Frogger’s Existential Crisis

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

Basho’s Frogger by Neil Hennessy is a mash-up of a famous haiku by Basho and the arcade game Frogger. The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) has preserved Basho’s Frogger, originally hosted on the now-defunct Prize Budget For Boys website.

Here is one translation of Basho’s poem by Robert Hass¹:

The old pond–
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Here is a more direct, experiential version by Dom Sylvester Houédard²:


Basho’s Frogger is set up like the original game with one exception: there is nothing in the first lane of the river. No turtles, no logs, only water. Therefore, the frog will always jump in the river and die. This, like Basho’s poem, is about impermanence– wabi sabi. Basho wrote about the impermanence of silence. Movement is an inevitability of life. Hennessy’s version makes the inverse point: movement (life) is impermanent because it is interrupted by the stillness of death.

And the world is indifferent to death. The river keeps flowing. The grass is still green. Some mysterious person keeps putting logs in the river. Neither Nature nor Progress is affected by the three frogs who jump. This is a metaphor for our insignificance in both the natural world and in society. One person makes little difference on the scale of the universe and of history.

There are three frogs, and they will all die. This is a metaphor for life. No matter how many chances you get, no matter how you are positioned, no matter how clever or lucky you are, you will die. Even the second and third frogs, seeing the fate of their predecessor, have no recourse but to make the same decision. The frog can move up or down the bank, but the result is the same. Whether from an inherent desire to jump (perhaps the vertiginous urge to peer closer into the abyss) or from folly, or from the fact that its life and world are mere simulations in a video game, the frog is destined to die tragically. We are similarly doomed. The condition of humanity is mortality. All of us must jump into the river.



¹Hass, Robert. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa.

²Houédard, Dom Sylvester. The Basho Variations. ed. Steve McCaffery.

Adrienne Dodt's PicAdrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-Simile, Apothecary, Con/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.

  • 7

The Dancing Banana: Technological Obsolescence as Extinction Event

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

I first encountered Jena Osman’s The Periodic Table as Assembled by Dr. Zhivago, Oculist in a New Media class in college around 2003. I returned to TPTAABDZO (hosted on again in 2008-2009 because I wanted to include it in my master’s thesis (though I eventually didn’t), and I took rather extensive notes on it.

Some time later, though I couldn’t say exactly how much later, I was interested in reading TPTAABDZO again. However, when I attempted to access it, I was instead confronted with a dancing banana. It smiled as it moonwalked across the page and shook its little banana rump, as though mocking me.

I tried’s home page, and, again, there was that damned banana.

The Periodic Table as Assembled by Dr. Zhivago, Oculist was a digital text in the shape of the periodic table of elements, and each element was a poem. One could read individual poems, combine elements/poems, and subject them to any (or all) of five different processes (“Dissolve,” “Stir,” “Heat,” “Dilute,” and “Centrifuge”) to see text “reactions.” Each of these processes had a “Solution” (that is, what the process did to the text), and, in her descriptions of the processes, some of them had an “Ideal Solution” as well as a “Current Solution.” Even in this very finished stage of the text, there was still this built-in assumption that, given improving technology, she would eventually be able to enact these “Ideal Solutions.”

In 2011, an updated (and the current) version of The Periodic Table as Assembled by Dr. Zhivago, Oculist appeared at The text, as far as I can tell, hasn’t changed. The processes, however, are different, including a new process, “Evaporate.” Some of these processes now enact older “Ideal Solutions,” and others are simply different with no relation to a stated “Ideal Solution.” In this way, Osman’s text evolved and attained more desirable traits in the face of threat to its environment.

In researching (a.k.a. “Googling”) The Periodic Table as Assembled by Dr. Zhivago, Oculist, I found an even earlier version from 1997 on SUNY Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center. It is a sort of proto- TPTAABDZO: there is an uninteractive image of the periodic table of elements, then text and element boxes. There are a few links which lead to more poems, but the majority of the text is on the main page. It is a lot less hypertextual than today’s version, and there are no processes. It is almost unrecognizable as  TPTAABDZO‘s ancestor.

Last summer, I went to see Stephanie Strickland read at Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee. She had a new book out: V: WaveTercets/Losing L’una. Or rather, the new book was an update of her 2002 book, V: WaveSon.nets/Losing L’una. Both versions of the book have two parts that one can access by flipping the book over to read one part then the other. The third part of the book, V, is a digital component to the book, again in both cases. At the reading, I casually picked up the new version and asked Strickland what the difference between WaveTercets and WaveSon.nets was. I was expecting there to be a textual difference. I was surprised when she answered, “Shockwave.” V had been endangered because of the gradual obsoletion of Shockwave. In the updated version of V, it appears as an iPad app. The printed books are only different in one aspect: the sonnets are now cut into tercets instead. The materiality of the written text was altered in order to re-present the overall work in a contemporary digital environment.

