Dragon Logic by Stephanie Strickland
Ahsahta Press, 2013; 97 pp
Reviewed by Daniel Heffner
Stephanie Strickland draws heavily on code and the internet for the poems in Dragon Logic, and sometimes I wished that I was reading it as hypertext online. Her index (a section of the book titled “Codemakers”) is five pages of extra information about the more obscure allusions in her poems. It’s information that I wished could have been presented in tooltips online to prevent the frequent trips to the back of the book.
Nevertheless, Dragon Logic is an interesting and challenging read. Strickland’s language, sometimes opaque, is also lyrical and engaging. In a poem heavy with allusions to math and physics, Strickland writes “archipelagoes of structure / fen full weedy fertile inexhaustible pod / of mathematical flowers.” Sometimes the rhythms shift into a fast-paced and insistent cadence: “you need / connection type-chat upgrade feeds simulate engage / find Easter eggs work the layering zoom.” Strickland makes her words work hard, and her language is often vibrant, something I mumble under my breath as I read to get the feel of the words on my tongue.
A few poems feature URLs, which make a somewhat awkward transition to text, as URLs nearly always do. Are these poems that include links limited by their transition to paper, or do they gain some meaning about the changing nature of human society? Mostly, the links don’t work (there is no www.asondheim.org), so they’re meant as texture, to be read but not followed. There’s something about them that feels frustrated: hypertext with the hyper taken away. Just text. A door that doesn’t open.
I was perhaps most interested by the tension in Dragon Logic between text and hypertext, between the multiplicity of changing connections and networks on the internet and the singular, static nature of text on a page. Strickland has coded (the most accurate word) a book of intensely condensed “signal speech,” or maybe a series of poetic captchas, verification of human-ness in an increasingly digital world.