Sea and Spar Between

"Nick Montfort develops computational art and poetry, often collaboratively. Stephanie Strickland has published 8 books of print poetry, among them True North and Dragon Logic." 

"As Emily Dickinson famously wrote, 'the brain is wider than the sky.' What happens when you combine the lyric interiority of Emily Dickinson poetry with the sprawling encyclopedic seascape of Herman Melville's Moby Dick? Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort's collaborative exploration of code poetry sets adrift two of the most famous literary figures from the nineteenth century within a media platform unmoored from the linear constructs of print. Using the tools of digital humanities for aesthetic as much as analytic effects, Sea and Spar Between produces a lattice of texts mapped to various nautical coordinates. Their writing is unmoored from the printed form in order to set sail along a sublime digital seascape in which their words swirl and blend together. With a flick of the wrist, mouse pointer moves and causes a ripple across the onscreen text as the specific coordinates of the cursor recombine elements of a database into millions of poems. Like the ocean, this map is not infinite. Although the specific points of this textual leviathan are determinate, they still far exceed the reading capacities of any single human. As Montfort and Strickland write, the reader must surf a work 'populated by a number of stanzas comparable to the number of fish in the sea.' Sea and Spar Between allegorizes the relationship of the reader to a digital sublime. Montfort and Strickland demonstrate how the massive scales of computer data far exceed human phenomenology. One particular edition, 'cut to fit the toolspun course' also includes a lengthy analysis of the work in the comments section of the code, demonstrating how the front and backend of the piece— surface and depth— are inextricably entwined. Should readers want to examine them, they should access the glossed code of the file. Sea and Spar Between stands out not only as a playful poetry generator, but also as an incredibly robust critical code study and text analysis that examines the relationship between the technical and aesthetic properties of the piece and its historical predecessors." -- from Electronic Literature Collection, Volume Three

Experiencing the Work

The visitor is presented with stanzas of text in a "sea" of possibilities, navigable by "coordinates" that can either be manually typed, changed by moving the position of the cursor, or adjusted with keyboard or other similar non-mouse input. The work is very sensitive to input and it is easy to "lose" a given stanza within its massive scale with minimal interaction. The piece uses sans-serif fonts and the textual content is low-contrast against the work's light blue background, with a ration of 2.39 to 1. Since text is generated in the HTML5 Canvas, it is unavailable to screen reading software or similar tools.


The Electronic Literature Collection Volume 3

Published in 2016 by Electronic Literature Organization.

The ELO gave this copy of the work to the Electronic Literature Lab in 2018.






The Stephanie Strickland Collection

An unpublished copy.

This copy on a generic CD-ROM is labeled "Sea and Spar Between." This copy was given to the Electronic Literature Lab by Stephanie Strickland in Spring of 2018.