Women, Art and Technology
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trAce/AltX Competition

Stephanie Strickland 1
by Randy Adams

StricklandNew York resident Stephanie Strickland is a print and hypermedia poet. In fact, her newest book, V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L'una (Penguin 2002), which won the 2000 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, is at the centre of a web project, V: Vniverse, including interactive versions of poems from the book. Her Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot won the 1999 Boston Review prize, and the web version was chosen for an About.com Best of the Net award. Her poems, True North and The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, have won awards in both print and electronic forms. Her work has been featured at DAC (Digital Arts and Culture) 2000, the NJIT New Media Series 2000; the Columbia University Feminist Interventions Series 2000, and at many other colleges and conferences. Her print books of poems, True North, The Red Virgin: A Poem of Simone Weil, and Give the Body Back, have won three national poetry prizes. As the McEver Chair in Writing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Strickland created and produced the 2002 TechnoPoetry Festival. A hypermedia poem about reading made with M.D. Coverley, Errand Upon Which We Came, was recently featured at the 2002 New Media Poetry conference at the University of Iowa, the 2002 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and the 2002 Seattle Poetry Festival Future ForWORD exhibition.

Strickland has written extensively about her practice of digital poetics. In a survey of prominent e-poets conducted by Currents in Electronic Literacy, an electronic journal published by the Computer Writing and Research Lab of the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at The University of Texas at Austin, Strickland says of her work: “I use a variety of terms, all of them quite contested, such as hypertext poetry, new media poetry, and digital media poetry. Code poetry is another contested term and can have many meanings. The entire situation is fluid and open and interesting.”

Her critical writings are well documented in the Electronic Book Review, a review forum on new media art & theory supported by the Alt‑X Digital Arts Foundation: Poetry in the Electronic Environment, Seven League Boots, To Be Both in Touch and Control. In Dali Clocks, Strickland says of electronic writing: “If the last half of the 20th century fell under the spell of linguistics and genetics, I suggest that the spatial understanding of both, "genome as book," must give way to an understanding that is inherently dynamic, inextricably statistical, and informationally multimedial in its forms of analysis; an understanding that is less about structure and more about resonance, about the ongoing fitting of moving mind to moving world through moving medium ... My thesis is that Web-specific art and literature is where this understanding is being developed.”

She points to her earliest influences being her engineer father, who was also a sailor, carpenter, electrician, mechanic, metal-worker, and her grandmother, who told poems and stories. She earned a B.A. from Harvard University, 1963, then a M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence College in 1978. From 1978-1990, she worked at the Sarah Lawrence College Library - Head of Access Services, Automated Services Librarian, Women’s Studies Reference Specialist. As well as being an editor at Slapering Hol Press and a co-founder and Board Member of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, Strickland has held several teaching residencies. In 2003, she will be Hugo Visiting Writer, University of Montana at Missoula

Asked whether, as an already successful print poet, she thought exploring a new form of writing might be perceived as risky, Strickland replied: "Writing poetry is risky in the first place." Through a variety of collaborations, she has explored different forms of hypertext. In The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, seventeen people are listed as contributors to the work, including web implementation by poet Janet Holmes. "Because of my repetitive stress injuries, which keep keyboarding to a minimum, I asked Janet for help." Instead of letting her injury dictate what she could or could not do, Strickland saw it as an opportunity to expand her involvement in collaborative hypermedia.

Hypertext has allowed her to use patterns of connectivity not possible in print. "When you compose in or into hypertext, the space literally opens up," she says, referring to the shift from printed page to computer screen. "You live and read differently in the space between print and online." Strickland uses a variety of software and each project has been a completely different experience. "I've never met a software that would do exactly what I wanted it to," she says. "But you work through the constraints and test the limitations. You learn by staying open to the computer's contribution. Pleasures in discovery are close to the heart of hypertext poetics."

"I need to know the person I am collaborating with," she says. "Voice contact is very important." In the web version of V:Vniverse, which include poems from her book V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L'una, Strickland worked with Cynthia Lawson. "First we drew it out on paper and numbered every star," she says. At one point they arranged to work together in a computer lab. "We moved from computer to computer testing the work on different platforms and configurations."

Working in collaboration with M.D. Coverley (Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA), they often sit together in front of a monitor, making design decisions of every kind, every element collaboratively generated from scratch. Together, they created the hypermedia poem To Be Here as Stone Is and the work Errand Upon Which We Came, which appeared in Riding the Meridian. Strickland’s credo is, “Poets are makers. Always make new work.” Her career often keeps her away from home for weeks or months at a stretch.

