“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.
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.
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?