Inkshares’ own Angela Melamud fired back almost immediately, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a book of poetry. I clicked the link to the book’s page, read a little about the book, and watched the short promotional video thereupon. Spliced clips from Akira — one of my all-time favorite films — with the poet reading his own Akira-inspired piece over them. Even though I felt (and still feel) unprepared to review a book of poetry, I accepted Angela’s offer, and started reading Yann Rousselot’s Dawn of the Algorithm that evening.
That was four months ago. I finished the last poem today, standing in an overpacked train car, in a tunnel under the bay, as it hurtled along the tracks on its way to San Francisco.
I am an amateur at best when it comes to the appreciation of poetry. I like it, but have never been able to articulate what mechanisms in a poem affect me, regardless of how that effect manifests. I simply do not have the tools. In college, I read some poetry from the Golden Age of Spain. It made me feel a bit dumb, and I struggled spectacularly when the time came to discuss the work.
So I took my time with Yann’s poems, and am grateful that they deal in material that is near to my heart. In his own words, Dawn of the Algorithm is: “…[A] poetry collection about the end of the world. It’s about giants, robots, aliens and dinosaurs; disasters, catastrophes and spectacular cataclysms. By analogy, it is also about rupture: thermo-apocalypses that spark when you throw together love, longing, friendship and loss – what some might call the dark side of human experience.”
As a fan of science fiction, fantasy, video games, and aliens (all of which I’ve Warbled about at some point,) and a penchant for melancholy, these pieces were made for me.
The poems in Dawn of the Algorithm are the product of a person with obvious intellect and emotional depth. Many of Yann’s poems harken back to games and science fiction from the 80s and 90s, but are just as likely to reference current nerd culture.
Here is where the struggle starts. This marks the sixteenth time I have typed, deleted, and retyped some commentary about the poems. I’m looking at the table of contents, neatly divided into four sections, and the names of the poems I found particularly good are jumping out at me. Let’s go with that.
While I thought that post-human neo-tokyo — the one with the Akira references — would be my favorite of the poems, I was caught off guard by ugly bags of mostly water, the final poem in the first section, The Art of Destruction. It reminded me in some ways of one of my favorite vignettes in The Illustrated Man, wherein post-human spheres of light school missionaries on Mars on enlightenment. Not because the content is the same, of course, but because of the emotions and visions conjured by the powerful language. Some of the lines that moved me most, for your reading pleasure:
“that which you call skin—
a threadbare term to describe where i stop and others begin—
a terran distinction—i am we are in a supercritical fluid state—“
“i long for home—
gravity the unbreakable shackle to this planet–
a curse alike to sentience and skin—
skin the unbreakable shackle to the thing you call body—
your gift to me—i curse you and your words that make the world—
all of you—ugly bags of mostly water—“
ugly bags of mostly water is one of the farthest-out pieces in the book, and it moved me to the point where I read it six times in a row before closing the book, then my eyes, and laying back, to think about it a while. It is decidedly sci-fi, completely alien, and remarkably human. This is where the book sank its hooks in me.
In truth, this wasn’t a book I could read cover-to-cover in a few days, as I’m wont to doing with many of the books about which I warble. I needed breaks. I needed to reread. I needed to look at the illustrations, some of which are quite great.
A thing that brought out a chuckle was the final section, Love in the Time of Ebola. Having just finished (and greatly misliked) Love in the Time of Cholera, I wondered it there may be something of a redemption in store for me. I found two poems in the section, El-Ahrairah and Insert Coin to be particularly good, and encourage you to read them when you pick up Dawn of the Algorithm from Inkshares, which I highly encourage you to do.
Sometimes, the poems are funny. Elsewhere, they’re laments for the complexities of love. They frequently dabble in the absurd. Mostly, they feel real. They feel like a writer with passion sat down and did what Hemingway talked about: bled onto the page.