The electronic literary work titled “Ah” by K. Michel and Dirk Vis is an animated digital poem that deconstructs language unto mere syllables, challenging the traditional way in which language is read and interpreted. This poem, originally written in Dutch and translated to English by Paul Vincent, was introduced to the Poetry International Weblog in 2008. The digital presentation requires the use of Abode Flash software, which provides a consistent video option. In order to load the display one must click the “BEGIN” button, which automatically starts the production.
This poem is composed of syllables that glide continuously from the right side of the screen to left, and, at the same time, move in and out of each other, forming words and eventually making out full sentences. The motion in this poem works at different levels and speeds, constantly shifting and forcing the reader to repeatedly adjust his or her reading technique. From the incessant stream of syllables down the screen, mimicking the motion of water; to the in-and-out movement of the words onto themselves, suggesting the action of breathing; to the way the words spread out and reveal hidden sentences, which appear as if they were a result of the motion of the wind blowing the letters up and down the line. This relentless motion can be experienced in either one or all of these ways combined. In simple terms, motion is the action of change, whether it’s a position, an opinion, or a place, it is simply becoming something different from what it used to be. This concept of change is something the poem foregrounds through its presentation. This new approach to language strips the reader from any power or control, forcing him or her to fully submit to the author’s creation, while introducing a new way of reading, interpreting and interacting with the written word.
The structure of this poem is composed of two stanzas and separated by a dancing arrangement of syllables through the screen. The form clearly reinforces the content of the text, which illuminates on the notions and the existence of time, life and motion. The theme of motion and change is exemplified in the way the poem is constructed and organized, but the idea of time is also challenged by the poem’s structure. While the reader is experiencing this text, the idea of time seems to vanish for different reasons. Primarily, the duration the poem is unknown, which means that time cannot be anticipated or measured. In addition, the text cannot be paused or stopped in order to manage the time in which the wording will be read or processed. This forces the reader to follow the time and speed of the animation, embarking into an unknown journey. In the first stanza the author verbalizes this idea of time when he states, “time passes but doesn’t really exist.” This declaration suggests that time is merely an illusion that cannot be seen or touched; it can only be experienced through present awareness. This concept is obviously demonstrated by the way the poem flows, where only what is currently expressed can be actively experienced.
Another theme wrapped within this text and experienced only in present time is the concept of life or being alive. For humans, being alive, at least from a biological point of view, is completely dependent of the action of breathing. Oxygen is necessary to maintain cell activity, and therefore, our entire organism. This biological description of life is implied in the poem’s first stanza, in the sentence; “the clock counts the breathing in and out.” The movement of this statement is illustrated below.
This statement not only reinforces that time is an important way to measure events, but also that our bodies themselves in some way function to tell time, measured by the accumulation of breaths that oxygenate our bodies and nourish our lives. Being awake and breathing air in and out are physical matters, but understanding life is a matter of the consciousness, which allows us to become aware of our surroundings and the passage of time.
Therefore, in order to understand and appreciate life, time and motion, we must accept our inability to control them. This poem, in both its form and content, challenges the reader to adapt to a new environment, reinforcing that understanding these intangible concepts, lies in our ability to explore our consciousness. This digital presentation imposed upon the reader stimulates a new approach to the traditional techniques of reading and interpretation. This poem exposes itself in a unique manner, effectively bringing the reader’s attention to the understanding that we have no control or power over the greater concepts that govern our lives. But if we let go and submit to the natural order of existence, we can appreciate it in the way it is meant to be experienced.
Daniela Ghiragossian was a student of Dr. Lisa Swanstrom for a course in Literary Theory taught at Florida Atlantic University in the Spring term of 2014.