Individual Work
First Screening

From 1983-1984, Canadian poet bpNichol used an Apple IIe computer and the Apple BASIC programming language to create First Screening, one of the earliest collections of kinetic computer poems. Because the twelve poems in First Screening move soundlessly across a black computer screen, the work positions itself halfway between film and sound/concrete poetry and self-consciously (mis-)uses the filmic medium to create poetry. In First Screening it also appears as though Nichol—writing at the very beginning of the era of the PC—understands the ease with which the digital computer can efface the body. For example, midway through the screening, the reader/viewer is introduced to “ANY OF YOUR LIP: a silent sound poem for Sean O’Huigin." The title of this piece alone gestures to the absent presence of the body. Once the poem begins, we see/read the simple alternation between “MOUTH” and “mouth,” “myth” and “MOUTH,” “math” and “MOUTH,” “mate” and “MOUTH,” “maze” and “MOUTH,” “amaze” and “MOUTH,” and then the alternation between “ing,” “amaze,” and “MOUTH,” which closes with the repeated flashing of “ing” and, finally, “MOUTH.” While the poem is perhaps silent because of the technological limitations of Nichol’s time, looking back on “ANY OF YOUR LIP” it is noticeable how this paradoxical silent sound poem draws attention to its silence at the same time as it enacts and perhaps even encourages readerly interactivity. Especially with the repeated flashing of “ing” at the end of the poem, a verb-ending that signals generalized or uncompleted action, “ANY OF YOUR LIP” invites readers to sound out or to “mouth” the words at the same time as they also try to make sense of the connections between the words as they flash across the screen. While poems in First Screening are not interactive in the sense that we’ve been accustomed to, they show us another iteration of an expanded sense of interactivity that does not depend on the hypertext link.