Is it Real, or is it Hyperreal?: Lee Ann Roripaugh on Thierry Brunet’s Waste

Waste, Thierry Brunet, BlazeVOX [books]

Is it Real, or is it Hyperreal? might well be the idée fixe, the recurring che vuoi?, in Thierry Brunet’s first full-length volume of poetry, Waste. In the postmodern, Baudrillardian hyperscape of Brunet’s collection, the constructedness of language, art, and identity is melismatically unraveled in a “deconstruction fugue” all the way down to the level of the virtual grapheme: the 0’s and 1’s of binary code. From these building blocks of Binhex configurations—a DNA code for the hyperreal, if you will—bits of found text, fractured signs, and other cultural detritus washed upon the cyber-shore of the virtual tideland are reappropriated, reconstituted, and collaged into a phantasmagoric double-helix of cryptically unnerving poems that are full of strange glitter, verve, and wit.

These poems are cyborgian in composition, and—as is often the case with cyborgs—they aspire toward, or evince an oddly poignant nostalgia for, the real and/or the human. In “Nucleus,” for example:

Each time I chicane
the emblem
to frisk the regosol
of her nucleus

I should confront another day in the world.

Or, similarly, in the ending lines of “Voyage”: “My doppelganger / a guMMY bear / who gave me the sensation of being touched.” And, in “Infoglut”:

ENDGAME status

what’s left of my heart after your
recurrent twittering?

a muted mechanism that knows no pardon


the s.p.i.d.e.r of the infoglut

Throughout Waste, the reader is held captive, but also captivated, in a constantly recycling vortex of disembodied signs at play that both parody and reify the hysterical reproduction of simulated stimuli. Saturated and enmeshed, the reader recognizes the exchange of familiar bits of simulacra—thus making the poems teasingly hint at the possibility of a sort of postmodern cultural representation as well as simulation. At the same time, the reader is constantly reminded that if the postmodern cultural condition is all simulation, then the former dialectic of representation and real is no longer valid/in place, and that, as per Baudrillard, the real is dead—or, at best, no longer real.

In this place of cracked semiotics, code is broken open but there is no meaningful answer, solution, or key. Discourses of desire in consumer commodity fetish culture replace reality, and mourning for the real ensues, as well as nostalgia for myth. Numbed by a barrage of simulated stimuli recited in a hypnotically anaphoric list, Jack ultimately pines for the Batsignal, for example, in the concluding lines of “Batsignal”:

All sentimental lures
and traded privacy
made Jack a dull boy

All 36G juggs in Truecolor
and fortunate lovers
made Jack a dull boy

All heavy dollops of providence
and unforeseen consequences
made Jack a dull boy

All kissograms
and soggy hearts
made Jack a dull boy

All supermarket blissfulness
and breast-feeding disclosure
made Jack a dull boy

All Zoloft gourmets
and dopamine pushers
made Jack a dull boy

All museum loneliness despite DSL connections
and Boolean moans
made Jack a dull boy

All automatic delusional disorder
and euphoric entities in mutual relation
made Jack a dull boy

All blue-blooded guillotines
and mnemonic devices for ayatollahs
made Jack a dull boy

All Cordilleran rifting west of Chino Valley
and negligible masses
made Jack a dull boy

All latex dementia
and Munchausen syndrome by proxy
made Jack a dull boy

Modern deco sofa
Single origin mocha
La-la land condo

A larger life is lethal

in the conglomerate evening
Jack pines for the Batsignal

The prevalence of scientific and mathematical metaphors throughout the poems invite us to consider Brunet’s virtual world as both scientifically/mathematically constructed from binary code, but also paradoxically organic in its evolutionary developmental processes: cellular, genetic, viral, etc. In other words, distinction between constructed simulacra and the real are blurred, clearly evoking Baudrillard’s definition of the hyperreal.

The paradoxical relationships of language, art, and identity to the real are likewise interrogated. The constructed nature of language is underscored through disrupting words with periods between letters or unexpected capitalizations, and popping them out of context through the use of italics or boldface. Art, too, emerges as a process of recycling empty signs without referents. “Napalm,” for example, opens with the lines: “Based on digital bypass / the poem is / absent / hidden in full circle / alphabet /to fill the void and / take the shine / off their bliss / bin100101 / 1010 / 1010 / 101 / 01 / 0”. Similarly, identity as a performed construction, a collage, is a theme in numerous poems, perhaps most explicitly in a poem titled “Identikit”—a title that may allude to, in part, facial recognition software that creates a face through layering and assembling various features:

Soon all places will be cleared out squares
unfair riots versus hacks of regression

[if you fancy something a little different I discovered
this fantastic creation in my freezer
is this a m.y.t.h]

Guardians of the compatible ethics
paying no respects to my encrypted ego

[more than 15 000 rounds have been fired there is another boom
on the r.i.s.e
do you sleep badly because you worry about things
is it a spoiled s.e.c.r.e.t or a retrieval exclusion]

Disembodied voices giggling on demand
identikit disaster exposed by generative strife

[to sum up my experience what Jia Li had in her brochure
was correct if you put in the effort you will have fantastic results
Thank you Jia Li
is it a SMS from the attic or the latest bukkake theme song]

Part 2 of Waste consists of an extended poem sequence that makes these ideas further manifest, as a “Gordion worm” rises, Phoenix-like, from the Binhex ashes of culture and history. Or perhaps it evolves organically from the genetic protoplasm of 0’s and 1’s? Or perhaps it is a ghost in the machine? A minotaur in the labyrinth? A cyborgian Frankenstein? A postmodern ouroboros? The same intriguing complexities and paradoxes prevail in this second section, and are underscored by the visual tension created by seemingly hand-drawn/human-made letters embedded within and rising from extended strings of code. Is the “Gordion worm” a parasite or virus that disrupts and transgresses? Or is it something that has itself been parasitized and is now trapped in the matrix? Is it a melancholically-echoed myth or a misunderstood monster? Is it Pygmalion or sculpture? The writer or the text? Spiraling into a labyrinth of increasingly-long strings of alphanumeric code, the poem sequence concludes: “keen struggle for / existence / or neo-dust / burst? . . . / no more geography / in my bones / only / transgression”.

Even while tangling with semiotic and philosophical complexities, these crisp blips of poems sizzle with quick-witted electricity. A trickster or rascal sensibility is felt to be at play here as the surreal trades fours with the hyperreal. As in “Ambition,” Brunet’s poems do somersaults in Mobius configurations, and deliriously and pleasurably careen between déjà vu and déjà mort, between jouissance and vertigo . . . and ultimately back to jouissance again:

I never had
any ambition

except maybe

the day I died

thinking up

a tiny bomb
of merriment

When Will We Stop Swimming?: Nathan Logan on Amy King’s Slaves To Do These Things

Slaves to Do These Things, Amy King, Blaze VOX, 2009

Amy King is a powerhouse of the poetry world. It seems that every time a new issue of __________ is published, she has at least three poems included. With Ana Božičević, King co-curates The Stain of Poetry Reading Series in Brooklyn. And now with her latest book, King again proves she is one of the most talented poets of her generation.

In Slaves to Do These Things, King weaves, through five acts, separate and connected vignettes of longing. Her poems seem to be speaking in an American voice––we are lost and we are not sure how to get to where we want to go. King’s poems speak to the now. I dare anyone to say they haven’t felt what these lines from “We Are Great Songs” say:

Like people, I’m a stranger
here now, squarely out
of pivot––but if I stand still
enough, motionless, I begin
to belong.

