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Computer Dreams, Anna CathenkaThe jacket is black. Text is electric green. Title is at the very top in caps large enough to stretch the two words from left to right of the jacket width. Below this, left justified, the author's name in much smaller italics. The publisher name is smaller still, in a plain font, bottom left hand corner.

Broken Sleep Books, 2020     £6.00

Machine loneliness

This courageous and successfully experimental pamphlet opens with a poem (‘Everybody’s Autobiography’) that addresses social distance prior to the COVID pandemic:

      we could only get so close.
a handshake. we visited them
up to a point. this is everybody’s
loneliness

The theme of loneliness recurs in several poems, especially concerning the digital age and the capacity of AI to possess ‘personality’ as one of its attributes. The dreaming computer in ‘When Sleeping,’ and the deep-sea-diving robot in ‘Liminal’ are inoffensive, but the futility of seeking connections with machines is playfully brought home in ‘What are you Doing?’ This features an extract from a conversation with Cleverbot, a chatbot that passed the Turing test in 2011:

Me: What does ‘foalhood’ mean?
Cleverbot: It means ‘what are you doing?’
Me: Is it like childhood?
Cleverbot: Do you like mashed potatoes?

Sunrise on Mars’ includes a photograph of a Mars sunrise posted on NASA’s Instagram account. ‘What data,’ the poet asks, ‘do we collect for [the gods] / on loneliness?’

In ‘Singing’ the poet celebrates new-found romance in a definitive and charming way (‘all the other lovers / were merely players’; ‘I’m soft / like the shut of a Bentley door’) but still struggles to say to the lover that she is ‘definitely really loving’. The reason is poignant: ‘because loneliness / is so much more accessible’.

Serious challenges to connection and love are not ignored — ‘how do i do happy,’ the poet asks, ‘when my abuser / was called larry?’ (‘During a Repairing a Drunk Mosquito Rushed into Field’).

But the poet also sees possible counterbalances to loneliness. There are poems here that celebrate the positive power of poetry (for example, ‘How Poetry Might Help/Thinking About AI’ and ‘’) and erotic desire (‘Alone in a Body’).

The interconnectedness of all forms of life is celebrated in ‘On Reading the Ecological Thought in Norwich Cathedral Cloisters, 24 June 2018’. Here, a pigeon ‘plummets through the / air, bounces off a crenellation’:

Uncanny with grandeur, organ in minor key. A rise into
exultation.

Tim Murphy

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