Clara B. Jones

A Review of Andy Martrich's agri-tech R&D heroics

agri-tech R&D heroics
Andy Martrich
Hiding Press
Unpaginated [8 pp; 4 x 8 in. folded; 16 in. x 16 in. unfolded]
$13.00 USD
Altering level of sterol compound improves nutritional property and genetic construction for big pharma marketing edible insecticide EP 255378 B2 20020206 Insecticidal edible spread made from insect-resistant apple, cherry fig and mustard to kill crepuscular diurnal insects and weeds on contact ... Mammal plant insect-resistant breeding with monocot to produce mammal plant with embryonic leaf sprout resembling human daffodil, iris or onion WO 0227004 A2 20020404 EP 11322773 Aromatic methyl transfer cycle of human onion and mammal plant for human expression of Cry toxins into unlicensed chimeric gene elixirs
[from agri-tech R&D heroics]

From video games to space, humans are innate scientists, as Jean Piaget described children's play and an implied feature of Ludwig Wittgenstein's “word play.” Among literary critics, one of the most unconventional sub-genres has eluded precise definition. “Experimental poetry,” sometimes referred to as avant-garde or “innovative” poetry, has, variously, been described as strange, political, disruptive, non-traditional, anti-Formalist, among other attributes. Recently, I have been attempting to introduce a poet-friend to experimental poetry in order to counteract his resistance to it. Indeed, Harley is a mainstream poet influenced by jazz discordance, bounded by and created within conventional Formalist constraints—imagery, lyric, music, color, “interpretive power” [as per Harvard poetry critic, Helen Vendler]. Recently, he challenged me to answer two questions, “What is the experimental poet's 'role'?” and, “What is it that distinguishes an experimental poem from a collection of lines thrown together randomly?”

Surely, these are timeless questions that many have addressed in academic, as well as, non-academic publications. While there are no straightforward answers to either query, the initiate requires a background understanding of the difference between 20th Century Modernism and Post-modernism in order to appreciate the origins of experimental poetry—Post-modernism, encompassing experimental poetry, that advances the fractured nature of perception, indeed, of reality, itself, in opposition to Modernism's obsession with “grand narratives” and unifying “conceptual frameworks” [Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Christianity, Science, etc.]. It has been very difficult for Harley to grasp the idea that ultimate power and “interpretation” are in the mind and body of the reader rather than the author, a sensibility required to conceptualize “the experimental poet's role” whether or not poems are randomly-generated, as “digital” or “collage” poetry” may be.

When attempting to defend Kenneth Goldsmith's “conceptual” poetry, the poetry critic, Marjorie Perloff, pointed out that every poet makes a “choice”—structure and language, form and content. Perloff makes clear that, because experimental poets make choices, all poems are “intentional,” even when generated “randomly” since the poet is in control of the creative process—writing a computer program, in the case of my friend, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen's “digital poetry” or deciding on a text to be copied, as Goldsmith must do. The “role” of the experimental poet, indeed, all poets, is to compose text—whatever the “decision-rules,” or, lack, thereof, may be. One can even imagine poems that are, intentionally, composed unconsciously—as may be done in “automatic writing,” a Surrealist practice utilized by some experimental poets, akin to “free association.”

Formalism, associated, especially, with Modernism, whose conventions may be applied to all traditional poetry sub-genrres, has influenced Post-modern, experimental poetry by, for example, highlighting the use of “repetition,” characteristic of Gertrude Stein's writing. Repetition is often employed to enhance the unity of a poem or a whole collection of poetry; however, the conceit may, intentionally, not be employed by an experimental poet choosing “indeterminacy” or open-endedness. Another Modernist criterion, emphasized, especially, by Vendler, is “interpretive power”—the power of any poem to generate varieties of interpretations when read over and over again. Andy Martrich's agri-tech R&D heroics [hereafter, agri-tech] embodies all of the aforementioned traits, as well as, exemplifying experimental poetry addressing a theme central to contemporary life—the experimental [(R)esearch & (D)evelopment] and ongoing relationship[s] between technology—the man-made, and Nature—the organic.

Hiding Press, of which Martrich is a co-founder and co-editor, is one of many independent, small- publishing initiatives created in opposition to the traditional, particularly, corporate, literary and publishing industry. Many, but, not all, of these venues print or specialize in experimental writing, and some of the platforms are exclusively online [e.g., GaussPDF]. In addition to literary excellence, Hiding Press strives to disseminate texts with aesthetic, and other creative, appeal. Importantly, in addition to publishing new texts, the house engages in “recovery” projects—printing or re-printing, lost or, in some cases, eccentric issues. agri-tech, the work under review, is, not only, a collection of new poems, but, also, a work of art—designed as a complex, folded, legal-sized document reminiscent of Japanese origami, tinted in two shades of grey. By way of email, I asked Martrich to clarify certain of his technical decisions [refer to excerpts extracted from agri-tech in the epigrams above].

