"Sometimes I want to put my hand into the screen and touch the work I am looking at."

-- Alaric Sumner

Links to some of the web sites mentioned in the roundtable:

Examples of Kendall's Hypertext Poetry:


"Frame Work"

A Life Set for Two

Literary Web Sites:

Word Circuits
(Web site devoted to new media literature, run by Robert Kendall)

Eastgate Systems
(Foremost publisher of hypertext literature)


Online Classes in Hypertext Poetry and Fiction
(Taught entirely online by Robert Kendall for the New School of Social Research)

Connection System
(Freeware codeveloped by Robert Kendall for adding advanced hypertext features to Web texts)

"The World Wide Web: Publishing's Awakening Giant"
(Written for Poets & Writers Magazine)

Ian Irvine -- Co-editor of The Animist
with Sue King-Smith

Recommended Sites:


ILEF - Internet Literary Editors Fellowship

Sue Thomas -- Director of trAce Online Writing Community

Examples of Sue Thomas's Online Work:

The Net of [+]Desire[+]
(The original first chapter.)

"Imagining a Stone"
(A combination of essay, interpretation, and MOO texts, and which also refers to the sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy.)

technopolyamory -- the art of loving many machines

Sound and Text Work by Alaric Sumner

Language Image Sound Object PAJ 61 Writing and Performance section edited by Alaric Sumner

Recommended Sites:

Electronic Poetry Center

Ubu Web

Examples of Christy Sheffield Sanford's Online Work:

"Moving Toward the Light"

"Red Mona"

"Jill Swimming"

Light and Dust

New River

Recommended Sites:

The DHTML Zone

Dynamic Drive

Please use our discussion forum,
Riding the Meridian, generously provided by Sue Thomas at trAce, the Online Writing Community, to add your thoughts to this dialogue. You will have to register in order to post to the forum, so the first time you visit you'll find a screen to set up your user name and password.

If there is enough interest, we'll try to schedule an online chat with the participants later this year.

Better than Bali: Travels on the WWW

_____hosted by Jennifer Ley

In late 1995, I picked up a catalogue from the New School for Social Research. I'd heard they had something new -- a Distance Learning Program -- where I could take a class by computer from my home. I'd been hearing about a software program called Mosiac for surfing something relatively new, a graphic internet interface called the World Wide Web. I'd been producing a children's magazine on the environment that we had tried over the previous summer to turn into a computer program, and I knew there was something relatively new out 'there' called hypertext. That was when I first learned of the work of Robert Kendall, who was teaching a class in just that -- hypertext.

I must have read Kendall's course description a hundred times, with the wistfulness usually reserved for travel folders to places like Bali, as I toted up the cost of the class, the software I would need to participate, the fact that my oh-so-forward-looking first release Powerbook 180 wasn't going to let me do much. I wanted color. I wanted graphics. I started a savings account.

By early 1996, I had the computer, the scanner, the killer 17" monitor with 16 million colors. It was late May. I figured I'd get on the Net (what, the baud rates were now 28.8? You're kidding!!) and see the Net world had been up to in the past year.

One of the first web sites I found was Agnieszka's Diary. If any one person has pushed the internet envelope the furthest during its initial stages in the way poetry is presented, it is Marek Lugowski. I met Kim Hodges, then one of the editors for AgD on a mailing list and wailed "How do you DO all that?" and she said: "Just find a site you like and copy the code, then fill in your own text and graphics to give you an idea of how html is structured. You'll figure out how to design your own pages from there."

Well, my first image in Photoshop took up 3.2 mgs. It took me awhile to realize you don't need 300 dpi resolution to present graphics on the Web. And I couldn't make heads or tails of Marek's image maps (I was too embarrassed to ask for help) so I flailed away trying to make html do things it couldn't possibly do. But I soon learned it could do enough, and with the support of some of my offline friends in the New York poetry community, and my new online friends from Zero City's mailing list, I began to create what became the Astrophysicist's Tango Partner Speaks.

It seems hard to believe that it is only three years since that heady summer and fall of 1996, when the meat of poetry and the means to present it starting moving under my hands like a culinary artist's dream feast. On the Net, I met people from all over the world who were just as excited as I was about the possibilities of poetry/html/the Internet, whose work, imagination and most important, generosity, did and continues to inspire me. This roundtable dialogue brings together five of them to talk to you about what that journey has been like, and where they see literature on the Web going in the future. Because if anyone is going to define the future of literary work on the Web, you can count on all of them to forge a part of that definition.

The participants:

Robert Kendall is the author of the book-length hypertext poem A Life Set for Two (Eastgate Systems) and many other electronic works published on disk and on the Web. His work has also been widely exhibited in the U.S. and Europe. His printed book of poetry, A Wandering City, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize, and he is the recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship, a New Forms Regional Grant, and other awards. He teaches hypertext poetry and fiction for the New School, runs the literary Web site Word Circuits, writes and lectures frequently about new media literature, and is codeveloper of the Connection System software for hypertext writers.

In a former incarnation Ian Irvine was a singer/song writer for an obscure Australian alternative rock band. These days he creates, and occasionally publishes, literary hybrids as exotic in form as any of the new genetically engineered fruit trees. He also co-edits the arts ezine The Animist and teaches Medieval magic to unsuspecting undergraduates.

Sue Thomas is a novelist whose exploration of machine consciousness, Correspondence, was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction novel of 1992. Her second novel, Water, examined inorganics, sex and identity, and she is editor of Wild Women: Contemporary Short Stories by Women Celebrating Women. Her researches now focus on virtual life and she is currently completing a novel set in a MOO. Her most recent work is displayed in paper printouts at lux: notes for an electronic writing at the Contemporary Art Centre, Adelaide, an exhibition of text on paper by local and international writers and artists whose practices extend to online digital environments, generating an electric relationship between text, reader, writer and physical space. Sue Thomas is Director of the trAce Online Writing Community, an interactive network for writers and readers around the world.

Alaric Sumner is a writer, performer, editor. He is Lecturer in Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts, UK. He was formerly Writer in Residence at the Tate Gallery, St Ives, Cornwall, UK. He edited the Writing and Performance section of PAJ 61 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). His performance work has been presented in in New York, Buffalo, Cleveland, Montreal, and many UK and European venues. His collaboration with Joseph Hyde, Nekyia (for speaker, singer, electroacoustics and video) is currently touring. The Unspeakable Rooms (a collaboration with Rory McDermott) was described by Frank Green in the Cleveland Free Times as "one of the most powerful performances I've ever witnessed, and I've attended hundreds... a difficult masterpiece". Voices (for 9) was performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1994. Books and booklets include Waves on Porthmeor Beach (Illustrated by Sandra Blow RA) (words worth 1995), Bucking Curtains (Mainstream Poetry 1999), Aberrations of Mirrors Lenses Sight (RWC 1998), Rhythm to Intending (Spectacular Diseases 1994), Lurid Technology and the Hedonist Calculator (Lobby Press 1994). His collaborations with sound artist John Levack Drever have been widely performed and broadcast, and published on CDs from ISEA and Doc(k)s.

Alaric's work is included in Word Score Utterance Choreography (Writers Forum 1998) and My Kind of Angel: i.m. William Burroughs (Stride 1998). A paper is due shortly in the Metrum Rhythmus Performanz Conference publication from Peter Lang Verlag (Frankfurt).

Christy Sheffield Sanford was the first trAce Virtual Writer-in-Residence and an Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellow in 1999. The previous year, her piece "NoPink" was awarded The Well's prize for the Best Hyperlinked Work on the Web. Her online projects have been praised by Frederick Barthelme in Atlantic Monthly Online, George Landow in Hypertext 2.0 and N. Katherine Hayles in ArtForum. Her web work has been published by Light and Dust, Enterzone, Ylem, Salt Hill, New River, frAme, Perihelion and many other ezines and project sites. In 1999, her web projects appeared in the Amour-Horreur Show at Galerie La Centrale, Montréal and the Aix Art Contemporaine Web en Provence Exhibit. She has won nine grants including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two NEA-Rockefeller sponsored grants for New Forms. She is the author of seven books including The H's: The Spasms of a Requiem, The Italian Smoking Piece, Sur les Pointes: the Ballerina and the Sea Anemone and Only the Nude Can Redeem the Landscape. Her book, Library of Congress, is forthcoming from Bloody Twin Press. She is currently working with Reiner Strasser on a commissioned web work for Nottingham Now.