Both The Periodic Table as Assembled by Dr. Zhivago, Oculist and V have survived because their authors were able to re-home them. Many other works have not been so fortunate.

Digital technology is, as they say, “rapidly evolving.” A machine can become obsolete in only a few years. Little by little, programs stop updating for an older machine until one day, the machine simply cannot run these programs. The machine becomes a wasteland, still mechanically sound but unable to produce. Websites and software, too, must be consistently maintained and updated in order to avoid obsolescence.

Hardware and software are the environment, and the works themselves are the flora and fauna. Digital literature must adapt (and must be adaptable) in order to survive in a constantly renewable, constantly evolving landscape on the internet. Digital poems must constantly adapt or die, but then there’s the added problem that the new adaptation may itself prove to be incompatible in the future.

Lori Emerson, in her blog post “The Archeological Media Lab as Locavore Thinking Device,” argues that the best way to preserve digital literature is to preserve obsolete machines. Lori Emerson founded the Media Archaeological Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2009, which preserves obsolete technology such as game consoles, electric word processors, and circuit boards. She writes that it’s difficult to preserve “the material specificity” of e-lit that was created in now-obsolete machines and programs.

She believes the solution is to use original hardware/software to run older e-lit as it was originally intended. She argues that while archival projects such as the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) and Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP) preserve older digital texts by translating them into more modern programs as simulations, making them accessible to current computers, the texts are expressed differently because they’re in different forms.

Emerson writes, “In terms of the literature created on these platforms from the past, I would say that a work such as First Screening by bpNichol—created in 1983-1984 using an Apple IIe and the Apple BASIC programming language—is exemplary in that it, like most other early works of e-lit, cannot be understood if we view it only via a media translation.” She goes on to describe First Screening, that one had to physically insert a floppy disk and type command lines, something completely foreign to modern computers. Because this text roamed a different land, much like the dinosaurs, it is ill-suited to contemporary environments.

While the Media Archaeological Lab functions as a sort of museum, sites like the ELO and ELMCIP function as Jurassic Park, minus the rampant predation. Fitter versions of extinct texts are brought to life in contemporary digital environments. Although they are not the original dinosaurs, and their coloring may be slightly off, it is a way to make these megafauna of e-lit history accessible to a wider audience. That is immensely important because what survives depends on human interest. If we restrict these texts to their original, obsolete machines, they will become extinct because eventually, there will be no one familiar enough with the texts to want to preserve them.

In “Acid-Free Bits: Recommendations for Long-Lasting Electronic Literature,” Nick Montfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin advocate for the preservation of digital texts. They first give four different methods of preservation, including Emerson’s, and the pros and cons for each. (Maintaining obsolete machines, they point out, is “a costly and difficult option.”) While Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin are more open to different methods and different preferences (including the idea that digital lit should go extinct, that it’s an ephemeral medium), they do recommend best practices for keeping various species of digital text thriving. This involves keeping the source code for future re-creation, saving it on many different storage options in case one becomes obsolete, making many copies and making it copyable for others, keeping it open and non-proprietary, and creating programs that are as universal as possible across different operating systems. Essentially, develop programs with less specific environmental needs, store the DNA, propagate widely, and create zoos.

Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin end their essay by promoting The Electronic Literature Organization’s project X-Lit (part of the larger ELO PAD initiative), which serves to give authors the tools for making preservable digital text. In the sequel to this article, “Born-Again Bits,” by Montfort, Wardrip-Fruin, and several others, the authors outline the ELO’s PAD project (Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination), and they include a more detailed description of the X-Lit project. Another goal of the PAD initiative is to migrate older hypertextual works to suitable contemporary environments through the use of emulators and interpreters. They argue that “migrating” the works into different programs is the way to preserve them, not keep them on the “life support” of old, eroding programs. A text in a dying environment, if it does not migrate, will die unless artificially preserved, and the authors believe it is much better to give a text a new environment rather than expend futile effort in maintaining it within its original environment.

They also contend that the work is not defined by its platform/environment, but that instead, “Complex digital works are a kind of swarm behavior. Individual files, formats, scripts, software environments, and so on, may perish, but suitable replacements may be found that allow the living relationship that is the swarm to continue.” Thus, the digital text is not an individual organism, or a relation between organism and context, but on the text as an entire species. In this way, the overall function of the work matters more than its constituent parts.

I don’t believe that this is truly an either/or proposition. We can have both the originals and the new media translations, and in having both, we can even better preserve both the interest in the texts and the ways in which they were originally intended.

The internet is a curious place where anything can be at once ineradicably permanent and instantly ephemeral. Websites are washed away like sand on a beach. Old platforms become obsolete, rendering digital literature unreadable or inaccessible. On the other hand, the internet is obstinately stained with scandal. Retracted articles that are reposted, screenshots that capture misdeeds, and stolen nude photographs can be pulled up as so many weeds that only grow anew somewhere else. The landscape, then, is cultivated by human interest.

In our digital environment, we are not only losing our art. We are losing our history. Future archaeologists will have little to go on if we do not preserve our digital culture even as it progresses. We obsessively catalog and classify our lives on social media and blogs. We can also do this with our digital texts. If we don’t, the future will only know us by our dancing bananas.


  1. In paragraphs 7-8, I incorrectly titled the online portions of V:WaveSon.nets/Losing L’una and V:WaveTercets/Losing L’una. V is actually the overall title of all the texts while Vniverse is the title of the two online portions of V.
  2. According to a soon-to-be published chapter of a book by Stephanie Strickland, “The Death and Re-Distribution of V” (which she helpfully emailed me), Shockwave wasn’t solely responsible for endangering V. It was also  V:WaveSon.nets/Losing L’una going out of print and the Shockwave Vniverse and Errand Upon Which We Came (an earlier digital version of part of Losing L’una) not longer being accessible through The Iowa Review Web and the Cauldron and Net website, respectively. However, both  Errand Upon Which We Came and  the Shockwave Vniverse are still accessible through Stephanie Strickland’s website: That is, the previous iterations have been preserved, so the evolutionary steps of this text co-exist today.

Adrienne Dodt's Author PicAdrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-SimileApothecaryCon/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Ginmagazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.


Alice’s Adventures in Hypertext

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c., a poetic hypertext by Cynthia Spencer and Zoe Addison, follows one character, Alice, as she navigates exterior and interior spaces.

Characters named Alice always hearken back to Lewis Carroll’s titular character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice is a totemic figure for girls, especially those who have experienced drugs or mental illness: to go on a trip, to go on a journey of the mind, to fall down the rabbit hole. Indeed, Spencer & Addison’s text includes both heroin and self-injury.

In another sense, however, the journey that both Alices experience can relate to gender relations in general: that women exist in a world without control over that world. Women (that is, people that society deems “women”) have to constantly struggle against a world that does not permit agency, that acts upon them.

In &c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c., one page simply states:

“Alice sat quietly filling space.”

Women are expected to be small, to not take up space. Men will encroach upon a woman taking up too much space. I experience this constantly when riding the train: men will always sit next to me, even when there is an empty seat next to another man who is carrying nothing. They “put me in my place,” demand that I take up less space by virtue of designating me “woman.” Through most of the poem, Alice is alone, so she has the ability (though not always the psychological wherewithal) to take as much space as she wants.

This is disrupted by the character of “the man”:

“There is a piece of paper. The piece of paper has a picture on it of a man.
The man is to be feared. She fears the man.
She cannot climb down the hillcrest where the man is waiting to be feared by her.”

Alice then goes in the opposite direction of her intended destination to avoid the man. Women are the ones who have to change direction to avoid danger, specifically masculine danger. The men who are dangerous have the privilege to exist wherever they want. It is women who must circumvent.

Spencer and Addison’s Alice is not only encroached upon by people, but by the natural world:

“Now, she is experiencing blueberries”

The act of eating becomes passive, as though the blueberries were the real actors in this scene. And:

“Horizon is approaching”

She does not move; the horizon does.

“She keeps the clouds from her eyes
with the ease of a habit. Then the water
breathes her into the little parts of her sigh,
salting both the precarious object and the price charged with it.”

The natural world, then, has agency and acts upon people, who are rendered objects. One can liken this to many natural disasters in which people are swept away or flung or electrocuted. Alice is a part of the world, but she is also subsumed by that world.

The journey is also through the text. There are multiple links on most pages, so one could travel many paths, circle around, and pick another link. Words blink into other words, black boxes show words when one mouses over (and the words change when moused over again), words that disappear, backgrounds that “blink”— quickly changing from white to gray then white like lightning. The links loop the reader around a lot. The reader will take one path and circle back to where ze began. The subject/reader can only respond to a world that doesn’t always make sense, that is always changing. The reader is taken for a ride.

