The Honeymoon Stage by Oscar Schwartz
Giramondo Publishing, 2017
Confession: I should not have read Michael Farrell’s launch speech for Oscar Schwartz’s The Honeymoon Stage before attempting this review. I had a large attack of Bloom’s anxiety of influence, but I simply couldn’t help myself because I truly appreciate Farrell’s wit and (worldly) wisdom. And now the damage is done. I read the speech and now I’m starting to fear I might be involved in this after all: colluding with, if not an active participant in this – Schwartz’s – whole transcendent digital Otherness that I was previously going to perhaps pooh-pooh just a little in this review. Now I only want to state wholeheartedly that both I and all the online avatars within – without? – thoroughly enjoyed reading The Honeymoon Stage. Meanwhile, I’m left to wonder what there is left to say about the entire identity crisis of this collection, let alone the process of creating a type of posthuman internet-based poetics.
Schwartz, seemingly only too aware of his own process, poetics and dare I even say poesis, states in his notes for The Honeymoon Stage, ‘To write many of the poems in this book I invented alternate personas who lived on the internet, made friends, got into arguments. The poems are thus spoken by and convey the actions of persons living parallel lives to mine. This doesn’t make the book less sincere, but just shows the sincerity can be an act of creation rather than confession. This is an idea that we’re becoming more familiar with – as we increasingly use our devices to communicate – but is also rarely celebrated or encouraged as a poetic act.’ Whilst I perhaps found myself more caught up in the construction of identity than the poems themselves, I do think the ‘poetic act’ is worth celebrating. This collection is brave, witty, intelligent and a beacon of post-post-modernity while also being curiously relevant, heartfelt and human. There’s an innocence here, somehow still accessible through all the manifold hurdles of clubbing in Melbourne, in-laws and late night (most of these poems evoke the wee hours) adventures in sci-fi. I had a genuine LOL moment in my own dimly lit house in the wee hours while the four-year-old slept beside me as I read such lines as, ‘will game of thrones be all I have left?’ Astute and hilarious. Perhaps even haunting. The only real glitch I felt came from the sense that in order to truly read these poems I should be squinting my eyes, scrolling down the screen with a bile-yellow night light filtering out those no-sleep blue lights, yet instead I was rubbing the rough edges of paper between my fingers, dog-earing the ones I might quote later. These poems felt a bit beyond paper.
The collection begins with an intriguing epigraph, ‘The I, You and We in this collection do not belong to me, but came into being inside the boundless and invisible space in which we now spend much of our time.’ The ‘I, You and We’ are ostensibly section titles of the collection, but the pronouns (including the ubiquitous lowercase ‘i’ utilised throughout) can also be thought of as somewhat interchangeable reference points, little dots in the map to keep the reader grounded, here on Earth, or at least here in a body, in what might otherwise seem to be a sea of virtual (popular culture) stars. I felt at times like I was partaking in, as the persona of the penultimate untitled poem of the ‘part two: you’ section states,
… a text for which I felt a detached, objective pleasure yet whose provenance was, by definition, unknowable.
In this collection, we navigate the rough waters of being everybody else all at once via the mediums of keyboards and Kanye. The personas adopted are most obviously the voices of now, of the Facebook-hacking Twitter-dissecting fake news zeitgeist of it all, yet they are also somehow raw and true and even, dare I say it, more real for being a conceit. These ‘friends’ aren’t beautiful Americans living next door to each other in an apartment building (or maybe they are sometimes but that’s beside the point), they are instead a beautiful sequence of codes residing inside a parallel universe and even though we might not understand a thing about that, maybe it’s ok to just celebrate the simple beauty of lines such as these ones lifted from ‘how to write an e book of poetry’:
For a brief time become part of the consciousness of some superior life form observe that all previous intelligent data on earth has been accumulated by this super intelligent life force view your e book of poetry again amidst the troves of intelligent data be there when the super intelligent life form disintegrates for a reason beyond your comprehension become diffuse consciousness in the universe become reduced entirely to hydrogen atoms floating billions of light years away from each other spend many eternities doing unknown things start vibrating rapidly become infinitely fast and infinitely hot end in a way that is, by definition, unknowable
‘how to write an e book of poetry’ is one of the finest poems in this collection, alongside the aforementioned untitled, longer poem that begins the second section. In these longer, more expansive poems, Schwartz’s many and varied personas can quest outwards into the more free-wheeling realms they appear to be more comfortable in. The typical philosophies: who are we anyway and what in all virtual hells are we doing here, seem both central and irrelevant to this quest. The idea that may flit across the reader’s mind of all these collaborating internet-based Others as being transcendent, a type of new god, is not really necessary. Perhaps we are discovering who we are from interaction with these liminal spaces where the Other resides. Perhaps we aren’t. Perhaps that question is, by now, entirely passé. As the (other)worldly wise sage Michael Farrell states in the launch speech, ‘the posthuman might already be here.’