The Book of Robot
by Ken Poyner (Barking Moose Press)
This intriguing poetry collection of fifty one poems has a third of them individually published in impressive journals such as The Adirondack Review, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope, Mobius, Pank, Rattle and others. Though ominous, the excellent cover art drew me right into the collection, which I found humorous at times, and sobering at other times.
The book is divided into two sections, PROM and EPROM, which suggest an evolution of sorts—so do the titles of the poems (seen in this Amazon link, which, like the title poem, “The Book of Robot,” draw an overall narrative arc that suggests robot self-awareness.
The strong and clever opening poem in the first section, “The Robotics Problem” (Rattle), declares it as more miracle than machinery. There are many plays on words throughout the collection, e.g., in “Robot Reproduction” (Menacing Hedge): From storage to stack, ramming through/The execution registers like they had/Always known this is what they were meant to do.
The Book of Robot is a metaphor for humanity. The poems echo some aspect of this. For example, in “Second Class Citizens,” the reader comes away with the idea that marginalized groups should never be underestimated, or in “Cinderella 2300” (Asimov’s Science Fiction) where political correctness might be challenged with reference to the perfect “housewife” robot. I’m reminded of that impossibility in Proverbs 31. But this collection is precisely that—proverbial and conversational, and therefore very accessible with something meaningful to say besides entertaining the reader (which is fine too). “The Robot’s Passing” (Mindflights) might be asking questions of our own mortality. So too does “Life Cycle”: Ask if I anticipated so soon/A life of scrap and reclaimed parts. Religion & politics is fair game, too. Sometimes it’s respectful, as in “Robot Salvation,” or in “The Robot’s Self Diagnostic” (Gyroscope Review) with its insightful speculation of an internal rattle, and sometimes maybe not, as in “Selling the Soul Chip.” And of course, there are some poems on relationships throughout the collection, as in the closing poems such as “The Courting Algorithm”: I carve a sphere of light/Delightfully around you/…descend into fire,/kisses your tungsten.
Many of the poems are singular blocks of text (some broken into verses) that are reminiscent of highly subverted sonnets. They ask a question, directly or implied, and then resolve it, but in much more than 14 lines, and the anapests may be more obvious than the iambs, but no matter, the rhythmic structure is appealing.
The Book of Robot is an enjoyable read, which I can recommend.
– John C. Mannone, Poetry Editor