Loom and Doom

 Neath Layer



Likewise, a poetics of web writing suffers little when the tricks of this particular trade are brought to the surface and its devices carefully defined. This burgeoning poetics becomes especially inviting when working artists take it upon themselves to bare their secrets in an effort not only to authenticate their work, which in many cases needs doing, but also to clarify for themselves and others the challenges of working in this environment.

--Bill Marsh, reviewing Jim Andrews' enigma n and Infoanimism

Raveling Techne and Poesis: The Art of (Dis)Entanglement


In their TechnoPoetics presentation at CW2K, Daniel Anderson and Erin Smith correctly noted that too much of the work of the web weaver (and the programmer) still goes unrecognized and unrewarded in the academy.  Both argued compellingly for the development of a poetics that could systematically reveal and celebrate the layers of creative composition, or--as Jim Andrew's puts it in Infoanimism, his companion piece to Enigman n-- the "neath textual languages that permit the synthesis of arts on the Web." 


Arachne image from Apple Hollow Farm--used with permission.

As any cursory review of poetry's and mythology's weavers reveals, there is clearly good reason to share Anderson and Smith's concern that he or she (inevitably she, in poetry and myth) who is regarded as woven too much of techne, too little of poesis may be accursed:

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

--from "Lady of Shalott," by Alfred Lord Tennyson (Also see Alice Bowen's "Why the Lady of Shalott was Cursed."  At age 10, this poet was already aware of the terrors inherent in being "doomed to making lace.")


But are we truly "doomed to making lace" if we lack a well-formulated, clearly articulated technopoetics?  As the progression of links on the list above suggests, I see both the dangers and the promise of technopoetics:  my reveries and  ravelings about why follow fast on the examples below.

  • The challenges of a developing a (meta)poetic:  see definitions page, for instance.

  • Example:  Poetry Writing.

  • The risks of revealing the "neath" layers: important, yes, but revealing too much, too soon (or insisting on a certain kind of revelation) may be offputting--perhaps one can only become a "ghostie" incrementally.

  • Example:  Communications Division Technology Liaison.

  • Example:  Faculty Development Workshops, ConnectWeb.

  • Example:  Faculty Development Workshops, The Web Page Challenge.

  • Example:  Departmental web page templates.



A Third Body

Even though I've sometimes toyed with the idea of whipping up business cards that offer only "poet" and maybe an email or Web site address as explanation for and evidence of my existence--and even though I've lately begun considering the possibilities of trading "poet" in for "technopoet in perpetual training" on my would-be cards, my workaday self can't help whispering to my ghostie self (ah, such reversals--which is the true wraith?) of the risks, the drawbacks, the vulnerability, and even the loss of declaring my dreams and intentions too--well, ironically, too prosaically.  After all, one of the great joys of poetic revery--and often a condition of its existence, too--is solitude, as well as the safety of writing with and publishing for a select society of others who, if not exactly like-minded, more often than not prove at least similarly enough minded to prod, provoke, and challenge me to further evolutions.  

But the third body flights of a collective MOO revery on technopoetics, granular online education, or techspirit can too easily slide into other sorts of narratives-- into prose poems, into stories about the body rejected when its "neath layers" are revealed like the dead bees 'neath a layer of rose petals in "a small blue bowl on the porch."

Even as my own sense of the technopoetic constantly emerges, then (as any poetics must), I'm increasingly aware of the necessity of carrying it not like a business card but as a kind of softspoken testimony I must often bring to my prosaic, practical duties as the technology liaison for my academic division.  When I introduce my colleagues to courseware, accompany them on first forays into labs, assist in the weaving of their first faculty web pages, consult with the dean on the look of the departmental webs that will be coded by the Public Information department (and on the importance of leaving room for all to tunnel to "neath layers" of their own) I'm aware that much of the joy I've "known and felt" composing in and for online spaces  cannot (must not) be too stridently or theoretically uttered because it cannot be heard by those who lack hands-on sensation, and it too readily confirms all of their deepest suspicions about the dubious worth of cyberspace as composing space.

