Andrea Abi-Karam’s EXTRATRANSMISSION (Kelsey Street Press, 2019)
Review by Lix Z
“how to become a new glitch, a new disruption?
Andrea Abi-Karam’s vengeance poetics in their debut book of poetry, EXTRATRANSMISSION, breaks glass of lyric and form. Moving at the volume and velocity of sound [767 mph, at least] in an unrelenting, ALL CAPS trauma narrative, Andrea vivisects the intricacies of genderqueer cyborg identity under systems of oppression. The form shattering swells of resistance against state violence, nationalism, the medical industrial complex, the tech industry, cops, and bros erupt in a tensional torrent of I’s: subjects hyper-excised from injury as the injury is hyper-excised from subjects.
One of the characters in EXTRATRANSMISSION is a combat veteran who survived a blast in the Iraq War. The veteran sustains the signature injury from the War on Terror, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), erasing her memory of family members or events. Andrea’s poems searingly narrate how she uses a PDA as an external brain attached to her inner arm: “THIS IS THE END OF A PERSON AND THE BEGINNING OF A MALF(X)ING CYBORG” The veteran describes how she receives a port a point of fusion that produces complications that she never thought would happen. She screams for subjectivity in the midst of combat inflicted violence, state inflicted violence, tech inflicted violence, medical industrial inflicted violence resisting the expectations and coercions of the system of oppression. Her voice arises out of the tension with the power struggle. “Machines that force their way through.” The I emerges with the question “how to become a new glitch, a new disruption” a ghostly crystallization in the shell of the signature injury.
THE STATE GAVE U THE PDA BUT IT ALSO GAVE U THE INJURY
WHICH CAME FIRST
THE INJURY OR THE TECH
IT’S ALWAYS THE INJURY
In October, Andrea and I collaborated to create an interface hybrid of poetry and film, using EXTRATRANSMISSION as the source text. On a rooftop in Brooklyn, we unspun a roll of mylar creating a chrome conveyer belt, a metallic runway reflecting an inverted sky. Andrea used a medical stapler to pierce their forearm and stretch the cables of the external brain, wires flowing out of their wrist in rain. Andrea’s performance in the film magnified and refracted the polyvocality in EXTRATRANSMISSION. The art direction and acting in our collaboration aimed to entangle the multiple I’s and tighten the tension and attention to the violences of the US military complex in the Middle East. Mirroring the traumatic reverberations of the signature injury, the pacing of the editing in our film created a new reality, a reality on loop, a loop that gradually gains new elements in a slippery search for memory and oblivion.
In the past six months, Andrea and I versioned this film project into a series of performances. Drawing on the visual language we created in the film, the stage became the arena for us to perform a rupture—-a temporary autonomous zone—-destroying all levels of hierarchy. In a performance at a gay rave in Oakland, I stapled a mesh cable directly into Andrea’s left forearm on an operating table made from two oversized plush dice covered in the mylar. The source text of EXTRATRANSMISSION grew louder, the visual language sharper with the compressed stack of staples, the distorted reverberations of the music composed by Dorsey Bass, and the sleek surface of the mylar runway. The stapling erupted into a dynamic tension, as Andrea pulled on the mesh cable, performing what they call the “violences of un/forced adaptation of the cyborg body.” Two friends held iPhones for the operating room light, and I used the medical stapler to attach the mesh cable to Andrea’s collarbone, shoulder, ribs, right thigh and calf. Activated by each staple, Andrea’s sternum kept rising on the sharp metal edge of the fuzzy dice. After the procedure, we projected our film from October on a concrete wall as Andrea’s body absorbed the staples and became static.
For Andrea’s reading at the Poetry Project February 4, 2019, we collaboratively versioned this performance further. Andrea first read from EXTRATRANSMISSION. Seeing them read from it underscored how performative the text EXTRATRANSMISSION is with its pacing perpetually in fifth gear yet still so precise and strangely intimate. They began the reading by brutally dissecting tech bros, noise bros, refuse-to-tip bros. Every unapologetic kill bro poem left shreds of cop and bro corpses quivering in the papers they threw on the floor, AmEx metal black card incisions glistening. Their reading of EXTRATRANSMISSION continued with explosive intensity as Andrea continued with a narrative of how the War on Terror inflicted the signature injury on the subject in combat after surviving the blast. The multitudes of genderqueer cyborg subjects cascade into the final scene of EXTRATRANSMISSION: an intimate interaction with a fawn superzooming into the scales of violence inflicted by capitalism, the tech industry, and gentrification. Andrea describes the fawn dislocated: “Its hooves are bleeding from slapping the concrete day after day.” The descriptions magnify the visceral effects of violence that eerily feel more innermost, more familiar in their accumulation.
“The fawn’s hooves are cracked & dry from clicking across the pavement in order
to findsomething still.”
The repetition of hooves propel the fawn forward into exhaustion, erosion, infection until the fawn disappears in both corporal and narrative forms. The book and Andrea’s reading ended with a zoom out, one of the I’s of EXTRATRANSMISSION on the edge of a chasm “on the sidewalk looking up @ the whole nation looking down.”
After reading the final line of EXTRATRANSMISSION, a recording began booming through the space and Andrea stepped away from the mic. Vocally tethered to the recording, they spoke in sync with it: “On the surface of the signature injury / on the surface.” They shed their clear replicant jacket and their body seemed to glitch as they moved on the runway down the center of the Poetry Project to an OR table (aka the usual merch table) in between the two sides of the audience. The recording continued on high volume, and I pierced them with the first staple upon the word “impact”. As I stapled, I thought of the fawn. I thought of the visceral accumulation and the practice of stapling forming in our collaboration, the sharpening of senses through stapling and sound, the erotics of excision. I think most people think of the fawn to be this tender, vulnerable subject, but I see the fawn in EXTRATRANSMISSION to be the image of accumulation, the multitude of potential (and dislocated) selves, a collapse of endings and beginnings stretched over the webs of power that ends EXTRATRANSMISSION in nonresolution: “A ghost that would live on and on.”
Rendering an incisive critique on the violences embedded within the US military complex in the Middle East, EXTRATRANSMISSION asserts rapt resistance against the systems of oppression on every scale: from the rave to the riot, the OR to the orgy. The book insistently pulls out the wires that invisibly run through the circuitry of memory and experience, while sharply honoring the memories at every layer that tensionally compose one’s own polyvocality. I was in awe of the letter Andrea wrote in the Acknowledgements section, in which they fiercely recognize the forces and affinities in Oakland that coalesced to drive this dazzling book. I thought of how this book was in process under the weight of the immense loss of loved friends in Ghostship in 2016 in Oakland, and how collaboration was forever changed in Oakland with our loss, and how collaboration became wildly vital for our communities. Andrea’s poetry harnesses the liveness of memory, the interdimensions of selves glowing, gleaming, gripping tightly on the enduring pulses of collective experience and resilience. EXTRATRANSMISSION asserts a remembrance and a rupture.