Purchasing and Subscriptions
Check back soon for issue 3.1 purchasing information. Subscriptions may be purchased from the Caffeinated Press online store.
Table of Contents
From the Editor’s Desk
KT Herr – 5 poems (“Dream of a Sunken Desert,” “Imperfect Memory of Shodo,” “Kremmling, CO,” “Zebulon; or, I’m In Love, But Let’s Not Talk About It,” “brinicle [inspired by clip of same]”)
Sam Stebbins – 2 poems (“Love Poem for Roadside Attractions,” “After An Impact”)
Kathryn Almy – 5 poems (“Guessed House,” “In an Unincorporated Area,” “Pluots”, “It Must Be Here Somewhere,” “Unearthed”)
Ashley Durham – 1 poem (“Counting to Red on Two Hands”)
Paige Leland – Dear Mother, Can You Hear Me Laughing?
Susan DeFreitas – 5 poems (“Thirty Eight,” “Andromeda’s Veil,” “A Spell to Delay Sharks,” “Death’s Head,” “Rapunzel’s Daughter”)
John Cullen – 2 poems (“Cream,” “Outside the Cave”)
Melissa Arpin Duimstra – 4 paintings (“Bedrijvigheid,” “Dynamo,” “Sustain,” “Vim”)
Margaret DeRitter – 2 poems (“At the Top of Sleeping Bear Dunes,” “Heading Home from Sleeping Bear to Kalamazoo”)
John Garmon – 3 poems (“Spider on My Head,” “Telephone Tag,” “Another Session”)
Claire Oleson – Alluvium
Cameron Morse – 2 poems (“Love Song for My Radiologist,” “Back Patio”)
Morris Lincoln – Personal Identity in an Impersonal World
Zachary Clementz – 3 poems (“Pattern Boards,” “The Letter,” “Lace Bugs”)
Kelsey May – 3 poems (“The Art of Making Love,” “Animal Tongues,” “Salt Tears”)
D.R. James – 3 poems (“Second Day of Gun Season,” “Instead of Listening to NPR,” “Snow Day“)
Jason Gillikin – From the Corner Office
Front cover artwork “Elan” courtesy of Melissa Arpin Duimstra
Back cover poem “Defeat” courtesy of Claire Quenneville
From the Editor’s Desk
Welcome to the ninth issue of our journal. This is the first issue which draws talent exclusively from West Michigan. It is also the first issue in our new semi-annual schedule. It is also the only issue of Volume 3, serving as a sort of bridge to synchronize our publishing schedule with the calendar year. These changes have made the management of The 3288 Review much easier.
The change of pace, it must be said, threw us off our stride a bit. Coincident with the modifications to the journal, Caffeinated Press went through several changes which my colleague Jason Gillikin details in his column at the back of this issue. We are back on track, though, and in a good position to continue publishing this journal as long as we have both readers and writers.
In the time made available by our new schedule I have returned to my own writing, and to exploring spoken-word poetry here in Grand Rapids. I am happy to report that the local scene is booming! In any given month, there are probably twenty regularly scheduled events running the gamut of poetic styles, as well as music, storytelling and the occasional stand-up comic.
We find the strong regional poetry tradition reflected in our submissions. This issue consists predominantly of poems, and the balance of poetry to prose reflects the overall submissions we received for this issue, and those in the hopper for issue 4.1. There’s a lot of poetry in West Michigan.
My venue of choice for spoken-word poetry is The Drunken Retort, which takes place on Monday nights at Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids. The mix is about half slam poetry, half everything else. One of the hosts is our very own poet laureate Marcel “Fable” Price. If you have never been to a poetry slam, I recommend you visit one soon. It is an experience not to be missed.
Not long after my introduction to The Drunken Retort I discovered the treasure trove that is slam poetry on YouTube—poets of all ages and genders and races and nationalities baring their souls in front of camera and audience. And all in a wondrous variety of accents and languages and levels of confidence, poise and polish.
For me, a relative newcomer to the scene, it is not alway immediately apparent who is a novice and who is a pro. From the outside, nervousness can look a lot like confidence. But over months I began to notice subtle changes to the poems performed by many of the regulars. A poem read for the first time in April is not the same poem when it is performed in August. The essence is there but the language changes as the poet find the words which best fit the subject, and the words which sound best when spoken by the poet.
This was an interesting discovery—that poems might be fine-tuned not just to how they sound when read aloud, but to how they sound when read aloud by this person.
I ran a small experiment on myself with some verse written some years ago which will never see the light of day. I read it aloud, then again while recording, and on the playback discovered a few things about me as a reader. The most obvious was that when nervous I read faster than I intend, and with a slight lisp left over from childhood. Therefore any poem I write for public reading will surely be short of subtle, sibilant sounds. Plosives and fricatives sound better in front of an audience anyway.
This would be an enjoyable project: to listen to slam poetry from around the nation and world and take note of how regional and national accents affect word choice and delivery in the performances. In English, at least, there are a variety of valid ways to verbally express a concept, and a line spoken by a New Yorker is not necessarily the same line when spoken by a New Orleanian. In that sense spoken word, like wine, could be said to have a terroir (Bukowski: charcoal, hint of cassis. Pairs well with gin).
In August of this year I was tasked with building an application for the Amazon Echo, one of the ever-increasing herd of voice-interactive digital assistants. It was one of the more enjoyable projects of my recent career and, given that it specifically involved reacting to vocal commands, involved some unexpected secondary skills, including editing, linguistics, narration, and the construction of branching logic trees which felt a lot like game design.
These smart assistants are capable of surprisingly complex behavior, but all of that complexity must be programmed into the app. Fortunately the technological substrate (Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, etc.) takes care of the actual understanding of the human voice. The rest—making something happen when a specific phrase is spoken—falls on the programmer.
In theory, this is not a difficult task. If I want to access a financial report I say “give me my 2017 account balance.” That request is reasonable and looks good on paper. But what if someone says “please give me my 2017 account balance” or “can I have my account balance for 2017?” All the same query, all different questions. And all of them are valid, and must be accounted for.
These problems were expected. What was not expected, after a month of being the sole user of this application, was that the app would run aground on the rocky shore of regional accents. This tool which worked wonderfully in Grand Rapids was less than impressive in Manhattan. The difference between the New Yorker accent and the Midwesterner accent is not large, but suddenly precision of elocution was important.
Part of the testing process involved grabbing random people in the hallway and asking them to repeat specific queries. Over the course of a day we tested Midwestern, Southern, English, Korean and several variations on Hindi accents, as well as people with colds and caffeine jitters. We also heard many comments along the lines of “That isn’t how I would ask the question.”
We made it through the day by having everyone on the project sound as much like me as possible. These systems adapt to their primary users, so if I were to go back to New York I would probably need to enunciate like a New Yorker.
Later, while clearing my head with some Neruda (floral, complex, pleasant finish), it hit me: What an odd coincidence! The free-form expression of slam poetry and the tightly constrained use cases of a financial reporting application are subject to the same concerns of phonology and linguistics. As revelations go it was not a large one, but it gave me something to think about during the flight home.
Apparently the project was a success, because I still have a job.
I now own an Echo. I use it to listen to music, but occasionally I will call up a public domain poem. I do not recommend this. Digital assistants are many things, but they are not orators. One day soon I may ask it to recite one of my own poems. I expect the reading will be a deeply disturbing descent into the uncanny valley.
Recently I asked the Echo, “Who is the patron saint of lost causes?” it responded with “I’m sorry; I don’t understand the question.” When I tried again with “Who is Saint Jude?” I received scores for a cricket match.
Somewhere, the ghost of Douglas Adams is laughing at me.