Exploring Embodiment and Recursivity through Multimodal Composition

In making this chapbook “digital,” I employed photography mixed with the words of the poems themselves, along with narration, sound and video clips. My goal was to explore how these multimedia elements can contribute to the experience of the poem itself and the audience’s understanding of the poem as well. Through this exploration, I have developed an awareness and appreciation of digital modes and the role they can play in today’s composition classroom.

Thoughts on Process

Throughout our readings and class discussions, we have explored multimedia composition as a form of embodiment and the inherent technologies used as a process in and of itself. This expands upon our view of how writers and their audiences experience and share the writing process collaboratively and how end products can affect an entire community by calling upon our understanding of emotion, communication and process. In approaching my creative multimedia composition for this course, I sought to discover ways in which known creative processes – such as writing and performing poetry – could be translated into a multimedia event to be shared digitally with new and wider audiences.

My goal was to create an immersive experience wherein my audience could embody the thoughts and emotions brought forward in the text through a multimedia interpretation of audio, visual and video. In the course of this creation, my own process developed and evolved into a type of recursive experience wherein each element informed and inspired the whole. The question became – how does using multimedia in composition affect the composing process itself? Furthermore, how does composing with various media create an embodied experience, for both the author and the audience?

With increasing developments in technology and the ways we incorporate multimedia composition in not only our personal lives but also the composition classroom, how will our thoughts on process and creation change? Clearly, there are elements of the composing process which we have not encountered in the same way we approach them now. I do not believe the process has entirely changed, but the way we think about it has evolved and should continue to evolve. The writing process itself has never been as straight-forward as we may have originally thought. We constantly draft, develop and revise throughout our composing, and each individual draft cannot necessarily be viewed as a discrete and separate thing. Throughout the process, we embody our work in real and physical ways, feeling our emotions bubble up into concrete, tangible things. While this may sound poetic in the most metaphorical of senses, it remains a scientific, measurable phenomenon that should be studied and replicated in our writing classrooms.

Project Description

My creative composition, in its final form, is a digital chapbook comprised of six video-poems spanning a variety of topics. These videos include my voice, musical and textural sounds, still photographs and personal videos woven together to create an immersive experience for an unseen audience. Each video is shared on YouTube but they are also collected together on a portfolio-style website alongside this critical composition and descriptions of my initial ideas and process development. Poetry, shared within the environment of the open mic, can become a collective experience, one which invites group participation. The poet, who leads the interaction, often creates room for a type of call and response, wherein the audience actively participates verbally or with the reaction of snapping and verbal affirmation. This can be most clearly seen in the spoken word or slam environments wherein the audience is encouraged to react in this way.

With COVID-19 restrictions closing down many venues or making them scarce, there is (or should be) a call for other ways to share poetry and to replicate this experience. Some have turned to digital media, namely video conferencing, to fill this gap. With my multimodal project, I turn to video, which I feel can not only replicate the open mic experience but enhance it, as well as create a media which can be viewed and shared outside of that live setting. It exists as an entity ready to be experienced when the audience has the time and space to do so. With everything this year has brought us, creating this flexibility of tele/presence enables the viewer to take in the experience when they have the opportunity. The only aspect missing is that collective with other audience members, which is difficult to recreate even using the available technologies.

In creating my digital chapbook, I have delved into exploring the media and modes available to me and how to best situate my work to create an experience for my intended audience. In this case, I view the audience as the open mic attendees, those who have been deprived of this face-to-face interaction in the past few months. By using video, which combines both the audio and visual, I hope to create an all-encompassing experience for my viewers, one which transports them into a new space or mood along with my spoken words. In this way, it extends beyond the typical aural presentation of a poem to engage other senses.
Although my initial inquiry has been about the end product and creating this experience for an intended audience, the exploration of process has greatly influenced the creative work. While I had a specific framework in how I would write in a word-based way, moving to an engagement of media has changed my creation process. For example, when I focused on alphabetic creation, I would start with free-writing, then craft it into a rough draft of a poem, which I would then type into a word processing program and edit in that format.

Now, I find myself starting not with written words but with a photograph or a video as inspiration and I move straight to recording my voice and my thoughts, oftentimes not even letting the words hit the page at all. It becomes a much more fluid process, but because of this, it is not always clear to me when I am “finished.” The last steps of the process seem to culminate in combining the various artifacts into a final product, selecting which parts to include and exclude and how they fit together to create a comprehensive whole. At this point, I must make decisions that affect the overall outcomes, rather than just gathering more and more content.

The question has become not only what is the best way to present this poetry in order to create an experience for the viewer but also how can I create content which, when combined, brings out the intended meaning? I find myself exploring all of the possibilities of the technology available to me, and my knowledge of how to use it, and finding new ways to engage with the material as I create.