The Questions:

1. How much has the technology made available through computer software and the Internet influenced the work you create? Please give one specific example.

Robert Kendall: Computer technology has had a huge impact on my work. During the past decade most of my creative efforts have focused on interactive electronic poetry. In my electronic pieces I strive to make the interactive component as integral to the reading experience as possible. Essentially I have had to learn how to deconstruct my creative process and recreate elements of it in software code. The experience has been often exhilarating and often frustrating, but it has permanently altered and enriched my perception of literature.

One of my most recent works is the hypertext poem "Dispossession" (Eastgate Reading Room, 1999). Electronic elements function at several different levels in this work. The overall structure is nonlinear, so there are many alternative ways in which the themes and images can develop during a reading. Many of the nodes contain variable text, so when readers return to a particular "page," they will often find that the text there has changed either randomly or to reflect a new context. And of course the appearance and layout of the material is dictated by the possibilities of the computer screen rather than the printed page.

Ian Irvine: Well I suppose in terms of poetry I've always created work for two traditionally separate poetic disciplines - that of 'performance poetry' (which most often for me came down to how a poem sounded to an audience) and that of 'words on a page poetry'. The electronic medium is undoubtably pushing me in all sorts of new directions. At present my poetic transformation is a little behind my editor's transformation and the poetry I've had published on the Web has been in the fairly conventional print journal format - so I suppose it emphasizes the 'words on the page' side of my work. Though I've experimented with the recorded 'performance' side of my work - via Real Audio and Cool Edit Pro I'm not overly happy with the Web result (that hissing R.A. compressed sound). MPEG still takes too long for people to download as far as I'm concerned. I keep holding back from sending these Real Audio files out because I hear things as a muso, and that means lack of sound clarity really irks me - stupid really since we don't need that from poetry recitations. Currently, however I'm in the process of 'multimedia-fying' the collection of poems called "Facing The Demon of Noontide". I'm experimenting with RA, MPEG, interactivity (image and Java when I get the chance), animated gifs, videos etc. - anything I can get my hands on really, just letting it happen with one eye on CD-ROM formats and one eye on the future web download times ... there is no doubt that I'm starting to do things with those predominantly 'words on a page' poems that were simply impossible in the old 'performance' or 'words on a page' modes. Its very seductive!

Sue Thomas: I began writing about computers in 1987 when I learned a little Basic and became fascinated by programming. The whole notion of that kind of rule-based system was entirely new to me beyond the little algebra I had done at school 20 years earlier, and I found it very exciting. I was immediately prompted to wonder how it would be if I could write a program for my personal relationships, debug it, and just let it run! These speculations provoked my first novel, Correspondence (1992), about a woman who makes a conscious choice to transform her body and mind from flesh to cyborg. In 1994 I discovered the Internet but didn't really know what to do with it until 1995 when I was introduced to MOOs at the Warwick Virtual Futures Conference, UK, (by GashGirl of the Australian cyberfeminist performance group VNS Matrix) and at that point Telnet became my application of choice. Once again it was an issue of programming, only now I found it really was possible to program personas and identities, and that led to my third novel, The [+]Net[+] of Desire, set in a MOO and examining the transformational experiences that some people have online. I find that my most constant theme, however, tends to be travelling via virtuality to find correlations between the organic world - landscapes, flesh - and the abstractness of programming and mathematics. The Net of [+]Desire[+] is currently being revised but the original first chapter is online.

Alaric Sumner: In 1976-7 I began publishing, performing my own work and started words worth magazine with Peter J King. We typeset the magazine on an IBM Selectric Composer at a typesetting cooperative and I was asked to join them as a worker and trained in 1979 on the Linoterm Photosetting system. So from near the beginning of my poetic exposure I had gone from pen to computing - though not (as Robert, Ian and Sue have discussed) in the programming side, but on the user side. I found that my handwriting got worse, but my work looked neat. Moving in the mid-eighties to a commercial printing firm which had little work for me but a superb designer's machine - the Berthold 'M' Series - I was able to construct the score of Voices (for 9), which has spreads 840mm (1yd) wide. I had to set them vertically instead of horizontally and each file crashed the printer, but luckily only AFTER it had spent 45 minutes printing each page. Voices (for 9) ) was a work I had been struggling to write on paper, but as soon as I realized how to lay it out on screen I could then work out how to write the thing. It was a key point for Barclays New Stages when the work was presented at the Royal Court in London - though their grammar left something to be desired - Designed on a computer, Alaric Sumner has created a text .... my mum objected to that.

Now, much of my work is created in collaboration with sound artists Joseph Hyde and John Levack Drever. I am also developing my own sound works using ProTools. Recording technology makes it possible to explore expanded performance works - Nekyia with Hyde and with Drever out of image (sandra blow), Sound, Hope, and Plans for the New Architecture: Speakable Rooms. It has also enabled me to work with Rory McDermott who used video and sound recording to make a performance version of my text The Unspeakable Rooms. Just as I have used these technologies to further works which could have been achieved without them (but only at great cost or with resources I can hardly imagine), so I have used the Internet so far mainly as a form of communication. I have had opportunities and provided others with opportunities in continents I have to jet travel to.

I have yet to make a computer/Internet specific work. When an idea arrives that requires this medium, no doubt I will make one, but until then it is for me a tool for the creation of works for performance and the page (or screen as page) and a tool for communication. The one aspect that thrilled me was the possibility of containing performance (in sound) with visual material (imagetext) in the same medium - unlike a book with a CD, this brings the two into extreme collision. Having now worked through with many of the contributors to the Sound/Text section (as Jennifer calls it), I find there are many differing ideas as to the relation between page and performance, image and utterance and these have disrupted my own ideas usefully. Most medium-specific work that I have come across on the Net so far is doing things that I do not get thrilled by or, at least, is doing things I am delighted that someone else is doing, but I wouldn't want to do. Computers are still so very useful to me as pens, printers, publishers, postboxes, performance aids that I don't feel any need, yet, to force myself to come up with some idea that exploits more of the medium's possibilities.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: Great set of questions, Jennifer. Thanks for asking me to take part in this roundtable. Short answer: totally. Long answer: in late 1995, when I first came onto the Web, I sensed that web conventions would be an important area for me. The innovations that were flowing for the web browsers were astounding: tables, frames, forms and then the little bits of Java Scripting that made popouts and rollovers possible . (I imagine myself as Jackie Joyner-Kersee jumping over the hurdles.) I felt and still do that these are psychologically important to the creator and viewer. With each individual work, I focused on a new convention. That isn't all I was doing but was one significant variable. Moving Toward the Light, among other things, was a series of meditations on light and the solstice. It also dealt with rollovers!

Since late 1998, I've been experimenting with dynamic html. I started by downloading scripts from the DHTML Zone and from Dynamic Drive, and gradually learning how to control and make them unique. Compared to the Java Applets-text and image effects that I'd been working with -- the dhtml Java Scripts were a lot more digestible to my Mac friends and had a shorter loading time for both systems.

Finally, I downloaded a one-month free trial of Dreamweaver, an editor that codes page divisions and does some Java Scripting. At Christmas I received my own copy. I don't mean to wax lyrical about any specific product, it's the thinking that's behind dynamic html that I think is liberating. Some people seem concerned with the idea of a matrix, which is fundamental to dhtml, they feel you're going somewhere you shouldn't, into another dimension. I have the opposite sense. Much of literature and art have become surface attractions. Dynamic html allows infinite penetration. Whereas much of early hypertext was concerned with navigation and linking page-to-page to a new address, a new URL, I think now, hypertext can enjoy more depth, more interactivity and a sense of unfolding.

