With poet Elizabeth Switaj’s post below, the Potomac Review Blog begins a new series on the infinitely varied ways poets perceive and present their work. Each month, a poet will share a sample of her (or his) work in a particular form, electronic or traditional. And each month, we hope that you’ll contribute your reactions, observations and questions to the discussion. – J. Howard, Potomac Review Poetry Editor
Prezi gave me a way into visual poetry because it allows for a synthesis of the linear and the non-linear, as well as a traditional linguistic sense and a focus on the visuality of language elements. The overall view of a Prezi’s contents emphasizes the relationship of different elements of text and design to each other. Even if a poem were inputted into Prezi in a traditional lineated shape, this overall view would emphasize its shape. Zoomed-in views can emphasize the visual with the more traditional kind of linguistic sense in different balances; when discrete readable elements (words, phrases, sentences) appear isolated on the screen, sense becomes more important than sight. If shapes (whether uploaded images, freehand drawings, or preset shapes provided in the Prezi editor such as triangles and rectangles) appear with the words, the importance of the visual increases. If only parts of the words are zoomed in on, the importance of traditional sense can be erased entirely, replacing it not only with the visual but also with sound or etymological significance.
In any case, these zoomed-in views can be combined into a sequence or, as Prezi calls it, a pathway, and this feature allows for further syntheses to exist. The pathway is more than the creation of a linear option within a non-linear depiction of language. Words or fields of letters can be divided in ways that are not immediately obvious. Traditional units of sense can be placed in sequence with less traditional ones.
While creating one of my earliest Prezi poems, I made use of these various elements in an attempt to emphasize the relationships between words instead of the words themselves. Lines connect the different nouns on the outside of a circle; they act like verbs, in this way, but they do so without carrying the content. Their intersections become the foci of most of the zoomed-in views, leaving the actual words peripheral. If the poems are to be read in any particular order, that is left to the reader to determine. That they do connect, rather than how they connect, becomes the only universal aspect of readings—and this distinction is made highly visible.
By contrast, the Prezi poem I made next contains only text. Content co-exists with spatial depictions of the relationships between the words and phrases. Some of the words are partial, starting with the letters in other words and so mixing colors, sizes, and even directions. Originally, I had intended to accompany this non-linear use of language with a pathway in which the zoomed-in views together formed traditional sentences, but because of how close the different words were packed, it became difficult to make these sentences clear; bits and pieces of other words were visible in most frames. Instead, I created a sequence of screens in which such meaning could be puzzled out. Language interferes with language, though sense can, perhaps with some difficulty, still be made.
With “Divination”, I began not with words but with images. The option to upload multiple 3-D backgrounds was still fairly new, and I wanted to explore using it in a Prezi poem, so I uploaded images of Tarot cards. The word “Divination” that opens the piece’s pathway was one step removed from Tarot; I then developed the poem through the use of “Di-” and further broke down other words to find additional pieces to add. The depiction of connections between words became primarily faux-etymological or sound-based rather than spatial, though with words inside and next to letters there remained some spatial elements. As terms echo and twist each other, the overall movement is from disintegrating sense to traditional sense to something that plays with both. The non-linear view is as partial as the linear view, just as the whole background, or all three backgrounds, can never be seen in the whole.
Prezi poems foreground their hybridity. They can be viewed in the whole, even if they are not entirely visible in the whole; the sequences through which their variously visible parts can be read may be set by the reader and by the author. There are limits because all software and all ways of writing have limits by necessity, but those limits drive the work towards the multiple and variable.
Elizabeth Kate Switaj, a prolific writer, poet, editor and photographer, is a recent graduate of Queen’s College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her book of poetry, Magdalene & the Mermaids, is available via spdbooks.org.