An Introduction To Fast-Progressing Digital Poems
Start writing a post

An Introduction To Fast-Progressing Digital Poems

This essay was originally titled "Keep Them Up" when I wrote it for my Digital Poetry class.

An Introduction To Fast-Progressing Digital Poems
Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever tried to juggle? Perhaps you started with one ball, just tossing it up in the air and catching it with your other hand. Maybe you were bold and went straight to two or three. You probably fumbled around for a while and gave up. Then you took a few minutes to compose yourself, and you went back to watching T.V. A week later, you tried keeping those three balls in the air again, and this time you actually managed it—for about fifteen seconds. Now, forget all of this, because juggling isn’t always this way. In the realm of fast-progressing digital poetry, juggling is far more surreal. You have five balls in your hands. You’re juggling them. You can actually do it! Then suddenly you have seven balls. Nine. Twelve. Soon you’re asking, “What the heck are these balls? Are these balls even real? What is going on? What is?” Maybe you keep all of the balls up, or maybe you drop most of them and end up inventing a new Spanish dance form to maintain three of them—for about fifteen seconds. May I introduce you to “Working Memory” by Ian Hatcher and “CHINATOWN 5000” by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, two fast-progressing digital poems? Here are your first five balls. Have at it.

“Working Memory” begins as a blank screen. Very quickly, a gray box appears slightly down and to the right of center. The box becomes progressively bolder over the next few moments. Suddenly, a word appears Center Screen. Several words follow it, each new word replacing is predecessor. The transition is lightning fast. Then a word appears inside the gray box. There are now two words on the screen. The boxed word appears to transform a tiny fraction of a second after the centered word. This is disorienting. The words know that you are disoriented. They are aware of your presence, and they are aware of their existence as single-word lines of digital poetry. They mock you, and they read your mind. The words narrate themselves. “Limited.” “Pattern.” “Reverberating.” “Voltage.” “Changes.” “Momentum.” Many words disappear before they can be registered. With a bit of extra thought, the words can be organized into stanzas wherein some words repeat several times. Because of the distance placed between the two words on the screen, one can generally only read one word out of each pair; the poem therefore can only be fully read through multiple viewings. Only one viewing is needed, however, to experience the poem for what it intends to be.

“CHINATOWN 5000” begins as a screen of static, accompanied by staticky sound. It transitions to an attribution of two organizations sponsoring the poem, with an image snuck onto the screen. The image is captioned: “Barbequed Pork.” The screen then becomes that image of pork with “CHINATOWN 5000” written largely at its center. Some bass-heavy jazz plays in the background. The next visual is two large, black words on a white screen. The words change, quickly, like a slideshow, with some slides containing single words, others a handful of words, and still others multiple lines of words. With most new words or sets of words, extra musical beats are added. These give mood to the piece. After a few minutes, the static screen returns, but it stays for only a moment. The “slideshow” continues with the static screen interrupting at intervals, creating pseudo-stanzas for the poem after the one giant stanza at the beginning. The content of “CHINATOWN 5000” is less self-aware; it does not refer back to itself frequently like “Working Memory” does. One screen does say “sounds like poetry,” but that is the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, “CHINATOWN 5000” is an experience which steals your focus and won’t let you go. It is a film you wish not to blink at. The pace of the transitions varies, but most of the time it is easy to read all of the words. This poem makes numerous references to other media, philosophical questioning, and much more. The word “CHINATOWN” and its associated forms mean many different things over the course of the poem, which seems to last for a long time, though it is probably around ten or fifteen minutes in duration.

“Working Memory” is a wholly forgettable experience. And it’s supposed to be. By making its viewers grasp at straws the whole time, it leaves little room for processing information beyond basic working memory. A few words and feelings stick out later, but most is forgotten. “Working Memory” takes simple transformations and evokes meaning through them. It’s just hard to remember what that meaning is. Watching it once more, it seems to me that the poem’s theme is about grasping and the losses and waste associated with it.

“CHINATOWN 5000,” by contrast, is very memorable. If it weren’t so long it might be easy to memorize. The length is eerie. I think it is meant to represent the enormity of life. The allusions in this poem are numerous, and most of them don’t repeat. Two of the earliest references, including “CHINATOWN STATE OF MIND,” are repeated at the end of the poem for closure. “CHINATOWN 5000” is a bit more abstract than “Working Memory,” and it makes that clear through its audio. Also, while it does progress quickly, “CHINATOWN 5000” is much slower than “Working Memory,” and it uses its speed to push the viewer’s mind toward complex thought rather than failed recall. This poem achieves its goal of broadening thought through narrowing text.

