Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Technorage – William Olsen (2017)


The title refers to the practise of users of modern technology whereby they personify and abuse their devices both verbally and physically.
I found this a very difficult and unenjoyable read, at least at first since the author occasionally adopts a clumsy grammatical style as if the words at some point are pouring on to the page.
However, some way in it seemed I found some common ground and it was a revelation.
One problem of the book unrelated to the content is the e-book format since it is often difficult to determine where the author’s chosen line ending is. My apologies therefore if any of my quotes from the poems are not in the form they should appear in on the page.
Olsen addresses dark issues; chronic pain, death, the ruthlessness of nature and perhaps the veneer that separates humanity from this. He employs both free verse and some intense prose poems. There’s a sense of ripping away the facade of ‘human happiness’ to reveal a bedrock of pain, frustration and pointlessness. And yet, the natural world seems to hold some hope, or at least some unattainable meaning.
Although I read and write a good deal of it, I do not claim to be an expert on poetry, particularly American poetry, and fully admit to not fully appreciating some of the more difficult pieces. There is much I am missing although I feel I will return to this book. Olsen has the knack of pushing one’s perceptions in new directions, which can only be a good thing.
The first poem ‘Posthumous Cabin’ begins as a description of occasional trips to a lakeside cabin and by degrees descends into an almost raging cry for help.
I find that ‘Customer Service’ is also a poem that returns to me, wound around the frustration of waiting in a queue. Here, there is the smalltalk with others which not only demonstrates to oil the veneer covering our inner natures but also serves within the piece to take the author on a sidepath to examine the nature of the self.

The guy at the beginning of a growing line is saying,
“No one else is gonna do it for me,” and I’m saying,
“That’s for sure, you gotta do everything yourself,” he’s saying “That’s for sure.” and then finally saying, “My mama isn’t gonna do it for me,”
with some tacit rage of having said that hovering in his face.

‘Early Murder’ is a lengthy and beautiful prose poem about crows, one of my favourites in this book, which again touches on our relationships with nature and each other, and the way we mask unpleasant facts from ourselves.

The title piece is one of the most difficult poems for me. I can see there is an exploration of how technology has infiltrated our lives, from his wife’s e-books (‘My wife reads books on clouds / that wander lonely or out loud’ ironically referencing Wordsworth and his personal connection with Nature as a force) to Luddites, the holocaust and the Transformers movies.
Olsen also manages to include quotations in this piece and elsewhere, a stylistic touch that I’ve never seen employed before.

“the human frame / A mechanized automaton,”
Shelley wrote, “Scarce living pulleys of a dead machine…”
“Men are more easily made than machinery,” Lord Byron, for a brief

period outraged.
Say yes to cyberutopia
and instant democracy.

The author, refreshingly, does give some helpful notes at the end of the book on some specific pieces. Should this be necessary? Yes, I believe so. It’s always useful and indeed interesting to get the artist’s take on whatever s/he has created but preferably after one has wrestled with it to determine a personal interpretation.
The collection has certainly grown on me in the last couple of weeks and I am certain I will be returning to it to fathom its other secrets. I liked it. It pushed my boundaries.


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