**please view and listen to poems through a desktop computer, they won’t work on mobile devices**
“#SELFIEPOETRY: Fake Art Histories & the Inscription of the Digital Self” is an on going series of e-poems that I’ve recently started to write (although write might not be the right word to use), using the online platform NewHive–which I was basically testing to see if it would be a good teaching tool for my e-lit course next year.** However, I got hooked, and I began working on a series of poems that combines a few of my current intellectual interests: the (un)truth behind artistic or literary histories and our (il)legitimacy to intervene and organize events to create narratives that “make sense,” vs. the interpretative role of the recipient of said narratives. I’m also pretty intrigued by the roles assigned to the producer of art and its consumers, roles that have been traditionally separate and that have begun to blend and blur indistinguishable thanks to their performance on digital media. Consumers subjectivity and representation has turned into a very particular way of individual signaling, turning the subject into an object of massive amateur (some have called it “democratizing”) representation and distribution. The self (and the photographic image of the self) keeps reappearing in different digital platforms, inscribing itself through the space and time of the Web. In other words, we are obsessed with our faces (and this obsession goes well beyond taking photos in the bathroom).
My #SELFIEPOETRY series looks thus at some ways in which the inscription of the self (in today’s paradigmatic digital manifestation, i.e.: the selfie) can be reinterpreted against a very vague and unorthodox selection of artistic and literary trends. As of today, there are 8 poems, each constituting an intervention in a different movement. They also touch upon some very personal matters, since I am intrigued by the many ways in which people today share their personal lives online.
Dreamtigers tigers tigers is the first poem I wrote, as an obvious homage to Jorge Luis Borges. Taking into consideration the latest and controversial conceptualist interventions in and around his work, I felt the urge to explore it myself. The poem consists on a recording of my reading of Borges’s “Dreamtigers” (as it was included in the collection with the same title–El hacedor in Spanish). I didn’t change anything in the text, I simply copied and pasted the English version (the original, btw), and then read it twice, first in English and then in Spanish. The voice recording loops endlessly going back and forth between both languages, and it’s interrupted by a documentary video on the last wild tigers on Earth. Footage of real tigers interrupts the imaginary summoning of Borges’s tiger (although this YouTube video is zone restricted and it is only viewable in the United States and some other English speaking countries. Very pertinently, Copyright policies ban its reproduction in Spain or Mexico, for instance, making this poem about intertextuality and appropriationism even more relevant to my purposes). My sound recording includes some repetitions and some strange, Spanish inflected pronunciation, as a means to highlight the struggles of vocalizing in a (not so) foreign language. Finally, in order to mesh the critical discourse on digital originality with the role of the so-called pronsumer, I incorporated about 8 copies of the same selfie image showing my face partially hidden by a shot of a tiger running.
I like to think of Futurismo as a funny (and eerie) commentary on all things avant-garde. Futurism, both as an artistic and a literary movement, is one of those very dated expressions, easy to identify at a first glance, and quickly associated to ideas like “speed,” “machines,” “progress,” “war,” and “industrialism”. It takes us back to a concrete moment in Western history, characterized by revolutions (political and mechanic) and artistic manifestos.
I was reading Digital Memory and the Archive by Wolfgang Ernst at the time of writing this poem, and I was struck by his figure of the “cold gaze” of the machine that explains how, while human subjectivity and historical circumstances change (turning human memory into a matter of representation) agency in a machine is not pure abstraction any more, but becomes an (algorithmic-based) unchangeable reading of the past. According to Ernst, technical media then records time and acts as a time-machine between times and the past (literally, he talks about a media-archaeological short-circuit between otherwise historically clearly separated times). I am fascinated by the idea of machines short-circuiting history, and about the poetic capacity of digital performativity to bring the past to the same reproductive reality of the present. Periodization is underscored as the human invention that it is, in the same way that other artificial constructs are. The personal dimension of this poem engages with the idea of monogamy and “the one and only true love,” suggested to be a social convention that can perhaps be periodized (or dated) in the same way as a futurist manifesto.
The poem includes my selfie next to a photo of a handwritten poem, superimposed over images of metallic engine parts and gears. The poem breaks into an animated spiral, and my voice reads the poem 10 times, partially muffled by machine sounds. The poem itself goes on for about 10 hours.