I’m intrigued by the effects offered by fast-progressing digital poems such as these. I would like to try to make one. The first idea I came up with, which I quite like, is a poem about fast fashion and its ill effects. I watched a documentary about evils in the fashion industry some time in the last year or so, and I would be willing to watch it again for inspiration and possible sampling of language for the poem.

Sometimes digital poems throw a lot of balls at you at once. When they do, they often want you to drop a few. They may even want you to drop all of them. Our failure is their victory. The world is complex. We can’t possibly understand all of it, especially not all at once. This is the meaning and beauty behind fast-progressing digital poems and our efforts to keep those balls up.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Content Inspiration

Top 3 Response Articles of This Week

Meet the creators making their voices heard on Odyssey.

Top 3 Response Articles of This Week
Why I Write On Odyssey

At Odyssey, we're on a mission to encourage constructive discourse on the Internet. That's why we created the response button you can find at the bottom of every article.

Last week, our response writers sparked some great conversations right here on our homepage. Here are the top three response articles:

Keep Reading... Show less

"Arthur's Perfect Christmas" Is The Perfect Holiday Special, Move Over Charlie Brown

Arthur Read is here to deliver the real meaning of Christmas.


As the holiday season draws nearer, many of us find ourselves drawn to the same old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials and the perennial favorite, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." However, I would like to suggest an overlooked alternative, "Arthur's Perfect Christmas." It is a heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly inclusive Christmas special that deserves more recognition.

Keep Reading... Show less
Reclaim Your Weekends From The 'Sunday Scaries' With 'Self-Love Sundays' Instead
Olivia DeLucia

Laid back and taking it easy — sometimes that is the motto we all need after a busy week. Sunday scaries? Yes, they are valid – but you know what else is? A Sunday full of self-love. A lazy Sunday spent doing what you feel needs to be done to ease into the next week. Self-Love Sundays are a guilty pleasure that isn't only essential for our mind, and body, but are also a surprisingly proactive way to devote the upcoming week with a clear mindset.

So, what is a more suitable way to dedicate your week's end than a beautifully, connected playlist to accompany your face masks and journaling? Cheers, to a Self-Love Sunday (and a playlist intertwined with it to match). (Please note: "Sunday Morning" isn't included in this list, due to the obvious, but feel free to blast it anyway, we know you want to).

Keep Reading... Show less
Sunset Girl

The sun rose and peeked through the sheer curtains. Rose’s alarm shrieked. The loud bells caused her phone to jump on the side table. It was time for her to get ready for church. Blindly reaching for her phone, she shut the alarm off and pulled at the covers providing her a cocoon of warmth and tossed them to the side. She swept her bare feet across the bed to touch the cool wooden floor.

Rose softly tiptoed to the corner of the bedroom to grab her clothes dangling on the arm of the bedroom chair. Scooping all of the items of her chosen outfit, she headed to the bathroom hoping that she wouldn’t drop anything.

Round, piercing blue eyes stared back at her in the bathroom mirror. Rose fingered the wrinkles forming around her eyes. So many of them bore signs of laughter and smiling. Slowly dropping her hands, she couldn’t remember the last time she laughed in her home with Tom. Shaking her head as if to erase the negative thoughts, she reached for her makeup bag and went through her regular routine.

Applying her favorite deep rose lipstick, Rose headed downstairs to make her coffee and bagel to take with her to church. The smell of dark-roast coffee swirled in the air as Rose sliced her cinnamon raisin bagel. Hearing the Keurig sputter with the fresh brew, Rose found the interruption of the stillness comforting. The toaster signaled that her bagel was done with a soft pop. It had a delicious golden brown color. Placing the bagel on the counter, she generously spread honey nut flavored cream cheese across both halves. Gathering her bible, notebook, and pens from the side table on the porch she stuffed them into her purse. Purse hanging on her right shoulder she juggled her coffee and bagel in both of her hands as she headed to the garage.

Keep Reading... Show less

This Holiday Season, Choose To Be Eco-friendly And Reduce Pollution

Many of us have old magazines lying around, fully read and not of much use anymore. However, we can use their bright colors and prints as a stylish and trendy wrapping paper!


It can be overwhelming to see the detrimental effects of climate change and pollution on the news, from animals dying and forest fires spreading, but there are smaller changes that we can all make to reduce our carbon footprint, and it begins with our gifting season.

On average, Americans throw 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Years, which translates to 25 million tons of garbage. That's 1 million extra tons per week.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments