The Lost Digital Poems (and Erotica) of William H. Dickey

The Lost Digital Poems (and Erotica) of William H. Dickey

In 1987, William H. Dickey, a San Francisco poet who had won the celebrated Yale Youthful Poets Award to begin his occupation and printed virtually a dozen neatly-purchased books and chapbooks since, was once given the responsibility of improving the 10th anniversary exclaim of the establishment literary journal Recent England Review and Breadloaf Quarterly. The theme of the exclaim looked not likely first and necessary: “The Author and the Computer.” But, as Dickey remarked in his introduction, RAM and ROM were by then an inescapable segment of writers’ shop talk. Non-public computers had come on the market on the initiating of the last decade, and authors from Amy Tan to Stephen King enthused about being ready to insert and delete at will, even as others bemoaned the impersonality of the fresh machines—their plastic and glass facades a a lot bawl from a neatly-loved typewriter or primitive-down pencil.

Nonetheless Dickey, who furthermore taught creative writing at San Francisco Say University, sensed there was once something more at stake: the medium in actuality was once the message. “Will we mediate otherwise about what we’re writing if we’re writing it with a reed pen or a pen delicately whittled from the pinion of a goose, or a metal pen manufactured in staunch and unalterable replication in Manchester,” he mused. “Will we in actuality feel otherwise, is the stance and poise of our bodily relationship to our work modified, and if it is, does that alternate furthermore have an impression on the nature and forms of our ideas?”

These were no longer indolent questions for Dickey. Computers had already modified his poetry and poetics, the gorgeous pixels on the visual show unit suggesting programs phrases might perhaps switch and drift with a freedom a fountain pen might perhaps no longer match. A 365 days later, he purchased his first Macintosh. It came with a extremely efficient program called HyperCard, which anticipated many of the aspects and behaviors which could perhaps be second nature to us this day on the acquire. With HyperCard, a particular person might perhaps slay “stacks” of “cards” that might perhaps be linked and networked through peculiar patterns and pathways. Photos, animations, and even sound might perhaps coexist with textual recount on the visual show unit, and the Mac’s elephantine array of fonts and typography might perhaps be dropped at endure.

Over the next few years, William H. Dickey would divulge this machine to kind a total of fourteen “HyperPoems” (as he dubbed them). This heretofore lost digital work addresses topics attribute of his oeuvre—historical previous and mythology, as well to memory, sexuality, the desolate tract of the up to the moment world, and (over and under all of it) cherish and loss of life.

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It was once a high creative second, but it came within the center of an remarkable darkish time. As a cheerful man residing in San Francisco, Dickey learned himself on the center of the AIDS epidemic. Looking out at helplessly as associates fell unwell, he was to the fresh-learned freedom of the digital catch to kind HyperPoems that were peculiar paperwork of cheerful life in San Francisco in some unspecified time in the future of this calamitous period.

Dickey’s HyperPoems are artifacts of yet all all over again—made fresh and modern again with fresh know-how.

His expertise was once obviously rising with every fresh work. He learned easy programs to flip a “stack” of cards precise into a labyrinth—or else a mandala, a looping sample that had fascinated him in some unspecified time in the future of his life. All of these aspects modified Dickey’s pondering about the odds of poetry, engrossing him away from his earlier musings over fountain pens against what we might perhaps this expose day mediate of as immersive media. The poem was a compositional ranking, a framework for experience. He when in contrast his fresh medium to Walt Disney animations as well to illuminated manuscripts, but notes that no longer like these rarefied kinds anyone with a computer might perhaps be thus empowered.

Plenty of of the HyperPoems can even be described as lyrically and graphically explicit erotica. Here too, Dickey exploited his medium: to development additional in a poem called “Carried out Night,” as an instance, one clicks on the head of a penis. Thus to be taught, the reader must furthermore touch. We will now attach a query to that these are about a of the very earliest (and most explicit) digital creative works by an established LGBTQ+ author.


In 1994, considerations from HIV tragically took Dickey’s life. The Training of Desire, a posthumous series that looked from Wesleyan University Press in 1996, is neatly is known as taking pictures about a of his finest work. Nonetheless the fourteen HyperPoems that were tranquil on the identical time remained inert on his tough drive after his loss of life. Issuing them would have intended packaging the digital files on a floppy disk—no longer something many publishers were willing to steal a chance on. Apple then retired HyperCard in 2004, and the layout was former. The HyperPoems were forgotten by all but a handful of devoted students of digital writing, who learned of them by rumor and reputation.

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A decision of devotees was once myself. I knew that a pc with copies of the HyperPoems had made its manner to the University of Maryland (where I say) as segment of a fellow author’s literary papers (this expose day, an author’s “papers” increasingly steal the catch of disks and tough drives and even entire computers). From there I was once ready to extricate copies of the typical files from the antiquated operating machine, and, working with Dickey’s literary executor Susan Tracz and technical experts, add them to the Net Archive.

The Net Archive obtained its begin collecting online pages. This day it could probably perhaps be greatest acknowledged (or most infamous) for its controversial e e book library; but, intriguingly, the Net Archive furthermore now archives machine intended to stoop on former programs. Utilizing a catch of know-how acknowledged as an emulator, anyone can point their browser on the Net Archive and play a game that was once on the initiating assign intended for an Apple II, or relive a spreadsheet program that was once on the initiating assign intended for the Commodore 64. HyperCard is without doubt one of many many machine it helps. This gave us the capable platform for publishing the HyperPoems, some 25 years after Dickey’s loss of life (and fittingly with the lend a hand of an establishment in his own dwelling



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