Thursday, August 30, 2007



Bellum Letters by Michelle Detorie
(Dusie, 2007)

One of the paradoxes to technological progress is how, the more tools we have for accomplishing things, the higher might also become the potential for loss. That the farther we go, the more we leave behind.

Computers and the internet provide tools for harnessing information. So how does a writer continue to create printed matter for an audience that one assumes is also steeped in the e-age?

In the print version of my recent chap, THE SINGER And Others (Dusie), there is a reference to a blog link where I offer the poetics underlying the chap’s design. For my just-released book The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes (Marsh Hawk Press), much of the 376 pages reflect how various drafts were not just created on, but reliant on the form of, blogs; thus, references abound to numerous blogs and other internet sites. In allowing my printed material to contain e-references, I had to accept and adjust for the possibility that a reader may never have the inclination or time to follow up by actually looking up the internet links. So that the layers to the work allowed by the internet sites may never be presented to the reader of the printed versions.

For Michelle Detorie’s Bellum Letters, I wasn’t surprised by the copious notes to each poem (copious notes offer one method for connecting printed matter to online references). Detorie’s Preface reveals that she wrote the poems, one a day as an exercise for the “National Poetry Month” of April at her blog, As she puts it,

“The poems were therefore composed for an online environment and contain hyperlinks to news stories, photographs, graphics, statistics, blogs, videos, government documents and databases about the war. For the presentation of these poems on paper, I’ve underlined the words that are also links in the online versions. Since I could not possibly include the contests of the links in a hard copy, the addresses and a brief description of the various web sites are included in a notes section at the end of the text. In some case, the links have expired; thus, the poems are also documents in which a sort of digital disintegration is an integral feature of their underpinning.”

Thus, in reading the poems in Bellum Letters, one faces texts with underlined passages whose underlines might not be warranted based on the words themselves. They were underlined because they were online links but on the printed page, of course, the texts go nowhere but remain merely as underlined phrases.

Therein lies the poignancy—and much of the work’s power—for me. The realization that something is lost, the insistence that all the poems are inherently fragments. That each page contains voids.

For example, we have the poem


1. Luther, hook, we should try
to be so hard. String-wound. Coil.

2. All the sewn books go tap tap tap at
the tabernacle door. Rib-swifts. Lung-guards.

3. Threaded jar-lip. Tender rips. Dome
of forget-me-not blue. Rotten we.

4. Soldier-love and spark-sparrows
lifting wool
where needles fall. Curtain dirty.

5. Monstrous sail eight times folded
to a purse. Cotton-wire crewel.

6. Paneled hilt. A spring-pulled
labyrinth. Hoof-print-primed.

7. Vernacular gills web cold tablets, close flaps. Arrows: little
throats stuffed with thread.

Labels: bellumletters, napowrimo, poem, protest, war

This poem was noted in the chap’s back “Notes” section to bear nine links, e.g. the reference to “forget-me-not” in the third couplet relates to “Thousands Without Food and Supplies Due to Failing Distribution System” at Despite the description allowed by the headline of the article, the substance of the article, of course, is not accessible through the printed page.

And so the poems in Bellum Letters consistently leave me grasping at what I cannot grasp in non-virtual reality, forcing me further to realize that, for some sense of completion, I would have to leave the physical world and go virtual.

Consequently, I find Bellum Letters ultimately to be heart-breaking, not just because of their subject matter (protesting the Iraq war) but because their very form manifests Loss.

Detorie says that “digital disintegration is an integral feature of [the] underpinning” to Bellum Letters. But it’s not just “digital disintegration” that surfaces. There is the loss of Faith in one’s political leaders—the New Yorker article recounting General Taguba's account of how Donald Rumsfeld & Co. managed the Iraq war is a must-read. And for the reader of the printed chap, Loss occurs, too, through—if one wishes to follow up on the internet links—virtual reality’s requirement of a departure from the physical body and others’ physical bodies. How sadly fitting—how this form manifests content by calling for the body's erasure, so that one is reminded of more tragic Losses:

               To those who have died in Iraq, R.I.P.


Eileen Tabios recently released THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES: OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007).


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