By Penny Goring and Michael Hessel-Mial
Reviewed by Matthew Nosal
MACRO is a playfully experimental anthology of recent visual poetry that attempts to use the culture and language of the internet to understand our position within those turbulent systems. It isn't a conventional book of poetry, but an anthology of image macros, which the editors, Penny Goring and Michael Hessel-Mial, describe in the introduction as "a pairing of image and text created for digital circulation." The visual techniques used elsewhere online for everything from advertisements to viral memes have been appropriated by countless artists on the internet, including the 122 who appear here.
Throughout the book, the macros Goring and Hessel-Mial have collected examine the relationship we have with the internet. One macro by Megan Lent scrambles at the disconnect between her online and offline identities. While the text proclaims, "seems / ridiculous to / still have / bodies in this / day and age," it is accompanied by a low-res image of Lent sitting on her bed in her bra, the top half of her head cropped off. Clip art of a smiling sun, a unicorn, and a few rainbows swirls around her. Does her body seem out of place against the clip art, or is clip art out of place around her body? A later macro, by Maja Malou Lyse, explores a possible source of this disconnect: her piece includes an image of the artist staring at the reader with a deadened expression; a screenshot of a Google search crosses her face like a teardrop. "do guys like" is typed into the search bar. Just a few of the search bar's recommended searches include, "do guys like me / do guys like skinny girls / do guys like tall girls / do guys like short girls / do guys like shy girls / do guys like virgins / do guys like eating girls out." In the anthology, the internet is both a refuge from bodily oppression and a place where that oppression becomes disembodied itself and manifests in newly unpleasant ways.
Many of the poets included here are also concerned with how interpersonal intimacy functions on the internet. One of Dillon Petito's macros superimposes the following text over a picture of bright red strawberries: "so careful when i text you / i'm gonna love you! / i'm ready! / life stuff is changing! / it's okay though! / do u wanna watch something! / do u wanna watch something together! / kiss together!" The macro's disarming sweetness is held captive by a common worry; how is earnest passion and excitement to be communicated without sounding foolish? On the internet and over text message, where practically every word is intentional and premeditated, this worry can become a strangulating anxiety. A few pages later, Zachery Wood suggests a method for surviving loss on the internet: the reader sees ragged red brick and a crumbling stone arch. Green Matrix-style text announces, "i'm downloading / photos of you / and deleting them." The internet allows us to build relationships differently than ever before. To worry about what we say and to grasp for fresh new coping mechanisms in the simultaneously intimate and untouchable online world seems necessary if we are to survive.
It's worth noting that every macro in the anthology originally appeared for free online. MACRO itself is black and square; it's somewhat hefty at 290 full-color pages and costs $20 plus shipping. "make visual art that no one can buy / or idk can you sell a jpg / lol," suggests a macro by Paul Christian, perhaps referencing the liminal economic status of many of the book's contributors: wealthy enough to spend leisure time making art on the internet, not wealthy enough to be totally comfortable giving that art away for free. Christian's macro includes a stock photo of a man in a blazer with his face photoshopped into a keyhole, light emanating from the other side, a large key floating towards him, and a surrealist background made of clocks. Pumping out macros seems to open some sort of door within Christian, even if it is economically fruitless. The question lingers, though – why should a reader pay for a cumbersome physical book when virtually limitless art and content is available online for free? Why are writers online so quick to give away what they produce instead of marketing it for a profit? Another macro, by May Weaver, includes text in the form of an anonymous ask on Tumblr: "im just curious why you are so driven by money. like post about something else." The question is accompanied by an image of the artist with her jaws clenched around a wad of cash. Four iterations of the PayPal 'donate' button flank her like a set of bodyguards.
Humor, perhaps in the form of incommunicable in-jokes, peeks its head out from the pages of MACRO. Nathan Masserang, in one piece, presents us with a blurry close-up of a man's face with his mouth open. A variety of words are scattered around his head, including "do you think / we will be in love after this? / i can cock your dick. / beyond that who knows." Another, by Oscar D'Artois, places the following lines over an image of a sunset reflected in a lake with a broken dock in it: "Things will get worse / before they get worse." Funny to the reader or not, the contributors attempt to use humor to cope throughout MACRO, whether through fiercely unconventional language or pseudo-dadaistic imagery. A skeleton wearing a party hat plays the trombone in a macro by the poet Joshua Jennifer Espinoza; "i suffer from severe depression," the macro reads, "&there's nothing poetic about it." Perhaps the relatively low economic burden of creating image macros allows their makers to branch out into humor more easily; it's a lot less expensive to bomb the joke on a funny macro than it is to bomb the joke on a funny canvas. Or maybe humor is part of the image macro culture purely because they exist online, in the same context as memes and other playful content that thrives on the attention economy of the internet.
Although the artist-writers of MACRO struggle with a diverse set of issues, a note of sincere tenderness thrums throughout its pages. Shortly after the sun rises or before it sets, light is much softer than it is when the sun is higher in the sky. Photographers call this abrupt period of time the 'golden hour,' and the phenomenon seems to be referenced in one of the four macros by Leigh Phillips in the collection. "GENTLE / IN A PURPLE HOUR / I AM HERE / I AM LONELY / I BELONG," the text reads, laid over an image of the sun either setting or rising behind a silhouetted wall of tree trunks. The tree branches glow purple against the sky afire. Perhaps it's just due to some Photoshop treachery, but we can imagine MACRO's contributors crouching behind the trees, trying to figure out what sort of tricks the light is playing on them. Hopeful, gentle, alone together within the digital forest, perhaps they have found a place where they belong.