remain visual, decorative? Perhaps new letterforms or objects will be created, ones that display differently when viewed from the front, side, back, top, or bottom. With depth, we can consider questions such as : What is the difference between texts that are near or far? What does it mean when one sentence is behind another? When one sentence is above another? How is the metaphoric concept of "depth" mapped onto location? The larger a body of text becomes, the greater the need for sub-regions. Poetry has long been divided into lines, into verses - distinct visual regions - with line breaks and punctuation. Writers of three-dimensional texts should either impose a system of sub-regions (in the beeBox, the three planes) or allow the reader to create sub-regions (and then, for example, to draw a circle around a group of sentences or verses, and be able to further manipulate this new collection). How are we going to punctuate text in three-dimensional space? Do commas and periods make sense in a text where there is no single reading path? We must carve out a grammar of three dimensions, so that these questions, instead of being overwhelming, serve as useful limits.






Writing in three dimensions creates an opportunity to rediscover the relationships among words as well as between words and space. The poetic experience will be enhanced as readers acquire or invent new reading patterns that depend on spatial arrangement.

How will we approach reading in an immersive and multi-sensory field? Geography and its core concepts, such as location, direction, distance, distribution, spatial interaction, scale, and regions, can serve as a foundation for linking our understanding of spatial structure with literature. Geographic metaphors will also be useful in the development of a grammar of three dimensions. The maps which help us to navigate physical space will find their equivalent in the author's or reader's establishment of intended traversals of text-space. Our experience with the page will be our compass in three-dimensional text environments: a useful guide for orientation, but to really explore this new literary space we must open our eyes and move through it.