from the editor's desk

‘compression artefact’ by Chris Arnold

With the support of The Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with Margaret River PressWesterly delivered our inaugural Writers’ Development Program in 2016.

Five talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. We are now delighted to be able to showcase their work here at the Editor’s Desk, and look forward to their inclusion in our upcoming print issue.

compression artefact
Chris Arnold


Viewpoint and Viewport — writing “compression artefact”

In Digital Poetics, Loss Pequeño Glazier issues a call for electronic poetry to engage with the materiality of its medium. He writes that ‘[a]n electronic poetics alters the “eye” (“I”) and also extends the physicality of reading. With the keyboard, literal manipulation is engaged with fingers determining different referentialities of the text—a sight more active than repetitious page turning’ (37). I’ve been reading digital poetry to see how others engage with the medium, and I came across Omar Sakr’s poem ‘Definitions’ in Overland’s Photonic Overload special online issue. ‘Definitions’ is read by clicking through a series of endings to lines that begin with ‘Love is’. I was taken with this poem’s simple aesthetic and interface. With very little technology it creates a reading environment that could not be satisfactorily reproduced on paper; one that constrains reading, but in a way that is sympathetic to the poem. ‘compression artefact’ is my first attempt to prepare a text for electronic reading. It began with an idea for the interface, focussed on the concept of the viewport. A viewport is a subset of space occupied by an interface; it’s usually the area in which content is displayed. Car windows, viewed from inside, function in much the same way: they don’t move relative to the observer but they permit seeing part of a world beyond as it slides past. On screen, the scrollbar replaces the accelerator, the content may be moved if it is too long or wide for the viewport. ‘compression artefact’ began with an implementation for a very narrow viewport, one that only permits reading a single line at a time. Glazier imagined the emergence of the poet/programmer back in 2002. I happen to work as a software engineer, so it seems ironic that this poem has been prepared with no functional code: only a small javascript routine is used, and only to work around differences in browsers’ feature sets, for the purpose of encapsulating the poem in a single HTML fragment. The narrow viewport is implemented with cascading style sheets. In effect, two blank white panels are placed over the text with a gap in the middle.

My method of presentation interferes with perception, and I wanted my content to match. ‘compression artefact’ is concerned with perceptions of place and the way that memory interferes with those perceptions. It was written in response to a chapter in Digital Poetics in which Glazier discusses the idea of the home page. In this case, ‘home’ follows UNIX convention: a home is an entry point to a tree or graph structure—the point of origin for browsing a set of hyperlinked pages that make up a website. Not content with discussing this definition, Glazier takes his reader through all interpretations of home, including that of a place of belonging. He concludes that a haunt is probably a better term, the page is a point to which the reader returns (61-77). Outside of electronic spaces, Glazier’s ideas of home and haunt make for interesting discussion. Home is an emotive term: it carries more weight than house. Our real estate and finance industries appear to be well aware of the difference—the phrases ‘house loan’ and ‘house open’ are rarely, if ever, used; they don’t appeal to our desire for comfort and belonging. The home as a place of origin and belonging is at odds with our use of the word: a home is a place to which the self belongs, not a place that belongs to its owner. Returning to a place fosters relationship with that place if the intent is not simply to exist. In this way a haunt can become more comfortable and welcoming, more homely than a house. I have unusual writing practices that have seen me establish a series of haunts around Perth, so the poem explores the ideas of home and haunt by considering relationships with place. Observations of memory and its effect on the experience of place are of particular concern: I began with an imagined site of reading the final poem—sat in the house, reading from a screen—and allowed memory to intrude on the domestic scene. I noticed that my imagined domestic scene was, in fact, constructed of memories of that place, so in the end, a memory of the house is invaded by other memories.

Chris Arnold photoThe photograph, sliced and interleaved with the text, is an experiment. I wondered what would happen if a photograph were read the same way as the poem: line by line and enjambed in space rather than time. I found the effect interesting. Where the scrollbar facilitates bidirectional reading and aids comprehension of the poem, it seems to do no good for the image—I don’t have the cognitive capacity to piece the image back together, despite the fact that nothing is repeated or skipped between slices of the image. There’s a nice technical contrast between the image and its screen rendering: I found a way to display the slices of the image without dividing the image file itself—the photograph may be viewed whole if its URL is deduced from the source HTML. The photograph was taken at one of my haunts, the site of a memory that intrudes on the domestic scene at the poem’s opening. Just as the writing informed the image, the image fed back into the writing: the leaves stripped of their context reminded me of a series of Wolfgang Voigt’s album covers and photography books, released under his Gas alias. I almost removed the reference to this in the poem for excessive obscurity, but the Gas albums make a good match for ‘compression artefact’: they’re impressionistic ‘sound art based on highly condensed classical sound sources’ (Kompakt).

Everything discussed in ‘compression artefact’ is peculiar to my experience. It doesn’t try, to paraphrase George Hartley, to transmit an experience from writer to reader (see: ‘Textual Politics and the Language Poets’). I tried instead to write my experience of memory. I suspect I have quite poor visual recall so only a few memories are certain, colours in particular, while most are simply asserted. Memory breeds memory in the poem and impressions are overlaid in semi-transparent layers. At the same time, I’ve attempted to construct the poem so that the reader has as many ways in as possible. For example, I’ve enjambed lines, where possible, so they support multiple readings, as self-contained thoughts with different meanings in the poem’s broader context. The poem’s fractured style is a relatively new development for me. I enjoy spending time with others’ writing in similar styles: looking at what has been said and developing a reading that not only fits, but has value independent of the poet’s intention or experience. Reading Corey Wakeling’s Goad Omen was one such experience for me; his explorations of place didn’t take me by the hand through Perth, Melbourne, and beyond. Rather, their demand for attentive listening opened new ways of seeing.


Works Cited:

Glazier, Loss Pequeño. Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Hartley, George. “Textual Politics and the Language Poets.” 1989. The Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. <http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/hartley.html>.

Kompakt. “Wolfgang Voigt.” Mayer Paape Voigt GbR. Kompakt.fm. <http://www.kompakt.fm/artists/wolfgang_voigt>.

Sakr, Omar J. “Definitions.” n.d. Telescopic Text. <http://www.telescopictext.org/text/HWbrX0qcpKGrx>.

Wakeling, Corey. Goad Omen. Artarmon: Giramondo Publishing, 2013.

Chris Arnold lives in Perth and currently works as a software engineer. Chris completed his honours in English and Cultural Studies at UWA in 2016, and he will begin his PhD project in early 2017. He hasn’t had many significant publications to date, so he’s very grateful to Westerly for selecting him for its inaugural Writers’ Development Program.


Westerly thanks both The Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund and Margaret River Press for their support of this program. 


CA W and MRP panoramic


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