Instrument for Distributed Empathy Monetization
Review by Sarah Sarai:
Variously sprung from the cranial portions of writer William Lessard, the chapbook Instrument for Distributed Empathy Monetization is a container for poems, vaudevillian satire interspersed with open source depictions of the bizarre, blended with deserved mockery of our at-risk world. Illustrations, silliness, fierce insight: all as exercise for the supple-upping of muscles of egress from right & left brain to tingly skin and subsequent free-roaming. In the eyes (stigmatic; amblyopic; age-related macular degenerating) of justice, corporations are people. The author seeks to differentiate between corporations and human-humans.
Lessard is, to hoist his own PR, a “media maven” with time served in corporate communications. He knows the speak, the kudzu of words forming a conga line through our culture. I’m hoping most variations on words end up as mere reference in the OED of 2123, but no one’s betting on me. A one-time copy-editor in advertising, I am familiar with the dialect spit out by “creatives” who believe themselves both anointed and hipper than hip. Not all, not always, but enough. If any of them were to write the following beauty, I’d be blow-me-over-ed. From Instrument: “The subject is a basement where we hide our breath. Breath piled one atop another. Some dotted with words. Others holding a lone syllable. Broken from a word never born. Breath once discarded, ridged with memory. They cut when pinched at the root.”
Black and white diagrams evoke those Dover coloring books, with pages of art scrubbed of pigment so a Renaissance Faire-fan-type can create their own Book of Kells. One such illustration in Instrument, not in Dover, is “Fig. 1,” snug headgear that belongs in the glass-and-iron hall which housed Victoria and Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1851 or at a Coney Island sideshow in the 1920s. The leather device’s bizarre-factor is prominent in the Instrument and ripe for Lessard’s creativity, including “revaluation of value” and statements such as (in the voice of 2001’s Hal, I suggest) “Subject ingested as data, we begin monetizing in the customer’s voice.” That could be ripped from an ad agency client-facing document. Was it? The bizarre of old becomes symbol of the ridiculous of the nowadays.
(Image from Google Patents)
In an interview about Instrument with Joe Milazzo, Lessard states, “. . .that’s why so much contemporary poetry sucks. Poets are still writing like nineteenth-century farmers.” I don’t recollect poems written by the farmers in D.H. Lawrence novels but it’s been years. Me, personally, I’m not sure that kind of statement is value-added, so to corp-speak, but maven Lessard’s thought-engine behind it fuels the book which makes the lament extremely valid. Lessard wants change in the culture and poetry. Not just a shrug and a ‘we’re just doing our best.’ He’s all in on sleepers, awake. Whether he intends to or not he rebukes the competitiveness and posturing of the contemporary poetry world, adding to his chapbook a note of purity. We like that.
Lessard reveals himself as delicate of word in the doing and many times over with his poetry, plaintively and with truth, instinct, impression.
|| of character ||
The feeling is a joke swelled with blood, just beyond the jaw. In certain
cultures, it takes gel form, to return skin to finger. In its natural state, it is made
of feather, of sparkle—its oblong shadow traveling an icy river between
elbow and wrist.
Damn, I love “The feeling,” that eerie awareness we’re graced with, sensations of the body’s workings, a healing in real time, the body’s felt geography as various as the Northwest Territory in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, all those lakes and rivers, trees, bears, ascendant creatures hanging out. Lessard describes true visualization, felt, the fingertip sigh, awareness. That is a gift.
He adds a reminder, maybe explanation for his previous lamentation on linguistic destruction. “The people who failed us, first failed themselves” and presses down, again describing the sensation of emotion’s presence:
<–the people who failed us
are still here
sometimes i carry them in my throat–>
Now I’m sad. But the throat is a chakra of power so it may be that those who failed us had a surge of will; or we have skills, wit, strength, faith, and animatronic speed to pursue, go forth, start anew. Some steam ahead, artists. Damn the corporations. William Lessard’s poetry, with or without accompanying terror apparatus, is company enough in the voyage into inner space.
instrument for distributed empathy monetization, by William Lessard.
Cover Art: Alban Fischer
Book Design: Jesi Buell and William Lessard
Hamilton, New York 13346
Joe Milazzo. Full Stop Quarterly. April 12, 2022. Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Accessed April 12, 2023.
Copyright © 2023, by Sarah Sarai. All Rights Reserved.
Sarah Sarai’s reviews have appeared in The Bind, The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, Seattle Times and elsewhere. Purchase her poetry collections: The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX); Geographies of Soul and Taffeta (Indolent Books); That Strapless Bra in Heaven (Kelsay Books).