2. Who/what would you say were your influences when you first turned to the computer/Internet to generate and disseminate your work?

Robert Kendall: When I first started doing this stuff, I was only dimly aware of a handful of other people in the field. We were few and far between back then. I encountered Rod Willmot's long hypertext poem "Everglade" sometime in the early '90s, and it helped open my eyes to the possibilities of using hypertext extensively. Generally, though, I had very few examples to follow in the beginning and was motivated mostly just by a fascination with the untapped literary possibilities of electronic media. I sensed that the computer screen was the medium that was most truly and uniquely of our own time and that we as writers had to learn to turn it to artistic purposes if we were to come to terms with the age we lived in.

Ian Irvine: I was a relative latecomer to the Web - late 1997 - things were pretty much established by the time I came on the scene. Also the 'dissemination of work' aspect went hand in hand with the 'producing a quality literary e-journal' aspect, so I guess I had a kind of 6 month crash course in the whole culture of international literary ezines. What I was learning there intermingled with what I was learning from the publicity pages of writers, poets, artists and musicians - many of whom we interviewed for The Animist. I guess the pages of the Australian writers Carmel Bird and Beth Spencer were a big influence, likewise, I spent a lot of time in those early days looking at the Ozlit pages.

My original goal was to use the net to better understand Australian literature - experimenting with new literary/artistic form only came later, and later still came the globalised consciousness which comes from receiving submissions, fan emails, communications etc. from arts people all over the world.

Sue Thomas: I was very much alone. I knew of no other fiction writers who approached computers in the same way that I did. When I was writing Correspondence I fumbled for who to read, and found some books which would turn out to be very relevant for me. Sherry Turkle's sociological study of computer users, The Second Self, was extremely clear-sighted and useful, and her later book Life on the Screen would also prove to be equally rich when I was writing about MOOing. I also read Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind and Joe Weizenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason, very different books but both very insightful into the way we think when we think with and about computers. Neil Frude's 1970's study The Intimate Machine is a great history of interactions with machines which really helped me to put the computer into a wider social context. I read and enjoyed Gibson's Neuromancer but it wasn't until I went online myself that I really appreciated the uncanny accuracy with which he described the act of being logged on - incredible, considering that when he wrote it he had never been online himself nor even used a computer. But although I knew a number of people in the UK science fiction scene, I knew nobody with my take on computers, and it wasn't until 1995, seven years after I began writing Correspondence, that I met and heard people with vocabularies for concepts I had been struggling to identify for years. At that conference, GashGirl was a major influence, but so too was another Australian performance artist, Stelarc, whose symbiotic relationship with his machines so closely mirrored my own imaginings that I was speechless with excitement when I watched him wire up his body so that the audience could direct his movements by remote control. To summarize, as a writer I even now feel pretty much alone, but as an artist and theorist I can now identify a number of people whose work is extremely important to me.

Alaric Sumner: I first got an email account in 1993-4 at university. I hardly used it. I don't remember looking at the Internet at all. But in 1996 I started to use email from work and found old friends through newsgroups. The Electronic Poetry Center is a useful resource, as is UbuWeb, but again I find it hard to focus on the Net and computers as if they were separate from, different from other aspects of my life and work - N Katherine Hayles Chaos Bound was very influential on my thinking (leading me to Shannon and Weaver and Information Theory), and Stanley Fish's Is there a text in this class? gave me a sense of recognition of ideas I hadn't yet realized I was already thinking. But I can't dissociate the net/puters from so many other aspects of thought to be able to answer the question. Hakim Bey's concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones has been a delight to dance with (echoing for me some of the ideas in Joanna Russ's superb The Female Man).

As a paper editor and publisher, I hate dealing with printers, I can't stand distribution. I have always had problems with copyright and consumerism - I don't think copyright protects 'authors' from anything. I think work is transformed into something different from itself when it is paid for. Value and money are incompatible to me. So, in many ways the Internet is a newfound haven. But it has also provided me with opportunities (including financial ones) which I would not have expected.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: Circa: late 1995. I could see how much easier joining image and text would be -- something I was already doing in the small press world. "Red Mona" was my first piece online. Bradley Spatz, a computer science engineer, developed a random script for that project. I can't say any one artist or writer influenced my style or form on the Web. I was a mature artist by the time I arrived. On the other hand, I much admired Mark Napier and Levi Ascher's "Chicken Wire Mother" at Enterzone and Terry Spatero's "Angels." Mark and I once discussed how overwhelmed we were by the luminosity of pixels on the computer screen. Janan Platt was/is doing interesting experiments with sound, text and image. Right away, I had a preference for those who regarded the Web as a medium.

Something that kept me going, more support than influence, was meeting Karl Young and Marjorie Luesebrink. No one knows more about visual poetry than Karl. He has been a publisher and poet forever. We'd have spirited debates, but more importantly I always felt he had some things to teach me. Not just about the history of visual poetry but a way of understanding. Now, Karl has published quite a bit of my work online at Light and Dust. But we had many, many discussions-maybe for a year-before that opportunity arose.

Margie Luesebrink I picked up on the Web with a challenging remark. I read an article on hypertext that she had written and wrote her saying why not include me next time. (I imagine myself as Loretta Lynn selling records from the back of a flatbed truck.). It turned out that Margie was working on her own creative work, and we were able to discuss and support each other. We also like to present at academic conferences so we've had the chance to meet and work together in that arena, too.

3. Does the Internet fulfill your needs (as the most practical way to distribute your work) or do you use it because it is a new and exciting medium to explore, whatever its limits, or for a combination of reasons?

Robert Kendall: The Web certainly has a purely practical appeal. I wrote an article last year for Poets & Writers Magazine ("The World Wide Web: Publishing's Awakening Giant") arguing that the Web is fast becoming the best medium for distributing all types of poetry. The barriers to distributing poetry in print have become almost insurmountable for many authors and publishers, and the Web removes many of these roadblocks.

For interactive writing the Web is the ideal distribution method -- far better than CD-ROM or floppy disk. It eliminates the problems of dealing with disks, software installation, and the chasm between Windows and Mac. Just as importantly, people expect interactivity and hypertext in things published on the Web. Hypertext is no longer something foreign that has to be justified and explained, as it was in the pre-Web days.

The Web definitely has its limitations compared to the currently more mature software environments for disk-based work. Yet today's Web is merely the doorstep to an entirely new artistic world that will take shape in the next century. In ten or fifteen years it will be possible to do just about anything on the Web -- that is the really exciting thing.

Ian Irvine: I'm also in transition in regard to this question. I've always seen myself as a hybrid animal -- poet, musician, writer and academic -- it's just how I work. Some of these disciplines are well served by the Web and in all honesty I'd have no problem distributing my output from these creative disciplines purely through the WWW. In the areas of poetry, academic writing (essays), short stories, editing an ezine, the Web is already the best place to operate for a variety of reasons - direct access to informed international audiences, cheap distribution, immediacy of response, you name it. Having said that I recently had a story published in Southern Ocean Review and an essay published by The Antigonish Review and I admit it was exciting to be published both in print and online.

The novelist, non-fiction writer (longer pieces) and musician sides of me are more hesitant about the value of the Web, in those realms I want to see my novels and longer non-fiction pieces appear as published books and my songs appear as CD-ROMs. I have no hesitation in trying to get my best short stories and poems published at quality online literary sites, but I currently refuse to make my major book length works available on the Web -- I put years of effort into those pieces and I refuse to distribute them for nothing.

