USEREVIEW 086 (Capsule): Barcode Poetry

Bryce Warnes/ July 13, 2022/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Kyle Flemmer
Barcode Poetry (The Blasted Tree, 2021)
ISBN 978-1-98790-671-4 | 124 pp | $20 CAD | BUY Here


Early critics with an apocalyptic bent decried them as the ‘Mark of the Beast.’ But since the early ‘80s, barcodes have become such a ubiquitous part of our material culture that the average consumer is unlikely to notice them until the self-checkout machine starts acting up.

Kyle Flemmer foregrounds the barcode (literally — he puts the book’s UPC front and centre on the cover) and uses it as a vehicle to critique 21st-century capital. You don’t need a laser scanner to read Barcode Poetry; Flemmer has opted for the typewriter — itself a technology with roots in commerce and administration, since adopted by experimental/concrete/visual poets — to create rhythmic, repetitive, and appealingly crisp micro poems, condensed packets of wry humour and subversive punning.

Some pieces use the barcode’s syncopated rhythm to achieve their effect. Notable examples: ‘I D ENTITY IS A COSTLY ILL USION’; ‘THE PROTEST ANT WORK ETHIC.’ Others draw attention to poetry as a consumer product, the intersection of market logic and artistic expression; see ‘THIS POEM CONSIDERED LEGAL TENDER’ and ‘RE CESSION PROOF CAREERS IN EULOGY.’

On first read, flipping briskly through Barcode Poetry, processing each piece with a mechanical dart of the eyes, it’s easy to settle into a sort of checkout rhythm. Beep, beep, beep. Rereading, it’s hard not to find candidates for pithy ad copy or t-shirt slogans (“I LOVE IT WHEN YOU CALL ME BIG DATA,” or “FORE CLOSED IN THE SUB PRIME OF LIFE.”) As Flemmer’s afterword puts it, “The importance of our own individual status within this culture of obligatory excess is re-inscribed in the artifacts we turn to for meaning.”

Can poetry achieve the escape velocity it needs to outrun the logic of the market? That’s open to debate, and Flemmer’s barcode poems — plus his attached statement — weigh in with wit, vigour, and originality. If you’re looking for a quick read that rewards repeated use, Barcode Poetry will get you there. Proceed to checkout.

Recommended excerpt:

Some of the most effective pieces are Flemmer’s readymades — common phrases snatched from online promotions and paid content, which evoke a sort of verbal uncanny valley. ‘TAG A FRIEND FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN,’ and ‘TAKE IT FROM AN INDUSTRY LEADER,’ each, in their new settings, take on a sinister cast.

Bryce Warnes is a writer and reader based on Vancouver Island, in Unceded Quw’utsun Territory. His poems have appeared in and The Malahat Review, Poetry is Dead and PRISM International. More:

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