One page, “linger,” shows “A square/of ashes.” Above, if one mouses over some white space, the phrase “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” which is a repeating phrase throughout the poem, appears. If one mouses over “A square/of ashes.”, it disappears and two more stanzas appear: “An irretrievable/solemnity.” on the left and “Three broken/twigs.” on the right. One can only see one stanza at a time because when one mouses over either stanza, it disappears and displays the other one. Both stanzas, though, are one link. The reader expects two choices between these stanzas, but there is only one. (However, “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” is also a link— more on that in a minute.) The fork in the road is a mirage; there is actually only one. It is a sort of deterministic “there is only one path” sense that the reader receives from this world.

Another set of nodes does something similar. On the page “an-experiment2,” there are four black boxes in a grid, and the reader can mouse over and see, from top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right: “Her head felt heavy/like honey, and” “her fingers did not /want to move.” “She thought anyone/who interrupted” “was a nuisance.”

There are two links out of this page, out of seemingly four links. If one clicks either of the top squares, one is taken back to the same page. They are links that go nowhere. “her fingers did not /want to move.” takes the reader to another grid. All boxes say “Not much caring if/she failed,” and mousing over makes “she did not want to/ move.” The first phrase irretrievably disappears and is replaced with “Oh.” Clicking any of these boxes takes the reader to one single black box that says, “Oh.

Going back to that first grid, on “an-experiment2,” “was a nuisance.” changes to “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s” when moused over a second time. On the next page, “grain,” there are two choices: the blackbird sequence (which is separate) or another sequence beginning with the word “pearl.”

Regardless of these choices, one ends up at this page:

This is where the paths actually diverge into several paths and sub-paths. After one continuous path, there are suddenly many, many choices. The reader is overwhelmed (or at least this reader was) with the freedom of movement within this space and one must overcome one’s sense of linearity in order to read the text.

UNLESS one follows the blackbirds, which, through following several links with “a  l i s t  o f  b l a c k b i r d s,” brings the reader back to the original grid on “an-experiment2.” It is a loop; the blackbird circles, and the reader circles with it. The blackbird is a sort of spirit animal, but then it does not allow for flying away/escape. At another point in the hypertext, Alice performs a ritual on a crow which had died by flying into a window. The spirit animal is, itself, a spirit by virtue of being dead. The blackbird cannot lead the reader outside, as though it were circling its own carcass.

In sum, &c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c.&c. takes the reader through a ritual of space, a journey through interiority and exteriority, examining the subject as object.

Adrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-SimileApothecaryCon/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.

  • 9

Displaced Earth: An Engagement with Sand and Soot

Adrienne Dodt, Series Contributor

Adrienne’s series “Digital Landscapes” is about navigating hypertext.

Stephanie Strickland’s The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot¹ is a poetic hypertext about a love story between the characters Sand and Harry Soot. The text is made of linked nodes that one can traverse through different methods. Each node contains two verses, one for each character (titled “1” for Soot and usually “0” for Sand, though she occasionally has other binary code titles), and an image that is in some way science-based. One can read the text in any order through links attached to words, links attached to images, and links attached to a series of 0s at the bottom of each page.

The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot is displaced through its content and its form.

Sand: Soot:
Sand is earth. Soot is earth.
Sand is the substance silica, Soot is the substance carbon,
which makes glass and silicon chips.² which makes life.²
Sand is inert. Soot is active.
Sand represents the raw material Soot represents the processed (burned)
out of which we construct our virtual reality. remnants of the once living.
Sand is that which is natural, untouched. Carbon is the material
Sand encompasses both the natural and the unnatural. out of which we construct living reality.
Sand is that which will be interpreted by humans. Soot is that which was interpreted by humans.

      0                                                                                        1
Biocompatible glass?
                                                      Harry Soot,
Sand looks askance.                                                       unclear, of course, about fire.
Sand an infinite receiver— 
                                            How original, originating,
infinitely flexible. Beyond
                                                it really was—
flex in fact, an infinite                                                       Forests aflame.¹
deceiver: Proteus at home.¹


Sand is sand.

New York City: The ubiquitous (American) city, it becomes indistinctive in the process of fictionalization: the Everycity. NYC is the projection of human’s ideal “metropolis”— fears, desires, artistic impulses— a filtered view of an actual New York City made of concrete, steel, people, neighborhoods. New York City is a physical, human-made geography. NYC is an abstract, human-made geography.

Harry Soot believes he is watching.
Harry thinks he is in Times Square.
He is. She is not.

It is telling that only Harry Soot is associated with New York City. Soot symbolizes man (in both the general and gendered interpretation), who must navigate human-made geographies. This arena is closed off to Sand, who represents non-living nature turned into technology.

