Betty Nkomo-MSA-June 9

Javier Chapa
Dr. Sherwood
English 865
Analysis of “Last Days of Betty Nkomo”
“Last Days of Betty Nkomo” is not interactive in the sense that the reader/user [and from here out I’m just going to be using reader] does not play a role in the creation of the work itself. There is nothing to click on in order to take the reader to a new link (no hyperlink activity). But there is interaction between the work and the reader.
In the start, the text acts like a film, producing the feeling of intertextuality between poem and cinema. The work counts down from ten, sometimes in numerals, and sometimes in written words, giving the feeling that the reader is about to experience something when the text counts down to zero. The sense of expectation is given upon the reception of the countdown.
The actual text of the poem is straight forward. One or two words are presented on the screen at a time, and the poem seems to work in a linear fashion, allowing the poem to unfold.
However, on further inspection, there are quite a few areas of intermediation that is happening. There is sound that accompanies the work; it is a song that is song in a language (presumably in an Asian dialect of some sort) whose cadence (the singing of words) coincides with the flashing of new words onto the screen. The reader then is being programed to expect that as the words in the song change, so to do the words that appear on the screen. From the screen and the sound, the reader is being taught the code that is being revealed by both the song in a foreign, human language, and the screen that the reader is watching. There are no decisions that need to be made by the reader, but it becomes very apparent that the reader is being taught, and therefore, interacting with the poem on a multilinguistical, oral, and visual level.
The poem, itself, reveals a narrator, who is lying face down in the dirt, perhaps to move his/her hand into the sun. The poem does not reveal the gender of the narrator, nor does it indicate as to why the narrator has his/her cheek on the cool dirt (sickness, bedding, or another reason), but the narrator indicates that it feels good. The narrator further reveals waiting for someone, perhaps a son.
But the poem does change, and the screen changes. While the majority of the poem has black lettering on a white background, the words “Ha Ha Ha” appear (one at a time) in white lettering with a black background. This “Ha Ha Ha”, again, sets up an expectation for the reader. Is this poem a joke? Is the artist playing with the reader by taking the reader down one path, and quickly shifting gears to a new path?
The poem then moves on the screen, rather quickly, as the pace of the singing becomes a little more staccato, and the words speed up, the poem seems to shift. The dark background may indicate a darker tone, an unknown. The words, “The rats go in/the rats go out/the sun goes up/the sun goes down” quickly flash on the screen, following the song. As the song abruptly ends, so does the poem, ending with “THE”, an article, giving no indication what is coming next.
It seems like the code and cadence that the reader becomes accustomed to vanish. There is a sense that the “learning” that the reader was getting was incomplete or not reliable. But there was a lot of unreliability in this poem. The language the song was in (unless the reader knows the language) is not decipherable, and the words are not known. Is the poem enhanced by the song, or the words in the song? There is no way of knowing unless the language can be deciphered by the reader somehow.
And what of the cadence of the song itself, revealing the words of the poem to the reader? It feels like it can be followed, but then the song is sped up, and the cadence changes. Does this make the narration unreliable? Does this create an unstable read of the poem for the reader?
And what of the background of the poem, going from white to black? Is the Poem itself shifting from being playful to being menacing? Is truth being hidden and then ultimately revealed?
Finally, the ending of the poem reveals nothing of the narrator, the storyline, or what can be expected to come (if there is an expectation set up in the reader).
On first glance, this poem seems to work as simple text on a screen, but that is not the case on further examination. Is the reader learning to decipher the code, or is the reader placed in a position where the code is incomplete, never to reveal a truth or meaning for the reader? The intermediation then becomes more apparent, and the poem works on much more of a different level because of the motion, sound, and phrasing that would be utterly impossible to achieve in traditional text form.