Katamari Damacy is, as many of the franchise’s followers might tell you, more than just a game. The premise—wherein the player rolls a sticky ball around the screen to collect all of Earth’s objects to turn them into stars (while chipper Japanese pop music encourages you to do so with love and cheer in your heart)— is as bizarre as it sounds. A good friend of mine introduced the delightfully eccentric video game to me as a life philosophy, as a means of rolling everything in your life—good and bad—into a ball, and throwing it back to the space from whence it came.
It was, therefore, not much of a surprise when I happened upon a book of poems loosely based on the concept. Ander Monson’s collection, The Available World offers up a delectable sample of contemporary poems with an eye to language, space, technology, and, of course, the ever-rolling katamari. Despite hailing from a non-speculative press, the collection, and Monson himself, is rife with science, science fiction, and science fiction references. Just imagine if Douglas Coupland had a literary boner for Wil Wheaton and video games, and go from there.
The dominant theme in Monson’s poetry is building. The cover of The Available World features a small slice of a collection of paint slivers, all stuck to one another in the shape of a ball. He says on his website, “the Ball is an equation, nested parenthesis after nested parenthesis, surrounding, enclosing something entirely unfathomable.” If the concept reminds you of Katamari, you are not alone; Monson is open about his fascination with the idea of addition and connection. His use of language and his references to space and technology are all built on the concept of building, on the expansion of the universe and of human life into space—both outer and cyber.
In one of two title poems called “Availablity,” Monson writes,
What is also is already
and it is is it’s, even if your students refuse
your knowledge, and if you want an elegy
for them or it, a ball to contain and continue
rolling, the world gone word and list and gravitation,
we can be that also, mathematical
software for determination of
your future emotional country—
all is all and all for you.
(from “Availability,” Sarabande Books)
There’s no real line between the linguistic and the mathematical in this poem or others; reading them is like encountering a deluge of words read in quick succession that, in order to understand them, you find yourself manually reconfiguring your perception. Such a reading is typical of the delights of poetry, but seems particularly purposeful in poems about “scrambled digit strings” and “…building/ virtual worlds or regular worlds embraced in script/ and static” (from “Sermon, Now Encrypted,” and “Availability”).
Monson successfully illustrates contemporary technology as beautiful and meaningful, a feat eschewed by many of the solid-from-the-tree-book-reading types apt to read his work. If he seems pretentious and post-modern, I assure you that he is; he does, though, resort to a sort of humbleness with each everyday image, surrounded as they are with tech and simile.
He is not the first (or the last) poet to take tech on as his subject matter, but he is one of the few I’ve encountered that can use the jargon in a context that doesn’t make me cringe; he knows what he’s talking about, at the very least. This is, I think, what happens when nerds write poetry; they go accurate, or they go home. They make poems with titles like “Wil Wheaton as Icarus, Descending” enjoyable and insightful, and make literary stuffed shirts inadvertently enjoy video games and science fiction.
Check out Monson’s work (he also writes short fiction) and get an idea of what his project is about on his website (linked above). Poetry lovers will not be disappointed, and poetry lovers who also love Katamari might even be pleased.
Emily Nordling is a lonely rolling star.