The Laying On of Hands

And so I focus my efforts on the practical, leading and supporting teachers as they enter the lab classroom and turn on (to) the machine, letting the let the rhythms of studio teaching soak ever so gradually into their bones; as they enter the courseware to participate in a conversation, create an assignment, or post a bulletin board message, allowing the possibilities to emerge as they will; as they enter Front Page (a "glorified word-processor," I purposefully call it in these workshops for teachers turned students who've never made a glowing blue link before) and explore the mysteries of their newly created web folders, too, unfolding the layers as need and curiosity dictate.  

For me, there has always a kind of magic particular to the the laying on of hands--no better way of raveling the mysteries of thing, or discovering the poesis inherent in every instance of techne.  I remember my father's toolbox as if it were a magician's bag of tricks, and how he introduced those tools to me one by one, their heft in my hands the measure of boredom (for how long can one child balance a flashlight and contemplate an array of crescent wrenches without wandering off into daydreams that make the flashlight's beam stray?), patience, and possibility. I can still feel the raised letters of the word "Craftsmen" stamped into steel.  Some people think of beer and baseball when they think of Milwaukee, but I think of tools. And I can picture my welder father--the craftsman, the artist,  poet--weaving glowing metal with torch aflame.

I remember circling my first computer--gift from my father, who knew as no one else ever has or will that words would be the stuff of my weaving--warily for months, uncertain of where to begin and intimidated into inaction by the thick manuals that accompanied it, quick peeks into which suggested that getting to know this tool would require mastering several dozen arcane programming languages.  Not until I needed to write (no great artistic yearnings, but papers due and no one to type them for me) did I find the feel of the keyboard and the flow of screen composure.  

Wielding Tools; Raveling Poetics

A first generation college graduate, I came of age surrounded by tools:  acetylene torches, rifles with delicate hunting scenes etched into their metal, shotgun shell loaders, cameras, car parts, bicycle chains, paint brushes, hedge trimmers, grass clippers, an impressive array of antique wood working and shoe making implements--tools of every stripe.  Even though I consider myself all awkward thumbs and fidgety impatience when it comes to the pastimes generally considered (and dismissed as) "crafty" (dismissed as "pastimes," too, come to think of it!), I find that I simply cannot think of tools and poetics, techne and poesis, separately. Every tool has its poetry; every poetics forges new tools. No artist I can think of lacks an intimate relationship with the tools of her craft or trade.  The technopoetic is always a raveling, often one "neath and above and around" and maddeningly beyond my power to capture with tools and imagination, but never a raveling that could exist at all without the interplay of the two. The only way to achieve a technopoetics--ever a fleeting thing, it seems to me--is simply to compose, in whatever one's medium of choice, and with whatever tool comes surest to hand.  

As one whose writing life exists mostly beyond the confines of the academy proper, I'm perhaps too dismissive of the practical need to authenticate technologically oriented intellectual and creative work, but I do not mean to be.  Rather, I think my position as one who writes here for the pure joy of the thing offers a valuable balance--another layer worth considering.  In my life as both teacher of community college students and teacher of colleagues who often approach technology with great reluctance, I've discovered that sharing my joy in technopoetic weavings means valuing simplicity and developing enough of a sympathetic imagination to approach things with a beginner's eye.

First, we unearth the night crawlers.  Next we gather our tools: poles, hooks, floats, nets, a tackle box. Then, we fish.  Later--maybe much, much later--we'll philosophize together about how we wove a poetics of fishing.

Such a poetics might allow us to better understand that questions concerning the relationship of technology to work and the mind and to professional recognition, publication, teaching, and writing need not come only with practical or terrifying answers. For all of us who have enjoyed the sensations of creativity associated with the Web, the exuberance and revery available through a creative Web poetics represent the sensations of humans turning toward other answers; answers as utterly full of joy as the eyes of a child or the promising reports from our own known and felt sensational movements with technology. 

--from Technopoetic Revery: Connecting Intellecreativity and Technology by Daniel Anderson 


Loom and Doom

 Neath Layer



Kathy A. Fitch 
Assistant Professor of English   Liberal Arts Division   College of DuPage