Internet Poetry Round-Up #3

Internet Poetry Round-Up is back for the new year, and there are more great poems on my mind than I know what to do with. This batch of poems are ones I haven’t been able to close the tab on, full of strange imagery that pulls me back in to keep searching for meaning, again and again.

Elegy for My Sadness” by Chen Chen

from Breakwater Review

“I wish it could / unbelong itself from me, unstick / from my face.”

This poem is a necklace of utterly unexpected words and phrases, linked seamlessly with repetitions. It’s a fresh, honest and strange perspective on depression and the frustration of having sadness always present, “unsweet, uncharming, completely uninteresting”. It’s colloquial and grounded, full of sharp-edged truth, with an ending that sits heavy in your chest long after you’ve read it.

“Poem Where The Poet Lies Through Her Teeth” by Gabrielle Hogan

from Ghost City Press

“my / dream girl is a sheet of paper folded in / on itself, & then again, & then again”

This poem pulls the reader in effortlessly through the free-flowing anaphora on “my dream girl”, then sticks in your head with its series of omen-dark images. There is an incredible sense of heartache in the pull between the statements being the opposite of what you expect, and the fact that the same rule of opposition suggests some truth behind the imagery, despite the title; the truth, perhaps, that dreams are never what you want them to be. It’s a tightly written piece, fitted together like a precise and unsettling puzzle, a rubik’s cube of haunting.

They were forced to imagine it through a prism” by Katelyn Oppegard

from Snail Trail Press

“yet every time it snows the air smells the                                                               same”

This poem is a prismatic landscape of fragments, expansive and spread across the page in a way that makes you feel surrounded by it, as if by spreading out the text a real space is carved out to let the moments breathe and mingle. It feels like a celebration of all the small details of nature, all the tiny miracles that can so easily appear and disappear. It’s a long piece, and only loosely held together, but well worth lingering in to savour the playful and delicate moments of life and language it carries.

And from this piece, one more phrase you’ve never seen before:

“a parakeet eats a pickle and is dilled on the spot”

Happy new year, and happy poetry!

Internet Poetry Round-Up #2

Most of this week’s poems experiment with form, and play with language and repetition; all four convey an intense immersion in an experience, some aspect of the everyday becoming symbolic or even prophetic.

 

Sonnet for speech too soft & you who’ve yet to choose a name” by Sam Rush

from Glass: A Journal of Poetry

“Today I keep / the speaker out of me for long enough / to watch a swallow swoon the ghost of song.”

The musicality in this piece is incredible. It reads as easily as free verse but maintains the sonnet form in its constraint to 14 lines and (mostly?) iambic pentameter. Far from these limitations stiffening the piece, they increase the already powerful emotional urgency: repetitions and striking images create a vision both mythic and grounded, comprised of delicate and vivid moments of listening.

 

harvest” by Erin Emily Ann Vance

from Train: a poetry journal

“I wondered / how much of us had become honey and wine”

A sweet poem in more way than one; the love the speaker has for the “you” flows through run-on imagery of honey and bees and gentleness and getting by. The imagery early in the poem of the affectionate handling of the bees draws a character I can’t help but fall for too.

 

who gets anything for keeps?” by Patrycja Humienik

from Dream Pop Press

“somebody with a word that could fill an entire mouth”

The scattered form of this poem suggests the same sense of a busy city street and disjointedness that the imagery conveys. The piece muses on language that surrounds but is disconnected, uncommunicative. What’s left is minutia: crosswalk symbols, flowers and mouths reduced to component parts, coming together in a piece both thoughtful and atmospheric.

 

Stock Footage (kick and spin)” by Lydia Unsworth

from talking about strawberries all of the time

“and we are so warm without even a fireplace or a mantra”

This piece reads like a sexy montage film of everyday life, a delightfully specific stream-of-consciousness. A certain lust for life persists through the scenes, the body retaining an immediacy and magic among mundane daily tasks. The length and unpunctuated prose form can make the poem a bit daunting to read through, but this also creates a fast immediacy and immersiveness. I keep finding myself going back to re-read the poem, but in bits and pieces, cutting it together in new ways like the “stock footage” title suggests.

 

What I’m reading: Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Pond is one of those books I read 20 pages of and then had to stop myself from immediately trying to write something just like it. The voice, circuitous and vivid, sticks in your head.

