When I saw the challenge this week on Making Learning Connected was hacking your writing, I knew that it was the week I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and into the realm of glorious bumbling. Despite the growing popularity of the term “life hack,” which is quickly widening the idea of hacking to apply to almost any clever solution, I wanted to rewind the definition of hacking a bit. So, I share with you a writing hack that combines the thirteenth century definition, “to cut roughly, cut with chopping blows,” with the late twentieth century definition that involves computer technology. Or, in layman’s terms, I share with you a poem I wrote in high school that I chopped up using a virtual platform called Piktochart.
While new technological platforms are not my forte, platforms like Piktochart have been at the forefront of my thinking this past year as I and a core group of staff at Philadelphia Young Playwrights have been asking an important question: do virtual technologies deepen or add to the traditional writing process, or do they just provide a different avenue to accomplish the exact same creative process and learning goals? Or, in terms of Piktochart, if I’m teaching a student to use Piktochart as a means to map his protagonist’s backstory, what is Piktochart bringing to the table that a piece of paper and some colored pencils do not? Furthermore, what does a virtual technology have to bring to the table to make the additional time it takes to teach a student a new platform worthwhile?
Big questions to be sure, and this week it was time to make myself my own guinea pig. Over the course of two nights, I took the poem to the right that I’d written in high school and challenged myself to replace as many words with images as possible while keeping the story, rhythm, and tone of the poem intact. Want to see it? You can find the results of my exploration here.
Was I successful? Can someone look at my Piktochart poem and see the “same” narrative I constructed in my free form poem back in 1996? Is keeping the “same” narrative a reasonable goal, much less a hack-worthy goal? I have no idea, but after I was finished I felt like I sure hit the thirteenth century definition of hack right on the head. Maybe you have some answers to these questions (feel free to share them in the comments), but at the very least I feel like I came away from this with an interesting basketful of questions about poetry. In particular, I found myself thinking a lot about poetic structure, narrative, and the transition of meaning from poet to reader. Here are some of my juicier questions, in no particular order:
- How do you represent the rhythm of a poem through images and layout?
- How do you represent the stanzas of a poem through images and layout?
- How can narrating a poem through images encourage the reader to think on a greater or smaller sense of scale and meaning?
- How does adding moving images (video) to a poem affect the rhythm and structure of the poem as a whole?
- How can adding moving images contribute to the intended tone?
- What about words that defy image, are they really necessary to convey additional meaning?
- If I think I’ve successfully figured out a way to visually represent a comma, but my reader doesn’t understand that subtle visual as a comma, was my interpretation of a comma unsuccessful?
- Will anyone realize that the yellow star is a link to a .gif? What is lost if they don’t? Is it okay if that is lost?
This list of questions that were going off in my head during my experience using Piktochart ultimately came to mean far more to me than the finished product. That tangled moment of, “Oh, crap! How the heck am I going to make the commas happen?” Or that exciting moment of, “Sure, I could just find an image of the sun as we see it on a regular day, but what if I use a video that shows its burping, fiery reality, what does that mean?” Those were the best moments of my Piktochart Poem experience.
As I continue to reflect on this writing hack, I return to the core question I and my staff have been asking: DO virtual technologies deepen or add to the traditional writing process, or do they just provide a different avenue to accomplish the exact same creative process and learning goals? Would I have been thinking about the scale of meaning within a poetic image in the same way, for example, if I wasn’t exploring the idea of embedding video into my poem? Were the two nights it took me to finish my Piktochart Poem worth it to butt heads with the questions that arose about poetic structure? Is the goal of having a student create a piece of writing the piece of writing itself, or is it the questions the student asks about form and content while she is writing? Is there a revision activity embedded in here somewhere, challenging a student to look at her writing through a new visual medium in order to explore the meaning and goals of her piece in a different way?
So it look like I’m still just asking questions when it comes to writing with technology; however, I feel like these new questions are many steps closer to the questions I really want to be asking. So thank you CLMOOC, and thank you Piktochart, for providing the platforms to hack through them!