A large part of the Volta 365 Reviews project will consider works published on J Gordon Faylor’s Gauss PDF site. As an introduction to these oftentimes challenging works of contemporary poetry, Allison Donohue has provided the following primer.
If you’re unfamiliar with Gauss PDF, as I was when given this assignment, let me first introduce you. Reader, meet Gauss PDF, a compilation of various artists’ digital and print works on a single internet site, uploaded through PDF or the occasional ZIP file. While linked to tumblr, you don’t meander through Gauss PDF; you cannonball into it. I opened, “GPDF088: Nicolas Mugavero: Eight Million Copies of Moby-Dick” first, intrigued and comforted by the fact that I knew the subject well, of Herman Melville’s novel. When it loaded, I saw exactly that: eight million copies of Moby Dick aligned as though shelved. There is something incredibly smart happening in much of the work on Gauss PDF. For Mugarvero’s digital work, pictured below, takes a well-known mammoth of a novel and multiplies it, in grey scale, by eight million. The whale appears.
The intrigue behind Gauss PDF is the acceptance of a wide range of art and the incredible lack of information provided before one opens a document—all that is offered is a single cover photo to entice or explain an often curious and equally as enticing title. There are PDFs of images taken in backyards, along highways, of trash, of people we will never know. There are PDFs of poems, of characters named in single letters going on for pages in wending directions, tangents expected. There are word documents with clipped art from magazines, pictures pulled and shrunk digitally to resemble a distorted sock to show the nature of how we grow. Many of these documents are metacognitive, asking viewers to enter a new internet in which digital and print art challenges them to question how these digital images might fit together to form meaning.
I entered each document like a puzzler without a key, knowing that the artist would not hand me his or her conclusion, that these artists expected some work out of me. Take, for instance, “GPDF082: Carlos Soto-Roman: Chile Project: [Re-Classified],” the highly redacted document displaying more blackouts and slashes than actual words. At 45 pages in length, it is mesmerizing to scroll through this PDF you can’t help but imagine you have no right to view; the word “secret” slashed through on the top of every single page; a government document of Chile in the hands of the United States. And finally, after you’ve been given clues like Chile, Pinochet, read words like excise and unclassified the final pages reward you:
Or “GPDF016: Stan Apps: This Club Will Have Anyone” in which a single picture appears at the top of the PDF of three men, limb-tangled, all dressed in masks. Following is a poem, 26 pages long, with characters by the name of O and M and B. A poem with honest lines about life embedded in a humorous story about these men dressed and posing in what appears to be a museum. The club will have anyone and
to find an excuse to stop and watch.
Watching is so easy,
I think watching is the easiest part of life.
And that is exactly what we are doing on Gauss PDF: watching. And perhaps that is the easiest part; the difficult part is asking the question, why? Something I found myself asking again and again, scrutinizing photos and watching artistic videos. “GPDF049: Lanny Jordan Jackson: Laughing Like The Head As It Imagined Itself Laughing” is an eight minute short in which a man sits in front of a camera reading, rhythmically, a poem seemingly from thought, who looks at the camera a total of three times. This film is tantalizing: what does it mean and why are we listening to this man in front of a camera, in front of a white screen speaking and occasionally sipping from a Corona? If you close your eyes (this is poetry, after all) and listen where the lines break, where his voice hesitates—the words become small moving beasts. I won’t spoil the ending.
Allison Donohue is a new and emerging poet. Born in Washington DC, she grew up in Centreville, VA. She received a BA in English, Creative Writing from Virginia Tech in 2012 where she also received the Graduation Award for Poetry. Currently, she is pursuing an MA in English Literature with a focus on Poetics at Texas Tech University.