sympathetic magic, take two; QR codes

There really aren't many original ideas out there. I was in a doctor's office a couple weeks ago, and noticed a small block of dark figures on a drug display. There was a note on the display that suggested I should take a photo of the figure with my cell phone in order to get some sort of coupon or rebate. I didn't know what these little "scanner blocks" were called, but I thought it would be interesting to make some visually oriented poems using nothing but little blocks and lines and make them look like something that could be scanned with a cell phone. So with this vague idea in mind, I made the pieces that were posted a few days ago.

So it was . . . I was pretty happy with the pieces. They were entertaining to make. Then I noticed on the back of a magazine another of those "scanner blocks," but this time the helpful advertiser had a note that read "take a photo of this QR with your cell phone . . . blah blah blah." So the blocks are called QR Code, or "quick response code." They're everywhere, and you can't miss them, but I've never paid attention to them. I figured, as far behind the times as I usually am, there are a probably a million people making visual poems that look like QR codes. I started searching google, and while I haven't yet found any QR visual poems--though certainly they are out there and probably in great numbers--there are all sorts of people writing poems or other messages, translating them into QR codes via freebee websites, and then posting them in various places where interested people who have the appropriate app on their cell phones can take a photo of the code and read the "translated" poem. It's an interesting way to distribute writing or creative work and other information.

Here's just one of many explanations of how to write QR poems. This one was written by a Brazilian writer named Giselle Beiguelman. South Americans have a penchant for being engaged in avant writing projects, and it's easy to imagine the continent's writers doing all sorts of experimenting and work with "mobile telephonic" poetry. (In fact, I assume they've probably moved beyond this already. "Ho-hum, this is SO 2010"). Beiguelman has a blog, which looks interesting. I wish I could read Portuguese! Doesn't matter, it's still enjoyable to look through.

After taking some time to compare my initial QR-inspired efforts with actual QRs, I realized how lacking in some subtle details mine were. (And not so subtle details--why did I choose to make mine shaped like rectangles instead of squares?). Here is a revised version of "sympathetic magic," with a number of added details and a new and improved square shape. I was thinking of the different books on petroglyphs and "cave art" I've read over the years and decided to create a few of my own glyphs. Among those in this piece are a frog that changes into a human or vice versa in order to avoid or confront a coiled snake; some bull heads, a few human-like figures or signs and a larger, horizontal human figure striking down some sort of animal with a decorated stick (or rolled up newspaper), said animal figure which in turn is offered up to a totem by the helpful letter "G." I was simply creating a little atavistic world within a QR code format. Below that, is an actual, supposedly working QR code I made at the website QR using the phrase "sympathetic magic." Who knows how it will translate via the code. I guess scan it at your own risk. I don't know how safe these things are.

"sympathetic magic." Revised January 18, 2011.

QR Code of "sympathetic magic." January 18, 2011.

Mine is still not quite right and could use more work. It's not as tight, boldly stark, and hermetic and strange looking as the real deal QR. QRs remind me of digital visions of the "hex" symbols sometimes painted on country barns. I'm not sure I'd photograph random QRs with my cell phone, but I like looking at them. There are the comforting nested boxes in the upper left and right and lower left corners; in opposition the square-less open right lower corner; the bold marks wandering around here and there forming shapes similar to the tunnels in an ant farm, occasionally gathering into neat chevrons or larger blocks, sometimes staying by themselves, apart from the rest of the information, seemingly. Will the black marks tumble out of the lower right of the QR or continuing rambling around the square?

I don't know what the potential for distributing writing via QR codes is. How much text can you cram into one and have it intelligibly translated via the cell phone app? (This site claims to have input Poe's "The Raven" in QR code.) Could entire books be shared covertly or overtly this way? Is anything lost in the translation of QR code into text, such that sending QR code output back into QR code, the result of that output back again into QR, etc., would create the kind of fractured syntax and peculiar word choices that you get if you translate, say, an English phrase into Spanish, the Spanish back to English, then back again, and so on, using an online translator such as the one at google? But likely others have figured this all out already and are on to the next great thing for 2011. I'm just hoping that reruns of Hee-Haw will show up on YouTube. That'd be great.


  1. Cool...and interesting...and fun. I'm going to forward the post to Rick--he will dig it (and no doubt have that app on his phone in no time)!

    p.s. ...the word that popped up for the comment approval was "pulpacid," which made me laugh. "Pulp Acid" seems to fit perfectly with QR codes and poetry...


Post a Comment