“Beyond Range of Air”: The Story Behind the 30-Year Deferred Publication of William H. Dickey’s HyperPoems

Abstract (in English): 

William H. Dickey, who died of complications from HIV in 1994, was born in 1928 and brought up in the Pacific Northwest. He published fifteen books of poetry, including Of the Festivities, which was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1959, More Under Saturn, which was awarded the California Silver Medal for Poetry in 1963, and The Rainbow Grocery, which won the Juniper Prize in 1978. In the Dreaming: Selected Poems was published by the University of Arkansas Press in 1994, and The Education of Desire appeared posthumously from Wesleyan University Press in 1996.

While a professor of English and creative writing at San Francisco State University in the 1980s, he became interested in the potential of early personal computers to expand the boundaries of poetry. The California Association of Teachers of English cited him as "Friend of the Machine."

Beginning in 1988, Dickey used the HyperCard software on his Macintosh SE to compose what would become fourteen "HyperPoems." Integrating images, icons, animation, and sound effects with typography and text, the HyperPoems address many themes critics acknowledge as central to Dickey's print oeuvre: history, mythology, memory, sexuality, the barrenness of modern life, and (over and under all of it), love and death. But they also represent an important technical progression of his poetics, one with clear roots in the ideas about poetry he had forged through decades of mindfulness about the craft.

Three of the poems (those in Vol. 2) may fairly be called erotica, and represent unique documents of gay life in San Francisco at the height of a prior pandemic. They are certainly some of the very earliest (and most explicit) digital creative works by an LGBTQ+ author.

None were ever published in his lifetime. Plans for a posthumous edition (prepared for publication on floppy disk with technical and editorial assistance from Deena Larsen) ultimately went unfulfilled. In the summer of 2020, however, the HyperCard Online emulator at the Internet Archive (in Dickey's own home city of San Francisco) finally offered us a platform. This panel discussion will mark the first public presentation of Dickey’s innovative HyperCard poetry to the electronic literature community. Panelists will include:

Matthew Kirschenbaum (Chair), Professor of English and Digital Studies at the University of Maryland. Kirschenbaum led the effort to recover the poems from older storage media and migrate them to the Internet Archive.

Deena Larsen, the original technical editor for Dickey’s HyperPoetry. Larsen will walk us through one or two poems in detail, discussing both poetics and the nature of her posthumous editorial interventions.

Andrew Ferguson, lead for the HyperCard Online emulator. Ferguson will discuss technical challenges involved in migrating thirty-year-old HyperCard stacks to a browser-based environment.

Susan Tracz, Professor Emerita and the California State University Fresno and Dickey’s literary executor—and long-time friend of the poet. Tracz will fill in the human story behind the poetry and the computers.



The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz