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Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Kim Lonzo on Two Poems by Carlos Hiraldo and Susan Smith Nash

 The two poems that I have chosen deal with the basic question, does our technological progress represent true human progress. Susan Smith Nash’s poem, “The Nature of Poetics,” ( explores the subjects of modern work aided by technology, traditional work aided by tools, and our possible disconnection as a society as the nature of work becomes more ephemeral. Nash uses Aristotelian analysis to search for her answers. This is a much different approach than the second poem. Carlos Hiraldo, in his work, “The Revolution Will Not Be Facebooked,” cleverly creates a sequel poem which updates and brilliantly plays off Gil Scott Heron’s seminal spoken word piece set to music, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Hiraldo mirrors Heron’s meter and style to call attention to how our modern life holds similar ills as the latter’s poem illustrates. The consensus of Nash’s and Hiraldo’s poems are that technology has not improved the human condition and has possibly added to the disconnections between us.

Nash immediately sets the mood by easing us into a state of relaxation. She opens: “No Zoom meetings this morning / so taking advantage / laptop on lap / leaning back in rocking chair.”  By contrasting the images of the laptop positioned on her lap and the recumbent rocking chair, she foreshadows the theme of her poem. Not only is she reflecting on the nature of work but also the implications of technology on the quality of our lives. She continues: “feet propped up / sipping coffee.”  Already in a position of relaxation, Nash adds an extra layer of cozy with the added action of the propping up of the feet. This coupled with the sipping of coffee conjures a sense that a moment of introspection is about to begin. She is at peace in this moment save for a repetitive sound that calls her attention. She continues: “thoughts punctuated by the sound of roofers pounding away the uncertainty of leaky surfaces.” This seemingly, clumsy sentence breaks from the gentle scene she has crafted. Suddenly, an uncertainty creeps into this idyllic setting. She uses evocative words like “punctuated” and “pounding” because this distraction is significant. She must investigate her own uncertainty. She acknowledges this here: “we dread getting wet / whether by water or fear / I respect the sheathed decking, nails, and composition shingles.” Now the uncertainty begins to take shape. She uses the word “dread” to express that the task before her will be difficult. She is afraid. She references safety when she speaks of the sheathed deck or a protected structure. She deconstructs what makes it safe almost as if to say that she must deconstruct or analyze her fear. In the next part, she muses: “where plans meet hands / the work is real / Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” Finally, she arrives at the point where the soul searching begins. She acknowledges that roofing is real work and references Aristotle’s most well-known book about discovering the meaning of life, “Nicomachean Ethics.” She asks the reader to go on a journey with her to determine if what she contributes to society is work.

Nash continues,

What is the reality of work in a world of coordinated communication? This is the work of developing documents, tasks, programs                     meetings, conventions, projects ,plans, maps ,diagrams—                         infinite conversations and archived files;

And then there are the invoices, accounting, the back office-

And yet, I sit here imagining                                                                          since I’m not perched on a roof                                                                            I have no nail gun in my hand,                                                                         no risk of slipping off onto a hard pavement;

I’m not really working;                                                                                         all my efforts are ephemeral. (Nash)

Now Nash begins to do a classical analytical dissection of the elements of the argument she is attempting to make. She defines the parameters. What is work in the setting she exists within and how does it compare to the traditional concepts of work? She proposes since she has no tangible risks like say a workman on a roof and her efforts are fleeting that it is possible her work is something other. 

She concludes,

At least back when we printed and piled our paper files there was tangible evidence of work;                                                                      External validation that mind and words had an objective correlative

And we could comfort ourselves that reality and life could be empirically affirmed.

But in my heart of hearts                                                                                       I don’t believe it, and I doubt myself just as I doubt this set of lines on paper is anything                                                                              approximating a poem (Nash)

As Nash reaches her resolution, we similarly reach a catharsis. Her self-doubt about her own work throughout the poem countered with her admission that she believes tangible output with some element of real risks equals true work illustrates the objective correlative she references. In choosing her title, Nash calls to mind Aristotle’s “Poetics”, which first delves into defining poetry as an art and posits that art imitates life. Here the artist attempts to define the nature of a poem by comparing elements of the work of one who uses their hands versus one who uses words and ideas. Whether she considers her work a poem or not though is ultimately up to the reader. An artist’s intentions aside, the nature of any work of art is evident in its effect on its audience and not in its creators vision.

Hiraldo introduces the reader to his work by referencing the source inspiration which is the powerfully poignant, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron. It is my opinion that Hiraldo wants his reader to be familiar with this piece to fully understand his message. He is tacitly teasing the point that if you are ignorant of the past, you may repeat it. This poem uses repetition and emulation of Scott-Heron’s master work to interplay themes of “old and new,” “mundane and absurd” in a very sharp, satirical tone.

He opens,

You will not be able to man your posts from the comfort of your offices or homes. You will not be able to sign in, rant, and log out.                           You will not be able to friend and unfriend your way into community, share your way to the communist utopia,                                                     like your way to power, brothers and sisters, because the revolution will not be facebooked. (Hiraldo)

By simulating Scott-Heron’s opening and updating from television to Facebook, Hiraldo introduces us to wonderful wordplay and humor, he will be using throughout. The puns on the words “posts”, “friend”, “unfriend”, “share”, and “like” force the reader to interpret at every twist and turn. The brilliant use of the oxymoron “communist utopia”(Hiraldo) illustrates this will be a fun journey into an intellectual discourse on how our technology has improved or possibly impeded us. When he hits his rallying cry, “The revolution will not be facebooked” (Hiraldo), which he will repeat throughout, he is attempting to show us that a new medium reigns and his emphasis attempts to refocus us on the fact that it is a medium.