Describing the long-poem's form, the poet replied, “The piece consists of 23 heroic [dramatic] "patents"¹. The patent is a nonce form [used on one occasion] consisting of 2 four-line stanzas in loose, non-rhyming 'iambic pentameter' with biotechnical content. I made the form up while trying to write through a Monsanto²-employed supernatural 'record-keeping [records-management] tongue' [a writer and keeper of patents used by Monsanto] which I inserted into a palimpsestic [a trace like an original] retelling of the Parzival romance³ I was working on, but later scrapped. I kept the poems around though, and decided they would be fun to publish as part of a collaborative project with the artist Aaron Gemmill and book-designer Jonathan Gorman.” Martrich went on to tell me that, “The notations are patent numbers. They're supposed to function as titles for the poems....The patent numbers are significant to the context, even though the piece has been removed from its original context....By 'original context' I mean that agri-tech was part of a larger work (a palimpsestic retelling of Parzival) which was abandoned. So the patent numbers/titles are the only indication of the Monsanto connection.” Martrich's comments and clarifications reveal the fundamentally “experimental” character of his project.

Humans are, on the one hand, curious tinkerers [experimenters], on the other hand, self-interested animals prone to aggressively defend their own resources [e.g., ideas, mates, food, money and other material goods]. It is no doubt that Martrich intends to interrogate Monsanto's role as a conduit of innovation, as well as, a titan of “free-market,” Libertarian, Capitalism—in particular, the type of predatory Capitalism characteristic of the American economic system. agri-tech abstracts from and rejects the socioeconomic values that Monsanto, and other mega-corporations like it, represent. In what manner does the present collection oppose the Capitalist Imperative: Competition → [maximizing] Growth → Wealth → Investment → Innovation [→ Power?]? What tools does the artist embody to combat, even, to rage against, greed, self-interest, and rabid individualism? Elon Musk, speaking of his desire and obsession to work, said to his biographer, Ashlee Vance, that he would rather take a pill providing total nutrients than to sit down at a dinner table to eat. What maximizes self-interested consumption in a species often said to be evolved by Darwinian selection to behave cooperatively and collectively? Do humans collaborate only with similar phenotypes? Do we eat members of our clan, also? Margaret Thatcher said of “free-market” Capitalism, “There is no alternative.” Can Martrich's creativity, combined with his pen, compete with the end-games of multinational corporations? Is the poet's “map” an “alternative?”

Probably, not; though, many activists & Leftists believe that popular, anti-authoritarian movements can exert real power—sufficient enough to change entrenched socioeconomic conformations. This vision is not unrelated to the Marxian proposition that the proletariat, the oppressed, will, inevitably, revolt against the owner-class and, in technological societies, the entrepreneurial, often Libertarian, class holding Ayn Rand's “moral philosophy” as their guiding value. Many of the “good” Capitalists, presumably, men who would not be proud to be CEOs of Monsanto, are Democrats who would agree with billionaire Warren Buffett's proposal that government is obligated to provide a sustainable “safety net” for citizens [and the undocumented?] who have “fallen through the cracks” because of the Technological Revolution. Charity, if not, change—and, only up to a point.

Neither Buffett nor Economist, Tyler Cowen, is particularly concerned about income or wealth inequality. Cowen, a Libertarian, has said that anyone who is not “bright” is, simply, “out of luck.”—a reflection of his abiding faith in the Capitalist Imperative's capacity to produce median well-being for everyone rather than any animus towards the intellectually-challenged, per se. Martrich, Buffett, and Cowen would, probably, agree that unrestrained inequality is likely to destabilize and to perturb fluctuating socioeconomic networks—threatening the stability of the whole system. Is such agreement sufficient to form a foundation upon which Leftists, Liberals, and Libertarians can build a coalition? Again, probably not. By juxtaposing the various kinds and effects of Natural x Technological interactions, the book under review exposes different, and, incompatible, ways of “knowing” the world and of organizing humans' relations to it.

