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MIX 2023: Storytelling in immersive media

The seventh MIX conference was this year held in collaboration with the British Library to coincide with their exhibition on Digital Storytelling.

British Library – London, UK

MIX describes itself as an innovative forum for the discussion and exploration of writing and technology, attracting an international cohort of contributors. I, for one, feel like it achieves this aim. I’d last attended in 2019, and this year the event was much bigger. In many ways, this is a great thing – more people interested and excited by what can happen with literature, stories and poetry in the digital world. But it is also a trade-off. There were multiple sessions that ran simultaneously throughout the day. Which can be good if you know exactly what you do and don’t want to hear about, and are interested in a particular niche. But I do like a smaller event where, largely, everyone attends every presentation because there is only one strand. You discover unexpected things, and in a break, everyone has heard everyone and it is easier to pick up on the points of connection and mutual interest, or debate, and to take that forward into later conversations or long-term collaborations.

In the exhibition there are a variety of approaches to digital literature that can be seen and experienced. I’m left feeling I’m still waiting for digital literature to find its own aesthetic. The game-based examples of digital storytelling look like games to me – which is fine, but I can’t really comment because I don’t know enough about games. However, in the area of digital literature that are not game-based (including short stories, poetry and longer literature) but are designed uniquely, the examples that I saw are very strongly tied to classic book aesthetics. Either with shades of William Morris and the private press movement, or with the clichéd scrapbook/photo album aesthetic. I really feel I want to see something that has more innovative design that is not signalling ‘yes, we know you might be unsure of digital literature … but it’s ok, don’t panic, it looks like an old-fashioned book/scrapbook/pop-up book’. Those examples might be out there but I didn’t see them in the exhibition. Having said that though, there are some interesting things to see.

Seed Story by Joanna Walsh (screenshot)

Seed Story by Joanna Walsh is very beautiful to look at but as much as I can appreciate that there is a different way of navigating through the text in different orders, I wasn’t sure I felt I knew why I would want to. I can do that with a hard-copy book. I can read chapters out of sequence or flick through and dip in and out, and often do, and enjoy the artefact in my hands. I guess though, Seed Story creates something of that experience and it needs to be compared to reading on an e-book reader where there are no cues to read in a different way, dipping in and out, reading in a different order or skimming are actually quite difficult. The navigational approach of Seed Story could be really interesting in connection with a collection of poetry or poetry films.

This is a picture of wind – by J. R. Carpenter (screenshot)

Poetry is represented by This is a Picture of Wind – a weather poem for phones by J.R. Carpenter.

During the conference itself, I then discovered the VR experience The Abandoned Library by Dreaming Methods. The VR creates a compelling world with lapping seashore, dripping rain, and blowing dust, in which to experience what could easily be described as a moving poem. There is spoken poetry in the audio, and poetry written in the landscape you see in front of you, and archive film clips, but everything contributed together to a very poetic experience. It was more than the sum of its parts in the best tradition of poetry film.

The keynote speaker Adrian Hon was great, and I particularly appreciated his call for creatives to be involved with technology at all stages of development and production of a project – this, I feel, is can be true for poetry filmmaking collaborations.

Panel 5 featured poetry film in Narratives of Climate Crisis – voicing loss, resistance and hope through the poetry film. The audience heard from Sarah Tremlett and Csilla Toldy, though sadly Janet Lees was unable to attend.

Sarah Tremlett presenting at MIX 2023

A further poetry film cameo was in Panel 12: Remixing the archive – creative digital reimaging, reworking and reuse. I shared the new project that I’m working on with writer Toby Martinez de las Rivas and sound artist Neda Milenova Mirova that uses, and is inspired by, a photographic archive at the Museum of English Rural Life.

Thank you to all the MIX team that put the event together. I look forward to another one.

The exhibition in London is open until 15 October 2023.

Erica Goss on the place of poetry—and poetry videos—in the community

Erica Goss, founder of Media Poetry Studio, the first summer camp for videopoetry makers, is also Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, and recently, as the Vimeo description says, filmmaker Jake Cushnir “followed [her] around to see what a poet’s day is like.” The film includes several snippets of Goss’ own poetry, as well as her reflections on the place of poetry in the community and in public education. As Development Director for California Poets in the Schools (which isn’t mentioned in the film), she speaks with particular authority about how kids typically interact with poetry and with screens, and the best ways to overcome their resistance of poetry as it is more conventionally taught.

Speaking of which, I see that enrollments are open for this summer’s Media Poetry Studio. Visit their website for more information.