“This Is Not A Poem” is an interactive Flash-based digital work that includes audio, text, and video. It opens with the sound of a tree falling, a seemingly disassociated sound that will develop into a central motif. Once past the title screen, the initial image readers confront is a disk with an inner and outer circle, suggestive of a CD. On the outer circle are images of oversized color paper clips. The inner circle holds the text of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.” Bigelow presents the poem without authorship, an omission that anticipates another motif of the work. (Credits are provided, as is usual with Bigelow, via a separate link).
To start the piece, readers must click on a clearly positioned play button and are then informed that both the text and the disk are “playable.” Play begins with the disk rotating clockwise as an audio reading of the poem launches along with an accompanying techno soundtrack reverberating on a short loop. The effect is slightly claustrophobic. The text continuously turns topsy-turvy and the atonal soundtrack constantly interferes with the iambic meter of the poem’s rhyming couplets. That patterning is soon to be further undermined as readers discover that touching a word with the cursor floats that word to the outer circle. Each time this happens the audio reading of the text is interrupted and restarts with the last word touched. If words are touched quickly, the poem becomes a dissonant creation, incomprehensible, with its “sense” increasingly scattered and the poem’s audio quickly dissolving to stray words as the reader chases the last of the text around the circle. When touched slowly, a few choice words at a time, readers will notice that the affected words, the words floated to the outer circle, are skipped in the audio, creating gaps in the reading. Through this mechanism, the iambic meter is broken, as of course, is the poem as Kilmer wrote it. The poem is rewritten and reread.
Once all the words are sent to the outer circle, the audio of the poem stops and the inner circle dissolves through an image strangely similar to a DNA chain, revealing a looped and spinning video of a massive, robotic tree-cutter at work. This is an unsettling sequence. The techno soundtrack takes over as the only sound in the piece and its reverberating beat is relentless. The spinning video is disorienting and it takes a moment to process what is occurring. The combined effect is unnerving. The machine seems anthropomorphic. It has yawing yellow arms and hugs the tree in a grotesque embrace. A concealed saw blade at its base cuts the tree, sawdust spitting out as the machine lifts the tree away.
Bigelow’s juxtaposition of the frequently disparaged poem “Trees” against the industrial tree cutter becomes chillingly sad as the original text is jumbled in the outer circle, seemingly stranded in the face of the relentless purpose of the nightmare machine. Readers must watch the video for a short while before the words of the poem become active again, indicated by a color shift from green to black. To restart play, an undertaking now rife with new implications, readers float words back into the center circle, re-creating the poem anew. Once a few words float back, the video clip fades away through the same DNA image and the audio reading of the poem restarts, beginning with each word as it is moved back. In this way, the poem is slowly rebuilt. As each word floats back to its proper place, the text and the audio build backwards from random words, to strings, to full lines. Kilmer’s words, isolated from the poem, voiced in new juxtapositions such as “hungry,” “mouth,” “God,” “pray,” and “fools” take on a new context when read against the ruinous image in the video. As readers explore Bigelow’s piece, they are left to reflect, within the endless loop of creating and unmaking the poem, on the creations of man and God. Not a poem indeed.