Sue Thomas, Artistic Director of trAce, caught up with Strickland and M.D. Coverley this past October in Venice, Los Angeles:

Beyond Hypertext: New Electronic Poetry and Fiction

An evening of readings by Stephanie Strickland (right) and M.D.Coverley (left), sponsored by The Electronic Literature Organization and with an introduction by N. Katherine Hayles.

At Beyond Baroque, Venice Bvd, Venice, California, USA - Saturday October 19th, 7.30pm.

It was a dark red and rich gold evening. The blacked-out performance area featured a data projection screen glowing hot colours towards the audience. The readers themselves were dressed in black, red and gold, and the images they performed to ranged from the two-tone constellations of Strickland's V, with its primary-tinted lines of texts, to the intense wires of blue and green sliding across M.D.Coverley's new work Egypt, a field of black lit by slips of brightness.

UCLA Professor N. Katherine Hayles, herself a leading hypertext critic, introduced both readers and placed their work in context of the growing field of hypermedia, then Stephanie Strickland began her presentation. "We no longer live on the star/body grid," she told us, "now we live on the power grid." It began like most poetry readings, a single voice reading from the pages of a book, providing a measured and paced delivery to an audience both attentive and still. It was the usual poetry church, with none of the busy-ness of the browsing net-surfer, but this was a digital as well as a print work and after a while Strickland turned her attention to the screen and became more animated. Her voice speeded up, was less modulated, her gestures became wider, and her glances ran from the audience, to the print, to the images which were themselves now increasingly more animated as if fired by her growing energy. As the constellations she cheerfully admitted to be entirely fictive grew and changed before our eyes they appeared to generate new lines and whole stanzas, some in neon colours. Her reading, no longer tempered by the page but now driven by the fluxing poetry as it waned and expanded, seemed wholly different to the print reading of different sections we had heard just moments before. Interestingly, it could be said that the first part of the reading was a solo piece, of work written by Strickland alone, whereas the second part was a collaborative piece, produced by the poet in conjunction with Cynthia Lawson, who designed and built the website, and Talan Memmott, who built the splash page from a graphic by Guy Ottewell. This blend of content and form is also echoed in the two-way construction of the print version.

Strickland ended her reading and M.D.Coverley took the stage. A 5th generation Californian, she told us that the building where we sat was originally built as Venice City Hall and then became the Homicide Division, but for the last thirty years it has been the home of Beyond Baroque, the oldest art centre in Los Angeles. Coverley drew on her knowledge of Californian history to show us Califia, her first major hypertext narrative, which she presented along with its lilting soundtrack and yet more luscious Southern colours which also lit up this dark space. Califia tells the story of three modern-day Valley types who set out to find treasure but by the end of their quest have discovered something of more lasting worth. Then we moved to Egypt to look at preview screens of Coverley's The Book of Going Forth by Day, not yet completed but already tantalisingly complex with exotic and brilliant colours and hieroglyphs looking as if they have just been exposed to the light after thousands of years of imprisonment inside some forgotten pyramid. Designed and built with Director, this piece will eventually have its full life on CD-ROM, since only parts of it can be fully operational in the unstable medium of the web. The last screen we saw merged the heat and mystery of Egypt with the rose of a Californian sunset and, having travelled via Strickland's star-maps and Coverley's secret passageways, we navigated our way back to Venice and a curious audience of around 70 people..

All these physical manifestations - hanging words, laced code, vibrant colours, and expressive hands - were the by-products of digital media made flesh. Later, as I stepped out into a warm October night in Venice, I took with me the shimmering memory of delicate traceries of texts and images occurring, just as Strickland said of V, in the space in between.

Sue Thomas

Randy Adams, writer and visual artist, is Associate Editor at trAce. He has been an active member of the trAce community since 1999, and was the first writer/artist to be awarded a trAce Writer's Studio. He lives on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada.

Sue Thomas is Artistic Director of trAce. Her books include Correspondence, Water and Wild Women. Most recently, her work was featured in Reload: Rethinking Women & Cyberculture (MIT Press 2002). She has just completed The Virtualist, an exploration of virtual and physical landscapes.


Stephanie Strickland:

Strickland, Stephanie. V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L'una. Penguin Books, New York, NY, USA: 2002. ISBN 0142002453:

V: Vniverse with Cynthia Lawson, September 2002:

The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot:

Why is Sandsoot the Way It Is?:

Iowa Review Web, review of The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot:

Errand Upon Which We Came: (with M.D. Coverley):

To Be Here As Stone Is (with M.D. Coverley):

Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (5):

Portal for Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink (M.D. Coverley):

Janet Holmes:

Jean-Pierre Hébert: Sand As Medium

Slapering Hol Press, a small press imprint established to provide publishing opportunities for emerging poets who have not yet published a book or chapbook, and to produce anthologies of a thematic nature:

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The trAce Experience:


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Web Projects, Spring, 1999:

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