Alexandria Peary unpacks America in "Battle of Silicon Valley at Daybreak"
By Alexandria Peary
In Alexandria Peary’s Battle of Silicon Valley at Daybreak, America is broken, perhaps was never even whole. Perhaps America was only the illusion of whole, propped up with patriarchal mirrors and colonized concepts. The poems of the collection synthesize America’s dystopian disparate cultural and historical parts, all while offering the reader a meta-view of a culture at war, of a culture that is degenerating. New Hampshire Poet Laureate, Peary, via these poems, examines language and the way language is constructed, from phoneme to sentence to paragraph to poem to book, just as a country is constructed via language. Daybreak is entirely about representative forms, how language is an abstraction of sound and ideas, and how culture can become an abstraction for a period or movement, and how the internet and our experiences with it, in it and manipulating it, is simply an abstraction of an abstraction. Peary serves as philosopher and curator, exposing contrasts in contemporary life while gathering words, images, and concepts to fit inside the poems of Daybreak. Both meta and satirical, Daybreak looks at language dominated by the now, by the internet, and our interactions with technology, all while deconstructing and synthesizing language via poesy.
The poems serve as both containers of ideas about cultural structures, and representative of cultural structures, questioning, organizing, and reorganizing them. The collection opens with “Preface” where Peary sets up Daybreak’s framework, “In the preface, a book blurb floats with the author bio along an upside-down menu as a mid-sized paragraph swims into view and bumper cars a stanza.” From the get, Peary positions the reader as an examiner of culture, of its vehicles, be it Netflix, memes, or most often, language. It is in “Preface” where Peary asks “How does the immense bulk of writing stay upright?”, a question contemplated throughout the Daybreak. Notably, the collection ends with a lyric essay about the pandemic juxtaposing the past with the present. The collection itself behaves on a macro level the same way that the individual poems behave on a micro level, carefully arranging both syntax and content in relation to the reader’s role as observer, and participant. These are not poems where the reader is simply a voyeur, a position the reader likely feels comfortable with. Certainly, Peary is counting on the reader’s innate voyeur-ship, as it were, but also challenges, invites, and provokes.
Peary’s abstraction of norms and traditions allows Peary to focus on the wealth of culture, the wealth of language, and their failures in the light of political discourse. Peary’s abstractions allow her to satirize America, Americans, the bites and bits of language used to entertain or demonize. Furthermore, abstraction allows Peary to dissolve the walls and boundaries of genre, to allow poetry to rub elbows with other modes of writing. Consider “Analysis of A Poem on the Tablecloth'' a center-aligned poem that begins “ i.e. Cezanne apples, Botero oranges, Roy Lichtenstein grapes.” The poem both offers a description of the modern table cloth, but also a critique of mass-produced culture, mass-produced ideas. The poem barrels along, growing stranger as plums become “lecherous” and “commas” lay “blind copied and in the subject line”. Language and form break down, which includes in this case, a poem, an email, a user agreement, a romance novel, “a grant application, a wedding announcement, a monograph on immigration policy.” In terms of the larger collective question, How does language stay upright? Peary does not offer an answer. What might upright mean? True? Pure? What do those concepts mean in relation to colonialism and heteronormativity? Peary does not offer an answer. Instead, Peary offers more juxtaposition, drawing on the surrealist technique to explore and analyze an America forever changed by the internet, broken into thousands of micronations.
In the “I Heart My Cat Still Life”, Peary reminds the reader that the internet may look like pictures and videos, but the internet is nothing but code, what Kenneth Goldsmith described as “miles and miles/of language”, a “sinkhole” where Wallace Stevens’ poems and cat clickbait articles come together. In the poem, the speaker has to navigate a quickly changing electronic environment, one driven by language, which in Peary’s hands becomes satire as kittens are “held for ransom by an army of bots.” Again, language, in terms of code, becomes color, pictures, video, vehicles for accelerationism.
Throughout Daybreak time and ideas collapse, allowing Peary to imitate the timeline of a social media feed so that the contemporary now inhabits the same space and moment as the past. In “Home Economics' ' the founding fathers and Betty Crocker occupy the same timeline, in other poems emojis do battle, or painted flowers fall into novels. Sometimes, it is the spaces within an idea that Peary focuses on, such as in “Greenfield USA” where Peary imagines “the back of the poem” as a “pasture where images are given medallions,/where sensations are parked with a hmmmmm.” Peary steps inside poems, pokes around with a walking stick and holds up the fence wire to allow ideas, extinct dinosaurs, questions, and parts of speech to sneak inside the landscape. This is exactly what the internet does, holding up the fence wire to let all sorts of influence into our neat, gardened, imaginations. Human consciousness also does this, our imaginations can accommodate so much, Peary contemplates, but what do we do with it? We consume, we wage petty culture wars, we like cat videos.
Peary, however, returns to nature, the sky, the simple wonder of it at night. The final image of the last poem “Gallery, Galaxy” a poem that moves the reader back into the natural world, where the natural world finally supplants the representative, “& so the sky replaces the cathedral ceiling” and brings the collection to a kind of closure, one where all of the abstractions, all of the symbols are replaced with nature, our collected original abstraction of the world. The first gallery was not a cave for children’s drawings of animals, but the stars. A serene ending to a collection that has deconstructed and reconstructed American dystopian culture, but this image also says so much about the human place in the arc of history. Particularly in the light of rising Christian fascism, this image captures the feeling of being powerless against a cultural and political force that does not care about anything but feeding its own power; in the light of the internet, and social media that allows toxic ideas to circulate, and allows toxic personalities to leverage power, we may feel that we are just voyeurs, looking up at the stars, unable to do anything but watch. Ultimately, passiveness is what Peary pushes back against, suggesting readers should be aware of both the construction and the message, coming at high speed, into our minds, into our homes, and into our devices at all hours of the day.
In many ways, Peary acts as shepherdess, and tour guide through Daybreak, both corralling ideas and concepts, and identifying them as they merge, bump into, and land upon each other. Peary, without belaboring the reader, suggests that one must be aware of what kind of ideas, and what kind of language we allow into our discourse, while also serving as a curator of language and ideas. In “Ouroboros'', a prose poem that snakes around like its namesake, where the snake, a sentence/idea, America, “makes a grab for its own dark apple, its single offering to the world.” America, thanks to technology is a balkanized degenerate nation where everyone can live in their media bubble, fed on political memes and post-truth science phobias. What have we created? What are we consuming? How can language stay upright? What can the poet do in the face of an ever-mutating world of language? The poet writes, the poet examines language.
Cassandra Whitaker (they/them) is a trans writer from rural Virginia. Their work has been published in or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Fourteen Hills, Kitchen Table Quarterly, The Little Patuxent Review, Foglifter, Evergreen Review, & The Comstock Review. They are a member of the National Book Critics Circle.