Spring Thing 2022: Phenomena

The blurb calls this an “interactive poem”, and I totally agree with that categorization. It consists of seven stanzas, each seven lines long, where each line has seven variations for the reader to choose from, flipping through possible combinations until you’ve formed something you’re satisfied with. The acknowledgements cite Raymond Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems as a formal inspiration, although I suspect the UI changes the experience somewhat. Phenomena is in Twine/Sugar Cube, and uses “cycling choices”, changing lines when you click on them, which means the options for each line are revealed in a specific order. Sometimes a line will be an obvious continuation of a previous-seen alternative, or a comment on it, which doesn’t quite fit into the notion that the poem is just the finished product of your choices. It’s more like the poem flows in two dimensions. (Perhaps it aims at three, what with the three layers of sevens, but two is my experience of it.)

Extracting meaning from such a work requires effort — enough effort that I’d probably resent it in a more demanding context, like the Comp. It starts off with a close encounter with a flying saucer, then spins off into tangents obliquely describing different ways of relating to UFOs: as omens and portents, as strangers to our world, as something apocalyptic and transforming. One stanza is just a disjointed series of individual words, and might not have any real meaning beyond that feeling of fragmentation. The final stanza, titled “I GUESS THIS WAS NEVER REALLY ABOUT UFOS, HAHA”, digs into the author’s intentions a bit, explicitly connecting it all to death and to “everything the night is a metaphor for”, but still keeps up the scattering of vague but portentious imagery. It makes me wonder if this is simply an inevitable product of the chosen format.

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