Poetry News

Andrew Zawacki’s Videotape Reviewed at HTMLGiant

By Harriet Staff

Andrew Zawacki

Warping back into the past (last week), Will Vincent reviews Andrew Zawacki's latest collection Videotape—and oh boy what a riveting read it is (book and review both). Vincent situates Videotape in that nebulous, fertile poetry- "genre" known as science fiction poetry, spending the first 1/3 of the review delineating recent activity in the sci-fi poetry field:

“Science fiction poetry” is already a confusion of forms, a mash-up of brainy and hoity, nerdy and emotional, clunky and raw. If both science fictional and poetic, must this inter-genre be narrative-oriented, pithy, lyrical, and riddled with lasers? What else can we call it? “Science poetry” doesn’t account for future-speculation per se. “Cyberpoetry” resonates with cyberpunk and prescribes the rubric for an internet made 3D—strung up with tubes every shade of the neon rainbow. William Gibson himself, the supposéd godfather of cyberpunk, rejects the term applied to both his and his contemporaries work because it reduced what could’ve been a revolutionary alteration on the larger science fiction genre to a subgenre and therefore made it separate and disarmed. “Futurist” or “neo-futurist poetry” already has its predecessors in Marinetti, Mayakovski, and the like. “Speculative poetry” becomes overwhelmingly broad and “futurepoem” has already been claimed by a fabulous small press. For now, we’ll stick with science fiction poetry because everyone knows what we’re talking about when we say it, and any discussions based around the term should necessitate we at least acknowledge it as a genre that will be constantly at war with itself, a form containing two disparate worlds, that, most of the time, would probably rather not have anything to do with each other in the first place.

Field draws on examples of sci-fi poetry broadly, from the likes of Ben Lerner, Allen Grossman, Cathy Park Hong, Andrew Joron, Christian Bök, Tracy K. Smith, Kenneth Goldsmith, Josef Kaplan, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur C. Clarke, Heather Christle, Matthea Harvey, Ben Mirov, Mathias Svalin, Timothy Donnelly, Jasper Bernes, Johannes Göransson, Joyelle McSweeney... We'll stop there, but Field goes on, and all this even before getting to Zawacki's book. When Field does arrive at Videotape, smart observations are certainly made:

Andrew Zawacki’s Videotape may not scream Martians or lunar cities, yet it relentlessly filters its poetics through the language of machines, harkening back to William Carlos William’s suggestion that “a poem is a machine made of words.” Most prominently, the still and video camera’s moving parts are made metaphorical here, but also scientific dictionaries like those of geology, ornithology, botany, chemistry, and even the hypermodern vocabulary that makes up the web. Broken up into four sections initially published separately, Videotape collects what the shorter chapbook offers as a form—making longer, experimental, and serial poems possible due to their ability to escape from the pressures of more easily consumed “best of” poetry collections.


So much of Zawacki’s book provides immense sonic pleasure. Harsh t’s and k’s abound and enact the plastic world he describes. In this way it can either be read quickly and out-loud or very slowly with Google and a dictionary open, so we may catch every bit of Zawacki’s vocabulary and make sense of how it fogs and wires together the whole. With that said, there isn’t much of an in-between offered here. This is not a book for the impatient. When read quickly, there are blurs of common speech and confessions like “…scared to hell of fuck if / I know, / that something will / take you before I can go,” could be a speaker or self finally breaking through, but could also just be song lyrics played to an empty car in an abandoned lot. Other than in these fleeting pronouncements, the “lyric I” is largely absent. Instead, rain and storm imagery act as telecommunication, mimicking static, and maintain a larger dissonance and harmony. The book’s propulsion acts itself out rhythmically, linguistically, spatially, and psychoanalytically. By working through more specific names prescribed to things, Zawacki offers shards of a collective Id. We can either stop, learn, and appreciate, or rapidly move on.

The titles for each section of Videotape, in their hybridization, mimic a lot of the coalescing emblematic of our plastic world. Zawacki salvages not only the names for the working parts of that world, but also finds his own distended lyric. While other poets might use this as an opportunity to offer a consistently cynical poetry of trash or pedantic ecological narrative, Zawacki allows himself to find meaning in the concrete and metal deserts that litter his land. The opalescent rubbish haunts him and speaks for itself. In “Track B: Lumièrethèque,” all of the line breaks are suddenly dropped and a series of prose poems appear, but provide only the façade of linearity. The jump-cuts continue. Each section in both “Errormirror” and “Lumièrethèque” has its margins justified. It is Charles Olson’s open field poetics but filtered through photographs and video cameras a thousand times over.

Continue on to the review for close readings of the text and further insightful observations.

Originally Published: January 20th, 2014