Production Notes

I hate hard puzzles and magic tricks, but enjoy them once I know how they work — so I'm doing something new here and explaining how I made this.

Also, maybe explaining how it works to you will make the poem even more interactive in a way.


Here’s the 2-D diagram of how the parts of the poem are connected. Each letter is a piece and each line is a link:


The way it’s structured, choices narrow the further in you go: the first layer has one piece (A) with two link choices. The second has two pieces (B and C) also with two choices each. The third has two pieces (F and E) with two choices, and one piece (D) with one choice. The fourth layer has two pieces (H and G) with one choice, and one piece (I) with two choices. The fifth layer has two pieces (K and J) each with one choice, so at the end you really have no options.

I wanted to create a closed loop which begins in one place (A) and, though the path may vary, always ends in one other (L). This structure is simpler than what I've done in the past, and could have been coded in a software like Twine. The code tool kit which my lovely brilliant collaborator Jacob Hall created for our more complex wordways, however, works here too.

Structurally, the closest thing I’ve made to this is Two Rivers, Ten Things which is also a net with a beginning, end, and variable path between the two. In that one, I’ve ordered it via geography: one end is the Potomac river, the other end is the Rappahannock river, and the poem discusses Northern Virginia and all the different "things" that represent it to me. But this one is ordered by time: A is the beginning, L is the end.

Apartment is similar as well, although that has three beginnings and three endings, with three paths that wind around each other.


To better visualize it, I made a 3-D model of the poem, part of which you can see below. My earlier wordways were all structured along 3-D shapes including a cube, octahedron, and dodecahedorn which were gifted to me in 2018 but which I have since lost. Geometry gives me a structure to follow for making my hypertext forms, and while I can't claim to really understand math, it offers a place to start from and I think all these shapes exist naturally in crystals, which is cool?


This wordway centers around pronoun drop-down menus, a technique I first started messing with in 2020, in Tillamook

In all the other wordways I throw up links and ask you to choose between them, but drop-down menus are different. The drop-down menu offers a more transparent choice because you know what your options will lead to, unlike a link where it’s mysterious what will happen next. A drop-down menu is an interactive element that gives even more control and responsibility to a reader. It also works differently in time: a link points towards what's next, a drop-down towards what's already there.

At first I thought about putting the drop-downs on nouns, giving the chance for somebody to change what a poem is about. But then, I thought it would be more interesting to change the perspectives of a poem, and the most effective way to do that was pronouns. I was thinking of Bob Dylan’s song Tangled Up In Blue and how in every live performance he changes the pronouns in the song.


I decided to set the number of possible pronouns in the drop-down menu at two. In the wordways overall, I present only two to three options at a time. If there's more options than that, the choice feels less meaningful. I've broken this rule sometimes, but I feel strongly about it because I think it's what killed the 1990s hypertext literature I studied closely: these early-internet experimental works sprawl, overloading a reader with choice, and they are usually not intuitive at all.

I started writing wordways back in 2018 because I read works like Victory Garden by Stuart Moulthrop or Patchwork Girl by Shelley Jackson (the two major hypertext novels I like best) and thought, "this is good but the novel isn't the print form most adaptable to a computer screen." Novels aren't the right use case for hypertext because most of the reading we do for fun on screens is short-form and rapid. Further, hypertext mixes up linear narrative, which is kind of what a novel relies on.

So because poems aren't as centered around narrative and are usually shorter and more ambiguous than novels, I thought this meant they would play better with hypertext. I wanted to read a hypertext lyric poem, I didn't want hypertext sprawl, so I had to write smaller.


But for me, it's always a struggle to do less. I'm naturally pretty extra as a person, and I’ve been pretty frustrated with my pronoun drop-down menu wordways in the past because I tried to do too much with them. So I wanted to write this one like a laboratory experiment, keeping it sterile: a bare-bones situation where there’s just an I and just a you, open for the reader to fill in. But there still had to be something for the you and I to do. I often run into this problem with the wordways where I invent a structure or have a formal idea and then find no subject to write into it.


Since I live in Paris now, I was thinking of this place and it occurred to me that having coffee on a busy street with someone, and the way we’re trained to be oblivious to the urban life around us during that time, was the perfect I-You laboratory.

I wanted the background to be relatively flat and descriptive: the "poetry" of the piece has to come from the way the audience selects a pronoun. So I thought of doing it sort of like stage directions, following how the eye might move across the scene of a cafe on the corner of a boulevard.


My first draft was in prose, but I felt that was too casual and sloppy. So I switched to four-line unrhymed stanzas, keeping each line around ten syllables and loosely iambic, without bothering to end-stop them. This seems to me like the flattest way to write a poem, and I wanted flatness. Four lines is enough to elaborate a detail or a turn of mind, but not enough to complete it, I think. I also chose to keep each quatrain as one sentence, while avoiding dependent clauses and instead making the sentences grammatically more like lists: the eye takes in one thing then another, drawing no conclusions and making no subordinations.


suppose if you’ve read this far, you’re a friend and interested in my wordways. So here's why I'm now writing this note.

Café is the fiftieth wordway I have created over the course of four years: this project has occupied a significant amount of my time and energy, so I need to account for it somehow. It's clear to me this accounting can't take the form of deciding whether wordways are good or not, because I can't make up my mind on that. Sometimes when I look back on this work, I think I've done something deeply interesting. Other times, I think I've done something deeply embarassing.

But in a way that question doesn't matter at all. Looking at these poems, I feel the way I do when I look at my own body: it's me, and there's no use in judging it or worrying how others judge it. The only thing to do is present it as authentically and fully as possible, caring for it and working with it as best I can.

Painter and sculptor Anne Truitt, whom I really fell in love with when I saw an exhibition of her work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, created these sculptures that are painted geometric forms, minimalist and quite beautiful. I really like them, they inspired the color bars I put around the wordways (which, in older ones, are vertical like her columns but now are horizontal because it fits scrolling better).

Somewhere in the exhibition notes, there was a quote from Truitt explaining her process: “I just felt compelled to make these shapes.” I think that's how it went, but I lost the brochure I saved from the gallery and can't find the citation online. Anyways, I really related to that feeling.

I like to think I am trying some version of Truitt's project: grappling with form and its conditions of arrival (in her case colors and shapes, in mine the basic tool-kit of HTML and shapes) in order to get at what really are the foundations of being present in the world. For me, the basis of all art is conversation: presence embedded in gesture, word, and form. You see her columns when you walk into the gallery, but they also see you: as I walked between the sculptures, I remember having the sixth-sense feeling that someone was looking at me, even though I was there alone. What I'd most like to do here (for myself, when I re-read these and they occur in new orders, and for others who might visit them) is create that sense of presence. That's why interactivity and online text interests me so much.