agri-tech exposes a malignancy in the American myth. Like Parzival abandoning his wife for a new adventure, CEOs, venture capitalists, hedge funders, traders, shareholders, and other stakeholders, such as members of the “stable” working-class holding 401-Ks—and those aspiring to this fraternity, may find it easy to abandon the inclusive collective of cooperating American Dreamers in exchange for the benefits of an exclusive, corporate-based, elite in the form of a radical authoritarian populism sweeping America and many other nation-states. For centuries of human history, artists amused the powerful in exchange for basic needs and stipends depending upon the whims of the wealthy. To the extent that literature has been monetized and commodified, poets, like Martrich, have chosen an uncertain method of resistance—creating new forms and triggering new ideas by empowering their readers to combine and recombine words as vectors of novel images, feelings, emotions, linguistic interpolations--novel possibilities. In a sense, these forms of “tinkering,” play, and creativity challenge and re-frame, in principle, at least, the Capitalists' idea of “innovation.”

The Caribbean-British cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, theorized that every social “space” has its own rules and norms—of behavior and, especially, of communication. Artists and other oppositional agents can learn to navigate a system driven by technology in ways inhospitable to Nature. Perhaps that is the best artists can do—locate and navigate spaces compatible with values that are not borne of [natural] Predator-Prey relations and networks. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in Nature, Coexistence, as well as, Competition, are found in association with all manner of positive, negative, and neutral interactions. Such an attempted resolution of competing values and interests, however, will probably, not satisfy most on The Left, who, as Ezra Klein put it in his 9/19/2021 opinion piece in the New York Times, “believe in a radically fairer, gentler, more sustainable world [with] a stake in bringing forward the technologies that will make that world possible. That is a political [challenge] as much as a technological one.”

agri-tech R&D heroics deserves a wide audience—for highlighting the problems inherent to realizing the worldview Klein describes and for encouraging the reader to consider possible responses and courses of action. This new collection will appeal to long-term and recent consumers of experimental writing, in addition to, the curious reader, and the experiential “tinkerer”—whatever their political persuasions may be. Andy Martrich's stimulating and artful poems have the potential to generate spaces that facilitate and, possibly, that actualize, outcomes representing the best in each of us.


¹Patent: ”A government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.” [via Google search] Note that genetic procedures or engineering technology [e.g., gene-modification or related methodologies, e.g., CRISPR gene editing] are usually patented, say, by developers, corporations, or research institutions. My interpretation is that each 2-stanza, 4 line poem represents a hypothetical document cum “patent” that could be conceived of as cumulative statements of alarm and, consequent, values based upon near-forensic investigation, identification, and diagnosis of a malignancy, as well as, a dilemma, fundamental to Capitalism as it manifests in contemporary society. Though, ethical—and political, economic, as well as social—considerations attendant to the Technological Revolution have been addressed by many, including, the players, themselves [e.g., Elon Musk], Martrich attempts to reach his audience using the artistic and aesthetic skills at his command.

²”The Monsanto Company was an American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation founded in 1901.... Monsanto's best known product is Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, developed in the 1970s. Later the company became a major producer of genetically engineered crops. Monsanto was one of four groups to introduce genes into plants in 1983 and was among the first to conduct field trials of genetically modified crops in 1987....Monsanto was one of the first companies to apply the biotechnology industry business model to agriculture, using techniques developed by biotech drug companies. In this business model, companies recoup R&D expenses by exploiting biological patents. Monsanto's roles in agricultural changes, biotechnology products, lobbying of government agencies, and roots as a chemical company, resulted in controversies. The company once manufactured controversial products such as the insecticide DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, and recombinant bovine growth hormone. Its seed patenting model was criticized as biopiracy and a threat to biodiversity as invasive species.... In September 2016, German chemical company Bayer announced its intent to acquire Monsanto for US$66 billion in an all-cash deal. After gaining US and EU regulatory approval, the sale was completed on June 7, 2018. The name “Monsanto” was no longer used, but Monsanto's previous product brand names were maintained. In June 2020, Bayer agreed to pay numerous settlements in lawsuits involving Monsanto products Roundup, PCBs and Dicamba....In 2015, Monsanto had attempted to purchase its Swiss rival, Syngenta, an offer that was ultimately unsuccessful.” [via Google search] Of possible interest to the reader—Martrich works in Geneva.

³“Parzival is a medieval romance by the knight-poet Wolfram von Eschenbach in Middle High German. The poem, commonly dated to the first quarter of the 13th century, centers on the Arthurian hero Parzival and his long quest for the Holy Grail following his initial failure to achieve it.” [via Google search]

Clara B. Jones is a Knowledge Worker practicing in Silver Spring, MD, USA.
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