Sue Thomas: I don't distribute my work online very much. I still see print as my main publication medium, and I don't have a very hypertextual brain so my attempts at hypertext have been more linear than anything else. In fact my most recent 'hypertext', which I began writing online, was purchased by a gallery in Adelaide and actually printed out onto paper for exhibition! But I feel very emotional about the Web, and about MOOing. I see cyberspace as my home and my muse. I spend most of my day there, and most of my artistic and professional life happens there. It seems to me that the Lake poets -- Wordsworth, Coleridge et al -- took much of their inspiration from a certain type of landscape, and in my case, it is the cyber landscape which intrigues me. But I also write about the organic landscape -- the sea, farmland, the wilderness -- and I find that the two easily interact. An example of this is the series "Imagining a Stone" which is a combination of essay, interpretation, and MOO texts, and which also refers to the sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy, who in my opinion manipulates the landscape from the physical until it becomes virtual.

Alaric Sumner: I use the net because it provides the opportunities I need now. I wanted to combine text and sound. I couldn't do that easily in another medium, so I turn to the net and Jennifer pops up waving and smileyfaced :). For me still at the moment, it is working that way round. I want to do a piece with a soundscape that I can perform with live -- Ah! here is the technology that can do that. I am sure, soon, I will find that the equipment will start demanding that I deal with its opportunities, but even with such a simple thing as scanning, it has only been during the creation of this issue that I have realized that a whole area of my work which I have hardly touched since 1987 would be easily possible (in one form) on screen. Again, this is an idea from outside the technology which will work more easily and be more easily distributed on it. However, Lawrence Upton asked me today if he could put a book I published of his in 1978 Mutation on to the Web since we have few copies left. Of course, I agreed, but I am aware that the texture of the paper and card of the cover (which took hours of decision making) and the smell of the ink, which have been part of my experience of the poem since I first bound the first copy in the Poetry Society in Earls Court, London, will be lost. My screen has seen hundreds of images and texts, but handing books or originals -- one of Carlyle Reedy's fragments or Wendy Kramer's RAIS Art of Fire is a thrill few readers of this issue will have. Yet every reader of Mutation had a unique copy (! if you see what I mean). Our screens don't change for each different work -- all works are presented on the same format -- the medium is so much of the message. Sometimes I want to put my hand into the screen and touch the work I am looking at. Mindtouch and bodytouch are so different -- writing is a form of mindtouch but a well-loved book is not merely a mindcontainer, it is felt.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: I use it as a way to explore and develop new work. I have the pioneer sense and exhilaration that I'm one of those defining web specific work. (I imagine myself as Gertrude Stein writing the play "Listen to Me:"


    It is very easy not to be very lively in the morning as the earth is all completely covered by people.


This is the revolution and I feel at home here. I didn't come on the Web for ease of distribution; that has been a pleasant byproduct. I was successful in the small press world if that means number of publications and grants. But responsiveness was always delayed by the post; many people even if they loved your work wouldn't write you. Many editors who took my work over and over hardly spoke to me. Some notable exceptions: Gloria Vando Hickok, Barbara Hamby and Stephen Paul Martin. Joel Weinstein was a great and caring penpal for a number of years. Brian Richards who published a couple of my books invited me to his family home and arranged readings.

The response on the Web has been terrific. Linking is exponential. I receive letters not just from writers and artists but from people in all walks of life. Many more people have responded to me online than ever did in print. The Web stimulates searching and people enjoy that as an adventure. It's my responsibility not to disappoint that instinct. I try to put the work out and to get linked.

4. Do you use the Internet because you can distribute your work without interference from publishers? Is it a blessing or a curse that your work is available to readers without charge?

Robert Kendall: A good publisher doesn't interfere but rather supports and facilitates by providing editorial help, publicity, and so on. Publishers are still important on the Web, and all my electronic poetry for the Web appears on the sites of bona fide publishers such as Eastgate Systems and the Iowa Review. I do put my printed essays on my own home page, however, to give them a wider readership.

Web writing's resistance to becoming a purchasable commodity is a blessing for me. No, I don't get any money for my Web publications, but then the meager payments I get for my poetry published in print or on disk don't contribute significantly toward my livelihood either. The real difference is that the Web removes the commercial barrier for the reader -- the whole unpleasant business of hunting down a publication, ordering it, and then having to fork over the cash. Of course if I were Stephen King I would feel differently.

Ian Irvine: Again I have to answer here for the various different hats! I suppose the best way to answer this question is with a statement: I use the Web in order to distribute my shorter work [poet, essayist, SS hat] and the works of other artists etc. that interest me [Editor's hat] internationally at minimum cost. I also use it to publicise myself as a writer, poet etc. [novelist, musician, non-fiction writer's hat]. I also use the Internet because it would take a vast investment from other people, not to mention many years of coddling up to publishers and other non-creative types to launch ventures like The Animist in the traditional print medium.

It's not that I don't want interference from publishers, it's just that I can't expect other people to invest large sums of money in the kind of hair-brained artistic ventures I am particularly fond of. Publishers 'interfere' because they want economic return from the artists they take on. Before, however, writers celebrate the fact that print publishers and editors are going the way of the dodo bird we should acknowledge the important creative services they've traditionally provided for poets and writers .... The more I write and publish the more I come to appreciate the role of 'dispassionate' reviewers of my work. Given the Web medium I find I've begun to fall back on fellow writers and the kinds of professional editing services available through writer's organizations (I belong to the Victorian Writers Centre for example) for dispassionate criticism of my work. In other words we still need professional people to edit our work -- to tell us when what we are writing is rubbish -- and that cost has to be factored into anything a professional writer puts on the Web. One can do a great deal of harm to one's writing reputation by ignoring this fact and publishing material on the Web that is really second rate. I suppose that's the curse of all web artists/writers without access to informed criticism. Then there are the legal issues which are, if anything just as complex in terms of publishing material in the web environment. There are blessings too, however, evolving, experimental works, politically challenging works, risky works .... works that are professionally executed but rejected by mainstream publishers because they threaten the hegemony or only appeal to an avant gardist minority. These can get a go on the Web and gain an audience. As for the money side of things, we urgently need to find ways to make sure that the writers, editors, poets, artists who are serious about their craft and who have something of value to say get paid for their Internet efforts. I don't think 'hits' should be the measuring stick for popularity, however, adulation doesn't necessarily mean a poet has something of lasting value to say.

Sue Thomas: I've probably answered this above. I will add that I do put work online, but it is mostly for the benefit of sharing ideas with a small number of people. With another hat on, as Director of trAce I try to pay our writers a decent fee even though the copyright situation is somewhat hazy. It seems to me that we have to set some kind of example and it is unrealistic to expect everyone to write for no money, but of course we are straddling the line between big sites who take advertising, which we don't, and the experimental arts community where nobody ever expects to get paid. I like to be paid for my work and I think it is very reasonable for everyone else to like that too.

Alaric Sumner: I don't think paying people improves the work. I don't think I read a text more carefully because I have paid for it or received it for free. If my work has something of value to someone, I want them to have it. I am at present in the enviable position of being employed (part-time) to teach the work I love and to continue my academic and creative research. I have never written in order to receive money and it has been a confusing and slightly embarrassing experience to receive money for it -- 'they think there is a monetary equivalent?'. However, someone recently sat beside me reading my Conversation in Colour (a play about a gay relationship, illness and time -- long twisting sentences using colour rather than time to structure the minimal narrative). It had been lying next to her and she just happened to pick it up. After a while, I suddenly became aware that there were tears pouring down her cheeks and she could hardly speak when she finished 40 minutes or so later (I had hardly dared move!). I don't see that her handing me a few coins or a year's salary could have added anything of value to my experience or to hers. ***?? (clear up syntax here) The late Michael Holloway (now the work's dedicatee) reviewed the performance of CinC at the Tate Gallery St. Ives for the Cornishman, the local newspaper. I believe he paid the Tate for his ticket, but what better recompense could I have than the confirmation that I had constructed a work which spoke as intensely to someone more involved in its subject than I, as well as to the general reader.

