Yogurt and hairs inspire web art

July 21, 2000

Cyber authors gathering in the flesh at Nottingham Trent University this week have been trying to define why web publishing has so radically and unexpectedly affected their writing.

Most agreed that the internet, as a new medium for writers, is not only here to stay but is the most exciting publishing development for generations. Yet many, such as poet Catherine Byron, were once deeply sceptical of it.

Ms Byron, a poetry lecturer at Nottingham Trent, was commissioned by the Poetry Society to write a web-specific poem. She was amazed by how the experience affected her creative practice. "It is so very different from print," she said. "And the first thing I noticed was how my long poem began to get shorter and shorter."

Part of the reason was that Ms Byron became fascinated by the visual impact of web writing. "The text is much more like an image," she said.

She recalled how she created the visual background to the poem by squashing vanilla yogurt and old hairs between two sheets of acetate and scanning them in to the computer. "I was trying to reproduce the texture of vellum, the subject of my work at the time."

Seamus Heaney once said that poetry was like making mud pies, and Ms Byron has found that web writing has taken her back to her playful roots. "It's so very releasing. There is the sense that there are no rules. That is liberating because you can try things you would not do in print. The web is much more dynamic and closer to the process of writing."

Despite her enthusiasm for the medium, Ms Byron believes that web writing will never replace print. "There are things you can't do online. You can't take your reading to bed or put it in your pocket. That will never change."

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