I now have copies in hand! Here’s a first look at my Poetry of Thought chapbook, published by The Elora Poetry Centre’s Interludes imprint.

If you want to catch an early reading from it, I’ll be the feature reader at the Silence Open-Mic (46 Essex Street, Guelph) on Wednesday, June 5.

The official launch will be at the Elora Poetry Centre (7324 Wellington County Road 21, Centre Wellington) on Saturday, June 29, 4:00 PM. There will be food and drinks and music. I’ll post details as the date gets closer.



The poem is not, of course, in any way required to appear on the device. It may choose to appear in a more tactile medium – in the book, the magazine, the chapbook, the broadsheet – but the totalizing nature of the device means that this gesture is increasingly to choose irrelevance. Books and journals, magazines and newspapers, are more and more frequently available only in electronic formats. People demand that what they read appear on whatever screen they happen to be holding in their hands. In a culture where all eyes are on devices (rarely straying from them even long enough to cross the street, eat dinner, or make love), there is a real risk that the poem chooses irrelevance by not appearing through that medium.

Choosing not to have poetry appear as machine content also risks reinforcing more absolutely the division between a broader popular culture (for which poetry is at best a curiosity) and the narrow elitist culture of poets and their readers. This division has long been widening. Refusing to have poetry appear on the device threatens to make the distance untraversable. If poetry insists on being obscure, not only by way of form and sensibility but also by way of inaccessibility through popular media, there are few who will bother to go looking for it.

The choice that the device presents to the poem, therefore, is either to appear (and become content-image-data before poem) or not to appear (and risk irrelevance and elitism), and the choice is not without moral implication, because the purpose of content is to lead unreflexively from one swipe or click to the other (swipe, swipe, swipe – click, click, click). It is to facilitate rapid and effortless consumption, to put eyes on advertisement after advertisement. Its function is to distract and sedate so that its consumers can be analyzed and in this way better targeted.

In other words, it is no longer religion that opiates the masses. It hasn’t been since the television occupied the space formerly reserved for the household shrine. It certainly isn’t now that the handheld device occupies the space formerly reserved for prayer beads, each flick of the thumb counting another Instagram Hail Mary, another Facebook Our Father. We no longer need religion to sedate ourselves. We have pro sports and reality television, social media and augmented reality, all in the palms of our hands. Why should we rely on some future religious paradise to distract ourselves from our socio-political problems when the paradise of the present is available on our twitter feeds and our YouTube channels? Content is now the opiate of the masses.

To the extent that poetry subordinates itself to the logic of the device, therefore, to the extent that it becomes just another set of content to sedate and tranquilize users, something to flick through idly – neither active nor passive, merely idling, like a car with the engine running but the transmission in park – it ceases to perform the function of art. It ceases to provoke, to defamiliarize, to discomfort. It consents to serve an economic logic, not just of its own production (as art always does to one degree or another, whether serving the honour of a patron or the bottom line of a publisher), but also of the whole culture of the device, of content exchanged for advertizing and analytics. It becomes merely one more pill in the bottle of cultural sedatives that the device keeps ever close to hand.

The device reduces poetry, like everything else, to content. Which is to say, in order to appear on the device, the poem must become an image or a recording that is clickable, swipeable, sharable, and likeable. It must be susceptible to search engine optimization, to analytics, to data mining. It must become (at least in potential) the site for an economy of clicks, views, and advertisement. This is the logic of the device. It is the medium for which everything becomes content and for which no amount of content is sufficient, because content drives its economy.

In being reduced to content the poem simultaneously consents to become data, a file with a designation, a series of coded ones and zeros. To appear on the device as content, it must populate a place in the database, be housed as data on a server, be arranged and ordered by the server’s “back end”. It must become a series of bytes that can be instantly disseminated and infinitely reproduced. This is true without exception. Content and data are inseparable for the device.

This reduction to content-data is insidious because it appears like expansion. The poem is no longer confined to the brute physics of the page but is now freed into the far more fluid physics of the device. It can be copied and shared around the world, can be searched and found from any point on the planet, can be read by any device with access to the network – all without the time and expense of printers and papers and international shipping. The poem has been transmuted into pure energy, has left the restrictions of its corporeal body behind.

But this expansion is illusory, because it is an expansion of the poem only with respect to reproduction, distribution, access, and searchability. It comes at the cost of a commensurate reduction in its function as a poem, because the poem (as is true of anything) always appears on the device primarily as something other than itself. It does not cease to be a poem, but it appears first as content-data and only second as a poem, if indeed it ever manages to appear as a poem at all. It is unable to avoid its functional equivalence to a dick pic or a celebrity tweet, a baseball highlight or an algorithmically generated news article. Whatever distinctions might be said to exist between these things (and they are not many as we might like to assume), they are essentially interchangeable for the device. The device makes all things appear as content first, and only secondarily, if ever, as what they purport to be.

This has always been the case with every medium, of course, at least to a certain extent. In a book, for example, the poem appears first as book and page and only second as a poem, but the device adds additional layers of mediation. It contains the poem, certainly, but it also contains the books, the pages, and the apps through which the poem appears. It has likewise reduced these things to thumbnail images in a list, to items in a database, to locations for advertising. Authors of ebooks are now often paid by the number of pages that readers have read, which is to say the number of clicks made, the number of potential advertisements viewed. In this sense, then, the poem on the device appears first as application, then as image, then as page (or post, or tweet, or status update), then as site for advertisement, and only lastly as poem.

For this reason, the device might be better understood as a kind of arch-medium, a medium through which other media are made to appear. More importantly, although these kinds of arch-media have existed before (the television is a proto-device in this sense), the device is now so dominant, so totalizing in its cultural influence, that it is quickly becoming (if it has not already become) the only medium through which other media can relevantly appear.

The device enforces this reduction to its own logic to such a radical degree, not because it offers anything by way of speed or efficiency over other media (though it claims, appears, and sometimes may even actually do so); not because it is more immediate than other media (it is in fact far more mediated); not because it enables greater social connection than other media (though it might do so, at the cost of social relation); not even because it now occupies a more central cultural role than other media (though this is unquestionably true). Its totalizing influence is much more a function of the fact that it has made itself the only available interface between data and content, making it indispensable for accessing the content to which it requires all things to be reduced.

Whereas non-digital media like a book might be interpreted by anyone who can read, even (with enough labour) if the original language has been lost, the data of the device is in every case irrecoverable without the proper machine reader. The poem as image or text or audio file cannot be accessed without the proper program to read it, the proper hardware to run and display it. The device thus renders access to data entirely dependant on its own technology, ensuring that once a critical mass of poems (and family photos and tax returns and wiki articles and porno clips) has become data, we are no longer able to access the various elements of our lives without its intervention. Once we have written our poems as text files, once we have published them in online journals, posted them on blogs, or reduced them to a hundred and forty characters on twitter, we have become dependent on the device and its logic to recover them.