Turning to publishers, I would argue that they are fundamentally different from editors. I am not sure that the poetry scene really has any publishers yet in this sense -- people who view the enterprise commercially. Most (as with most small press poetry publishers) are actually editors who can't find commercial publishers to publish the works they want to edit and so end up doing it themselves. Publishing on paper is costly, distribution a nightmare for non-popular titles. You can only really do it and do it well if you get a return. Editors are enthusiasts (usually?) who want others to get the excitement they do -- they want to share. On the net we can do this and the main cost is our time, once we have access to the equipment. A number of the contributors to the Sound/Text section are not wired. Most contributors have left me to encode their tapes and set or scan their texts. I have access to the facilities and the excitement and urge to share their work with others. It is true that the readership that buys experimental paper poetry is not usually a poverty-striken grouping, so, to some extent, the net has broadened the audience -- people buy the computer, the medium, for other reasons and then the offerings are (comparatively) cheap. Are people more likely or less likely to browse a net poetry magazine in their own home or to seek out a poetry bookshop?

Christy Sheffield Sanford: For me, in terms of publishing, the print to web experience is seamless. Almost every web piece I finish, I submit somewhere: to a gallery showing, ezine or competition. I've always felt it keeps me honest to keep submitting. And I like to send to those I've never met or who don't know me or my work. My trAce virtual writer-in-residence position was obtained that way as was my recent Dow Fellowship. The literary and art world, maybe as all professions, has a tendency to get chummy and suddenly you don't know whether they love you or your work. If your work goes over the transom and is accepted you know it's your work. Okay, could be the judges are biased in favor of your particular theme. Still, I think my argument holds. So I keep sending my work out to total strangers. And I share my work with those who've taken it in the past. I try to have enough work to satisfy both camps: those who want to continue supporting the work and those who are new and want to recognize it. (I imagine myself picking the flowers from my garden and giving each panel member a bloom: peach hibiscus for Sue, pink rose for Jennifer, pine cone lily for Rob, hot pink gerber daisy for Alaric and a blue hydrangea for Ian.)

As a poet/fiction writer/genre fusionist, I made little money. With experimental literature the public often has the illusion one day you may be well paid so you are seldom questioned about it. I won a $20,000 NEA one year, but what happened the previous 10 years? Not much financially! With the Web, there is this acute realization that there is no money, and so I am chronically asked and looked at like poor thing are you out of your mind to be doing this. Actually more opportunities have opened to me on the Web than in print. I can almost make a living. But the lack of a salable commodity is an interesting issue.

5. Before using a computer/the Internet to create/disseminate your work, what were you doing?

Robert Kendall: I wrote poems exclusively for print until I was in my early 30s, and I had a printed book, A Wandering City, published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 1992. My early electronic poems were presented as computer installations at art galleries, museums, book fairs, literature festivals, and so on. I would also often set the computer up before or after my live poetry readings. The installations included original music and required a lot of specialized hardware, but I also distributed scaled-down versions on floppy disks, which I sold at the venues where the work was presented. After Eastgate Systems and I discovered each other, I wrote some works for them to distribute on disk. Now I am focusing on the Web. Each change in distribution medium has brought with it a significant change in my work. Computer-based installations, disk-based software, and the Web all offer different possibilities and limitations in terms of interface, interaction, and multimedia and I had to adapt my approaches to accommodate these.

Ian Irvine: I suppose the Web has accompanied, to some degree, my emergence as a youngish (I'm 35 now) writer/poet etc.. Before hitting the Web I think all the different mediums I indulged in were much more bound by locale ... I was in an alternative rock band called Goya's Child for three or so years in the early nineties. Some of the songs I wrote with that band were recorded and played on various Australian radio stations -- eventually they appeared as the sound track to a film which was financed by the Australian Arts Council. However, the Australian music market demands that you live a certain kind of life in a big city -- not my cup of tea at all. I guess, looking back on that period now, we would have done things vastly differently on the promotions side had the Internet been available in its current form. I also did a lot of performance poetry (a recipe for poverty, substance abuse and heroic obscurity, as one wag described it) around Victoria and the North Island of New Zealand and I also had some material published in Australian/NZ magazines and newspapers. Come 1994 I started my doctoral degree and since I was being paid well to research a more or less literature-based topic I immediately went into a kind of hibernation in terms of promoting/performing my work. I was, however, writing an enormous amount of material -- novels, poems, plays, short stories, essays, and of course the thesis on chronic ennui etc. I still have a huge backlog of unpublished material from that period -- mainly the larger pieces, which demand more time editing. Once I'd finished the Ph.D. I concentrated on sending out some of my smaller works (poetry/SS) ... and did something else which is a temporary death to the novelist, started a literary ezine! I guess only a fraction of the material I wrote during the period 1992-1997 has found its way out into the world at large -- and the Web has certainly enhanced that process.

Sue Thomas: There was a big gap in my writing life, and when I returned to it in my mid-thirties I also discovered computers for the first time, so the two rather developed hand in hand. Until then the majority of my activities had been craft-based: I was studying textiles and making sweaters on a punchcard knitting-machine, as well as dabbling in weaving and knotting techniques. I was also a keen gardener. So my creative work was very manual, and I still see computer work as manual in some senses. Although my html skills are extremely poor, I know enough to see web design as a manual craft rather than a cerebral activity, although of course it is that too. I think I belong to the William Morris school of thought, where craft and beauty and usefulness all go together. So even though I'm not very good with my hands, I have a history of trying and then theorizing about it a lot!

Alaric Sumner: I was doing the same as I am now -- using the equipment and means at my disposal, making work with what I had to hand, using the postal system, telephones. Having fun, grief. Publishing and performing. Because I am using it as a tool rather than a medium I don't recognize this sense of before and after. Maybe I haven't started using the possibilities yet. Before I used sound equipment to multiply voices, I wrote scores for multivoice performance. My second book (or was it my third?) in 1976 was a self-published handwritten book called Imstanit Mhash (I mean each copy was written by hand -- each text varied, each book had some different texts). I worked with what came to hand.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: Before the computer and the Internet, I was sending out work to literary magazines and competitions. My print acceptances around that time were Central Park, Chain, Fiction International, To and Membrane. I was working for six months as a Visiting Writer at the University of Toledo. My colleague and friend Joel Lipman had encouraged me to apply. He shares with me a strong impetus to join art and writing. One day Joel came into my office and gave me a stack of French Flash Cards. I've always been a francophile. (I imagine myself as Suzanne Valadon painting in the nude.) Throughout my tenure at U.T., I was cutting out images and overlaying text on the Flash Cards to make a nonlinear story about a woman who has stepped out of a DeMaupassant short story, "Two Little Soldiers." I envisioned this as a work for the Web, as it was the only way I could see it being published. I also wanted to explore how it could be not just a gallery-type project but a web project. I had French sound files and a random cgi script created and the text itself is very hypertextual. By that, I mean on the cards themselves, there are multiple meanings, associations and lines of connection. "Red Mona" was eventually accepted for the Montreal Maid in Cyberspace XX exhibition. That was a long time ago. The mountain has been steep.

6. Do you miss the tactile quality of your previous work, the feel of a pen, paper under your fingers, use of paint, canvas, brush? Or do you still make work for other media? If so, how has your use of the Internet/computer software affected your other work?

Robert Kendall: The tactile component of the creative enterprise is still very important to me. All of my hypertexts begin as pencil drafts on pages that I spread out and shuffle around on the floor. Working with physical materials helps me visualize and clarify structural elements in the early stages. Even in the latest stages of writing, I prefer to mark up my revisions in pencil on printouts of the text and then type them into the computer. Maybe I'm superstition about actually having to hold something in my hand occasionally to prove to myself that it's really there.

