Experiments in Subway Poetry

I think a lot about how our use of digital technology, social media, and mobile devices shapes how we feel, think, and behave; shapes our muscles and our memories. There is no doubt about the host of benefits afforded us by all of these technologies, but their costs are both obvious and hidden.

We know that sometimes we feel addicted to them. We know we devote an immense amount of time and attention to them. Although they should be working for us, we often feel that we are working for them. We may even feel more tired and stressed and discouraged after being on screens. Muscles tense, furrowed brows. No one feels free on screens.The cult of efficiency tells us that we can and must get more done.

We are learning more about the consciously addictive designs of these technologies, mobile devices in particular. They are meant to hook us in. We now have no doubt that our views and clicks, our “data”, are the basis of the attention and surveillance economy, a multi-multi-billion dollar behemoth of an industry. As a psychologist and neuroscience researcher, I think about states of mind and brain when we use these devices, mobile phones in particular.

So, in the great tradition of obsessive scientists throughout history, I have been conducting an experiment on myself. Instead of using my mobile device on my daily

poetry book
My poetry notebook

subway commute, I now take a little notebook, about the size and shape of a small mobile device, and write poetry.

Some of the poetry is about my personal experience of technology, but most is not. The goal of the experiment is to track my subjective experience and assess how my state of mind changes when I think in poetry, express ideas in verse, write with a pen instead of click, swipe, click, swipe. No goals. Free-flowing thoughts. Efficiency the last thing on my mind.

Here are the poems I’ve written so far. I’m still collecting data. I’ll report back later in the summer and post more poems as I go.

If anyone wishes to join me in this experiment, please do so! Post your poems in the comments and I’ll post them on the blog (attributing them to you, the author, of course).

The Subway Poems

by Tracy-Dennis-Tiwary

Show Instead of tell

I wake

I raise my hand

I reach

I press

I swipe

I talk to you and forget

What you said

Only half remember what I said

I wonder, in the flood, what is really worth saving

What happens when we suddenly start listening,

When we pay

Attention?

Liquid sound

Small conversations

“I’m here”

“I know what you want”

My husband holds the coffee cup

Shifting in its saucer

Zooming in on a screen

Except nothing like that

The opposite of a two-dimensional half-life

On the screen, our bodies shrink,

Contained in our headbox

Eyes and ears

Holding our breath

A laser pointer

Robot madmen

Eyes created to gather information

Autistic ticket-taker

Punch!

Punch!

Check off, check off!

We have made ourselves into the image of small people

Stuck in the trees, no forest views though they cry, “disrupt!” “innovate!”

Victims who have become victors

Powerful like sad, awkward puppeteers

Kind

Are you my kind?

Two of a kind

A kind of wonder

Kind of this and

Kind of that

Kinship is a slippery slope

An avalanche of decency

One step forward and three…

A tango

A pas de deux

Eliminate the excess

Authentic core

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)”

Anywhere I go

I am in a land of others

Of those who are not

Kin

Kinship being a slick and clever bird

Oil-slick and floundering

hydrodynamic

As little friction as possible

Same in skin

Same in heart

Same in bones

Same

Immense sameness

A tribe of potentiality

The tip of the spear

The Tip of the Spear

The world seems full of tips of spears

Doing the bidding of the savages

I imagine a spear with a stone arrowhead

Bound with twine or

(am I making it up that people did this?…)

Animal guts or entrails

The tip of the spear is bound tightly as a

Clenched fist and

As a dream from which

You can’t awake

As tightly as hope

When you have nothing left

Slow Image

Building blocks totter

Sculpture of Chinese letters

Hold the pen tightly

Woman on Subway

“Esperanza

Orange

Black woman

Puerto Rico”

Random Search

We are all subjects in the kingdom of randomness

Among our uncertain narratives

Hard pressed to find a story that we can live by,

That we can inhabit

How could the vast indifference,

The imperfect glazed bowl

Of our universe

Not make sense?

Can’t you see the spark in every

Rose and thistle

In every question and it’s too certain answer?

So long ago, I can’t remember

The inferno is hard to explain to a child

It assumes knowledge that is like a quagmire

Every step deeper in

But more lost

Sucking, slurping, sticky marsh goo

They should come to know that they will be judged

And, if not found wanting,

That they will dance away from the platform edges, and eventually embark

Towards a destination

If My Life Were Staged by a Puppeteer

(After watching Basil Twist’s SYMPhonie FANTAStique at HERE, NYC, Spring, 2018)

Puppeteers are underrated

We deride them as marionette-obsessed,

As hopeful that the world won’t see the strings

But I have seen puppeteers who perform

In flight

Wet suits slick

With dreaming fishes

And sparkle scarves

Twisting round so they are

In perfect time

With the daydreams

Of a lovelorn

Boy

Absolute Zero

How quaint it is to convince someone

That they are valued

We all know that our value

Is measured

In bits and bytes

Binary kingdom

Quantified selves

Our very eyeballs and fingers,

What they see and click and swipe…

Treasure

The delight of pirates and dragons

How can we doubt this?

And doubting, how can we then

Reach beyond ourselves to figure out

What matters?

Like playing an arcane card game

With high stakes

The Babylonians discovered zero 400 years before Christ

But our distant, round companion

Doesn’t glow with a soft light

Is neither a satisfying ellipse

Nor a road to travel,

Neither a portal, nor a golden and flaming hoop,

Which we jump through and into and beyond

Zero is absolute

A closed door

A set point

An off switch

Zero is not infinitely possible

Zero is an unsheltering sky