Electric poetry

Jan Skudlarek’s first volume of poetry as an unconventional view of the world of the 21st century

Electrosmog is the term used to describe all electrical, magnetic and electromagnetic fields that may have harmful effects on nature and living organisms such as humans and animals. Connoted with great fears and repeatedly appearing in public discourse, electrosmog has also found its way into poetry: Elektrosmog is the title of Jan Skudlarek’s volume of poetry published by luxbooks in 2013. In his late twenties, he is a representative of the generation that experienced the rapid development of technology in all areas of life at first hand in their youth, particularly the development of computers, the Internet and cell phones. His poetry makes use of the language of this high-tech world and electronic devices: ‘laptop’, ‘system restart’, ‘high definition’ – these are words that are otherwise rarely encountered in poetry. The technical terms that intensively accompany our everyday lives harbor an unexpected and highly productive type of imagery. Skudlarek links them with subjective experiences or natural phenomena, thereby showing how much not only our way of life but also our view of the world has been influenced by the technology of the last twenty years. His language is not only permeated by Anglicisms and foreign words from the technical field, but also by terms from other technical languages that are not always generally familiar. As “semiotic

[r] / singsong”, for example, he describes the chirping of birds, an image whose scope not every reader can easily grasp. However, as the technical terms mainly reinforce individual images in the poems, the poems remain accessible without appearing detached.
Skudlarek thus translates perceptions that are familiar to everyone into new images previously unknown to poetry – such as the change of seasons in the poem “als karnivorer winter” (as a carnivorous winter): here, autumn sounds “at most as a faint resonance”, while “in november the first test phase is complete”. Elsewhere, a gray winter morning is metaphorically captured as “a blue screen over the city”. Anyone who has ever experienced such a blue screen on their computer screen after a critical system crash knows how to empathize with this fatal situation. Skudlarek’s metaphors are by no means limp; they go straight to the heart of our experience of the present. They often create a serious tone, warning against dehumanization and alienation from nature. In Skudlarek’s work, the contrast between man and machine is completely eliminated and people become hybrid beings. In the cold, the unknown protagonists of a poem lower their “body / temperatures”. The bodies become machines, “car bodies made of flesh / and fake blood”. The cover and the illustrations, which are by the poet Simone Kornappel, emphasize this conflict. They are mainly collages that place old black and white photographs of men and women in wired, whimsical, different environments. Some of the bodies are deformed, with bizarre outgrowths on their heads or legs. At this point, the existential question arises as to who or what people, what we, actually are. Skudlarek’s answer to this describes the infinitely complex nature of our inner selves with the simple but apt words “we are also just tourists in our bodies”.
‘Unconventional’ is one way of describing the way in which the young poet captures perceptions poetically. When he reads “im quellcode der kindheit” (in the source code of childhood) and poetically alienates sensual experiences – such as the sound of the sea heard in a shell – he demonstrates visual accuracy. Changes in perception caused by intoxication during exuberant partying and dancing are also addressed in the poems: In “magische mushrooms – sixtinische lamellas”, the influence of chemical substances on the psyche and body is recreated, and in “sex machine”, the lyrical treatment of the act of love forms one of the electrifying highlights of the poetry collection.
What lightens up the rhymeless poems are (typographically) both the modern and pleasantly clear font and the airy line spacing, but above all the humorous wordplay, which is given enormous scope by the consistent use of lower case. For example, when a moon moving across the sky shows “full physical effort”, the heavy, thoughtful tone is mixed with a witty, relaxed one. However, the repetitive technicalizations seem exaggerated and a little clumsy at the latest when the sun ‘logs out’ at its setting or stands behind the clouds “in the waiting / loop”. But Skudlarek carries his style through to the end. He provocatively challenges us, not without reflecting on his poetry itself, and proves that poetry also works with edgy and unlyrical words such as ‘offline’ or ‘booted’.
According to a quote from the American poet Anne Rich, which he prefaces his volume with, for Jan Skudlarek poetry is an exchange of electrical currents. The lyricist has provided proof of this with electrosmog. He allows our thoughts to change their aggregate state, as he himself illustrates, and with this first volume of poetry makes a noteworthy contribution to contemporary German poetry.
An article by Isabel Steinmetz from the Contemporary Cultures editorial team at the University of Duisburg-Essen 

Jan Skudlarek
Electrosmog poems

Paperback, 80 pages, € 19,80

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