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i’ve been inspired by pia’s practice and the conversations that i’ve been having with pia about tekhne ghosts huanted media and the strange things that she does with electrictiy and i’m particularly taken by this phrase she has of letting the non-human life live so letting something which might not meet human definitions of living or which might not fit into a rigid binary of non-living and living but nevertheless to let those things live to let the ghosts of electricity live i do have an interest in what you might call the art of ghosts which is another way to say what the activity of the dorks at dorkbot is is that it’s the art of letting the ghosts speak for themselves
– Nick Keys

Ghosts of Technology
– an excerpt

dance is a skill speaking is a skill a skill
i’m not doing very well at the moment language is a
skill rhetoric is a skill and poetry is a skill
so it’s very hard to figure out where the limits of
tekhne stop and start

so we need another story for the origins of humanity
and a different one to the blob one that went
nowhere okay so i’m a bit more relaxed
now so with the blob one we went up to heaven
right we went up to heaven right we were
going up to heaven and zeus was like na i don’t
like that so i’m going to strike these blobs down
with thunderbolts and then he was like
no that will kill them what i’ll do instead
is that i’ll chop them in half right so we he did
was he chopped us all in half so these arrogant
spherical blob creatures that we were who kind of
just rolled around on the ground and masturbated
and ate and were just totally in love with ourselves
right so he chopped them in half and then he left
it up to apollo to sort of stretch our skin over the
top of us re-aligning our limbs and over to the
belly and stitch us up there and so the belly
button is the scar left to remind us of our prior
arrogance which of course then we forgot
and that was the point and so that story is
in fact the origin of the myth of love and
what i like about it is that when humans are made
it means love is there at the beginning of humanity
in this myth which is a very appealing idea
when humans start they start because of love
perhaps what’s no so appealing about this story is
the brutal cutting in half and the implication
that love is loss as well that love is lack
where as i was kind of hoping that the idea of love
was binding was fusion was not bifurcating
putting things into two equal halves
okay so there is the blob story
but there is no tekhne in that and
that’s a problem so there’s another story
another greek story about the origin of
tekhne that is also the origin of humanity: zeus
decides that non-immortal creatures so
mortal creatures need to be brought from night
and into the light and so he goes to prometheus
and prometheus is the titan blessed with foresight
blessed with knowledge blessed with immaculate
memory and prometheus sort of comes with his
twin brother who is also his double who’s
epimetheus who’s not really blessed with
anything or he’s blessed with forgetting he
forgets epimetheus is the dude who always forgets
now zeus says to prometheus okay now that
we are bringing these mortals from out of the
night and into the light it’s your job to give
them qualities it’s your task i bestow the
task upon you to give them qualities and so
prometheus is like okay yeah fair enough
and epimetheus is with him and he begs him
please please let me do it i want to do it
it will be awesome if i do it and prometheus is
like well it seems like an arduous task
so i’ll let him do it and so he lets his little brother
or his twin who is in fact just a double of himself
the opposite of himself but he lets him do it
so epimetheus goes around with a basket of qualities
and hands them out to all the creatures right
so to the zebra he gives stripes and speed
to the lion he gives power and roar these kind
of things and so he does a great job
especially for epimetheus of distributing all the
qualities very evenly and this distribution of
qualities is responsible for the ecological balance
the even chance that things have to survive right
except that when he gets to humans he looks in the
basket and there is no more qualities left so
humans are those things that are forgotten
left naked and forgotten with no qualities
prometheus is like shit i’m going to get in
trouble for this so he decides that he will go
to zeus a pretty mad decision i would have
thought and steal fire from zeus and give it to
humans so he steals fire and gives it to
humans and as a punishment for this zeus
straps him to a rock that’s right
straps him to a rock and an eagle comes and eats
his liver and then the liver grows back
and then the eagle comes back and eats his liver
and that happens for a long time so
prometheus really suffered for giving us fire
so fire is the symbol of technology okay so
in this myth of the origins of humans
technology happens at the same moment as humans
happen so instead of having humans who
invent technology what we get is humans that
are constituted by their technicity
that’s one way of putting it in a sense we are
technological beings okay now this has
some consequences for a lot of binaries in
in in our society that that we rest
that we hold dear to ourselves anthropology
and technology so the human and the technological
that’s a split there’s also nature and
and there’s also subject and object but if
humans are technological creatures from the
beginning that is to say that they are
defined by the fact they are technological then
these kind of oppositions they don’t work so well
okay so the the father of anthropology rousseau
who was a really interesting writer and he
searched for an essence of man an original
and eternal man and he wasn’t a fool he knew
that he couldn’t search for the origins of something
without making a fiction about it so he knew
that he was dealing in a sense with fiction
but nevertheless he was searching for this eternal
figure now he was then accused later on
by nietzsche i think rightly of falling into
the trap that so many philosophers have fallen into
nietzsche called it a family failing a family
failing of philosophers is that they will not learn
that man has become so there is this
search for an eternal being this kind of pure
nature and essence but the reality is
of course that we have always become

Nick Keys is a Sydney-based writer, blogger, researcher, website producer and collage artist.

Dorkbot Sydney is a regular social gathering for “people doing strange things with electricity”.

