Sunday, May 6, 2018

11th Canadian Challenge - 20th review - Dreampad

This review is on the tardy side.  I actually read Jeff Latosik's Dreampad last month, during National Poetry Month, but I wasn't able to get to the review until now.  (For that matter, I had assumed I would have read the rest of Dennis Lee's Heart Residence by now, but that hasn't happened either.  I'll have to "put on some speed" to make sure I complete it and review it before the 11th Canadian Challenge wraps.)

I think the biggest problem was that the collection didn't grab me, aside from a handful of poems, and writing poetry reviews is often a bigger challenge than reviewing novels.  I had relatively high hopes for the collection based on this admittedly very short review in the Star.  I had imagined that quite a few of the poems would be a meditation on how the internet mediates our existence, but only "The Internet," "Silverado" and "The Connectome" had much to say about the internet and/or technology.  I also liked the cover, which seems somewhat akin to some key scenes in Tati's Playtime, but representing even more alienation, as most people are surfing the internet on their own these days (rather than watching television as a family unit, which was already a huge retreat from the public square).

Anyway, "The Internet" was the poem that resonated the most strongly with me, as it actually manages to induce nostalgia for the early days of the internet when not everyone had it.  I don't miss the fact that it used to take several minutes to download a picture -- and animated gifs were about the extent of video on the early internet.  (For that matter, I remember three or four years before images, when web browsers were text only!)

Latosik writes, "people started getting it, birdsong calling up from basements, / the pink noise, hiss, and crackle of a connection made. / And somebody already had some pictures: the body, / pixelated, bare, with the feeling you were overseeing it...".  No question, joining the internet was more of an exclusive club back then, despite AOL's endless mailings, trying to get people to sign up for dial-up.  To some extent, I think most people who were early adopters do miss that exclusivity (and the time when spam mail was more annoying/amusing than an existential threat to one's hard drive).  The poem ends: "It wasn't a place, but you could go there. / At night, blinds down, but windows open, flags of light / were quietly raised from main flours up into our rooms."

As I already indicated, few of the other poems have much to say about technology at all, which seems like a missed opportunity.  "The Connectome" is actually a bit of thinking ahead to the time when technology has progressed to the point that our memories are electronically encoded.  "Silverado" seems to take this a step further, specifically looking at the idea that after one's memories have been completely encoded, then one might be brought back to life as a digital shadow.  What is a little odd about this particular vision is that the poet is stuck in one time: "twelve again, / plywood everything ... / This would make it 1992; fires blaze on in Los Angeles / and I won't know where the cold war goes."  This would make sense if the poet was "brain scanned" in 1992 and then all subsequent back-ups were damaged or erased, but, given that the technology didn't exist in 1992, it is a little unclear how he would be stuck that far back.  In any event, he doesn't exist for himself but only as a digital shadow for someone else, i.e. "whoever's in the bed" [who then] "starts thinking of my sister's father."  Presumably then the poet would go back into storage.  It's an interesting idea, but really kind of jumbled up (and borrowed from a few different strands of SF).  The poem doesn't quite jell for me.

Of the non-technology-related poems (the majority of the collection), I was most interested in two about streets/highways and driving ("Only an Avenue" and "Two Cells Made All of This") and a poem about a hornet trapped in a ceiling lamp ("Pack").  "Pack" is one of those meditative poems where it starts focused on the insect buzzing about in the lamp, then goes into a memory about being stung by a pack of wasps, then goes somewhat cosmic ("I can hear that buzz / in the lamp, which had the curvature / scientists have since concluded the universe / doesn't.") and then returns to more general thoughts of being old but still reminiscing about being young and needed to be picked up after karate class.  "Pack" is my second-favourite poem in the collection, slightly behind "The Internet."  I do wish a few more poems in Dreampad had grabbed me as much as these two did, but it is still worth a peek in if you follow contemporary Canadian poetry.

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