“Canticle” is a poem written for Brown University’s immersive VR CAVE environment, but it also does well as a page poem. The performance video of “Canticle” features a dancer that interacts with the poem based on how she perceives it in a VR experience. The poem is organized like a “Canticle” or song, with three movements, and is accompanied by: "The Song of Solomon" and Nico Muhly's MotherTongue. As a viewer, one cannot tell what the dancer experiences, but we hear the music, and see words moving in their environment (sometimes through the dancer, sometimes breaking or jumbling).
The movements of the poem are: “When the Eye”, “Duality”, and “Spectacle, a Canticle” (part 1 and 2). In the first movement, themes of periphery and reactivity play out, the words of the poem drifting just out of the dancer’s view. In the second movement, duality is created through a 3D representation of language revealed in illusion with split text. The dancer has access to both 3D and 2D realities, and will have to shift her view as she reads. The third movement works with depth perception, applying techniques like immersing the dancer’s body inside of letters, and giving an illusion of intersecting lines, only to reveal them as 2D and flat later on.
When I look closer at the poem, I realize its significance is linked to its form and VR representation, but also its content. In Movement 1, the first part is an original poem, and the second is a version of the “Song of Solomon”, programmed by a computer. There is concrete poetry present in the line “staggered melee/ the text itself” (line 9-10), wherein the mass of text is staggered from other stanzas. In the second section, there are lines in which the words embody what they mean. For example, “Rise now” (line 21) rises above the rest of the stanza. The longest line in Movement 1 refers to a flock, and this line contains several ideas strung together with commas. The meaningful set up of these lines seems odd considering the poem was not written for the page, but for experience and performance.
In Movement 2, one finds more poetic devices. The couplet “composition settles//enforces absolutes” (line 5-6) is consistent in its form (2 words, 2 words, with a slight rhyme and assonance in the last word of each line). Moreover, “elaborate danger of an edge” (line 15) is elaborate, and is literally on the final edge of its stanza. The next stanza edge echoes the same meaning with “a division reminiscent” (line 19). And the edge after declares “a wall or calm” (line 23), which is followed by an empty space on the page. These last 3 stanzas are 4 lines each, in a consistent form, but they speak of separation and exhaustion, and deny each other. For example, the final stanza mentions a “slippage on the gray” (line 22), which conveys a tiredness, and a downward sliding, and the line above it: “assume exhaust” (line 21), negates its own progress and foreshadows the end of the movement.
Movement 3, part 1 sets up the last bit of the “Song of Solomon”, and part 2 carries the song forward. It is important to keep in mind that the “Song of Solomon” is a song of songs (so the poem is meta). A “Canticle” is a collection of songs, often religious ones, which were written in dialogue form according to (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Song-of-Solomon). This would give reason for the dancer in this poem to be in a close interaction with the words; to mimic a dialogue—and for the audience to involve themselves, so the poem is sung, felt, and heard. There is an exploration implicit in the VR setup; an exploration of the source of language, and of form/ semiotics.
According to Hayles’s article: “Electronic Literature: What is it?”, electronic literature is typically work born into a digital platform. Canticle is an example of this: it is written for VR, and featured on a website. Although the words also exist in a pdf format that can be printed out, arguably the poem itself cannot. Rather, it exists coded, programmed, within set interactions. It is an ergodic poem, a haptic poem. It requires engagement from the VR dancer, and her physical presence. It is proprioceptive, in that it instigates stimuli that are perceived by a person, and have a connection to the movement of their body. It requires close attention from the audience, to see (or not see) the words moving on the screen. The pdf version is like a description of the poem’s scenery; an abstraction of language, and VR spaces feature the experience.
To those who say Canticle is a theater production, I disagree. It is a song, for one, and is represented in physical language more prominently than in sound, which is typical of poetry. The forms of the letters have a fundamental role, and the poem intends to explore/break apart its own language. If this were theater, characters, story, costumes, ect. would come into play, but instead it is poetry: it is about words and their existentialism.
You can check out the original work at:
For some background on VR poetry: https://www.creative-computing.org/post/storytelling-of-the-future-vr-po...
Exploring 3D poetry in classrooms: Shaari, Nazrul Azha Mohamed, and Halimah Badioze Zaman. “Scaffolding Poetry Lessons Using Desktop Virtual Reality”, Visual Informatics: Sustaining Research and Innovations, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Malaysia, p.231-241.