Many times throughout this book, King’s descriptions of our wanderings are lovely. We are the people from these lines in “Stimulus Package”:

…We lean
and lap the streams of coffees
and cream, milky caramels
that blow the kiss of hellos
into bombs overflowing
fast, jasmine
blossom masks that make
the toxins’ provinces
burn our angular bodies.

We are also these people in “State of a Nation”:

We live as presidents.
We hold on to the value
of a vote, a soliloquy, a sword,
and the lights after curtain.

Slaves to Do These Things is uncomfortable because it is true. Contemporary poetry is certainly one of the best, if not the best place, to discuss and tease out what is happening in the world around us. Slaves to Do These Things is the news William Carlos Williams was talking about. In “This Coffin’s Bucket of Soil”, King writes, “we swim toward sharks together.” When will we stop swimming?

Purchase Slaves to Do These Things


Nathan Logan is the author of the e-book Dick (PANGUR BAN PARTY, 2009) and chapbook Holly from Muncie (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2008). He is a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Multiverse, Mike Smith’s New Poetry Collection

Multiverse, Mike Smith, BlazeVox Books

Before reading the poems in Mike Smith’s remarkable new book, the reader must take a good long look at his opening note on method. Smith means and does just what he says in this note. I’ve seen these acts of Houdini-magic unfolding over the last several years, and I’ve published a number of them in Notre Dame Review. To watch Mike Smith load himself with chains and then escape with a kind of elegant grace is astonishing. The more ambitious poems in “Anagrams of America” – the anagram of Pound’s first Canto, for example, and the whole of “Multiverse: A Bestiary” – are expressions of a weird and even troubling genius. I don’t know of anything else quite like them anywhere.

—John Matthias

Reading Mike Smith’s Multiverse is like watching Adam bring forth new creatures from the mud of language by breathing their name. Two books in one, one a bestiary of bodies, the other a personal history, both are a tour de force of the anagram: a thrilling demonstration of how the constraints of language and living produce poetry in life, as poem after poem infects one another.

—Steve Tomasula

Mike Smith lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his young daughter and son. A graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Hollins College, and the University of Notre Dame, he has published poetry in magazines such as Free Verse, Hotel Amerika, The Iowa Review, The Notre Dame Review, and Salt. His first full-length collection, How to Make a Mummy, was published in 2008.

Valency, J. Michael Wahlgren’s New Poetry Collection

Valency, J. Michael Wahlgren, BlazeVox Books

What I like best about Wahlgren’s poetry in his satisfying collection, Valency, is watching each piece take shape.  Like protons & neutrons collecting around a nucleus, the word shapes merge and form the most marvelous poems.  I am also reminded of a quote from Julia Child about why she liked a good sandwich: because she knew the chef’s fingers had been all over it. In Valency, whether it’s in a common “…display of sky blue,” or in the inventive “…sandbox of lies,” the play of Wahlgren’s mind is like those fingerprints, touching here and there with the elusive spark which is the life of poetry itself.  A wonderful addition to American poetry.

—Andrew Demcak

A luminous cascade of syntax

—Brenda Iijima

Valency is interactive and exigent, sub-atomic and transcendental, with language colliding magnificently at and on every level. Every poem in this bright, aching collection is electric, plugged into the human grid of love and heartbreak where what romantically matters is transformed, via Wahlgren’s highly attuned sense of sense, back into matter. Wahlgren is a sound-chemist, a rhyme-bonder of the first order. Like “gasps between bubbles,” his poems are heady, musical, and capture the un-captured, the most peculiar in between the lines of what’s “said.” Wahlgren doesn’t articulate perception so much as document reaction, and his reactions, boy, are they potent, do thrill. If Credo, the lyric story of Peter and McKenna doesn’t slay you, you are dead, and nothing will.

—Nicole Mauro


J. Michael Wahlgren is author of the collection of poems Silent Actor (Bewrite Books, 2008) as well as three chapbooks. He resides around Boston, Ma where he edits & publishes for Gold Wake Press. Valency is his second full-length poetry collection.