kortina.nyc / notes
1 Apr 2024 | by kortina

Michaels // Do You Remember Being Born?

My friend Tori recommended to me the novel Do You Remember Being Born? by Sean Michaels.

The hero is a 75-year-old poet tasked with co-authoring a poem with a Big Tech Company poetry AI – but the really interesting part of the story to me was the relationships between the poet and her son and her mother.

Parts of this were quite good and poignant, but the ending felt a little abrupt to me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Notes and quotes…

I love this word “confederate” – even more than I love “colleague” which I always preferred to “coworker.”

3689 In the weeks and months that followed he took you all over the place. You went to see a catapult, a giant gouda, a forty-foot animatronic Venus flytrap. Beside a pond in Long Island you examined some lady’s collection of garden gnomes. Whenever anybody asked, Larry referred to you as his “confederate.” They seemed to assume that this was an accredited position.

3727 I went to check my email and found I had a message from my old friend Stan:

Dear Marian,

Imagine my astonishment opening the Times today and learning that you have started writing poetry with a cutting-edge computer. I picture you in conversation with 2001’s HAL, one hand pressed flat to the glass. “HAL, it’s me! Would you like a cup of coffee? How do you feel about Sappho? Hal?? HAL???” But my heart skipped a beat when I happened upon your photograph on A4. A4, Marian! A poet is usually obliged to die before a paper will publish their name, let alone their portrait, in the front section. Although the article didn’t show what the computer looks like. I hope it’s very shiny. With an enormous screen. You should be able to talk to it standing up, hands on your hips, like a god.

Of course, Polly insisted on doing a search for your name. And there you were on Rasmussen’s navy-blue couch, sitting like a bent sycamore. “She’s full of surprises,” Polly said. A jack-in-the-box, I thought. But I must say you came across well. A Fabergé jack-in-the-box. A basilisk’s egg.

How is the work going? It can’t be easy being commissioned to write something “historic.” I remember when I was asked to write something for Clinton. It felt like I had been asked to pot a hole in one. “Could you just give us a hole in one, please? Tschüss!” I don’t think civilians recognize the impact of import on the work of writers. Most of our lines are so insignificant, words and pages and pages and words that almost no one will ever read, proportionately speaking. The ones who do read our work are self-selected: ladies and gentlemen who pick up your Woolly Mammoths or my Rife Histories in search of a few lofty phrases. We—the writers—know this. Our implicit obscurity, the narrowness of function, suffuses the text. An average poem’s import is almost negligible in the world. Even the grandest narcissists understand this. A good poem is not trivial, but it lives a quiet life, like a rainbow scarab in the reeds. So it is strange to be asked to write a poem for something else: for a president, for a moment, for history. I think of all those times somebody has asked me to write a poem for their marriage, the way the blood drains from my face. A new function, with higher stakes. Something I have not trained for.

Of course, it can occasionally be fun, like being invited on a mission to the Moon. I hope you’re living it up in sunny California. I recommend the burritos and the zoo. And I pray you and your computer continue getting along. I believe in you, and in your work. We can’t wait to read it.

Polly says hi.



Tweet Like andrew.kortina@gmail.com