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Review of Avatar by Alessandro Porco

ARC Magazine, Winter  2008

Sharon Harris’s Avatar begins with an epigraph from Deng-Ming-Dao; it asks, “Our poetry is written on computers. Does that make Tao invalid?” Harris’s poems answer with a resounding “No.” Harris proves that, rather than existing in antagonistic relation to each other, techne and spiritual aspects of love and empathy interanimate each other. From start to finish Avatar exudes happiness: as Harris writes, “Happiness in poems is often overlooked, and sadly mistaken for irony.” A poet of the Canadian avant-garde, Harris’s work is particularly welcomed for two reasons: first, the interanimation of technology and spiritual ideas of love and empathy are a timely counter to the mechanistic, violent and virile tendencies of the historical avant-garde (ie. Marinetti, Breton) and its contemporary manifestations (i..e. the Herculean machismo of Bok). Second, Harris epouses her philosophy in a variety of forms: her work is protean. But whatever the form a poem takes, it is always informed by her philosophy. That is to say, Harris’s poetry is purposive: “If you love everyone, you will know how everyone feels. If everyone loves you, everyone will know how you feel. It is where we’re heading” (“Manifest O”). And it’s where I want to be. The “Fun with ‘Pataphysics series is, as Harris explains in her notes, “writing advice” for poets. These poems are “imaginary” instructional guides to poems that will never come to be; to poems that exist as beautiful potential only. Here is “92. I’ve Written a Poem. How do I get it Published”: “Write the poem and your name on a tulip bulb. Plant the bulb in the earth and when the tulip blooms, so shall your poem.”(These poems are in the tradition of Darren Wershler-Henry’s The Tapeworm Foundry and Steve McCaffery’s earlier “Projects for Procedures”). Other stand-out pieces in the collection include “on world w/arrow keys,” using keyboard commands exclusively; the visual poem, “I Love You Too,” which is visually composed of two crossed pistols, each having produced not a bullet but a flag: the first flag reads, “I love you,” and the second flag reads, “I love you too.” Symbols of violence share a moment of intimacy: they touch; that touch engenders a non-violent expression of love. Another favourite visual poem is “Yum,” which engages in palindrome wordplay with the title: yum / muy – it is a poem that argues for a world of more (in Spanish, “muy”) flavourful goodness. Finally, an interesting side-note: three poems in Avatar bear the imprint of Harris’s relationship with her partner, Stephen Cain. “Now” is an acrostic using Cain’s full name: Stephen Joseph Cain. It is an erotically charged poem: “Silky Tendon Entity Playing Heaven Enough Now.” Next, “I Love You Wants to be Free” borrows its word-replacement from Cain’s “detector” poems (see his first book, dyslexicon). Finally, “6×9” is a translation of Cain’s “5×4 / 4×5” poems (Torontology): reading Cain’s sequence of poems inspires Harris to simply sign, in a hyperkinetic fashion, the words “I love you” over and over. Harris’s “odes” to Cain are proof that her philosophy extends into her living praxis. That makes Avatar an even more beautiful accomplishment.