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Confluence: Grids, Ecology, and 99-Character Statements

For a public art project called Confluence I am developing texts and testing reading processes, with the goal of installing mile-long writings along streets where waterways have been hidden underground. A step in this process is to explore the cadences and sense-making of reading as script takes unusual forms. I also knew the writing would need to conform to lengths of city blocks and distances between driveways, so practicing a strict adherence to character count was key. In these works, connections between letters are opened and gaps between words closed, creating arrays reflective of early alphabetic writing and of the grids fundamental to scientific sampling and analysis. The poems, each ninety-nine characters in length, were developed during field work with Mary Toothman, David Herbst, R. Bruce Medhurst, and other biologists surveying streams in the Sierra Nevada of California. Their form invites readers to reassemble meaning, just as ecologists do when interpolating data from samples back into the coherent systems from which the data were derived. To establish equally factual poetic and scientific statements, the poems were vetted—or at least argued over—with the biologists. The lettering is in my hand.