Thursday, June 3, 2010

Digital Chapbooks - The intersection of teaching, technology, and art.

If you haven't heard of augmented reality, you will.  And soon.

Augmented reality is a technology which modifies your environment (usually through a video screen) in some way.  It's much harder to try to explain than to see in action, but it's being developed all over.  XBox's Project Natal, smart phone compatible Polar Rose, and even a virtual box simulator courtesy of the USPS all take advantage of this new, sometimes creepy technology (looking at you Polar Rose).

But as the above video suggests, this isn't all about technology.  It's about poetry.  Or it's half about poetry.

Between Page and Screen

Between Page and Screen is doing what humans love constantly to do, which is blur the lines between anything we possibly can. It's an experiment (or is it a work of art?) in technology and poetry, and their website has this to say:
This chapbook, written by Amaranth Borsuk and programmed by Brad Bouse, integrates the artist's book and e-poetry traditions to examine the conventions by which we know an object as a book. 
I think it's cool as hell to see, but artist statements are always a hair's breadth away from being an afterthought to justify spending hours making something.  So what's the real benefit of this project?

Exposing Poetry in New Ways

The first thing I thought of was the potential something like this has in the classroom.  It's showy, it's cheap (more on that later) and it has to do with poetry.  'Nuff said.

And a part of me truly believes this.  I would have freaked the F out in elementary school if someone had brought this into the classroom.  I'd have been excited that day, and potentially excited about the next day of school, because, let's face it, if the teacher does something that's actually fun, there's always the chance it will happen again.

But a part of me thinks this is in some ways, smoke and mirrors as it pertains to children and young adults.  Watch the video again.  What are the poems about.  Which was your favorite?

Yes, I'm being a little facetious; it's a video.  Am I expecting some freeze frames to allow me, for 5 or 6 minutes, to read each individual poem?  Of course not.  But at the same time, what is impressive, and novel,  and interesting about this is not (at first glance) the poetry.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome.  And I'd actually read the poetry if I had a chance to.

But would children?

Conclusion:  Who cares? It's cool.

On a certain level, teaching is about engagement.  Between Page and Screen is no better at this than any tool, on its own.  It's up to a teacher to tie it in with real lessons, or get the kids to read.

Essentially, this IS just smoke and mirrors, but it can be a cheap way to do something interesting, too.  The demo on the website (which was easy for me to set up with my web cam and a printer) only gives you one poem, but maybe this is enough to get some freeware software development out there.  Or maybe there already is.

As a poet, I'm not terribly excited about new mediums for poetry.  I'm in love with language first, and kind of lamely crushing on technology second.  Sound systems and holograms and lasers do nothing to change what I do, or what I love.  But it is sort of nice to see that as we move forward with technology, someone is constantly finding new ways to insert what is human about us back into what can often be a creepy (looking at you again, Polar Rose) foray into the unknown.


  1. WOW!! This is awesome!! I really enjoyed the clip.

    I have no problem with this new medium (as I do with the Kindle, I won't let myself rant) seems like a great way to sculpt words.

  2. Haha, feel free to rant! It'll lower my desire even more for an electronic device I definitely don't need.

    Personally, though, I love holding a book, and electronics, much as I love them, kind of stress me out in a subliminal sort of way. For instance, I can't drink around them and be 100 percent relaxed, because if they break, I will be angry. A book, on the otherhand... I drop that from the top of the stairs, and I dust it off and keep reading.

    Or worst case scenario, go spend the 2-25 bucks for a new one.

  3. Nice article!

    I'm with you Keith. This erasing the need for a tactile book through technology SCARES me. Fahrenheit 411? 1984? anyone.

    Did you Standford University is ridding their entire library of books to become a paperless library?


    Yes, it's true.