The Very Essence of Poetry:
Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley's My Name is Captain, Captain.
By Jessica Pressman
My name is Captain, Captain. is a new media poem whose title suggests its internal tension. The title is both an introductory statement and a complete sentence. It ends with a period, the visual grammatical symbol that marks content endings and somatic pauses. The title also introduces the subject of aviation and the "I" at the poem's core. In my interview with the authors, they explain: "The title was taken from a moment in the Lindberg kidnapping trial, something said by Hauptmann, whose name translates into English as 'captain,' to Lindberg, a captain by appointment." The complex layering of the poems title introduces and initiates the crafted layering of semantic, visual, aural, and metaphorical meanings that make My name is Captain, Captain. an example at work in the field of electronic literature.
Published by Eastgate Systems in 2001, this self-proclaimed "poem" by Judd Morrissey and Lori Talley is a work that appeals to those who appreciate literary-visual design. Built in Macromedia Flash and published on CD-ROM, My name is Captain, Captain. exists in its own disc-contained world. The links of the World Wide Web cannot impede upon this realm, and at times the work dominates the entire screen, disallowing external program windows or even offering an Exit option. Within this world, the poem operates visually and metaphorically on the curves of circles. The reoccurring image of a Venn diagram serves as a visual metaphor for the poem. The reader adjusts her vision to vacillate between the circles and on their intersections, just as she constantly re-focuses her reading to absorb the moving, often obscured text. The intersecting circles suggest unity and division, connection and divorce, the very fusing of the skills and senses involved in reading electronic literature.
My name is Captain, Captain. is not a hypertext and does not require searching for active links and lexias. This is a poem that presents itself in multiple manifestations as programmed modules of visual poetics. Like the skeletal figure on the title screen that falls into a fractured heap of bones when the program is activated, the poem continuously enacts the process of moving from cohesion to confusion and back again. Upon entering the poem, a few lines of black text splatter upon a white background. More lines join in, moving and crowding until the first instantiation of the poem rests. The poem shifts shape, and the dancing words flow from a merged, mingled group into precise configurations and then back again. The poem plays with its own changeability, exploring configurations and contextualizations. Morrissey previously explored the subject of textual context and reconfiguration in The Jew's Daughter, a work in which rolling over active words changes passages of text on the same screen, as opposed to prompting a change of screen. The screen stays while the text changes, embodying Michael Joyce's notion that "electronic text replaces itself."i Shifting the content's context destabilizes the act and process of reading. The reader of The Jew's Daughter learns to expect disorientation within the words themselves. To extract a quote from The Jew's Daughter, and thus to participate in decontextualizing content: "Things seek realization in new configurations" (screen 221). >>
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i Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 232.