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 on experimental—and 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 Poetry Incunabula":

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 [1].

Digital poetry goes back at least to 1959, as you can read in Chris Funkhouser's book Prehistoric 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 [2]. Instead, it had concentrated on other types of language processing.

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 the emulator.

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 of God/uniVerse, 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.

Footnotes

[1]   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.
[2] Chris Funkhouser discusses some animated, programmed work by Silvestre Pestana from the early 1980's in Funkhouser's book Prehistoric Digital Poetry.

Click to visit vispo.com