Writers in the scattered nation of good poetry are, in general, perfectionists. Many greats have been known to be tight-lipped about their process and to publish only what they deem categorically best. Bob Hicok, on the other hand, doesn’t seem worried about perfection. He publishes so prodigiously that it’s hard to imagine he spends any time revising his work. I remember standing in a bookstore a couple years ago grazing among the poetry publications and discovering that he had poems in approximately half of the literary journals—good ones, too. I remember feeling a mixture of jealously, skepticism of various stripes, and stunned admiration for Hicok’s unique voice.

I’ve read a fair amount of Hicok’s poetry since then—and had many opportunities, as he remains a prolific poet. The unfair comparison that occurs to me is James Patterson. But Hicok is anything but the James Patterson of contemporary poetry (if you feel like posting your “James Patterson of Contemporary Poetry Nominee” below, however, please do). In fact, Hicok’s method is quite fluid and authentic. In each of his poems I feel I’m reading a self-documented Gestalt therapy session, lineated and titled as if it were, well, a poem. And because he’s witty, loves language and play with language, and he’s fearless about publishing any mode of speech or linguistic item that in isolation would seem incredibly stupid or embarrassing, these poems are riveting and thought-provoking. Take, for example, “Call me a lyre, I dare you” which appeared originally, roughly lyre-shaped, in the Believer’s November, 2009 issue, and appears in Hicok’s latest collection Words for Empty and Words for Full (Pittsburg, 2010):

Call me a lyre, I dare you

Last or some night
light, who cares the when of this,
glittered the tree up at the end
as the wash from a car as moved the planet, I’m not
in touch with personally Saturn, in branched fingers
of eerily, I’d say off-the-shelf language, isn’t it
necessary still how life lit into the moment
to say other than the facts of it, see,
whatever the bits are inside that oscillate
or pinwheel, I was moved to internal whirring
cicadish, even though my epiphanic dog-walkings
mean shit to you in the throes of your
epiphanic askings of the moon, for what, afterall
are we in this, some random sense of, fuck
if I know, belonging

Although I once heard a line in a movie, “Puns are the death of wit,” and I generally agree, the above allusive pun really works. Embedded in its snarky standoffishness, its grimace- or smirk-worthy reference to Apollo, lies an engaging and efficiently stated constellation of ideas. And beyond this title, Hicok renders his images and utterances in a syntactically awkward but consistently surprising language, with barbed apostrophizing and care to record his own (I do not believe this is a persona, exactly) feelings, relying on a kind of uncanny luck (skill?) to have it stick together in a personable and uncontrived way. In a few words, it works. (Sorry for all the parentheses.)

In Words for Empty and Words for Full (one, of course, of Hicok’s many poetry collections), there is no one type of poem one can expect. Subject matter and formal decision-making are, metaphorically speaking, all over the map. Interesting thinking and writing, however, are everywhere to be found. Ruminating on an either real or imaginary high school friendship in a long prosy piece called “Backward,” Hicok writes:

“Because he ate twice as much as I did, you’ll find an entry in my journal about the appetite of silence. Is silence a form of hunger, I wrote, and then answered my own question: yes and no. Reading back on this now, I am disappointed in the wishy-washy quality of my thinking. I would like to go back and erase that answer. Yes, I would write, silence is a hunger for the anatomy of a moment, for the inside of things.”

Who cares if this last statement is actually true. The process of the prose, the leaps in thought, the strangeness, the comic, the humble, human admission of error, is all entertaining. Maybe it’s poetic junk-food, but Hicok’s willingness to write, and to air to us practically anything of his life or thinking, charms this reader. This is not be true of every such writer, of course, but for him, it generally works.

I say generally because these poems aren’t all base hits. Hicok’s commitment to write about any- and everything leads him down the problematic paths of discussing contemporary politics, the war, and the Virginia Tech shooting—he was teaching there at the time of this tragedy and claims (in the poems) to have had the student responsible. While documenting these historical events in poetry may be valuable for posterity’s sake, these poems are far less interesting and cutting edge feeling than the more personal, strange poems of most of the collection. Perhaps one poem about the shooting. Perhaps one poem about the war—if you must, if you must. But in general these subjects trump considerations of form and deployment of language—in short, they overdetermine the way one reads them, which for the most part ruins the magic of what Hicok does in his poetry.

Consider, for example, the beginning bit of a poem called “Whimper,” in the second section of the four:

Don’t know why the kid didn’t come after me,
I nearly failed him, fail means differently now,
or some other English prof, also dead
is not in our mouths as it was in the past,
we’d have said dead about the place,
now that the semester’s over and smiled
that we have a few months of grass and air
to ourselves, do know why we tried…

And the final bumper sticker-esque lines:

…lost if you need to find us
is where we are.

It is important for poets to function as witnesses, but the poems to which I’ll return in this collection are not the poems that mention Air Force pilots or mentally ill students responsible for on-campus atrocities. I’ll return to the poems that surprise, that don’t give a fuck about my own aesthetic sensibilities because the next poem will be different. I’ll return to poems of moments that document the need to change form, syntax, voice, tone, and everything in order to exist in their present. And fortunately, if recent history can tell us anything, there will be many such great Bob Hicok poems to admire in the future.