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INSTRUMENT FOR DISTRIBUTED EMPATHY MONETIZATION

Clever, boldly innovative social commentary.

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This debut chapbook of poetry and diagrams offers a caricature of contemporary capitalism.

Lessard’s unconventional work combines absurd poetic statements with technical diagrams resembling Google Patents applications to present an imagined “instrument for distributed empathy monetization.” Readers are given a diagram of the instrument, which is worn in a similar fashion to an oxygen mask. Then an introduction provides a heavily abstract description of the instrument’s inspiration and purpose: “The model is dependent on subject. Subject ingested as data, we begin monetizing in the customer’s voice.” This is followed by a detailed yet poetically abstract summary of the instrument’s various parts: “Fabricast-grade contact (2 cm), electroformed with cumulus shape; nimbus tolerance.” A questionnaire is included that poses such queries as “What can we do when ghosts borrow our skin?” Other pages feature instructions on how to test the instrument: “TEST: Lay across the unspoken; invite lace vocabularies to travel your form.” A closing feedback form asks readers to rate the mechanism on a sliding scale, which begins with Snow and ends with Rain. Lessard’s book may appear overwhelming or perplexing to some readers at first, but a closer examination reveals that the poet is mimicking the planning strategies and language of corporate institutions to emphasize the absurdity of their dialectical approach. The statements made are generally nonsensical: “According to recent tests, sentiment can be extracted at rates comparable to the hydraulic fracturing of angels. Meat, peeled back.” But they communicate a chilling sterility indicative of a capitalist age when human individuality is obsolete and corporate emphasis is placed on the faceless consumer understood only through algorithmic data surveillance. In this respect, the unnerving work has nuances of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four but with its lens trained on the 21st century. Lessard’s writing is not without humor. A deliciously surreal questionnaire will raise a chuckle: “The oversized stone that follows us up the hill. What is its flavor? Vanilla, please explain: / Not-Vanilla, please explain.” Given its unashamed strangeness, this book is not for everyone. Those who carefully peruse the volume will find it to be a courageously unique, exploratory work that shines an eerie new light on corporate practices.  

Clever, boldly innovative social commentary.

Pub Date: April 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-7343065-3-8

Page Count: 30

Publisher: KERNPUNKT Press

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ORDINARY NOTES

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

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A potent series of “notes” paints a multidimensional picture of Blackness in America.

Throughout the book, which mixes memoir, history, literary theory, and art, Sharpe—the chair of Black studies at York University in Toronto and author of the acclaimed book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being—writes about everything from her family history to the everyday trauma of American racism. Although most of the notes feature the author’s original writing, she also includes materials like photographs, copies of letters she received, responses to a Twitter-based crowdsourcing request, and definitions of terms collected from colleagues and friends (“preliminary entries toward a dictionary of untranslatable blackness”). These diverse pieces coalesce into a multifaceted examination of the ways in which the White gaze distorts Blackness and perpetuates racist violence. Sharpe’s critique is not limited to White individuals, however. She includes, for example, a disappointing encounter with a fellow Black female scholar as well as critical analysis of Barack Obama’s choice to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in a hate crime at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. With distinct lyricism and a firm but tender tone, Sharpe executes every element of this book flawlessly. Most impressive is the collagelike structure, which seamlessly moves among an extraordinary variety of forms and topics. For example, a photograph of the author’s mother in a Halloween costume transitions easily into an introduction to Roland Barthes’ work Camera Lucida, which then connects just as smoothly to a memory of watching a White visitor struggle with the reality presented by the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. “Something about this encounter, something about seeing her struggle…feels appropriate to the weight of this history,” writes the author. It is a testament to Sharpe’s artistry that this incredibly complex text flows so naturally.

An exquisitely original celebration of American Blackness.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780374604486

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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