Individual Work
"The Renewable Sonnets of William Shakespeare"

“The Renewable Sonnets of William Shakespeare” is an electronic interactive poem created by Curt Rode, a Professor at Texas Christian University, and Associate Director of the TCU Centre for Digital Expression. This piece was published on The New River site in March of 2020, a website dedicated to collecting electronic digital art and literature. Rode’s interactive digital poetry consists of two separate ways for users to engage with his work, in which the user can manipulate the 14-line sonnet by “stirring” each line to any possible line from 154 of Shakespeare’s completed sonnets in Volume 1 or capturing the rapidly changing sonnet for a surprise combination in a screenshot in Volume 2. Rode’s other work also typically explores the “Stir Fry” technique originally created by Jim Andrews and has a page dedicated to their creation and history, their forms and characters, as well as how to make them. More of Rode’s pieces can be found under his full name on Jim Andrew’s Stir Fry Texts website.

Volume 1 explores “Stir Fry” text, an algorithm constructed and prepared in Python for JavaScript engines, that allows the user to hover their cursor over a certain line and have the text “twitch” to a completely new line from one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets with “15414 possible combinations in both volumes”. “Stirring” the text to “twitch” is a rapid movement in which the text can cycle through more lines of different poems but has a sensitive response to the cursor. If the user is not careful, the text will continuously change without the ability to go back to a previous line unless the user selects the “Curt Rode” button on the top of the work, or the “defeat the ephemera” button to revert to one of Shakespeare’s original sonnets and the user can start again from there. Once the reader is satisfied with their results in stirring the lines, they can select the “collect the ephemera” button to screenshot the final product as a keepsake.

In Volume 2, the user is restricted in their interaction as the poem structure fades in and out of visibility and each of the lines also “bubble” or twitch to different lines on their own accord to which the reader must instead select the only button available labeled “Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die”, and the Stir Fry arrangement is made for them and caught in a screenshot. Both Volumes, though more so in Volume 2, do not overuse hypertext in its structure and is thus easier to navigate the digital poem without being overly stimulating. The focus is to maintain a relatively similar traditional structure of a Shakespearean sonnet – without maintaining the ABAB rhyme scheme - with enough digitization and generative abilities that allow newcomers to explore old favourites in a new and not overly stimulating way. Curtis Rode includes the screenshotting factor as an option for the reader to save their person renditions and share with others, while also satisfied with the rendered screenshots being blurrier to emphasize being a “degraded duplicate” that is “not as crisp as the ephemeral original”.

Rode’s digital literature enables the user to reconnect with their favourite Shakespeare sonnets/lines or even explore new concepts that they can create for themselves unlike most printed forms. The reader is forced to pay attention to the context of each line and/or how they can flow to one another when stirred. In Volume 1 the user has the freedom to create one larger theme - whether that be a more serious, romantic, dramatic, or humorous tone – depending on how playful the user intends to be or if they want a theme at all. Users can use Volume 2 for surprise combinations of Shakespeare’s poems and witness its attempts to create a legible and moderately understandable Shakespearean poem.

Curt Rode’s digital project can be easily accessible through a browser by The New River site and is compatible with mobile devices. Though the most interactive and pleasing way to experience the “twitch” and “stirring” of Rode’s version of electronic poetry is by accessing the website on a desktop or PC to use a cursor for the experience of hovering. The mobile device allows for tapping the lines to change but do not share the same sensitive or rapid “twitch” response as through desktop browser. Otherwise, this site is easily accessible to interested readers if they have a mobile or desktop device and does not have any age-limit or account requirements to interact.

Author statement: 
Volume 1 is inspired by and developed from files originally created by Jim Andrews. See for more info. Volume 2 is further inspired by the work of Nick Montfort, particularly The larger project is my first foray into digital poetry that uses a relatively large data set, in this case, the complete sonnets of William Shakespeare. I used Python to prepare and properly format the poetic content for the JavaScript engines. In Volume 1, the user has the ability to stir lines from Shakespeare’s original 154 sonnets into their “own” creation and to render a screenshot of any particular stirring by pressing the “collect the ephemera” button. The user also has the option to “defeat the ephemera” and return the text to one of Shakespeare’s originals. In Volume 2, the user does not have the ability to stir Shakespeare’s texts into their “own” creation as the texts are generative or “self-stirring.” Instead, the user has the opportunity to “read the ephemera” by pressing the “Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die” button rendering a screenshot of any particular stirring. “Thou shouldst print more…” is the last line of Sonnet XI. In terms of timing for Volume 2, I’m trying to create the impression that the lines are bubbling to the surface of the screen. For both projects, because different poems are being stirred together–as many as 14 at once–it is impossible to preserve the ABAB rhyme scheme of the originals. This results in a (vast) collection of blank verse sonnets: 14 lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. There are 15414 possible combinations in both volumes. The rendered screenshots will be slightly blurry. It pleases me that the rendering is clearly a degraded duplicate, more permanent but not as crisp as the ephemeral original.