The complete title for this multimedia poem is “Last Words (Ordinary People Speak at the Moment of Death / In or Around the New York City Area)” and it is both descriptive of the poem’s theme and suggestive of a key strategy. Organized around eight characters’ final words and the contexts in which those words were uttered, each one is represented by a brief “slice of death” narrative, and a poetic voice from beyond that provides an ironic counterpoint, full of Bigelow’s characteristic darkly understated humor.
“Last Words” is very strategic in its juxtaposition of elements. The short looping animated gifs of the characters’ faces speaking provide an iconic dynamic image for each. With one notable exception, the video clips are made from of old television footage and film documentaries, and serve as a background context that sets the tone, evokes a time and place, and represent an aspect of the characters. Other elements include textual narrative, center justified lines of free verse, audio clips of high-speed text-to-speech readings of the same lines of verse, dictionary definitions of an element of the narrative, and two images of fingerprints used for navigation of the piece, all positioned to enhance holistic readings. As you read each part and develop a sense of its patterns, keep your eyes, and ears, open to its variations.
Think also of the strategy alluded to in the opening paragraph of this entry, which I will only hint at by reminding you of the complete title of the work and pointing out the parallels between Lizzie Finnigan’s story and Emily Dickinson’s fascicles. Its juxtaposition with the final movement in the piece is a source of humor, tension, relief and thematic resonance.