Mike Alexander’s “We Internet in Different Voices”

Alexander’s poetic techniques are masterful. Despite the intricate rhyme schemes, I never have the sense of the lines being rhyme-driven (except deliberately on occasion to make a satirical point); the language is varied and extraordinarily rich; the imagery is fresh and original; never stale or hackneyed, and often very startling and challenging. If by “edgy” people mean something that takes us out of our comfort zone, and into the threatening, the disturbing, the unpleasantly true, then this is certainly edgy poetry.

It is also very witty, with wonderful word-plays and sonic effects. For example, sonnet IV is written in traditional love poetry style by Ncrypt’d to seduce Kori. It begins “Listen. I want to sing to you of Love” and goes on to compare the Beloved (in line 3) to a Dove. The clichéd predictability of this rhyme deliciously positions and defines Ncrypt’d’s “love” in one neat stroke. But the fun mounts in the second quatrain:

I want to serenade you from the start,
Although my voice is not as sweet as yours,
My keening rude beside your healing art,
a cry of pain your cooing kindly cures.

The poet has deliberately deployed the clunky faux-romantic image of “serenade”; and the excessive series of alliterations on c and K (“keening” “cry” “cooing” “kindly cures”), as well as the over-the-top assonances on the u-sound (“rude”, “cooing” and “cures”), push this into a hilarious comment on the sensibility and intentions of the fictional composer— especially when you consider that he sees Kori as a sex-machine (“untried, but built for handling & endurance”) and that he plans to exploit her for pornographic profit.

Metre is used to maximum effect, with a steady iambic pentameter cunningly varied to resonate various immediate contexts. For example, line 14 of sonnet VIII reads “a cache of letters with a Polaroid”, so this line should be repeated or perhaps minutely varied as line 1 of sonnet IX to sustain the cycle’s line-linking pattern. Instead, the first quatrain of sonnet IX reads (Mom speaking):

Look at this. A cache of letters with a Polaroid?
Look at this. Trashy poetry some creep’s
been sending you? You think I’m paranoid?
Goddam right, girl. Guys don’t play for keeps.

I baulked at the first line: surely a mistake! Had some weird word processor error spawned this marked deviation from the cycle’s normal link pattern, a deviation which is moreover strongly hypermetrical? But, of course, the extra words are intended to be a disruptive intrusion: in the context of Mom’s wonderfully-rendered emotive colloquiality, the supernumerary beats of “Look at this” (along with the repetition of that imperative phrase in the next line) mimetically enact her insistent, intrusive ranting.

I’ve changed my mind now about the title. It draws together much of the essence of the cycle. The word “Internet” suggests a subtle web of links between present and past, media trash and ancient myth, ideal and actual, the banality of evil and the imagination of poetry. Its use as a verb reinforces those links. And the interweaving of various voices is certainly there.

What a combination! Social satire, pop culture, coming-of-age story, incisive psychological study, mythic journey, cautionary moral fable of decline and fall, highly intricate, skilfully-wrought traditional verse form — and a blooming (pun intended) good read to boot! More ancient than Ovid, more intricately wrought than a Spenserian sonnet cycle, more sordidly raw than a Jerry Springer Xtreme bitch-slapping spectacle! This is astonishing poetry — clever, complex work from a master poetic craftsman who has pulled off a major compositional feat.