If a review seeks to capture a work – to seal it with praise or condemnation – then B.W. Powe’s The Charge in the Global Membrane pushes against being reviewed. The book’s lack of page numbers, its shifting fonts and colours, its ambiguousness of forms, its assemblage of word and image grasp at the present moment against the impulse of being sealed, the impulse of being made past. And yet, the recognition that it is impossible to hold on to the present moment is already part of this compelling, significant work: “In the time it takes to write revise this, design it, burnish its space with images, then publish and publicize it, our conditions will have transfigured again.”
Early in the text, Powe probes, “is it possible to understand this present? Can anyone truly see what’s in front of us?” In answer to this, Powe brings us to the edge of sight. But he doesn’t leave us there alone. Like Virgil to Dante, Powe acts as a guide in understanding our charged present – our “immersion” in the technological, electrically connected, vibrating world. Through poetry, diary entries, aphorisms, letter to Net-gens, and meditations on the Gaia Hypothesis, Trump, Facebook, literacy, covfefe, books, tattoos, data breaching, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, and movies, among other cultural markers, The Charge aspires to touch – sensually, pressingly – the “new mythic creature, part flesh, part energy-current” that is the twenty-first century human.
Writing in and adding his unique voice to the traditions of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Simone Weil, Walt Whitman, and Marshall McLuhan, among others, Powe also speaks alongside the voices of William Blake, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Dickinson. This is a highly charged work, but one that leaves room – among the past’s greats – for future impressions and perceptions. The last two pages are left blank except for the words, “Here’s a blank page” and “What do you see coming?” Alongside these words is what appears to be an intentional coffee cup stain (coffee signifying alertness, alternative state of being), but, in a work where meanings multiply and pursue one another, this semi-circle appears as an aura, a crescent moon and star, a planet – none of these complete, all in the process of becoming.
Particularly striking is the letter to Net-gens, the generation of “digital natives” whose minds have been shaped by their technological birthrights, near the end of The Charge. “Don’t click away too much of your souls,” Powe prophetically warns. Instead of immersion in clicks and tweets, Powe suggests books, nature, laughter. There is concern in this letter, but there is also gentleness, acceptance, reverence: “No generation should define the next. You must live in your way.”
Alongside Powe’s riveting text, The Charge includes stunning photographs of street art by Marshall Soules. The city, thus, is unyieldingly present in this work, its buildings and faces greeting the reader with immediacy. Image 6, titled “Heart’s Journey,” features a woman tearing open her own chest, while image 29, titled “Heart of the City,” features a heart hanging above (or is it crashing into?) an urban scene; these images speak to the opening-closing that the text repeatedly references, the meeting point between sensitivity and digital vibration.
This is a stunning and startling text – one that pulsates insistently in our present moment. And, if “the global membrane is a heart,” as Powe offers, then this text speaks from and to the heart. The Charge functions as an electrical pulse that aims to rouse our digitally-immersed hearts, but this book is also hope, prayer, devotion – if we are courageous enough to open ourselves, to be present, to pay attention to this remarkable work.