He continues, 

The revolution will not be brought to you by book length, newsfeed articles telling you everything you already know                                         The revolution will not show you videos of cowardly officers shooting brothers at point blank range because they move too fast or they move too slow

The revolution will be no Onion repost                                                            The revolution will be front page news, brothers and sisters. The revolution will not be facebooked

There will be no smiley selfies of you and colleagues you never talk to at the Global Warming march,                                                                         CNN will not be able to file an entire report based on your social media posts of events because the revolution will not be facebooked (Hiraldo)

Here Hiraldo departs from Scott-Heron who takes a strong political tone. His message rooted in the Black Liberation Movement informed all his work. Hiraldo continues to have echoes of the former’s poem and acknowledges that violence against Black men by law enforcement is still newsworthy in the social media world. He then pivots to question what news in our new digital landscape is. He mentions the satirical website “The Onion” which is a well-known news parody site that is widely shared and often mistaken for real news. He uses the expression “front page news”, an old-fashioned way of saying something was particularly important, to show that our social media advancements aren’t themselves the agents of our change. Further, Hiraldo slyly takes aim at the state of protests by pointing out the vanity aspects of modern activism and the rise of news network coverage of citizen journalists.

He continues,

There will be no soft-porn pictures of meals to be shared                          There will be no soft-porn pictures of meals to be shared                         There will be no kooky anti-government conspiracy theory discrediting all opposition because the conspiracy to be attacked will be what they call reality                                                                                                                  The revolution will not be facebooked.

The revolution will not be brought to you by an old closeted celebrity or a nubile brainy hot thing giving brilliantly obvious quips 

The revolution will not sell you Doc Martens boots                                       The revolution will not give you flattering easy IQ tests (Hiraldo)

Interestingly, Hiraldo launches into an unflattering critique of two major uses of social media which are the sharing of food pictures and the dissemination of conspiracy theories. The tropes of “soft-porn pictures of meals” and “anti-government conspiracies” are used to show the prevalence of and importance placed on indifference and ignorance. Moreover, he juxtaposes the tropes of “an old closeted celebrity” and “a nubile brainy hot thing” to address that fact that our information is packaged in the form of entertainment or infotainment. With a wink, Hiraldo teases the rise of consumerism by mentioning the preferred boot of the anti-capitalist punk movement of the 1970’s. He drives his point even further with a nod to the “flattering easy IQ tests” which is an oxymoron laying bare how little we value integrity and intelligence.

Hiraldo concludes,

The revolution will not tell you what country you should have been born in because the revolution will make the country you were born in the country you should have been born in                                                           The revolution will not be facebooked.

The revolution will not be facebooked                                                           The revolution will not be facebooked                                                          The revolution will not be facebooked                                                          The revolution will be no parody, brothers and sisters, The revolution will be an original work of art. (Hiraldo)

The metaphor of “The Revolution” that Hiraldo has repeated throughout finally takes form here. He has been alluding to the meaning with examples of elements that are not endemic to this revolution. By defining what it is not, Hiraldo has been implying what it is all along this journey. His strongest statement is telling the reader the ultimate result of the revolution will be universal equity. Instead of going to a “promised land” somewhere else , the revolution will have made this unnecessary and no one will question if the grass is greener. For me as the reader, my absolute favorite line is the last. The wit is on full display as Hiraldo takes us home by subtly poking fun at his own work which is a parody. He does this because he is ingeniously showing us that his work like Facebook is a medium for a message and not itself the agent of change. The revolution after all is the movement towards universal equity and this requires active participation not passive acknowledgment.

Our technology has led to fascinating advances in our world. The benefits of which seem to have made our daily lives more comfortable even simpler. We now have a shared digital space that has ushered in a new era of virtual citizenship. Both Nash and Hiraldo question whether our advances in tech have advanced us as people in this modern landscape. Nash embraces her unease at creating a product or work that feels fugacious. She contrasts elements of the new (Zoom Meetings and laptops) versus the old (nail gun or rocking chairs) and decides to use Aristotelian analysis (literally old school thinking) to determine if “work” in an increasingly more digital world remains relevant. By embracing this trope of “new vs old,” she ultimately concludes that minus a tangible or real element, work, like her poem, may not be what it seems anymore. 

Hiraldo too echoes this as he shows us that Facebook as a medium, like television in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Scott-Heron) has not been an agent of change but merely mistaken as one.  By mimicking the structure and meter of Scott-Heron’s poem and comparing similar relevant issues in an update to this work, Hiraldo shows that the new medium of Facebook has merely replaced television and this time we are creating the soulless content. His novel approach with a nod to the “Old School” of critical analysis seems to arrive at the same destination as Nash with her traditional reasoning. The measure of our true progress is in how much or how little the individual physically contributes to the real world and not the virtual one. 

Works Cited

Nash, Susan Smith. “The Nature of Poetics.” Marsh Hawk Review, Spring, 2021

Hiraldo, Carlos. “The Revolution Will Not Be Facebooked.” Marsh Hawk Review, Fall/Winter,2019

Scott-Heron, Gil. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Pieces of a Man, Flying Dutchman, 1971

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetics. New York; Hill and Wang, 1961.

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