ELO Electronic Literature Organization

The Winners!

Fiction short list

Poetry short list:
John Cayley
Hilary Mosher-Buri
Dane Watkins
Kim White
Komninos Zervos


Judging criteria

2001 Awards Ceremony


Comments by Heather McHugh, Poetry Judge

Heather McHugh
Heather McHugh

A bravura belle-lettristic performance that could have existed in no other medium, Windsound reveals the power of letters, even as it plays with the limits of literal intelligibility. It explores the power of sequences, even as it plays with non-sequitur. All the more elegant for its austerities, this work was composed exclusively for alphabet and windpipes. Granular in ways both visual and vocal, both structural and semantic, the material constantly dissolves and re-composes, and in doing so, gives rise to a host of impressions. Fields of floating phonemes and morphemes sometimes assemble into patterns-forming meaningful phrases and sentences-only to morph away, again, before our ears and eyes. Never before has a visual field so significantly deepened the psychic impression of Freud’s "mystic writing pad" --the appearance and disappearance of the writing on which Freud famously likened to "the flickering up and passing away of consciousness in the process of perception." Hear hear. That’s got Windsound written all over it.

Some of the patterns that emerge suggest transliterations from tongues other than English -- glimmers of Asiatic and Scandinavian and Slavic languages accumulate into, and then pass out of, the shifting lit-scape: the listener/watcher, variously disoriented and disoccidented, grows alert to shades and shapes of meaning. Over time, a narrative seems to arise -- an extrovert traveler plunges through a world of languages abroad; a sleepy traveller is submerged in his own language’s doze and drift. Words arise from, and sink back into, a phonetic environment at some point expressly identified with that of a hostel at night. There are verb-ephemera, ghost-words, host-words. We grow duly wary as “I’ll have to kill you myself” emerges into intelligibility -- kill what, we wonder? a word, a memory, a being? Just how hostile is this hostel? Eventually we get whiffs of elegiac occasion: The piece is evidently, then, a sort of mystery as well.

The attention this art requires of us is both somatic and semantic: physically, one cannot notice all at once the many changing elements displayed. To get our meaning-fix we focus on certain phrases or sequences, and in the process have to miss other portions of the field. Don't let that bother you: missing is one of the themes of the piece. And anyway the patterns of our shifting attentions themselves become revealing. A long-time logophile and translator of venerable Chinese poetry, Cayley was also an early explorer of electronic media. This present work bears the mark of his hybrid affections. Ranging through resources ancient and avant-garde, he shows us that both are of poetic moment. Memory informs meaning; it can look forward. Cayley is a morphologist who loves morphing and logos alike. In more ways than one, in the course of its unwinding, "windsound" analyzes mindfulness itself.

Let me add, as a final note, my conviction that even the flashiest technical motion remains artistically static unless it bespeaks significant emotion. Instrumentally as promising as elegiac, Windsound is able to do just that. Eloquently it announces the fact, within a larger and unfolding human story, that letters really matter.


1) KOMNINOS ZERVOS: cyberpoetry underground A perceptual joy-ride, full of visual attractions and sonic energies, cyberpoetry underground is notable for its sheer momentum and solid graphic punsmanship. Animated text, three-dimensional letter-forms and 360-degree views turn electronic space into an extra-literary passage, certain areas of which the viewer can negotiate. At the end of some tunnels are the objects of cybertext poems, graffitissimi ultimately serving to remind us that getting there can be more than half the fun. For romping humor, cinematic verve and swerve, cyberpoetry underground earned its place among the top three.

2) DANE: him Exquisite, iconic visual-design features are counterpoised with more mundane magazine text-snippets referring (pronominally) to men. Because the snippets themselves are appropriated material, the whole collage can be read as a critique of socio-journalistic constructions of male identity. But the greatest power of the piece resides in its truly striking graphic design elements (of which an image of two birds pecking at seed, as objective correlative for marriage, is one unforgettable instance). The viewer gets caught up in exploring (and exhausting) the trigger-mechanisms for text-sequences (the mix-and-match effects can be very funny). In a sense, the piece reveals the underlying limits of our instrumental freedom. But ultimately it was the elegance of the designer images, with their power of juxtapositive commentary, that earned this piece its place in the top three.



ELO acknowledges the support of our global sponsor, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation for their generous support of the Electronic Literature Directory project. We also thank our hosts at UCLA: the Center for Digital Humanities, the English Department, the Design| Media Arts Department, the School of the Arts and Architecture, and SINAPSE. We thank also the Illinois Humanities Council and the Illinois Arts Council, who supported the 2001-2002 Interactions program, 2001 Awards and founding sponsor ZDNet and founding sponsor NBCi.