Individual Work
Data Poem: Channel of the North

Channel of the North is a data poem published in 2012 by Alfred Marseille and Jan Baeke. The piece of electronic literature is offered in Dutch and English and can be found on the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3. The data poem is web-based relying on HTML and JavaScript with the data being provided by Rijkswatersaat, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. “Channel of the North” is one poem in a series of data poems titled “The others did it” which Baeke and Marseille describe as embodying the “ebb and flow of the tides located in the Westerschelde river at the Dutch-Belgian border”. The electronic literature piece brings together networked computation, flow of language and flow of geological processes in order to explore the relationship between these three aspects. With the “Channel of the North” being an electronic poem, it is globally accessible, but it is intentionally rooted in the Westerschelde river. Making the river flows interconnectedly between different oceanic networks and now electronic networks too. Alfred Marseille, whose background is in philosophy and electronic music, is a designer and media artist that produces video, sound, photography and installation art. Jan Baeke is a poet, digital poet, translator, editor and programmer. While Baeke is the author of “Channel of the North” it is with the digital creative help of Marseille that the poem is visually brought to life. Together, Marseille and Baeke have collaborated on projects since 2006 in the variety of data poems, cinépoemes and moving shorts.

The poem is originally produced on the Public Thought website. To make the poem globally accessible it uses a Wide Area Network (WAN) meaning the network can extend over large geographical areas such as across countries. It is the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 website and Public Thought website that gives the poem global range. Users can navigate the website by selecting either "Public Thought", "The Others Did It" and “nY-web” which are hypertexts. Hypertexts use a software system that allows for users to be redirected by clicking on the various phrases. The “nY-web” is a dead link in HTML leading users to a website that has been removed or is unavailable. However, clicking on “Public Thought” will bring users to the main section of the website. Clicking on “The others did it” will bring users to a section housing the data poems series, giving users access to several of the works. If users are unable to interact with the data poem, on the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 website there is a video of the poem, lasting for approximately two minutes and thirty seconds displaying the current-like movement the body of words take on. As the poem plays out the words are unchanging, the twelve lines the poem consists of remain on screen the whole time.

Giovanna Di Rosario of the University of Jyväskylä conducted research on electronic poetry based in critical theory, hermeneutics and semiotics of text and digital culture. Di Rosario states that electronic literature, including poetry, is rooted in a new digital medium. This is a medium that allows global users to incorporate graphic text, interactive text, motion and more through the evolution of electronic literature. Kinetic poetry is a category of poetry which utilizes kinetic typography in order to capture a viewer’s attention, set the tone and provide entertainment to viewers. In Baeke’s and Marseille’s case, “Channel of the North” is a kinetic poem that produces a movement mimicking the motions of a tide. If a user has found “Channel of the North” on the Public Thought website then it is displayed as a hypertext e-poem, allowing users to click on links in order to redirect them. If a user has found the poem on the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3 website then it is displayed as a sequence-based e-poem, meaning there is an inner clock controlling the read-time: in this case lasting for approximately two minutes and thirty seconds.

Barbara Brownie wrote the novel Transforming Type: New directions in kinetic typography (2015) which explores the different methods of typography. Kinetic typography is only one type of temporal typography, other types incude: local kinetics, elastic typography and fluid typography. Brownie describes typography as a term used to describe the appearance and arrangement of letterforms, which is a commonplace term in the field of screen-based artifacts that present letters or numbers. In reference to “Channel of the North”, the poem is a form of screen-based artifact, in contrast to if it were published on paper as a traditional poem. Brownie suggests that typography is used to dramatize pieces of media and present it in a more fluid way. “Channel of the North” only utilizes kinetic typography, which is motion and change. If the lines of the poem were to enter and exit the screen, instead of remaining constant, this would use the typography of scrolling and potentially a dynamic layout. If Baeke and Marseille only certain words chosen to be put in motion, rather than the whole text, this would be local kinetics which focuses on individual forms instead of large quantities of text. However, the use of local kinetics would not have resulted in the ocean-like motion that Baeke and Marseille were striving for. Though electronic literature, including e-poetry, has taken place for several decades it is with the rapid development of technology that e-poetry has continued to evolve and will continue to evolve.

This entry was composed as a part of Dani Spinosa’s course, Digital Adventures in English: Engaging with the Digital Humanities ENGL 4309, at Trent University, Peterborough in March 2021.

Works Cited

Baeke, Jan., Marseille, Alfred. “Channel of the North”. Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3, 2012

Brownie, Barbara. Transforming Type: New directions in kinetic typography. Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2015.

Di Rosario, Giovanna. “Electronic Poetry: Understanding Poetry in the Digital Environment”. University of Jyväskylän, June 3 2011,

Author statement: 
Channel of the North grows and shrinks as a function of the tide in the Westerschelde river on the Dutch/Belgian border. This work is part of The others did it, a series of poems whose content and presentation change under the influence of online data on dynamic events that occur elsewhere in the world. The text has a thematic kinship with these data, but this relationship is not uniform, not one-dimensional. The reader of the text has no influence on the content and presentation of that text.