Letter to Linus: Postcards From the Future

Letter to Linus” begins with a picture of an unfolded cube, with a phrase in each square.  Like “Penetration” and “Dispossession” by Robert Kendall, the reader clicks on a phrase, which leads to a poem related to the phrase.  When the reader has finished reading a poem, he or she chooses a phrase related to a verb at the end of the last stanza, and moves onto the next poem.

All of the poems center around the human need for language and expression.  The poems take place in a not-too-distant future, where the narrator of the poems struggles to find the right words for a letter to Linus, a talented poet.  The writer begs Linus to return to the writer’s city because communication and educational systems are starting to fall apart.  Libraries are in ruins and local dialects are beginning to die out.  The reader discovers that the government and corporations have patented languages.  Words are bought and sold like stocks, and corporations churn out new languages each year.  The rich can speak freely, but the poor must resort to pirating dictionaries.

Page 1 of "Letter to Linus"

The first page of “Letter to Linus”

The poems are rife with hidden desperation.  Once the reader finds out that people need to pay to use words, it makes the writer’s decision to illegally write to Linus more powerful.  Gillesbie also implies that the written word is the only way for disenfranchised people to communicate with each other and express their opinions.  The government has patented language for security purposes – the writer points out that “…language is the most powerful tool in the world./Dissidents and terrorists would be powerless to organize without it.”  However, citizens in the future have no way of communicating the news or their feelings to each other, leaving the world in a state of ignorance and mistrust.

Before I read these poems, I did not know why William Gillesbie, the author of “Letters to Linus,” chose to publish his poetry online instead of printing it, or he called it a “hypercube.”  However, when I looked up the definition of hypercube, I realized that it’s no coincidence that Gillesbie chose to portray the poems as parts of an unfolded cube.  This not a simple collection of poetry that can be printed on paper.  Gillesbie needed hypertext to show that each poem acts a piece of a puzzle.  The reader tries to find out what happened to Linus, why he is so important, and why the letter writer is so desperate for his return.  The clues are present in the poems, which range from the letters to Linus, to an advertising jingle for a company who patents the English language, to a hushed conversation in an apartment during a civil war.  Each poem is a three-dimensional portrayal of an aspect of a vivid, four-dimensional dystopian world, just as a hypercube is four-dimensional and made of separate faces.

The hypercube

An unfolded hypercube

Finally, I found that reading the poems in a different order gave me a new interpretation of “Letter to Linus.” When I first read the poems, I ended on an ambiguous note, with the potential return of Linus.  When I read them in a different order, the poems ended pessimistically, with Linus giving into government propaganda.  Has anyone interpreted “Letters to Linus” in a different way?  Do you think there are other reasons why Gillesbie published his poetry with hypertext?

  4 comments for “Letter to Linus: Postcards From the Future

  1. nbemis
    January 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I really enjoyed this poem, and found it to be much more cohesive and easy to follow than a lot of works we’ve examined (like “Dispossession”). It seemed not to be as concerned with creating a single narrative as it was with describing a world, kind of like a work of dystopian fiction. Because it seemed less concerned with narrative, and the lexiae’s stories were all very self-contained as individual units, it was much easier for the different lexia to make sense out of sequence (if there ever was a sequence to begin with.) I have a theory that the lexiae about the sun were supposed to come first, since the relationship of the sun and the earth predates humanity. But I could be wrong, and I welcome other interpretations if anyone’s got them!

  2. Dylan Tibert
    January 27, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    While I found the somewhat hidden, imbedded context of this dystopian future being described fascinating, what I couldn’t get over was the closeness with which the author tangoes with the conceptual nature of thought and language while still remaining routed in the immanent, preconceptual qualities of thought which underly our conceptualization, and through the character writing the letters in the context of the narrative outright denies the claim that the world can be reduced to the conceptual. The first cube that immediately caught my eye was “up the revolution”, so his discussion of the world’s relation to the way we so frequently construct it resonated with my reading of the rest of the poem. Something I think the hypertext form of the poem offers is a multiplicity of different experiences and interpretations, yet a level of control and conformity that is created by simple, limited 4 planes of the cube. We can conceptualize endlessly about the world as we interpret it, yet in the end we do indeed exist on the same plane. A fascinating poem.

  3. Robert
    January 27, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Good find, this is a really cool site. I’m not sure how I’d take the whole as a statement. On the one hand, it’s a statement about the power of words. On the other, why in hypertext?

    Perhaps it’s for extra authenticity, so it seems like a capsule sent back in time with these different sides that you examine as you can?

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