Maree Dawes, brb: be right back (Spineless Wonders 2014)
A friend of mine once suspected her husband of having an online affair. He was spending an awful lot of time on the computer and she was fairly sure some of it was in chat rooms. Oh dear, I thought, I spend an awful lot of time online myself – just look at my blog output. What suspicions have I been arousing? While it’s true I’ve made some good friends thanks to the internet, I’m glad to report that chat rooms, multi-user fantasy games, bitcoin, and perhaps especially cybersex have never had the remotest appeal. So brb, a verse novella about raunchy chat room experiences, was a long way from presenting a temptation, though it was a bit of a titillation, and something of an education.
Maree Dawes’s protagonist is known only by her online ‘handles’, of which Boadicea (shortened to ‘cea’ in chats) is the main one. Her spouse, known to us only as ‘he’, is often away from home, and has given her a number of hours online as a gift. (How time flies, that such a gift marks the story as belonging to an earlier epoch! You can almost hear the dial-up tone.) Boadicea ventures into a chat room. After a rocky start she finds a warmly affectionate community, where people exchange an awful lot of ‘huggles’. We learn that it’s nominally a room devoted to books and literature, but from the beginning Boadicea is looking for adventure. She falls in love and has at least one torrid erotic encounter with a disembodied lover. There are hints of cyber-bonks with other, less emotionally significant chatsters, and there’s one piece of serious nastiness.
The narrative never really forgets that it’s all a bit silly, and the tone is generally comic. At the same time real emotions are involved, and the poetry explores a strange twilight state where relationships forged using only keyboard and screen can sometimes seem more substantial than those in the physical world, lacking as it does the delete key and the logout option. [If you’re worried about spoilers skip the next sentence.] For me the most powerful moments come when Boadicea is giving up her online life, tearing herself away from its addictive pull – in what feels like a cross between giving up cigarettes and losing faith in God. [End of spoilerish bit.] The poetry develops a deeper resonance, too, in moments that explore the relationship of words and sensuality, as in this non-computer moment from ‘me: 4 am’, rendered in online conventions:
me: ease under sheet
he rolls over grabs my breast, kisses my mouth smoothes my waist
me: back off
me: you have to tell me what you are doing
me: I need to know
me: first the words
me: then the touch
me: these unplanned caresses
me: are too much
After eight lines in which she demonstrates the kind of words she means, there’s this:
oh forget it he says, I want to make love not lyric poems, it’s 4 am go back to sleep
And one is left wondering if ‘me’ was so wrong to want words. Do poetry and sex have to belong to different realms?
Appropriately enough, brb is published as an ebook, available from the pubisher as a PDF direct from Spineless Wonders or in Kindle-compatible or DRM-free ePub formats from tomely.com. I downloaded my complimentary copy to my tablet in the Kindle and ePub versions. The Kindle version was much friendlier. The ePub version made me yearn for the stability of words on paper. [Added later: The publisher asked me to enlarge on these comments, and I then did an experiment which I should have done before making these comments. Part of the difference was that the ePub version’s font size was very large, which played merry havoc with line breaks and even page breaks, whereas the Kindle’s font was of a size that allowed the poems to sit comfortably within the page. This was not a fault of the file formats, but resulted from the different default settings on the apps I was using. What I said about the stability of words on paper still applies.]