Saturday, January 8, 2011

Robots, Cyborgs, and Other Tools

I've read two great books of poetry already this year. This was a heavy-duty work week where I really needed to return home to good poetry. Luckily, the mail service delivered.

Just before Christmas, I took advantage of Phoenicia Publishing's sale and ordered Dave Bonta's chapbook Odes to Tools. I've been enjoying his blog and knew that I wanted to get this chapbook. I ordered a few extra copies for gifts. It's a great book for those people on your list who see poetry as a hoity-toity exercise that rarely speaks to regular people.

Bonta writes a poem for every almost every tool in the shed (unless you've got a really well-stocked shed). His poem "Ode to a Hoe" envisions the hoe as an agent of beginnings--not only the new garden, but also those worms that you chop in half. "Ode to a Measuring Tape" comforts me by asserting "In an old house like this, nothing is square." "Ode to a Shovel" uses the metaphor of stew and of dancing to make me see a shovel in a whole new light. "Ode to a Claw Hammer" ensures I will never see the hammer in the same way again, once I've read Bonta's description of the hammer as "the first / perfect androgyne," a creature that can "give birth to nails."

His chapbook is wonderfully accessible, and I mean that in the most positive way. Even those of us who haven't used the tools will likely understand the poems. Cyborgia, by Susan Slaviero (published by Mayapple Press), on the other hand requires some knowledge of fairy tales, sci fi traditions, and technology. Happily, most of us have that knowledge. As with the tools in a toolshed, it's hard to grow into midlife adulthood and avoid all of this knowledge.

I ordered this book because I'm writing an academic paper on women poets' use of fairy tales, and Slaviero's approach seemed unique to me: fairy tale characters merged with cyborgs! In "Gretel Discusses Her Prosthetic Arm," Gretel declares, "I have become more than mere / girl; I am an armory." Just the title of the poem "Boolean Fairy Tales" signals what kind of literary world we've entered.

But Slaviero doesn't stop there. She weaves religious imagery into the poems ("Our Lady of Machinery," "Our Lady of X-Ray Vision," "Our Lady of Bricolage," and "Our Lady of Revenge"). Her poems reference cowgirls, operas, and a variety of other pop and high culture arts.

In the end, both books ask essential questions about technology and tools. Bonta's book sings the praises of the old tools. Slaviero's book reminds us of the hazards of relying too much on new tools that depend on technology. Both books forcefully assert the role of poetry in analyzing our modern lives and the pleasure that can be found by using poems as a means of analysis.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Love how these books appear to be opposites but you've found the underlying connecting. Cyborgia has been on my list for several months.

Kathleen said...

Double yay!!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Thank you both--I've discovered great books because of you both--and Kathleen, thanks once again for "Cyborgia," a book I hadn't heard of until I read your blog post.