Theoretical and Conceptual Context

In the creation of my composition, and in the consideration of my audience, I kept two things in mind: the embodiment of multimedia texts and the recursive process of composition. When I speak of embodiment, I mean the bodily experience of creation and the bodily experience of a participative audience. The process of composition becomes an outward manifestation of an inward experience. Our thoughts and emotions emerge to become physical objects, be they written manuscripts or multimedia publications. One of the strongest cases for embodiment comes from Steph Ceraso in her article “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.” In this text, Ceraso explores what it means to engage in auditory stimulation with not just your ears, but your entire body. This means seeing the movement creating sound, feeling the vibrations flowing over you, and allowing music or voice to overcome you. In seeking to create an immersive poetic experience for my audience, I embrace this concept of sound and add the additional incorporation of visual effects as well. According to Ceraso, “Learning to create holistic multimodal experiences is important because heightening users’ sensory experiences is a fundamental part of contemporary design” (pg. 119).

Moving from this embodiment to an examination of process, I explore what it means to compose recursively. Let us first take that word into consideration. What does it mean to be “recursive”? In the simplest of terms, composing recursively means to compose in a recurring or repetitive manner. That does not necessarily mean repeating yourself, exactly, but it means returning to earlier steps in the process repeatedly. The composition process is not a linear movement from one point to another but rather a cyclical process moving forward and backward, looping back to earlier steps, drafting while revising and (in my case, at least) struggling to determine when a piece is truly “finished” because it is in constant development.

In “After digital storytelling: Video composing in the new media age,” Fulwiler and Middleton recommend scrapping outdated models of filmmaking, such as recommendations from the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) because they focus on a linear process moving from writing to filming and editing, placing the primary focus on textual creation and then creating visual and auditory material to supplement the original alphabetic text. Through their observations of novice student filmmakers, they recognized a pattern which many students encountered, that of a more recursive or cyclical method which involved creating while composing, where students found themselves inspired by the process of video-making to rewrite and reinterpret their initial written text.

As Fulwiler and Middleton describe this recursive style of composing, ““Nonlinearity,” “looping,” and “iteration” all speak to a characteristic inherent in composing with new media, one made both more necessary and more complex by its move across a variety of modes: the impulse to reconsider and revisit the ways that meaning has evolved over the course of the composition, and to accommodate those changes as the composer moves forward” (pg. 43). As I have mentioned, this process is not necessarily new, but it has not been witnessed or documented as clearly prior to the emergence of new media modes of composing. Now there is physical (recorded) evidence of the multiple drafts students create and scholarly researchers have explored the thought processes of students who etch away at a composition like a sculptor carving an image from clay. There is no clear starting and ending point, only a process that continues until the creator steps back from their object of creation and determines that they have done enough to bring their ideas forward for their audience.


How then, have I addressed these issues in the creation of my digital poetry chapbook? In actuality, it has been a process of experiential experimentation. Like a scientist testing a hypothesis, I have taken my own sense of creative embodiment and attempted to pass it along to my audience. Whether that has been a successful endeavor is up to interpretation. One thing which is clear is that I have fully embraced the process of recursive composition and found it not dissimilar to previous modes of composing. The only difference here is that I have been more conscious of my process and allowed it to flow in a non-linear way with a variety of drafts, edits and multiple versions of each piece. In my process review, I plan to include a few earlier iterations of individual poems in order to showcase just how far they have come from their original versions. I believe these issues of embodiment and recursive creation should be discussed more openly, both by scholars and within the composition classroom. Students should understand that a full-bodied experience of composing can be more beneficial in communicating their ideas, and passing that experience along to their audience through multimedia composing can increase engagement. In my case, these are primarily my own thoughts and feelings about personal experience, but shared experience is a way to connect with others across time and space – particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A focus on recursive composition allows professional and student creators to embrace what we have known all along, that writing – in all its forms – has never been a linear process. All of these starts and stops are natural and not a detriment to our ways of thinking. The longer we let a piece incubate the clearer it will become, even as we type our thoughts at 1 a.m. the morning a paper is due. Sharing, and capturing these experiences, will only record the way we compose, not change its nature entirely. In the end, we are only helping ourselves and those who come after us on this journey. I feel that composing in multimodal ways only enhances the way we create and offers us more opportunities to share our thoughts, ideas and ambitions with others.

Works Cited

Ceraso, S. (2014). (Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences. College English,77(2), 102-123.

Fulwiler, M., & Middleton, K. (2012). After Digital Storytelling: Video Composing in the New Media Age. Computers and Composition, 29, 39-50.

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