The advent of digital art has brought with it a new openness in art. Where creativity and its products was once limited to those who could afford or were afforded the privilege of being involved, the digitization of art—and in particular, the use of the internet to share and display art—has created not only a more open world in which to view art but a new way in which to interact with it. Jim Andrews’s poem, “Seattle Drift,” demonstrates the movement that digital art has made away from the exclusive art “scene” and shows that art can and should be not only available, but interactive.
Anyone who has gone to a café poetry reading or tried to discuss poetry with a Creative Writing major knows that if one is without a certain amount of knowledge about poetry—particularly modern, obscure texts found only outside of the mainstream—one is probably going to be made to feel like a tool. While I might argue that this is particularly true within the realm of undergraduate-level creative writers (having been made to feel like a tool on more than one occasion), this exclusivity is rampant in all art forms. “Seattle Drift” makes a two-line comment about this problem: “I used to be a poem, but I drifted from the scene.” The author thus implies that by deviating from the poetry “scene,” the poem is no longer worthy of being called such. This demonstrates the exclusion mentality of certain artistic scenes—in other words, if you’re not directly and exclusively a part of what is considered relevant to the day in your particular artistic arena, you are not even worthy of being called art.
Yet, “Seattle Drift” is clearly a poem, making the statement “I used to be a poem” ironic as well. The fact that art is art cannot be taken away by the fact that it is more accessible or even by the fact that it is mainstream. (This is not to say that all mainstream works ought to be considered art, just as with “scene” art). In fact, it could be argued that “Seattle Drift” is even more of a poem in that it is allegorical for all poems which have not had the privilege of being viewed by a large and varied audience. The poem—which is narrating itself—expresses a wish to have the reader “Do” it. This component of the poem is sexual—compounded by the black background of the page and the red hyperlinks, which bring to mind certain aspects of sadomasochism—but also frantic, conveying the desperation for interaction of a human being who as been deprived of human contact. In this way the poem becomes almost human, which further removes it from the restrictive poetry scene. No sane person would consider locking a person who is a benefit to society away from the public. In fact, the more beautiful the person, the stronger the urge to expose him or her to the public becomes. Why, then, has society felt the need to limit art to small, selective groups?
“Seattle Drift”—along with much of the art we see which appears exclusively on the internet—takes this rejection of exclusiveness one step further. Rather than just making the work available, the work is also interactive. The poem’s plea to have the reader “Do” it is not a futile plea. Included in the poem’s page are three hyperlinks, all in red, one which invites the reader to “do the text,” one which invites the reader to “stop the text” and one which invites the reader to “discipline the text”. When the reader “does” the poem, the words and punctuation begin to drift apart. When the reader stops the text, the words and punctuation freeze on the page in their last position, leaving a jumble of words and, for the avid interpreter, an infinite set of new poems. When the reader “disciplines” the poem, however, it immediately jumps back to its original position. The use of the word “discipline” in this contexts suggests that the poem does not like being in its original form, but would rather be drifting across the page. Indeed, when the poem is drifting, it doesn’t stop until the reader stops it: I left mine for twenty minutes and came back to find a page which had stretched a hundred times its regular size and on which I had to scroll through large stretches of blank space to even find a wandering period—and it was still expanding.
The fact that the poem attempts to fill a potentially infinite space when the reader interacts with it is suggestive of the potential of all digital mediums. When there is more input into art than a single or few people, the possibilities are greater, perhaps even limitless. The internet has opened a new frontier for art and literature, and although there are many ways in which this is a detriment, the benefits have to be embraced in order for them to be advanced. Sharing art does not make it less valuable; in fact, making art more universally available expands the possibility and opportunity for art to gain new ground and become more innovative. While “Seattle Drift” offers a wide variety of interpretations through its interactive features, it also offers an infinite variety of interpretations and perspectives through its availability to a wide audience. This is and ought to be one of the main goals of art: to reach and be interpreted by as many people as possible, so as to give the best possible perspective on that which it attempts to convey.