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Recipe for Erotic Event Listeners 🌹

Kathy Wu

#lovePoems

#digitalPoetics

#browser


Introduction

Erotic Event Listeners offers a web template for building a love poem focused on opacity/transparency, and click/touch interactions. The recipe is inspired by writers Audre Lorde and adrienne maree brown; within capitalist regimes, the erotic is a way intersectionally-oppressed individuals might access healing and power.

This recipe is aimed at people who are just starting out their understanding with “how the browser is built.” Let’s pretend for a moment that the cursor is my hand, or body, seemingly immaterial, floating. Can a hover state be a gaze, or a click be a caress?


The Recipe

This recipe is inspired by a tradition of computational and digital poetry, as well as by feminist writers who write about love, pleasure, and healing.

In the Uses of the Erotic, Audre Lorde writes:

When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.

In adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism, brown encourages ways that a pleasure practice can be healing:

I touch my own skin, and it tells me that before there was any harm, there was miracle.

Within capitalist regimes we are told we feel love and pleasure in the wrong ways, and the systems prefer everything to be subjected to economies of scarcity. Particularly individuals of intersectionally oppressed-identities aren’t seen as belonging with the idea of pleasure at all—doing it in the wrong ways, ways which are stigmatized and also criminalized.

And of course there’s all the ways in which the act of writing about love — especially romantic and erotic love — is also seen as an inferior genre to other kinds of writing because of the way these things are gendered.

Within the traditions of material and concrete poetics, we might gently resist what this web space might be for. For instance, here’s an example of digital love letters from 1999, which plays with how the cursor dances across skin:

animated gif of a user interacting with skinonskinonskin in a Netscape emulator. a cursor darts around on a black background, on which a grayscale human heart pumps out tiny animated text such as "closer" and "your neck" and "move on top of me"
Image credits: Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn.

We can play with the browser space as a world of play, poetry, and pleasure even. As users of computational machines we spend minutes if not hours of everyday clicking, swiping, touching the body of a webpage. Let’s pretend for a moment that the cursor is my hand, or body, seemingly immaterial, floating. Can a hover state be a gaze, or a click be a caress?

Writing about love can often invite a kind of discretion, secrecy, for a number of different reasons — think pillow books, innuendos. This recipe is also inspired by modes of secret writing. In the browser, to be literally transparent means to hide away. To be opaque in our expression, means to show all. You might also play with visibility, legibility.

Who is it for? This recipe is a simple and humble one. It’s aimed at people who are just starting out their understanding with “how the browser is built,” that offers a playful way to think about “touch” and “click” and toggling the appearance of a DOM element. Making websites from scratch too, can be a radical act of moving away from the nonconsensual transactions, constraints, and terms of service set out by today’s software empires.

Here is the basic example:

animated gif of a user interacting with the digital love poem demo. the top of the window instructs "move your hand over my body." a cursor hovers over an image of a pink rose in a garden, slowly revealing hidden white cursive text such as "enter again," "suck a tenderness."
Image credit: Kathy Wu.

Instructions

  1. Write a love poem:
    • If it’s easier, write it not as a poem, but as a list.
    • If you’d like structure, consider traditional poetry formats, e.g. 14 lines in the rough structure of a sonnet. Or 5 lines for a haiku.
    • Perhaps it’s someone you fancy, with whom you want to be discreet. Perhaps this poem is dedicated to yourself, or a part of the body.
    • What do you love about this part of the body?
    • You can think about erotic love, and think about verbs that you would like to include. You can stay within a realm of romantic, platonic, or other kinds of love. Whatever is more comfortable.
    • Maybe you start every line with a different verb [“touch,” “taste”, “stroke”]. Maybe you start every line with the word “you…”
    • For net-based written inspiration, consider Craigslist Missed Connections (go with discretion…) or erotic Fan Fiction sites…
  2. Download the Covert Poem template.zip and unzip it.
  3. In the code:
    • The template.zip should include “index.css,” “index.html,” “script.js.” Open all three files in a text editor of your choice.
    • Beginning in script.js: On line 1, after the equal sign “let desires = …”, replace the data with your own poem. Think about if you want to split it up on every line break, or on every word…
      screenshot of line 1 in script.js template. the code snippet gives an example of erotic verse formatted in an array. "let desires = ["lick your flower bud", "taste your mouth"...]
      Image credit: Kathy Wu.
    • On line 16: If you would like, you can change the event listener “click” to other kinds of events. mouseover, mousedown… here is a full list of all event listeners: HTML DOM Event Object Reference.
    • In index.html: On line 15, between the <h1> brackets, replace the title of the poem with your own. What instructions might you give to someone reading this poem?
    • In index.css: On line 3, change the background image to be the name of your own image file. Maybe it’s something that reminds you about the person/idea you are writing to, or maybe it’s something completely random and meant to disguise the website from your intended audience.
photo of Love Poem by Audre Lorde. Full text:
Speak earth and bless me with what is richest
make sky flow honey out of my hips
rigis mountains
spread over a valley
carved out by the mouth of rain.

And I knew when I entered her I was
high wind in her forests hollow
fingers whispering sound
honey flowed
from the split cup
impaled on a lance of tongues
on the tips of her breasts on her navel
and my breath
howling into her entrances
through lungs of pain.

Greedy as herring-gulls
or a child
I swing out over the earth
over and over
again.
Credit: Love Poem by Audre Lorde.
black and white close-up photo of a tongue grazing the keys of a typewriter.
Image source: Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959-1979 book cover.

This is meant to be a starting point, but perhaps you want to play with other structures entirely. Here is a love poem builder if you want to learn about other kinds of interactivity.

animated gif of a digital love poem. virtual dalhias, roses, plum blossoms, honeysuckle, and other flowers bloom on a black background. each animated flower is accompanied by a word such as "you," "me," "move," "sigh," "take".
Image credit: Kathy Wu.

Q&A

What is the context or background that inspired your recipe?

The recipe is inspired by writers Audre Lorde and adrienne maree brown; within capitalist regimes, the erotic is a way intersectionally oppressed individuals might access healing and power.

Which community are you offering the recipe to?

This recipe is aimed at people who are just starting out their understanding with “how the browser is built.” People who would like the internet to look and feel differently and want to play with the grain of the web, but don’t yet know how.

How does your submission relate to intersectional feminism?

Within capitalism and heteronormative patriarchy we are told we feel love and pleasure in the wrong ways. People of intersectionally-oppressed identities are stigmatized, criminalized, and aren’t seen as belonging with the idea of pleasure at all. This web project is inspired by the writings of Lorde and brown to encourage freer spaces on the internet that we build ourselves, through practices of alternative website development and erotic poetry.

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