Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry’s apostrophe

Though they bill themselves as ‘compilers,’ Wershler-Henry and Kennedy have admittedly shaped the raw material granted them into the book’s present form, somewhat sidestepping the debate over computer-written poetry that has simmered since the publication of The Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed, (supposedly) authored by the program Ractor in 1984. Unencumbered by an ‘either/or’ argument that could potentially hamper it, apostrophe should be read for what it is, as well as for how it was produced. Of course, apostrophe’s most obvious feature is the monomaniacal repetition of ‘you are’ throughout. However, thanks to the nature of the book, the demarcation of ‘you’ is unclear and deliberately so, one suspects. Are the authors talking to each other? To the book itself? To the reader? To no one? Or are they addressing the Web they have so thoroughly plundered? All of the above? By destabilizing the recipient of these poems as well as their creator, Kennedy and Wershler-Henry call into question any fixed notions of communicative exchange between poet and reader. They also critique conventional thought on the creation of poetry (if an on-line crawler can succeed where most lyric poets are currently failing, then poets need to rethink what they do). Because the language of the Web has extensively infiltrated regular speech (re: the verb ‘to google’), this book is, like the Web itself, both topical and irrelevant. A quick perusal of apostrophe finds politics, religion, romance, organized crime, Boethius, CNN, Wal-Mart, Star Wars, ethnicity issues, Dick Cheney, Pink Floyd, Roe v. Wade, gay fan fiction, the Zapruder film and, predictably, Dada. Highlighting the Web’s inability to distinguish quality of information, apostrophe functions by juxtaposing not just high and low culture subjects but high and low concepts, often with surprising and hilarious results. Thus the phrase “so beautiful to me” (as in “you are so beautiful to me, would you please / you are so beautiful the lyrics are the property of their respective authors, artists and labels”) simultaneously generates a wonderfully unironic love poem and a completely ironic take on copyright and ownership of artistic production. While I would not recommend consuming this 300-page book in one sitting (due to the obsessive use of ‘you are,’ it is best read in 20-30 page segments), the abundance of the poetic enterprise is conceptually satisfying. As our society is becoming painfully aware, an excess of information does not equal wisdom; apostrophe showcases this simple truth with intellect, verve, and energy, and is a wise book for having done so.

Brief Review Winner, “Critic’s Desk Award” in 2007
review appeared in Arc 57, Winter 2006
award announced in Arc 58, Summer 2007

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