Review of "Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm" by Loss Pequeño Glazier

This review was originally published on /., the technical news magazine site.

I love writing software, and I enjoy reading other people's source, how they've expressed instructions, the subtle differences when two good programmers use the same language for the same task. Then there's the pleasure of working through a new computer language: how its structure, its form, changes the way a problem is approached, a solution is expressed.

Strange as it may seem, I get the same pleasure from reading poetry, but more so. Seeing a poem written in an old familiar form, say a sonnet, is like meeting someone else's code in a language I know. New poems in new forms are new programs in new languages; exciting ideas renewed, refreshed, expressed in different ways.

But I can get put off by a lot of avant-garde poetry's excess use of strange words. Take Loss Pequeño Glazier's newly published first collection Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm. He's succumbed to the usual academic habit of filling his poems with obscure incomprehensibility, like http, chmod, EMACS … hang on a second, I know these words. They're not literary jargon, they're software babble, the words I work with. If there isn't a schadenfreude sense of humour behind this chap's use of computer terminology in his poetry, there damn well ought to be. I love the image I get of poetry literati, finding poems stuffed with precision from a different kind of language professional, muttering "what the …?"

Look, don't get me wrong, this collection isn't easy. The poems, mostly prose poems, are impressions, sequences of events, themed associations, riddled with puns (sharper than that), observation and humour. Imagine yourself a tourist, walking down a Mexican / Cuban / Texan / Costa Rican town's main street, staring at the activity, the buildings, the air, everything a slap of newness. Now realise I was snug in an English pub on a cold November night drinking some rather good warm beer, reading "Semilla de Calabaze (Pumpkin Seed)", the central sequence of this collection. I'm guided by Glazier, I'm the gawping tourist, I'm hit by his local knowledge, I'm a stranger but I know this town, I'm the visitor and I've lived here forever.

I'd better give you some samples of his work. It's not so easy, each poem is a long whole; chopping bits out destroys the context, much of the expression. Remember, too, I enjoy new ways of saying old things. Perhaps you'll see this collection's appeal to me from this chunk of the fifth "White-Faced Bromeliards on 20 Hectares (An Iteration)":

Finding a pumpkin seed in your vocabulary. A dead tree becomes
a bromeliad alter. Policía Rural. Brahmin cattle. Los Angeles,
Costa Rica's fresh furrows against smoky ridge. Banana chips on
the bus. Una casada, comida típica lava gushing glowing twilight
plumes & sputters. Before sunset, bathing in a river heated by
lava's flow.

So why on earth am I reviewing a collection of poetry for /. ? As you've probably already sussed, Glazier's a computer chap. He's professor and Director of The Electronic Poetry Center at New York, Buffalo. He knows our not-unix / windows wars; they're here in the poetic armoury. It's like having your own private antagonism codified into opera, suddenly there's an aria about DLLs, or caches, and the damn thing works a treat and it damn well shouldn't. It's still his flow of impressions, but now he's taking tourists around our home town, our systems, our neighbourly rows, our familiar world is slapping them with strangeness, they're asking tourist questions, they're got tourist awe, tourist doubts.

From "One Server, One Tablet, and a Diskless Sun":

And what
kind of bugs
? Lorca's mystical crickets?
H.D.'s butterflies? Though I think they
must---if the mind does have an eye---be
cockroaches fat, brightly lit, and mightily
glowing. Flying through the mind shaft to
assault any mental indiscretion. Perhaps a
relative of Burroughs introduced this
term. (Stick that in your machine and
add it up!) What vision of mainframe!
What robust modems! What processor
speed! …

Some of my worst bugs have embarrassingly been "cockroaches fat, brightly lit, and mightily glowing". I'd better change the subject. It's probably obvious I believe poetry and programming share. As Glazier says, in "Windows 95" (Ironic? You tell me.):

"In a sense code resembles classical poetry. The requirements of meter (poetry) and syntax (code) pose both limitations and challenges for the good poet / programmer to adhere to and overcome in the process of writing a great poem / program."

The one weakness of this collection, perhaps, cannot be avoided; Glazier's an electronic poet, a web poet, for all his care the hyperlinks feel like they're still there, hidden and used; the slide-show web pages are unflowing still on paper. Don't get me wrong; these poems work well, but I just get the feeling, which I cannot properly justify, that they're butterflies killed, pinned and collected, fascinating, very beautiful, but their essence is the flittering movement you can never see in a book. But that's not such a problem; you could always browse Glazier's pages at The Electronic Poetry Center.

I didn't know Glazier's work when I bought this collection. It's published by the print on demand Australian/UK publisher Salt; I tend to buy their collections simply because they publish them; they seem to have developed the habit of excellence.

A good and interesting collection.

Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm
Loss Pequeño Glazier
Salt Publishing
October 2003
ISBN 1 84471 001 7

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