http, Ouyang and Yu
Ouyang Yu's poem "Philosophy" in the "Leaf or Fallen Bank" chapter/section of his recent collection, Fainting with Freedom, reads, in part:
Martin Heidegger had extramarital affairs with two of his girl students. See the
source at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heidegger.
Fainting with Freedom is not available as an ebook, nor is it even previewable from google books. So, for the reader of "Philosophy," this hyperlink is dead: it can't be clicked on, it doesn't offer the immediate gratification of near instantaneous direction to the citational "source." To track the citation involves putting the book down, and potentially moving from page to a screen.
For Ouyang, as an "Offensively Chinese-Australian" (to use the title of his essay collection Bias: Offensively Chinese-Australian ), a dead Wikipedia link has geographically specific resonances. "If it is difficult to get the source in China," "Philosophy" continues, the reader should "get it in Australia" (29). To track this "source" then, is not just to move between page and screen, but potentially cross global space.
This is not the only URL to appear in Ouyang’s book. Another prose poem, "Self Publishing" (also in "Leaf and Fallen Bank") names Benjamin Britten in a long list of self publishers (among them "Ouyang and Yu"):
even Benjamin Britten had to found English Opera Group in 1847 and
the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 'partly (though not solely) to perform his own
works' (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Britten.) (41).
Both these Wikipedia hyperlinks were read aloud by Ouyang Yu in a charismatic poetry reading on July 12, 2016: one of the monthly "Avant Gaga" poetry nights at Sappho’s Bookstore in Glebe (Sydney), convened by Toby Fitch. Within the space of the poetry reading, the printed web address became a pleasurable problem, to be gleefully grappled with, and exuberantly dismissed. The first Wikipedia URL was voiced as "H-T-T-P slash, whatever! Wikipedia."
While a Wikipedia URL can be recognised at a glance when read on a page, voicing the URL extends the moment of recognition across time. As "H-T-T-P slash" is read (the colon, notably, omitted), there is the momentary possibility, for audience members unfamiliar with the poem, that the URL represents a "source" for Heidegger's affairs potentially more sordid and/or unreliable than Wikipedia.
When the second URL was read, from "Self Publishing", it became a sequel to the last. Ouyang and the audience had now a shared means for performing, vocalising and signifying a Wikipedia URL within a poem. "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Britten" was read as "H-T-T-P blah blah blah blah blah."
Beyond the scenes of online poetry production, the traces of the digital have scarred the media spaces of official print and live readings within Australian poetry.
1. Ouyang Yu, Fainting With Freedom (Melbourne: Five Islands Press, 2015), 29. All further references to this edition incorporated in text. See Bonny Cassidy's review in this magazine.
Sydney reading experiments: Poetry in performance