Lately I have started again to write a lot of poems for print. I have begun to feel the need to get away from the computer sometimes -- partly because I have been having problems with repetitive strain injury in my hands brought on from typing. I rarely try for nonlinearity in my printed poems -- I am more likely to exploit the linearity inherent in the page as much as I can. Sometimes, however, when I sit down to write a poem for print, I find that the text just isn't working on the page -- that it demands to be a hypertext. Sometimes the multiplicities in an emerging poem simply overflow the medium of paper and can only be captured in software. A similar thing can happen sometimes when a writer sits down to write a poem and finds it demanding to be a short story instead. Printed linear poetry and interactive electronic poetry are two different genres, each with their own unique demands and possibilities. I write in both genres and try to approach both as idiomatically as possible.

Ian Irvine: To be honest I discovered a sensoral (almost tactile for me) dimension to writing for the Web that I had completely lost as a print writer. After the abstraction of mere words on a computer screen and white page-print outs which I faced for five solid years whilst writing my thesis it was a 'sensoral' relief to create for the Web -- experimentation with colour and sound being the two things I discovered first. It still amazes me that people access The Animist and send us emails applauding the journal's design. I've never seen myself as an artist, but necessity is the mother of artistic invention and it took me six months before I would acknowledge the fact that I had any talent whatso-ever in that area. I'd just done it for the hell of it, out of the sheer pleasure I'd felt in mucking around with Photoshop. My co-editor Sue King-Smith also does some of the design work and she is more comfortable seeing herself as an artist. In terms of sound, my computer is hooked up to a band sound system, I tend to design the pages of The Animist with hundreds of watts of sound pounding out at me from the various musicians who appear in our pages. The whole place vibrates ... pretty tactile I can tell you! The only thing I miss in relation to writing for the Internet, which is actually easy enough to correct, is what I'd call the pleasure of the live public performance, the 'gig feel'. A friend of ours up in Queensland wanted to launch The Animist with a number of the performers performing their work on a stage backgrounded by huge projected images from the pages of the journal. We will do this one day.

Sue Thomas: I enjoy the tactility of my computers, my psion organiser, my nokia communicator, and all those other plastic things. :) See my piece on technopolyamory -- the art of loving many machines, (note: this site is often quite slow). I also adore clean paper, firm black pens, and straight lines. I am a messy handwriter but always trying to improve. When writing fiction I still do the first draft in longhand on a pad of paper, usually lying across my bed. Nonfiction often goes straight onto the screen. Hypertext, of course, needs a keyboard but there's nothing to stop me from drawing maps should I so desire. I write about tactility a great deal -- I am intrigued by the way MOOing draws upon the sensorium -- and I do not see computer activities as non-tactile at all. The tactility is simply stimulated by associative rather than nervous suggestions to the brain. As regards another aspect of tactility, I seldom suffer the usual computer-related physical problems of backpain, eyestrain, and RSI, but recently I attended a weekend course which required a lot of note-taking by hand and I got terrible pains in my fingers and wrists. I think I have mutated.

Alaric Sumner: Most of my work is for performance ­ I suppose this is why it is only really the sound element of the Net that excites me yet. Though my texts may be published on paper or screen, their end, resolution, aim is to get breath to be passed over vocal chords. My visual work frustrates me so much that I always end up transforming them -- Due to Stock Rationalisation by a Manufacturer (exhibited at the Tate Gallery St Ives) became a video with the texts read aloud; Plans for the New Architecture became a performance at Ferens Gallery Live Art Space, Hull, for 5 speakers and soundscape by John Levack Drever -- there were gaps of between seven and ten years between the creation of the visual and the creation of the performance. Technology has enabled me to make works in performance that were impossible, unimaginable or just damned difficult, before. (Though of course I have been typing or typesetting my texts since the beginning and at a basic level that has obviously affected things like layout and therefore affected everything else about the work.) I scanned Wendy Kramer's pieces a few days ago and made the videos of her pieces. Handling her works was fundamentally different from seeing her work on EPC or even sitting in St Mark's Church in New York on January 1 1999 and seeing her handling her text while she read it during the Poetry Marathon. To hold the work yourself -- to hold the work itself -- is not an experience this medium, these computers, can provide. I am excruciatingly aware, with Carlyle Reedy's work, that these are pieces in flux, they are unique and unstable events. When I hold a Carlyle fragment, I am holding something that cannot be reproduced, cannot be stabilised. If I take it back to her flat and leave it there I don't know how it will have been transformed the next time I see it.

By presenting her work, whether on paper or screen in reproduction, I am only offering a hint at the work's purpose, significance -- yet what else can I do? I shout about what she does because I think she is doing something extraordinary, but I can't show it to you, it is too particular, too fragile, too timespace-bound, too body/object-bound. I offer the detritus of her process -- the beautiful fragment snatched from the flux and fixed, pinned like butterflies in a drawer covered by glass. I kill them to present them. But only to beg you to go hunt out the living specimens -- to beg you to go experience them in the wild.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: I don't miss the tactile quality because I feel the Web is very tactile and textural. Isn't that funny? I agree with Sue on that. It's so visually exciting. In a sense it's like film or video, you have the experience of caressing something with your gaze. I feel it can be very intimate.

I'm thinking about Alaric's response. I see the Web as offering many chances for performance-based work. The page can and often does perform itself. But you're right, I've created some live performance art pieces, and there is a unique energy and responsiveness that can't be duplicated on the Web. Documented but not realized. Fortunately, as the late Juan Downey said, any medium that is satisfying isn't going to disappear.

I hope there will be more cross fertilization. I like very much the work of Peter Greenaway because I think he brought into film influences from other disciplines such as painting and the book It's inevitable that various art forms will affect each other.

7. What software/html programming/javascript/etc. tools do you most enjoy using right now? Why?

Robert Kendall: Right now I am in the throes of developing a software system that extends the primitive hypertext capabilities of the Web. The Connection System, as we call it, centers around a JavaScript library that can enhance any work created in HTML. (Details are available at Word Circuits.) Plain HTML is very limiting, and our system helps overcome many of these limitations without requiring plug-ins or complex programming. It tracks the reader's progress, recording where the reader has been and how much of the entire text has been read. It allows links and text to be displayed conditionally or randomly. It helps guide the reader to new material, helps create closure in a reading, greatly expands the possibilities for interaction, and helps eliminate the unproductive looping and repetition that can dilute a hypertext reading.

Ian Irvine: I haven't really experimented with Java yet ... though we've featured Java pieces in The Animist. I suppose my stock in trade programmes are Photoshop, Frontpage, Cool-Edit Pro (which is useful for sound manipualtion and for saving Wav files into Real Audio), Cakewalk (for messing around with MIDI files), Word, Illustrator, Premier and, every now and then, 3-D studio Max and other programmes capable of creating interesting highly compressed animated Gifs. Other programmes have come and gone, eg. I experimented with Director in regard to producing multimedia CD-Rom versions of my poems. In regard to The Animist we've tried to do the basics right -- we've heard a lot of mixed stuff about Java and to be honest given the programmes listed above just about all bases are covered unless we suddenly decide to make The Animist into a SitCom.

Sue Thomas: It will be clear by now that I am not much of an html-er! I enjoy MOO programming, although I seldom have time to really explore it and have lately been left far behind by our writer-in-residence Bernard Cohen, who is now streets ahead of me. I am learning symbolic logic and intend to extend that into programmable forms to use as a basis for some texts, but all that depends on a mythical block of time which I never seem to get to.

Alaric Sumner: I do most of my work in -- er, blush -- Claris Works. I used Quark XPress in my job in the 80s and found it better then than Pagemaker, but if I can pick Joseph Hyde's brains about shockwave and premiere and director, who knows? I use ProTools for sound. In performance I use CDs since we have burners, but I hope to explore LISA for live electronics. I don't think I am lazy -- I just need the right project which demands a new exploration. There is so much to do, I can't spend time learning a range of software just on the offchance I might need it. My main interest is still the placing of word next to word.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: I've already spoken of Dreamweaver, but I can say a few more words. With this editor as with some others, you can switch back and forth between html and dhtml. A wysiwyg allows you to see the layout develop. You can automatically code page divisions and layers. And you can with a few clicks create a show-hide Java Script without knowing how to code or program. This means, you can have a hot link that will open a layer or several layers at once. There can be overlapping or a total cover up of what has been. In addition, there is the opportunity to create timelines, making words or images fly through the air or behave in choreographed ways. What I think is most significant about all this is that is causes a temporal and spatial consciousness. It creates a geometrization of the interface. I think dhtml will have a very positive factor in the evolution of hypertext.

