A Poem With Nine Lives: Jason Nelson’s Attempt at Cloning

     “Nine Attempts to Clone A Poem” is a work of interactive poetry in which Nelson demonstrates and manipulates the boundaries of electronic literature. The work utilizes as excessive number of media/interactive aspects, however not as many as some of his other works (the entirety of which can be found on his website), including but not limited to music media, moving patterns, flashing shapes and words, color changing phrases, and even, in his own words, an “embarrassingly bad ‘matrix’ interface”. Through these various mechanisms Nelsons asks the reader to question the concrete and bound into unknown, sometimes seemingly unreasonable realms, with him. Throughout  “Attempts” Nelson blatantly disregards the rules of composition in a fashion that many attribute to him for creating. 

     As the reader enters the surreal world of Nelson’s poem/art piece “Nine Attempts to Clone a Poem” we are presented with a seemingly normal web page. A group of stanza’s are displayed to us under the title “Pong” and nothing really seems out of place. A small train track of boxes progress’ along the top of the page with a group of links, all denoted with a number, either written out or numeric, and a gray, overcast background muffles the mood.

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     Immediately upon beginning the poem the reader is confronted with how to go about navigating the “clones”. The links, if followed left to right, then do not sync up numerically and vice-versa, additionally the numbering of these links begins at “zero” instead of “one”, adding to the eerie tone of the opening page. Through these initial instances Nelson ques the reader that the rules do not necessarily apply anymore and offers instead an alternate rendition of what those rules might be. Throughout all of this madness Nelson asks us to read and interpret a poem. Check that he gives us nine poems. Through various magical processes in coding, Nelson manipulates his poem, sometimes selecting single words, other times whole lines, and rearranges them from version to version. The poem morph forms, even titles at one point, changing from a game, to a spectacle, back to a poem, and then again into something new, over and over again.  

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     Venturing from poem to poem, clone to clone, the landscape of the work shifts drastically. Nelson offers his work to the audience in a fashion quite congruent with many of his other publications, featuring changing music and abstract line designs shifting tentatively about in the background of the page. With each mouse movement, the reader discovers new wormholes of meaning, some leading to revelation and others simply doubling back on themselves, leaving the reader with questions unanswered yet now, somehow, more intimately engaged. Many might argue that Nelson’s tactics are abrasive and unconventional and in many instances that is quite hard to refute. However, through these mechanisms and moments of obscure beauty, Nelson sets his standard high and, if nothing else, forces his audience to question the nature of literature and art as a whole. 

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