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What do we mean when we say a poem is a machine? Part 8: Ben Mirov

April 2, 2012 \am\30 9:03 am

Ben Mirov responds to the question “What do we mean when we say a poem is a machine?”



When I think of “poem as machine”

I don’t think of “machine” as a radio, or a gun or a car. After all, those types of machines

have practical uses.

A poem too, might be said to have a practical use by offering its user a type of essential novelty

(like a frialator, which provides people with tasty food that destroys their bodies).


The analogy of “poem as machine” is only useful insofar as it can be used to establish a machinist’s impetus into crafting a poem:

i.e., this part goes here. 2

Nobody can explain gravity with complete accuracy

but we build machines that apply and demonstrate its existence.

A poem demonstrates the existence of Poetry, even though

Poetry outstrips our ability to define it, at every attempt.


Defining what Poetry is, is pointless and probably impossible,

but trying to define what a poem is, might be useful:

the answer to the question, what is a “poem”, lies, not in the structure of its coherent materials

(a poem

is not language, it is composed of language the same way a gun is composed of metal and wood or plastic)

but in the phenomena of its composition, or its spirit/function.


A poem is a like machine,

or like the advantageous arrangement of materials we call a car; a blender; a gun; etc (except

for its spirit/function, which is integral to the poem’s classification as a “poem”)…3


…in the prepoem-void there is nothing…

…in the postpoem actuality, the poem/machine’s spirit/function is determined by the context of…

…THE VOID it inhabits…


…in a generic sense, a poem fulfills its spirit/function by connecting someone to [that which was once

THE VOID]… 4 5 6

…it enables someone to experience the presence of THE VOID without killing themselves or taking tons of ketamine, or using a sensory deprivation chamber…

…insofar as one might attempt to identify a universal spirit for all poems…

…a poem is a void machine…


you cannot experience THE VOID without

a void machine…


[1] or “Notes Towards a Quantified Nothingness” or “Poems as Low-level Life Forms” or “voidlife(?)”

[2] The literal interpretation of “poem as machine”, that the poem is bound to the same physical laws as any other machine, is mostly inaccurate. Just as artists and writers have imagined sentient machines in their work, so too is it possible to imagine a poem that is imbued with qualities that lie beyond the structure of its coherent materials.
[3] Within the schism between “poem as machine” and “poem as sentient machine” lies the mystery of artificial intelligence, and the underlying problem faced by all poets: “How do I make something that is not a language turd?”
[4] One might argue that the poem connects the poet to a reader and visa versa. This seems physically impossible. When someone reads a poem they don’t expect to have an interchange with a poet living in Cincinnati.
[5] It is also possible to argue that a poem fulfills its function by connecting someone to Poetry, but in most cases, poems fail to do anything like this.
[6] The shittiest poem and the superlative one, at the lowest level of their functionality, succeed at filling the void. In this sense, filling the void is perhaps the only function we can ascribe to all “poem as machine(s)”.
Ben Mirov is the author of Hider Roser (forthcoming from Octopus Books), Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010), and the chapbooks Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011), I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010), and Collected Ghost (H_NGM_N, 2010). He is a guest poetry editor for The Daily PEN American. 

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