Hardcore afficionados of poetry that stretches the materiality of language in surprising ways will love Steven Farmer’s glowball, and everybody else should read it too for the challenges it offers to overly conventional uses of language and for its insights into contemporary globalist capitalism. glowball features five poetic sequences, each quite different, but all of which interrogate how conditions of language can both reveal sociopolitical conditions and enmesh people in them.
Each of the first four sequences establishes a serial structure: jagged seven-line stanzas in “Spectacler”; isolated lines of prose occasionally disrupted by stanzas in “Jewel Box” and “Saturuate”; and the chaotic yet still somehow pleasing visual shapes in “Parts/Din.” The final sequence, “Metacity,” varies structures more from page to page with a virtuoistic flair attuned both to shifts in language and in visual presentation. At one point, “Metacity” breaks into a kind of call and response between contemporary power structures and language dynamics and Latin (yes, Latin) versions of the same. Farmer suggests by juxtaposition that the Roman Empire remains a relevant precursor to conditions under corporate capitalism’s present-day empire, an empire which seems more shadowy only until you challenge it.
Within these various sequences, and almost in every line of the poems, the torturous, knotty problems of the present twist and turn and result in few clear possibilities, much less solutions. “The strong station, the weaker station, the station changing messages” is just one of many moments in “Saturate” that let readers know precisely what is saturating them (68). The lines “if he stands on the bucket, we see him in the abundance/lack dichotomy” from “Jewel Box,” show humans caught in their own clownishly absurd display structures (38). There are many more thematic nuances in every part of glowball, which deserves both re-reading and a closer, fuller elucidation of all its details than I am providing here.
My only criticism of glowball is that, at times, the poems struck me as lacking a bit in energy. The book shows a world so collapsibly intertwined on its own bad intentions that its various bits and pieces of language don’t build much forward momentum, and occasionally I felt myself pushing through rather than being taken along. Of course, that’s partly because there’s so much to dwell on in each of the book’s many small parts. Besides, the gleeful rush that comes from energetic language is perhaps, in the world of glowball, no more than a desire for escape, a desperate attempt to catch some final buzz while kneeling bewildered in the ruins.