The Digital Collage of “Hymns of the Drowning Swimmer”

I was very interested by the aesthetic of the Jason Nelson games our class played for class, so I decided to explore his other works to find something for this blog post. I settled on “Hymns of the Drowning Swimmer,” an anthology of digital poetry. 

The title screen of "Hymns of the Drowning Swimmer." Screencapped.

The title screen of “Hymns of the Drowning Swimmer.” Screencapped.

The title screen, pictured above, will reveal the titles of the individual poems when the squares are moused over. Each of the poems is a “hymn,” many of which are numbered. The numbers seem randomly assigned; for example, “hymn: twelve: slots and the harmonious burden” is followed by “hymn: eighteen: perhaps we were never entertained”. Though there are eighteen poems, the numbers do not range from one to eighteen. By clicking on the title of a poem you navigate to its page. Each poem has a table of contents on the side and top of the page, so unlike some of the hypertext work we’ve looked at this semester, every poem is accessible from every other poem.

The poems are presented in a variety of formats, and only a few share the same format. You interact with the text by mousing over or sometimes clicking on it. The poems are presented through a combination of word and image, sometimes with ambient background noise or music included as well.

One format shared by hymns 12, 18, 106, and “nine or five” allows the reader to feel as if they’re participating in creating the poem. Clicking on four specific points on the screen will bring up stanzas of the poem, and the reader must click and drag them to arrange them in the correct order. (As you can see in the image of hymn 18, the stanzas are labeled so the reader can put them in the intended order.)

Hymn 2, arranged in order. Screencapped.

Hymn 18, with the stanzas arranged in order. Screencapped.

“hymn: one thousand: the conquest of invented” features a minimal, mysterious, but relentless beat and a collage of seemingly unrelated images as a static background. Floating around these images are the red and white text, which can be rotated like a globe by using the mouse.

"hymn: one thousand: the conquest of invented"

“hymn: one thousand: the conquest of invented”

“death of drowning,” which is the last poem on the navigation screen, creates the illusion of depth by allowing the reader, by clicking, to navigate through a black world filled only with yellow circles, red lines, and the word “below”. By clicking through, the reader gets the impression of constantly sinking down: there is no way to go backwards.

The poems are held together by a loose theme of swimming and drowning. However, to me the words seemed like only a part of a digital collage of words, images, sounds, and movement.

“Hymns of the Drowning Swimmer” can be read here.

"death of drowning"

“death of drowning”

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