The Marketplace of Ideas, Stefan Mohamed
Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2021 £5.99
The presence of technology
These poems, which bring to life the searing anxiety of being millennial, brim with social media references and terms pertaining to a variety of commonly encountered twenty-first century gadgets. These references inspire image, metaphor, and form.
This pamphlet’s speaker is depicted using technology: in ‘Attempt at Self-Portrait’ for example, they are a ‘slowly unravelling spool of HTML’ who wakes up ‘screaming error 404’.
One poem takes the form of a playlist, and another — ‘Self-Help Vending Machine’— is written in stanzas marked by vending machine codes followed by contradicting commands— MS5 dictates, ‘You should stop being so thin-skinned’, whereas N0, the code which follows, is succeeded by the demand, ‘You should get thicker skin’.
Speaking as a millennial myself, a challenge faced by our generation is that — while we are bombarded with jargon relating to ‘self-help’ and ‘self-care’ — ultimately to live in these times is to survive a constant onslaught of expectation. Capturing this dichotomy within a single poem is, surely, challenging. This unique use of form, however, allows for contradiction. The codes, in a sense, are buffers between each verse paragraph that allow both for lingering on each stanza, and for this picture of being millennial (with all its inconsistencies) to be painted with clarity and specificity.
Through the ‘Instagram girlfriends’ and ‘LinkedIn boyfriends’ of ‘Huge Mood’, technology’s omniscient eye stares out from these pages, irrevocably present and capable of influencing anything.
As Mohamed writes in ‘Big Mood’, ‘Millennials want love that’s happy to just wear slippers and go to bed early’, implying that what we truly crave is a life that features comfort, human contact, privacy and acceptance.