This is a poem about immigration in the United States. Or about my migration to the United States. It is also a piece about one of the most important poets in the country, our friend of Leaves of Grass and “America,” Walt Whitman, and about his portraying of American identity and sexuality. To write it I made my computer Fred read Whitman’s entry on Wikipedia while I drew some doodles on the screen (basically, I write the word America and draw little blue and red stars and dots over the Wikipedia page, I also underscore the words “sexuality,” “sexual,” and “politics,” and draw a red circle around “race”). As Fred reads about the life of this 19th century (trascendental-realist) poet, me and my American husband read his “Poem of Women.” After I read each stanza, his male voice repeats my words. However, things are hard to hear, since everything becomes muffled by a loud white noise. Finally, the photographs I used for my visa application multiply and rotate on the screen. No makeup, no hair products, no glasses, no smile.
I am not going to interpret this poem.
Since the series is about selfies, the background image of this poem is a repurposed Instagram photo. On a beach, looking into a vague horizon (we’ve all seen/taken photos with this pose). Two sentences cross over the screen, moving from left to right (not perfectly however). Some meditation Tibetan chimes play in the background. Although the words that run across the screen in Spanish are self animated, the poem requires interaction. I’ve included some play buttons (and some redundant and spam-like “Click!” signs) that allow the user to play my voice reading the sentences in English. The user can push the buttons as she likes, making me repeat the words as many times as she wants. She can also bring the voices back to life by pressing the red play button that produces a heartbeat.
This poem was made in less than half hour. I didn’t pay for anything, yet I used plenty of resources. I’m not going to read more into it either.
The Measure of All Things
Here is an anonymous translation of the sonnet I found in John A. Crow’s anthology of Spanish Poetry (it’s not the best, but it’s free):
That Nature’s law might keep its ordered flow.
No Weekend Wi-Fi, un cuadro costumbrista (US of A)
A costumbrismo snap shot of a coffee shop scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, November 15, 2015. Believe it or not, this breakfast place had no wi-fi available on Sundays.
In reality, No Weekend Wi-Fi is nothing else but a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the current trend I’ve observed in contemporary poetry (and music, and film) that presents completely banal and unimportant things as if they were, actually, of trascendental relevance to all of us. By making this poem (and incorporating the texts that my husband and I wrote in basically the 10 minutes we were in this café) I am reclaiming my right to participate in this useless trend.
Animated photo GIFs over a pixelated copy of Hopper’s Nighthawks, plus written text and two playable audio files.
This little poem engages with the culture of boleros (although I’m not completely sure about the status of this slow-tempo music in art history).
I recuperated an old poem I wrote about love, passports, ex-boyfriends, the city of Angels and Mexico, and I incorporated a beautiful GIF by Canek Zapata, and a video in 8 mm of my right eye as a biological sun in this digital beach. Seagulls and my humming over Lila Downs’s “Perfume de Gardenias” are part of the score. Music and water as transatlantic shared imaginaries in the Spanish speaking world.
I actually did incorporate credits for this one:
Background psychedelic GIF: Canek Zapata.
Text: Alex Saum, but with stolen bits
from popular songs.
Crab: from the beaches of the interwebs.
Music: Lila Downs is singing “Perfume de
gardenias” in the background, sort of.
Oh, and there is a series of copyrighted
sounds and ads may pop up.
“Pupila Romántica” reinterprets the famous “Rima XXI” by Spain’s last romantic poet, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, to make it about myself. I photographed my right pupil through the glass and through the screen four times, then animated the image to produce an artificial, mechanic, blinking.
My glasses have a special anti-reflective coating that is supposed to protect my eyes from the toxic lights of my computer. It’s said to be blue. I cannot see it, yet I believe it’s there, like a ray of moonlight. What can be more romantic than that?
I’ll be making more poems. I’ll be writing shorter blog posts. I might translate this post. Or make a video in Spanish. Stay tuned.
Update on April 4, 2016: I’ve started a new #selfiepoetry series (totally and necessarily incomplete) with the ridiculous name of “Women & Capitalism”–under the equally ridiculous name of Selflex. Check it out!