Review | V:
Wave.Son.Nets/Losing L'Una, by Stephanie Strickland
Stephanie Strickland's V: WaveSon.Nets/Losing L'Una is an act of writing manifested by text and hypertext which asks readers to focus attention both on language and meaning, and the realms of discernment that may be adumbrated by language and meaning. V is a book published by Penguin in 2002 and a web site located on the internet (or Internet, according to how you think of cyberspace) at http://vniverse.com. A "double invertible" book, V looks like two booksLosing L'una and WaveSon.Netsbound so that it can be read from either direction toward the middle before having to flip it over and upside down to begin again at the other end and read back again toward the middle. At the end of either book, in the middle of the one book, the reader finds a marker, a kind of road sign, directing her to the internet:
Once arrived in cyberspaceand this assumes a computer with Shockwave installed and a fairly fast internet connectionthe reader will find a dark screen speckled with points of light resembling a patch of night sky, with circles drawn in the upper right hand and lower left hand corner of the screen, the upper circle larger in diameter than the lower one. Do nothing and a banner slides across the bottom of the screen directing readers to: "Scan the stars Click once or twice Click the darkness." Move the cursor to the upper circle and another banner slides into the darkness reading: "enter a number 1-232 & press return." Move the cursor to any point of light and a white line shoots out to draw a constellation, while simultaneously three lines of poetry appear, configured as a stanza, from one of the WaveSon.Nets. Double-click the star and the three lines fade while the complete WaveSon.Net appears, including the three fading lines. Type a number into the upper circle and a constellation appears along with three lines from a WaveSon.Net, just as if the cursor had been pointed at a star, only it is not possible then to double-click and read the complete WaveSon.Net.
Clearly, the world of poetry operates a little differently in cyberspace. On the page, the WaveSon.Nets are fifteen line poems: three four-line stanzas followed by a concluding three-line stanza. On the internet, the lines are reconfigured in three-line stanzas, with each stanza given its own title so that it appears alone, as a complete poem. For example, click on the right star (or type 224 into the upper circle) and you'll get this:
Double-click the star and the lines fade while WaveSon.Net 45 appears.
The act of reading in cyberspace, then, allows the reader to experience a piece of a poem as if it were the whole poem, and then to resee the lines in the larger context of the WaveSon.Net. Of course, the WaveSon.Net is itself only a piece of the larger WaveSon.Net sequence, which is itself a piece of the double-invertible book-hypertext, V, which is in turn configured within the larger cultural context evoked through notes and allusions. Everything, in Strickland's poetry, is both complete and a piece of something larger, and the reader is asked to understand that and read accordingly; not so much to see coherence as an illusion or completion as an impossibility as to understand that coherence is tentative and completion is momentary. We may understand a three-line poem, but our understanding will grow and change; we may complete a WaveSon.Net, but then we may also read on, forever, as one piece of writing leads us to the next, as one piece of knowledge leads us to the next.
The best way to read Strickland's poetry, as she asks the reader to do again and again, is with our attention turned not to coherence and completion, but to rhythms and patterns of meaning. As anyone who reads hypertext understands, the medium allows writers to do away with traditional literary structures. If a writer is interested in structuring writing traditionally, with an unchanging beginning, middle, and end, there's not much reason to work with hypertext. The page is best for such writing. For writers interested in thinking of writing in more dynamic ways, as say, a field of language or a constellation of meaning, then hypertext should be of interest. When Strickland writes, on the page, in "Errand Upon Which We Came," "Gentle Reader, begin anywhere. Skip anything. This text / Is framed / Fully for the purposes of skipping," she might as well be talking about hypertext in general as about her poems specifically. Such writing requires readers to develop different approaches and responses to language; and Strickland urges her readers to read for patterns.
In Strickland, the fields of knowledge pulled together by the gravity of her writing are impressive. Certainly there are familiar, literary voices murmuring in the background of her poemsalong with Simone Weil, a figure Strickland has been interested in throughout her career, Emily Dickinson's numinous voice is there, as are other voices as distinct as Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein (and, oddly, William Empson, though mostly for the sometimes esoteric subject matter requiring notes)but there are also the voices of archeologists, mathematicians and psychoanalysts (William Gibbs and Benoit Mandelbrot, Marija Gimbutas and Sigmund Freud), as well as various other literary, cultural, and scientific thinkers. And surrounding this constellation of language is Strickland's voice, urging readers to listen carefully, with body as well as mind, to see through the constructs the mind establishes to see into the world, to see what may be beyond mind, what the mind is not wired to see; and most of all to resist the static and hierarchical while accepting the fluid and enmeshed. In this sense, Strickland, like Dickinson before her, is a deeply spiritual poet, and one who, incidentally, is genuinely exploring the possibilities of digital writing to reshape the conventions of literature.