"Leaved Life" is an interactive visual poetic work that can be described as a cycle of poems. The work’s visual and poetic constructions offer a sophisticated interplay between graphics and images, the reader’s interaction, and the poetic texts. "Leaved Life" juxtaposes the visual style of typewritten or printed poetic texts arranged in lines and isolated single letters with pencil drawings and images of plant leaves and flower petals arranged on a background image of a paper-like document. Surrounding the image of the paper surface the reader sees parts of a flowery background. The work offers a remediation of other media, in particular paper and print, in a digital form, which places it in the tradition of visual poetry, reaching back to medieval illuminated manuscripts, pattern poetry, shaped poetry, and Blakean illuminations. The connection to illuminations in particular is hardly coincidental: the work received first prize in a competition called “Born Digital” arranged by The Institute for the Future of the Book. The work relies in part on the remediation of the printed book and illuminated manuscripts, and the convention of a dedication page at the beginning of "Leaved Life" underscores that relationship, while the added movement simultaneously gives “a nod” to digital technology.
The reader comes to the work via an entrance page with the title and an instruction to “touch twice.” The reader is met by what seems to be a partial view of the bottom right corner of a larger document. This is indeed the first of sixteen sections which are, more accurately, a partial view of a document that the reader has access to one section at a time. By moving the cursor towards the edges of each section the reader is transported to another section. In several of the sixteen sections of Leaved Life the visual space is full of letters which, apart from a few scattered words here and there, gives the impression of an unordered and erratic surface. It is possible to make out some words in the array of letters gathered in the top left corner of the view, such as, in one section, “little,” “skin,” “you,” “bye,” “catch,” “stay,” “weary,” “reflect,” and “yes,” but there is no obvious semantic relation between them. Across the image of the paper document that the reader can peruse there are numerous letters which are either scattered irregularly across the surface or arranged in words haphazardly. The letters seemingly form visual objects rather than semantic entities by way of their isolated positions on the document. As the reader navigates across the letter-littered paper, she will notice that the images of flowers and leaves respond to cursor movements. The leaves wither when the reader clicks on the image, and the change brings about texts. A click on a leaf-image initiates a movement of the letters that are scattered around in that particular section. They change positions on the paper from a state of disarray, randomness, and illegibility to form a readable poetic text in a stanzaic form. There are seven of these “leaf poems.” These poems describe love and loss through poetic tropes such as synecdoche in which body parts relates to a lover, and decay and death after love has passed. The bittersweet remembrance of love and a loved one are described in evocations of the lover’s body which are repeated throughout the poems, such as in the “Dear” poem:
to be here untimed and wearily blue
kissing your mouth your eyes up closed to my
skin my skin paging across your hands and
saying in your mouth the light on my face
reflects into little spots over skin stay
catch this hold this and dont leave me
bit by bit letter by letter and sigh by
bye into the darkness we suspect
if we could only but leave
Although the texts are not in any traditional verse form, they make ample use of standard poetic devices such as alliteration, visual and auditory rhyme, and repetition.
An interesting dichotomy is set up throughout the poems between physical bodies and the electronic “physique” of digital technology. The corporeal imagery of eroticism is both undercut and strangely emphasized by an unlikely partner, the supposedly ephemeral digital technology. The juxtaposition and counterpoint of technology vs. nature/body is repeatedly worked through in the seven poems of Leaved Life. A triangle of sorts is formed with invocations of technology, nature, and the human being. The three elements are bound together not only as theme, but also through the work’s material form which includes the reader as an active participant. Lines like “leave / me bit by bit” in “Cheery” and the contrary lines “catch this hold this and dont [sic] leave me” in “Dear” both turn inwardly toward the poetic diegesis to address the lover, while simultaneously pleading to the reader.
Time is a recurring theme in Leaved Life, apparent both in the poems throughout the cycle, and in the reading event that Leaved Life as a digital work instantiates. Memories of love are persistently coupled with the wish to freeze the moment, to stay “here.” The pleas for inertia, for an “untimed” place and existence, are juxtaposed with a very nervous, reactive, and constantly changing work, which cannot be stopped. As the time runs out, according to an internal clock that is not made apparent to the reader/user, the work finally disintegrates into complete destruction. The end reminds the reader of the inefficiency—in this particular work—of digital media to hold on to memories: the poems are destroyed. However, the memory function of several inscription technologies are questioned—drawings in which drawn figures collapse, paper that cannot hold what has been printed or written on them. The reader is reminded about the inevitable passing of time and the intervention by humans and nature alike that can destroy the printed paper our culture is in the habit of treating as static and stable.