Review written by Ashia Ajani
Aerik Francis’s BODYELECTRONIC Unravels the Ethernet Cable of Connection
“Same new.” This phrase cycles through the mind long after finishing Aerik Francis’s debut chapbook, BODYELECTRONIC (Trouble Department Press, 2022). “Same new.” Repetition, cycles of violence, continuous surveillance are all a part of our daily lives. Upon opening the laptop or turning on the screen, we are bombarded with images and figures that haunt briefly, cause a frenzy, then disappear from the archive only to return again in another form. At the same time, a flat tummy tea gummy floods our feed and news of another racially motivated bombing begs us to split our attention. Same new.
As the digital era continues to shape human relation, Francis extracts both whimsical and messy entanglements from our reliance on technology– and its reliance on our continued engagement. Can we extract ourselves from the screen? Do we even want to? What expressions can be materialized from an immaterial form? Francis, a poet and teaching artist hailing from Denver, CO, is no stranger to multimedia expression. Prior to the publication of their debut chapbook, Francis has created both audio and video projects, showcasing their ability to weave different artistic mediums together. The digital is of course, a reflection of the human, of the personal, of sensual longing and desire. Through BODYELECTRONIC, the body becomes digitized, the digital becomes embodied, the accumulation of our many selves laid bare on the screen — and on the page.
Navigating the terrain between flesh and screen, BODYELECTRONIC cheekily narrows that divide. Under Francis’s careful guidance, the boundary between human and nonhuman blurs: a frog, a mouse, our own self portraits are simultaneously life-like and inextricably tethered to the screen, a delicious commentary on how far humanity has come in its pursuit for information and connection. In the poem _GPOY As Rainbowfrog.gif_ , Francis writes: “will iEver be a person [again]?/must iAlways only be neck-up?/am iHead, stoic, or am iNeck/eternally on a swivel?” Playfully poignant, Francis’s poems read like code, like digital spellwork, once again revealing the messy overlaps between the corporeal and the artificial life giving gigabytes that drive connection forward.
Ambitious in its form, BODYELECTRONIC borrows from computer jargon and poetic invention, exploring the overwhelming sensorial richness of every day and artificial living. Can the internet be a garden? What can fruit from its critical relevance? Or is it an invasive species itself? Francis doesn’t offer answers to these questions, but provides scenarios, multitudes that can inform our relationship (or estrangement) from this medium. Everything is a reflection of everything else: “iOpen a new window, hurl everything out/into the portal void of space. precious/gems, early morning stimuli/to the new news grief.”
But even in moments of intense emotion, the collection is delightfully crass, mixing the sacrament with the ecrement, the erotic with the quixotic (and who’s to say they aren’t one in the same) and Francis’s command of language is increasingly tender as one moves throughout the chapbook. In poems like “_Syzygy (Arse Poetica)_”, the poet seeks to humble ourselves to recall our meek origins. Before we were tethered to screens, before we had even exited the womb, we were…assholes. Sites of both creation, expulsion and pleasure. What would it mean to reclaim that messiness? Francis vacillates between distant observer and intimate participant throughout their own words. BODYELECTRONIC closes with two necessary questions: what does it mean, truly, to be obsolete in both virtual and physical cycles, and what capacity does each of us hold to carry the weight of those revolutions?
BODYELECTRONIC is one of those books the reader must return to time and time again. It is self reflective, emotive, complex. New meaning is articulated upon each read. Each poem title is a file, part of a rich archive of being that we are blessed to bear witness to their unearthing. With another chapbook, MISEDUCATION, winner of the 2022 New Delta Review chapbook contest, on the horizon, Francis is sure to delight once again with innovative form and complex portals. Welcome to Francis’s multiverse.
Ashia Ajani (they/she) is a Black storyteller hailing from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains and the unceded territory of the Cheyenne, Ute, Comanche and Arapahoe peoples. They are an environmental justice educator with Mycelium Youth Network and co-poetry editor of the Hopper Literary Magazine. They are a freelance book reviewer and selective plant parent. She has been published in Sierra Magazine, Them., Lumiere Review & EcoTheo Review, among others. Their debut poetry collection, Heirloom, is forthcoming spring 2023 with Write Bloody Publishing.
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