The other program I've been experimenting with is Flash. This is a vector graphics program that allows you to make small file-sized movies, which come up quickly. They are interactive in that you can zoom. I have some examples in "Jill Swimming" , a work that was in the Aix-en-Provence Art Contemporaine Exhibit

8. Does the Internet give you a diverse audience which was unavailable to you before its inception? Or do you worry that your readership is now largely limited to those who can afford computer equipment or have access to it through institutions?

Robert Kendall: The Internet has certainly broadened the audience for my electronic work. There are still many people who can't be reached via the Web but only through live readings or printed books and magazines, however this will change. I expect the day will come when it's pretty near impossible to buy a telephone or a television set without a Web browser built into it

Ian Irvine: My creative works have been presented to many different types of audiences over the years. The Internet has undoubtably brought me into contact with a highly intelligent and diverse international community of thinkers, poets, artists, musicians etc.. This has been positive all round as far as I'm concerned, I owe these people a lot in terms of the way in which they've supported what we've been doing with the journal and stimulated my thinking on a whole range of issues (John Kinsella's poetry email list has been excellent in this regard). All these people have contributed a great deal to the evolution of my work. I have no problem what-so-ever with the fact that these people are computer literate. The work I do still gives me a great deal of contact with non-computer literate arts people, and a lot of my work is still published in print journals etc. so to me the two worlds complement each other, I don't believe in the so-called stand-off between web writers/artists and established print writers/artists. However, in terms of audience diversity, I sometimes miss the drunk-punk- pub audiences I performed to as lead singer in a band. There wasn't a lot of informed opinion handed out from these people when it came to which lyrics were working and which weren't ... at times criticism was wonderfully frank and brutal: cheers when people liked something and flying empty beer cans when they weren't!

Sue Thomas: As a writer about MOOing, my problem is that the world is divided into those few hundred who know what the hell it is, and the millions who don't! When I first began to write about the programmed environment of the MOO I was fascinated as much by the programming commands as anything else and very much wanted to use those commands as part of my work. However I soon discovered that I had not a single reader who understood what I was talking about. Now I know a few more people who are MOO-literate and also interested in writing, and so I feel more enthused to produce something just for them, but beyond that it would be impossible to form a connection with an audience that is unfamiliar with the terminology. The question of portraying virtual life in general widens the brief a little, although I have found that the problem here is that publishers have a concept of 'the internet novel' which reflects popular misconceptions about the Web rather than the realities. The realities are generally less intriguing to them, unfortunately. What I'm trying to say here is that, working mostly in print but writing about the Internet, I need an audience which is web literate so that it recognizes and understands what I am trying to do. You don't need to be online at the moment of reading my work, but you do need to have spent some time online in order to appreciate it.

Alaric Sumner: As I have written above, the audience is different but not necessarily financially better off. However, I am very aware that I have been in contact with Australians, North Americans, Europeans and even a few South Americans, but all are educated, comparatively affluent, part of the 'global community'. In the 'West' you don't have to be fabulously rich to have access to computers, but though my range of contacts has exploded enormously, I am very aware that it has expanded in a very thin seam, smashing geographical boundaries rather than social, linguistic or racial boundaries. These boundaries are as much in place offline as online. But the gap between those of us who have access and those who don't may prove as difficult to narrow (or abolish) as that between the rich and the poor -- so-called 'representative democracy' doesn't provide mechanisms for altruism, only for talk about it.

By the way, though I have seen or met at some point most of my contributors, with at least three I have never had more than virtual contact. I don't think there is much difference between this and page publishing in that I published work by people I had never met, but the speed and ease of email meant that I could ask people I would have found it hard to find a snail mail address for. Does any one know Cecil Taylor's email address? I have wanted to publish his texts with his performances of them for years. He is one of the missing contributors from my section. There are clips at UbuWeb.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: Yes, the audience has greatly increased. Literary magazine subscribers are a fairly select group. In terms of democracy, I think the Web allows much more access. For experimental artists, the audience is seldom large on any account. I do think people in the U.S. have been privileged to have inexpensive servers. I hope for cheaper access around the world. Yes, I realize some people are not able to buy a computer, some people are not able to buy a magazine. I know quite a few poor artists and they have all managed to set up computers. Most now think it a necessity for networking and for trying to find work.

I recently learned the U.N. Human Development Report 1999 shows that outside the OECD, only fractions of 1% of the population have Internet access. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development accounts for 19% of the world's people and has expanded from Europe and North America to include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Korea.

9. It is unclear to what extent electronic archives of internet work will be preserved for posterity. Does the thought of your work being lost alarm you or have you started to work with the potential ephemerality of the medium?

Robert Kendall: Some of my early works no longer run on modern computers, and one doesn't always have time to keep old work updated for newer systems. Software obsolescence does pose a disturbing threat to electronic work. The obsolescence problem should become more manageable in the future, though, because the Web is helping to establish more universal and durable standards for software than those that existed previously. Our Connection System is also partly an attempt to ensure archivability. By systematizing and standardizing approaches to advanced hypertext techniques we increase the chances that these functions will survive or be easily reproducible in years ahead.

I don't think today's Web work is going to disappear in the future, as long as there are people around who are interested in preserving it. I do think we will inevitably lose details and nuances, however. No matter how carefully we try to maintain backward compatibility, today's texts will appear and behave somewhat differently in the browsers of the future. But then this sort of erosion process is something to which all artists have to resign themselves. Details of musical and theatrical performance practice, nuances of linguistic meaning, and even the colors of paint gradually become murky over the course of generations.

Ian Irvine: Well The Animist is archived by the Australian National Library, so the ephemerality issue is not such a big one for me. I'm at the stage where I see print as increasingly ephemeral. Books are incredibly localised, they go out of print, they rot, they cost a lot to produce and then to send to friends overseas, etc. Unless you're taken up by a publisher your halfways to being a business person rather than an artist. Likewise, even if you are published you might only be published in one run, in one country. Electronic information can be stored all over the place more or less permanently, for little cost and taking up very little space. We keep CD rom back ups of everything we do with The Animist, then there's the library archives, and I think we're also archived by another Australian cultural site, instantly accessible from anywhere in the world (I leave the kind of preservation issues discussed by Robert above to them), and there's also the hard copy print outs I take of most of my work. Added to this because most of my serious work is 'text' based (I still don't see myself as a digital artist I guess), the preservation issues are not such of an issue to me .... probably more important for the digital artist, or the musician. My biggest disappointment has been in seeing other literary ezines who publish my work disappear without a trace, no archives, no lingering pages. That is very frustrating, consequently I now save whole ezines I've been published in to hard-drive and CD-Rom. I'm also interested in Robert Kendall's comments regarding the erosion of electronic information ... I think I need educating in that area.

Sue Thomas: At trAce we archive everything we can, including weekly writers' journals and the development of web sites by people who are learning with us. In terms of my own work, the MOO is as ephemeral as any live interaction. I have become accustomed to being very careful about recording any interaction I think might be significant, and also recording descriptions of people, rooms and objects (although I never cite other peoples' work without their permission). So I guess you might say that I have chosen to work in the most ephemeral of all internet environments but I have established a security routine to capture that very ephemerality whilst also making sure it is not lost. I'm very jealous that Ian's work is being automatically archived!

