Hi all, I’m proud to announce the release of “Hassidic Witch Murderer: The Official Videogame of the Poems,” an interactive poetry zine that I made using Twine. If you’re unfamiliar with Twine, it’s an open-source software that lets users create choose-your-own-adventure type stories via hyperlink text. So, what does that have to do with poetry?
In the Fall of 2012, I started planning a poetry and book arts collaboration project with my sister, Jamie Kutner. I hadn’t come out to anyone but myself as a trans woman yet and this book was going to deal with ghosts, visions, nightmares, and cycles of generational trauma, so as you can imagine, that was a rough winter for me. Confronting all of that at once, though, made it painfully clear that I needed to do something to break that cycle. That something, it turned out, was ceasing contact with my parents and transitioning, hence the title of my novel-in-verse, Never Coming Home, but that’s a whole different story.
The original draft of Hassidic Witch Murderer contained 23 poems, was deliberately not paginated, and was in a box with a zinc inlay title plate and print of a copper plate etching as a title page. Unfortunately, the years, all three of them, have not been kind to it and the piece has basically fallen apart. We decided not to add page numbers or a table of contents because we thought that readers would be better able to understand the chaotic and disconnected nature of our family history if they had to shuffle through it and piece it together like we did. Not all of those poems are present in this draft, in fact, at least one poem from the original made it into Never Coming Home, but you’ll never guess which one(s) and I’m not telling.
Last year, I caved and released a very limited run (we’re talking well under ten copies here) of a paginated Hassidic Witch Murderer, complete with a fancy-shmancy table of contents, to sell at NYC Feminist Zine Fest. It sold out, I ended up selling PDFs of this version to a few friends over the internet, and I was happy about that, but I couldn’t help feeling that the people reading this version were missing something crucial about this book.
Fast forward to this past October, when I found myself touring the northeast coast of the US with a professor who makes Twitterbots and teaches programing classes, including one on Twine, to English students at Fordham and NYU and a girl who has to legally change her middle name to Twine if she sells a hundred thousand copies of her book. I’m talking, of course, about Instar Books authors, Allison Parrish and merritt kopas, who wrote the books @everyword and Videogames for Humans respectively. I honestly had no idea what Twine was until I googled it the week before tour. At our friends’ house in Boston, these two showed me the basics of Twine, and it clicked, this was exactly what Hassidic Witch Murderer needed.
In the months since tour, I’ve given a lot of thought to what this book is and what it says. Where Never Coming Home does its best to present as clear and concise a narrative as possible with its poems, Hassidic Witch Murderer chucks that out of the window entirely and gives readers a fragile, but convoluted web of dreams, memories, visions, and lies. If you feel confused or frustrated reading and re-reading certain parts, I’ve done my job. This thing is a nightmare; I know that well. There are poems you’ll only get to by reading and re-reading certain poems.
I’d wince if people started calling me a game designer after this, because I’m not. I couldn’t code my way out of a paper bag if I tried and making games, while it’s fascinating to me, isn’t really my goal. I’m only calling it a videogame as a small homage to Videogames for Humans. This is about as bare bones a Twine experience as you’ll find, it’s just text and hyperlink text. I don’t know from CSS, but if someone out there has the time and patience to teach me, you could possibly see another version of this game/zine/book thing. For now, though, I’m happy to say that this thing’s time with me is over. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it! You can play it here