Slicing Through the Page: Poetry and Collaboration in “Cut to the Flesh”

“Cut to the Flesh,” a multi-media poem by Jody Zellen and Deena Larsen, is a work that embodies the creative and collaborative merits of digitally produced literature. The words in this piece belong to Zellen, but the source format was a “page space” created by Larsen. “Page space” in electronic literature refers to platforms created by an outside source for digital authors to utilize and manipulate through writing. Essentially, the page space author creates a space for composition without text to be filled by another author. This is an original and positive concept as it enables producers of digital poetry to reimagine the relationship between language and the medium on which it is presented. It allows for a wider variety of works that make use of technology’s endless potential for creativity.

In “Cut to the Flesh,” Zellen, a renowned digital author from Los Angeles, uses Larsen’s interface to create a unique and visceral experience. The first line in the piece foreshadows the intensity that lingers throughout the poem: “Patience…your heart is (s)ticking;” the letter (s) appears frantically, the word morphing between “sticking” and “ticking.” The delirious motion proves to be a perfect introduction as Zellen’s haunting arrangement of words unfolds.

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Upon entering the poem, a strong connection between imagery and text allows for the reader to become fully immersed in the piece. The presentation is aesthetically pleasing with a picture of nature set in the background, a serene image which is an inversion of the intense, abrasive language.  The reader’s interaction with text comes from clicking different question marks that pop up across the screen. Upon clicking a question mark, a line of poetry cuts diagonally to the center of the piece and the other marks change in position and/or number. This component is especially interesting because it gives the reader the ability to author their own poem, with Zellen allowing the reader to choose the procession of phrases.

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Language in “Cut to the Flesh” evokes abstract images of humanity and society, with lines that refer to “reconstructing human beings” establishing an interesting and effective tone. The eerie wordplay combines references to  death, landscapes, and architecture with images of flesh and the human body, a memorable exercise in composition reminiscent of Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Strange audio clips play while the cursor hovers above question marks, a component which aids the ominous mood of the poem. Low tones sound, people whisper, and a woman tells the reader to “breath,” a range of noise which adds another dimension to the project that would not be available in a traditional medium. As the reader clicks more question marks, an image resembling blood begin to form at the top of the screen. Selecting this image results in a barrage of existential and metaphysical phrases emanating from the top of the screen, an effect which creates the most impressive sequence of movement in the poem.

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Unfortunately, I could not experience all of “Cut to the Flesh” because it was built with an old version of Flash. However, in its current state, the piece remains an extraordinarily impactful and artistic creation in the realm of digital poetry.

Experience “Cut to the Flesh” here.

 

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