The technical content of Sleep when exhausted, to anyone viewing its page source, is not by any means impressive and is crudely constructed. Still, as a product I would label foremost as poetry, I will offer here that the amateurish build quality adds to the final product.


What I created for this project records my coming to the web browser as an outsider. I spoke colloquially, as a poet, using JavaScript to speak to the client’s web browser in a language that the browser understands. I utilized the browser’s ability to calculate the unfolding narrative efficiently, in a way that readers need not understand.

And so, because I am a barely self-taught web developer, and still wanted to see the poem laid out somehow on the backend, I created much unnecessary work for myself. I often had to backtrack.

This became a contemplative act in the same way that prayer is a contemplative act: instead of humbling myself before the greatness and nonhumanness of other, I approached other as though other wanted to be spoken to as if it were humanlike. The only communicative benefits, as far as I understand them, that can be observed from an act of prayer are in oneself; other’s involvement in the conversation was not observable.

A practiced web developer could find more efficient ways of creating Sleep when exhausted. Instead of inputting each state1 by hand, I could have created a collection of data that, with simple keywords, would grab any input data and automate the output. Instead I chose to approach the JavaScript like I do any analogue writing project:

  • I assume that I understand the language I will be working in well enough to communicate something.
  • I research in isolation, without input from mentors or peers until later in the process.
  • I work linearly, one minuscule task after another.
  • I check for errors and mistakes and inconsistencies.
  • I repeat.
  • I disregard orthodox form and structure,
  • which might also mean disregarding common sense, readability, and usability.
  • I embrace the long hours and unpaid nature of my project.
  • I stop eating, sleeping, et cetera.
  • I take long walks in the middle of the night when restless.

I do not mean to say that conventional web development cannot be a contemplative or transcendental act. I only mean to distinguish between conventional web development, which I know little about, and my own emulation of web development as a poet in a culture of poetry steeped in printed matter.2 I also understand that many web designers, developers, students, and other creatives work in a similar, albeit unhealthy, way—working more than eighty hours per week, losing sleep, eating poorly, being obsessed, or whatever.


Because the reader generates new information to consume as they navigate through the speaker’s world, Sleep when exhausted could be closely compared to Choose Your Own Adventure-style gamebooks, other branching narrative systems, graphical point-and-click adventure games, visual novels, or whatever.

The major difference would be that Sleep when exhausted excludes actual choice, plot, and gameness.3 Readers might view themselves as “players” when interacting with it, but more than usual, their choices have no effect on this work’s outcome. Readers pick the details that they pick, and details unveil further details as I have prescribed. The continuity is not narrative, or, because it is looping, chronological. It is just a visual artifact of the speaker’s consciousness, much like other poems.


In avoiding gameness, I knew that my project would withdraw further into the territory of poetry—a region that seems to exclude the majority of people—and even the majority of writers. I wanted poets and nonpoets to be able to approach this work. I created an imaginary general audience. So I worked to cater to a diverse set of readers, who have short attention spans, or read more or less in the context of video games, or who more or less read links acquired from their Facebook feeds.

Similarly, I did not want to alienate the “average reader”4 or the “average reader of poetry” any more than usual and decided to make Sleep when exhausted seem book-like. This is my tiny attempt to trick them into interacting with the work.5

If I ever wanted this imaginary general audience to enjoy, let alone interact at all with this work, it would need to be completable in under a minute and absorbing enough to invite readers interested in the work for another read.


There is a girl seated in front of me, sitting next to her mother. She is twenty-three-ish years old. Our flight attendant passes her a glass of water. I watch her watching Jeremy Renner fight a wolf with his bare hands.

I’ve already seen The Bourne Legacy, but it seems different now. I am trying to scrub through my memory of the flick, figure out what events have already occurred. I view this now without audio, through the crack between two airline seats. I attempt to measure the viewer’s pleasure, filtered through her blonde, shoulder-length hair.

Our flight attendant passes me a glass of orange juice with ice in it. It takes a few minutes, but I finally find the dimmer to turn off my own in-flight multimedia station. I admit there is something about watching a movie you have no intention of finishing because the duration of your flight just isn’t long enough, but today I want to just be on this airplane and do nothing.


As web browsers are perpetually modernized, support for Sleep when exhausted will likely drop, at least partially. This type of problem affects all digital works and will impair us from interacting with content as it was intended—at least until content creators adopt plain text as the standard method of digitally storing and/or documenting human-readable information6 or move back to paper.

Sleep when exhausted will also become visually obsolete as it ages, and is probably ugly already. I regret aesthetic choices that I have made. That said, I do not intend to continue support for this work, and I welcome any obsolescence gratefully.

Reading list



This work was developed for and funded by the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards program at the University of Victoria. This project would not have been as cool without the support and encouragement of Tim Lilburn and Karolinka Zuzalek, with special thanks to Patrick Close, Matthew Hooton, Megan Jones, David Leach, Courtney Løberg, Garth Martens, Helen Marzolf, Jordan Soles, Valerie Tenning, and UVic’s personal web space.

  1. By “state,” I mean any three lines that you can see at once. 

  2. This is a generalization about the literary culture in Victoria, British Columbia. I do not mean you any offence! 

  3. I define games as objective- and choice-oriented systems, which are primarily unlike to the arts. I find nothing about gameness distasteful, but Sleep when exhausted is not intended to be a game. 

  4. who deeply hates those awful slideshow-based articles and prefers to just scroll down a single webpage. 

  5. For the JCURA installation, I presented the poem on an Asus Nexus 7 as a fullscreen application generated by Google Chrome. 

  6. The Lo-Fi Manifesto. Stolley, Karl.