Soot ground his keys
in his pocket,
defacing his Metrocard.

This verse is located next to an image of a Metrocard— a pass for New York’s subway system. The card is a means of travel through the city. By scraping his keys against the card, Soot renders it unusable. He sabotages his “key” to the trains, the portal to moving from one place to the next, with his actual keys, the portal to (presumably) his home. He cannot (doesn’t want to) navigate the actual city. He is intentionally dis-placed as a character, a persona on the internet, a fictionalized person who cannot traverse reality.

The image of the card itself links to another node of the text; thus the card becomes a literal portal from one site to another even as it is rendered as an image and is thus inutile as passage through an actual place.

Nature: Amorphous, uncontrollable Nature is the symbol of that which is not constructed. Nature is the Everywhere; it is incomprehensible as it encroaches on our constructed geographies. Nature is that which we classify and name— an interpretation of the unknown/other— into flora, fauna, geological features. Nature is a fictionalized ideal of nature: an overlaid transparency onto the living and non-living earth.

Sand seeks the scent
of lemon viburnum,
murmuring purple
of the ringneck doves’ soft
gurgle as they walk on the wall
and their syllables spill over and


of slowness. Midnight blue
of Krishna’s

In this verse, Sand is in her untouched state. Nature overtakes the language (of doves, but still a language), rendering it almost unintelligible, and language “spills over” and “falls” down the human-made construction of a column. The column represents one of the earliest breakthroughs in architecture, a milestone of human ingenuity.


Sand’s similarity to scarabs? Or a
rosa dolorosa
, every petal
thorned? Or swallows up close.
“The tail is forked and as
as a trout’s, but more attenuated,
just short of baroque,” says the
naturist. I quote.

In this verse, Sand represents controlled nature, nature that has been quantified, measured, and classified. Sand is that which is taken from nature and processed for human knowledge (which is in itself a use.)

Sand resounds as long as a whale song
passed along and around the waters of the
world. Like a
motherchild pod, she/they
threatened and succored by the
coasts. Alone in the bay, rolling over and
back beneath the moon, as

Harry and his cohort heave
into view, traveling in a pack,
driving them aground.

This is the conflict between human and (the rest of) nature: humans attempt to conquer animals, land, and geology for their own use while nature resists and fights back. In this verse, Sand has been conquered by Soot; nature has been conquered by human for use.

The Internet: The internet is a no-place and therefore, so goes the sophism, an every-place. The internet is both constructed— through code and content— and unconstructed— through its immateriality, the lack of physicality. The internet is a medium through which humans navigate from site to site to site in our conception of the internet as a series of places, both connected (linked) and unconnected (discrete).

The hypertext is a dis-placement: there is no spatial determination (or order) to the text. One can travel through any chosen path to interpret the text. In this way, the text is doubly dis-placed: through the non-place of the internet and through the de-construction/interpreted re-construction of its narrative.


Sand insinuated herself. ZaumZoom in,
she has gone ahead. ZoomTzim out,
she is not behind.

Sand “has gone ahead,” or, in another word, progressed. “Progress” and “advance” (to go ahead) are the words we use to describe technology. To take the natural and turn it into the abstract is progress because it furthers human purposes. Sand is located on the internet, which is conducted through silicon/sand. She can progress because she is of the internet, or the internet is of her.

Harry Soot
tried to find a center. Beneath or beyond.
A point to yield or resist.

Soot, on the other hand, is a constructed and self-constructed entity. His subjectivity tries to relate to an objectivity beyond himself, and that objective reality is, paradoxically, virtual. It is that which he cannot touch. Soot cannot locate himself because he is incompatible as a physical substrate. He is caught up in his own abstraction.

We, as readers, construct a narrative through our choices acted upon the text. The dis-placement of the text is, ultimately, what frees us to perform other operations of interpretation.


¹ Stephanie Strickland, The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot.
² I riffed off of some of Strickland’s ideas here.
Stephanie Strickland, “Seven Reasons Why Sandsoot is the Way It Is.”

Adrienne Dodt is a poet and essayist. Adrienne’s work can be found in The Body Electric anthology and Fact-SimileApothecaryCon/Crescent, and Monkey Puzzle magazines. Ze is a member of The Next Objectivists poetry collective in Chicago. Ze was the Poetry Editor for Bombay Gin magazine in 2008-2009, and ze edited the Next Objectivists’ chapbook Collective Unconsciousnesses in 2011. Adrienne currently teaches English at City Colleges of Chicago.