The book is Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, and while it seems to be categorized as a short story collection, it also reminds me of some poetic novels; there’s one narrator and one central place, anchoring several stories or chapters comprised mostly of stream-of-consciousness observations, often with some inciting event but rarely with any strong external drama or tension. Bennett doesn’t follow any rules of storytelling: there isn’t an overarching plot, nor a real plot to any of the stories, nor any major shift except digging deeper, perhaps, into the narrator’s psychology, and a small sense that change will happen, inevitably and with little agency, towards the end of the book. Stories centre around things as minute as trying to replace oven knobs, or the colour of ink in a fountain pen. Characters are rarely named and there are no consistent or particularly significant character relationships, nor much direct dialogue; the broadest sense of the narrator’s life comes from a phone conversation with her father in one of the last stories, “Over and Done With,” and the suggestion of history and something ongoing is almost jarring in a book so firmly rooted in present thought & sensation.

I’m a sucker for stories without much story, mostly because it justifies me writing things that are about image and language and states of being but not plot. After all, life rarely has much of a plot anyway, and these minutia of everyday life carry a real honest weight if we let them.

The early part of the book alternates between longer stories and short vignettes (including a two-paragraph ode to tomato puree), but in the later third of the book there are more and more long stories and the weight of it all shifts in proportion. What begins as reasonably light-hearted eccentricity takes on a slightly more melancholy cast; the balance of the narration shifts from outward descriptions to a closer sense of the narrator herself, her psyche and the drifting patterns she’s caught up in, the tenuous ways she forms identity. This tension between internal and external reality seems central to the book, and as it goes on you get a sense of the person emerging from the voice; you move from a sense of timeless oddity to a clearer picture of a life.

It’s a book about food & love & dirt; about solitude and anxiety, but in no clichéd or all-consuming sense. With a narrator indifferent to anyone else’s rules, Bennett moves between every kind of odd and uncomfortable and irreverent truth about day-to-day life. It’s a book I’d like to read at least three more times — each story is full of turns of phrase  worth chewing on, flavours and textures worth examining from every angle, and observations that haunt you until you can tease them apart.

Can robots write poetry??: poem.exe

What does it mean if robots can write poetry? As artificial intelligence grows, don’t we always turn to the arts as the last refuge and proof of humanity? Do bots like poem.exe prove that there’s nothing technology can’t do?? Is all poetry a scam???

Probably not; the bot is created by a human, after all, and so are its source materials: according to the poem.exe website, the basis for the poems is a corpus comprised largely of English translations of haiku, supplemented by other short poetry and some word substitutions. The project is less proof of a robot uprising than a continuation of the long-standing poetic tradition of found poetry, which dates back as far as 4th century centos comprised of re-assembled Virgil. But projects like this are exciting in that they continue to raise questions about what poetry can be, and how new tools can create new ways to play with language.

poem.exe has long been one of my favourite twitter bots because its products are consistently charming: while not every tweet is a winner, the bot consistently produces captivating imagery, and in some ways the incongruity of the random selection only heightens the effect: poetry is about making things new, about seeing the world in fresh and vivid ways, and a bot’s lack of self-doubt leaves it free to make bold (though sometimes absurd) juxtapositions. Like a human poet, the bot “reads” a selection of poetry and then assembles its own work, in this case based on constraints for the number of lines and appropriateness to the current season; unlike a human poet, the bot is relatively unfettered by more abstract concerns with what might be considered “good” or “bad.”

Drawing from haiku is perhaps a particularly strong choice in terms of creating enjoyable poetry without human intervention; my impressions from what I’ve learned about Eastern poetic traditions, especially haiku and Taoist poetry, is that these poetics aren’t necessarily meant to be about individual human experiences — the poet is a vehicle for conveying wisdom and emotion that already exists, through simple and vivid descriptions of nature. If these observational forms of poetry are about reducing the speaker’s presence to create a truer vision of the world, maybe this further step away through the use of technology can allow an even purer view, or at least create another layer of meaning.

Ultimately, poem.exe might just be a fun project and a soothing presence in the twitter-sphere. But any way that technology can be used to play with the boundaries of art — to connect old and new in unexpected ways — strikes me as a hint as to how we can continue to move forward: to create poetry that engages with the digital world not just superficially, but structurally; to create art that keeps up with the internet’s frenetic pace, yet remains an oasis among it.