I originally created this piece for a presentation at the Penn Humanities Forum in 2006. The theme that year was “text and image.” Powerpoint was an obvious presentation tool for the seminar (used by all but one of the seminar participants), and I decided to use it in the service of this developing poem-essay. Thus, my first draft was accompanied by a large number of images culled from a variety of sources. The images began to be as primary as the text itself, which led to the question of what to do with the piece once the presentation was over. How else could this piece exist in the world?
Since that time, I’ve taken “Public Figures” on a kind of poetry rotary-club circuit that consists of bars, galleries and universities. I find myself modifying and developing the work each time I present it at a different venue. Although the genre of the touring public lecture really interests me (see the section on Russell Conwell in chapter 5), I can’t seem to let go of the idea that the piece should also have a more private life—one that doesn’t require me to stand at a podium in front of an audience. How might this piece exist for an audience of one? A book seems too static (and too costly) to produce. A DVD is perhaps a better option (it’s been suggested several times that I look to Chris Marker as a model), but I don’t know how to make a DVD. This piece makes me a poet in need of a fabricator.
Lucky for me, Dell Olsen suggested that I give the piece to HOW2 for the new media section of the magazine, and gratefully supplied a fabricator (the ever-patient John Sparrow) to help turn it into what it is here. I’m still not sure that it’s the final form this piece will take, but I like the options that it opens up for my text.
Needless to say, this is an ongoing project with much research left to be done.
-- Jena Osman