Alaric Sumner: Loss is essential, as is change. Robert, Ian and Sue seem either to regret or fear or ignore it. What is retention? It is constipation. Performance can't be archived -- only traces, dead things. So though I do keep things and make things and sometimes even hope that some of the things I do will be around in the future and I also attempt to retrieve aspects of passing things (I interview Carlyle about her performance work in the 70s and 80s -- 'Language Image Sound Object' (PAJ 61), but I am not trying to retain or retrieve those events. We are creating something new and alive -- a memory. It can't be what it was. I can never again read Samuel R Delany's Stars in my Pockets for the first time, never again see my first James Turrell, never again hear Amirkhanian's Dutiful Ducks for the first time, never again explore for the first time Paul Sermon's Telematic Dreaming. I have no regrets. I have something else to listen to, see, read. These experiences are fleeting. It is their fragility, emphemerality that is their glory. If we had no methods of retention other than speech (as in the oral tradition) we would live differently -- would it be a better life? Who are we creating for -- each other or posterity? I liked Ian's 'rotting books' -- I could work with that. Now, who can write me a degrading virus, a virus which would eat away slowly at my cyberworks, yellowing and embrittling the 'pages', simulating mould and insect damage, hastening catastrophic collapse of the software?

Christy Sheffield Sanford: Yes, of course, as a woman I worry about my history being lost. I've seen so many examples of that. Much more progress can be made if people don't have to keep reinventing the wheel. Civilization profits by the experiences and products of those who have gone before. Exclusionary tactics exist cradle to grave. My latest experience had to do with a woman. Control issues are genderless.

When my mother moved into a highrise for seniors, she gave me my father's paintings. He died when I was nine. He was prominent in Atlanta, had won many prizes and had a large body of work. He had sold quite a few paintings when he was alive, but many of his art works are now in a bin in my hallway. Have you ever tried to place several hundred works? They're good, too. But this legacy is quite a responsibility.

I hope my work is preserved, I think it's groundbreaking and has the power to inspire others. Even when it's dated, the ideas behind the work are important and show a way of thinking. I have a CD burner and I intend to make a few archival copies. I've had several publishers approach me about a retrospective CD of my work so I'm hopeful it won't all disappear.

I applaud those who have documented performance art events. I've greatly profited from seeing images from Carolee Schneemann's performances. Pina Bausch, too. These weren't dead to me, Alaric. They offered quite vital inspiration.

One issue of archiving is quite amazing. You can keep changing the work! I suppose technically the work is not really archived if that is the case.

10. What do you think the future holds for the Internet writing/art community? How do you plan to affect this community?

Robert Kendall: This is probably the question I am asked most frequently and it's certainly the one that is hardest to answer. As I said earlier, I think the Internet is likely someday to become the preferred venue for all new poetry and short fiction. Hypertext poetry and fiction will become more popular and successful as improved software eliminates the problems that readers now sometimes encounter (disorientation, redundancy, lack of direction, lack of closure). Eventually the fields of serious art/literature and commercial entertainment (i.e., computer games) are bound to interpenetrate more, resulting in more sophisticated technology for the former and higher artistic quality in the latter. Whatever else happens, one thing is certain: the Web is going to bring us all manner of things we couldn't possibly even conceive of now.

What will I contribute to the Web community? Well, I try to do my bit by writing hypertext, teaching it through the New School, publishing it on my Word Circuits Web site, writing about it, and developing software to facilitate creating it. I am particularly interested in fostering hypertext structures that are more intelligently responsive to the ways that readers poke and prod at them. I want to see a body of hypertext that is as satisfying, stimulating, and rewarding to intelligent readers as the body of printed literature created in our time.

Ian Irvine: I think Robert has answered the first part of this question pretty thoroughly (see above). I'd only add that I see a greater and greater shift toward live web performances by artists/writers/poets/musicians etc. stationed in different parts of the globe. Cyber literary festivals? At times in editing The Animist over the past two years Sue and I have felt like we were the managers of some kind of theatre production -- we were trying to co-ordinate musicians, writers, artists, designers etc. from all parts of the globe to produce a whole that worked -- the kind of 'site/performance (?)' we put out in February of this year. We have a real sense of community with many of the people who have appeared in The Animist, I've also had the same feeling working with other literary ezine editors on the kinds of issues under discussion in this round robin discussion. I also feel excited about the prospects for electronic books ... when people start buying genuinely readable electronic books which, of course, can download novels, interactive novels, longer non-fiction pieces and music at small cost, off the World Wide Web, I think we'll have reached a seminal point in the literary revolution we're currently living through. I'm also extremely excited about the new literary forms being birthed in this medium -- in this sense the themes of 'spatialisation', 'interactivity', 'sound/video accompaniment' and ' non-linear layering of texts' will become increasingly important -- who knows what people will come up with!

My role in all this? Well along with the other editors at The Animist I spend a lot of time educating people about the benefits of this new medium through public lectures and the like. I'm also a founding member of ILEF which is an international organisation devoted to articulating and working through many of the problems that currently beset editors who want to publish quality literature on the Internet. Other than that I guess I'll keep on trying to expose the Web and general audiences to quality poets, writers, thinkers, artists, musicians etc. as published through The Animist.

Sue Thomas: I think that the artform currently developing online will eventually be simply called 'Web', and it will be a multimedia form which encompasses any new technological practice as it arrives. Some web artists will focus on text, some on sound, some on visuals, but each work may well contains aspects of all of those. The Internet will also be more recognized as a social and political milieu which will be better understood and therefore work like mine which commentates upon it will be more accessible to more people. I hope that my own writing will continue to resonate with those who are interested in the medium. As regards trAce, I think it is affecting the writing community already simply by connecting practitioners with each other and providing them with a place to meet and work. I very much enjoy that sense of community and atmosphere and look forward to its continuation and growth.

Alaric Sumner: I had hoped that the future held disorientation, redundancy, lack of direction and lack of closure for the writing community until I read Robert's reply. It seems to me that these are some of the things the Net does best and are central to its advantages over other forms. I do hope it doesn't cling desperately to the old stabilities. I suspect we will end up with money and irrational 'Rationalism' and the dream mongers rampaging with their shiney new expensive software. And in the virtual equivalent of a Poetry Centre's basement, poor poets will crank out ignored, 'deathless' works on the virtual equivalent of the Roneo or Gestetner (remember the Gestetner?). Junk mail will have so clogged the email system that no one will use it any more. Internet pages will be too expensive to lodge on crammed servers without advertising. Poets will wander (virtually) from smokey rooms upstairs in cyberpubs to almost deserted cyberchatrooms offering each other their latest hypertexts.

The division between the cyber community, an 'us', and a 'them' is one I reject (and I mean reject as an action, a political act). I would hope to be part of the creation and dissemination of works which disorient, multiply, wander and open up new possibilities for experience in any medium, including the various digital media. In particular I would seek to blur the distinctions between the media -- clashing body with machine, hearing with vision, object with digit. Michael Woolf said this morning on BBC Radio 4, 'Watch out for homogeneous product'. I hope he meant it as a warning rather than an encouragement.

Christy Sheffield Sanford: I am optimistic. I think hypertext will develop into a satisfying form. In my latest web essay, Rob, I have a page or two devoted to the question of what is satisfying-in past literature and in current Hypertext efforts and, in general, what forms are satisfying. Those questions haven't been addressed for quite some time because the whole issue of aesthetics has been taboo. Satisfaction is inescapably in that philosophical area. I feel you're on the right track there. I think there will be more depth in literature and art due to the penetrable matrix idea. Sue, I hope there will be more wonderful communities like trAce. You're a model, a role model. Ian, you mentioned spatialisation. I've used the phrase spatial-temporal and sometimes spatio-temporal. I think we're in agreement on the importance of that whole area for the Web. It's a new dawn but right now it's my bedtime. (I imagine myself as Saint Theresa flying across the night sky dropping rose petals all over the world. A great poet, Sainte-Therese de Lisieux.)


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