“I am very proud of the accomplishment of my former student. People should read her eloquent, perceptive, poignant and ground-breaking work on empathy, moral and historical crisis, poetry and response, It is more relevant now than ever.” March, 2020
Listen to author and poet B.W. Powe in conversation with Phil Ford and J.F, Martel on the Visionaries.
Also, we invite you to buy B.W. Powe’s new book “the Charge in the Global Membrane”. It is available online through Amazon worldwide.
In the early1900’s not long before my great grandmother died, she
wrote a letter to her eleven children telling them to “live in their own
B.W. Powe’s ‘The Charge in the Global Membrane’ messages “Love
of the order of the world” (Weil). Powe also messages our
confusions, and anxiety about living in this time, ‘our time’. In part,
Powe is warning us that our unrestrained fixation with pixels, clicks,
lifespeed’s hypnosis, status quo and money, is feeding the rapidity of
(societal) change and global decline. He is also messaging about
hope in our time, in this time of escalating global unrest.
Could McLuhan, (Powe’s professor and subject of Powe’s writing)
have possessed any inkling about enviro-socio-political decline with
his words: “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us?
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew” wrote
McLuhan. It would appear to this writer that most of the crew has now
defected to the passenger section.McLuhan’s words have become prophetic in regards to the worst of
“our tools” and the worst of our driving technology. The crew on
spaceship earth have been scammed by the 1% who have amassed
obscene wealth, power and the membrane’s offerings. We are slowly
gobbling those offerings driven by overconsumption and the power of
the 1%. We are mesmerized with the aid of ETA, electro-tech
Powe’s words “The poetry of love between humans” embodies
optimism while he ponders the Twitter feed, a simplistic and perilous
conduit for complex issues. Powe’s macroscopic narrative examines
the potency of Twitter-bits that shadow Trump’s deception; that is,
Trump’s mastery of keeping us off-balance utilizing his weaponized
lies and fake news.
Powe informs us about bowing to the golden calf of contrivance
technology. His message exposes our psychological/spiritual
bewilderment generated by clicks and subversive algorithms. Alexa,
is anyone there with you? Within our political and monetized divides
Powe is ultimately warning us to be alert to the strategies of belief
and doubt created by those who want our minds, eg the Bannon
factor. “I see you but you can’t see me” (Harvard professor Shoshana
Zuboff, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”).
“Dumming down” = “Numbing down” as one steps further into Powe’s
prescient sensibility. “Conspiracy theories” are the mothers of fear
and abuse of power. We have no time to absorb, let alone process.
Stress disorders are a child of speed. “And if we could sit still; and if
we could unplug and breathe…We’d nourish our dreaming…” writes
Powe in his deep desire for relief and calm.
Powe’s concerns are honed in his thinking as both a visionary and a
parent of children who are (as my own child) destined to live in
acceleration where instant becomes slow. The newly designed
exascale supercomputer performs ‘a billion, billion calculations per
second…or 1 exaflop’. Faster than light particles lead us to darker
energy…but Powe lays bare his words “…love beyond the speed of
Attention spans have/are diminishing observes Powe. He wants us to
recognize that the ground we stand on is unstable because it keeps
changing. Little wonder Powe states that he is “writing in freefall”.
“The exoduses and pilgrimages that are physical and digital”…..
writes Powe. Does he infer we are leaving parts of the planet that are
becoming unlivable? “The rains aren’t coming anymore” but the salt
water is beginning to smother coastlines….we are on fire! Will digital
technology really help, or accelerate the mass movements of people
who can no longer live where they were born?
Powe invokes realities connected to our planetary decline. The
electric message in “hyper-speed” is hastening ‘the charge in the
global membrane’. The membrane containing the existence of plant,
animal, and humans on earth is threatened by heat, more fire, rising
seas and a disappearing water supply. How far can the membrane
stretch.. or is it already developing ‘pin holes’? “The Gaia (Greek for
Mother Earth) is convulsed” writes Powe.
Astronomers are telling us that the night sky filled with many
thousands of white-streaked satellites launched for high-speed
internet are so dazzling they are competing with the stars.
“Anxiety of loneliness is our deepest form of alienation” states Powe.
Millisecond media is a food for anxiety. Outdoor play, movement and
exercise for (especially) young people has been replaced by indoor
screens and pixels. Our heads and our bodies are falling out of
whack. “Everything seems to be closing in, seizing up” says Powe.
People see less of each other as our bloodless electronic devices
(social media) trumps face to face synergy….interaction.
“Gaia is lashing out in grief and pain” states Powe. Our fake
complacency (generated by fear) finds most our heads even deeper
in the sand.
Though Powe extends “Greetings, blessings and the approach of
hope”, the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) presents a
grim picture of the accelerating physical signs and socio-economic
impacts of the climate change across the world. Mar 29, 2019)
Membrane serves up a warning about our decline that falls between
fear and our greed-creed for money: there is never enough. Our
money will not save us.
The Charge is superbly illustrated with provocative images of street
art captured in the photos of Marshall Soules. The images rebound
between Powe’s words of hope, caution, and the edgy images. The
Charge in the Global Membrane messes with traditional book design
mashing up fonts, typeface and visual space. The book’s overall
graphic appearance is a ‘visional wake-up’ in conjunction with Powe’s
provocative words which poke the membrane.
B.W. Powe’s ‘The Charge in the Global Membrane’ does contain a
passionate expression for hope, a “prayer for the hearts” in this age
of Surveillance Capitalism (Zuboff). The Charge suggests that
nihilism is not the best way to approach the world; optimism holds
Powe charges us with his innate (and poetic) optimism while warning
us that business as usual may exert enough pressure to rupture the
membrane. We believed that technology, trust in the electric pulse,
would save us, however are we even closer to an ‘Outage’?
Is “the poetry and love between humans and the universe” enough to
save us? Is hope ‘accepting the present reality?’
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.
Wednesday, October the Second (2019) from 4 until 6 pm
Launch of B.W. Powe’s new book “The Charge in the Global Membrane”
At York University Bookstore in York Lanes.
It’s a book,
No – it’s a poem,
No – it’s a diary,
No – it’s an art book
No – it’s a searing analysis of today’s politics,
No – it’s an indictment of the misuse of digital media seen through the lens of media ecology,
No – it’s a review of poetry and song lyrics,
Actually it is B. W.’s meditations distilled into, words, colors, and fonts along with images by Marshall Soules and a masterful job of typesetting and page layout by NeoPoiesis Press.
Here is B. W.’s description of the Membrane in his own words because only B. W.’s words could describe this totally revolutionary way of writing a book, a poem, a diary, a political analysis, a critique and a literary review all in one:
a seizing of moments /
a venturing into the vibrations /
a poetry collage essay / a journal diary
a gathering of aphorisms /
a thought experiment that’s an attempt /
to put my finger /
on the pulse /
Again / journeying on the waves / cycling back /
Into the current /
Yes / I admit /
To following my fascinations / my obsessions /
The Charge in the Global Membrane places you in Marshall McLuhan’s global village located on Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere contemplating Lama Anagarika Govinda’s mystery of electricity and the way it manifests itself as life, consciousness and communication. Here B. W. muses about and meditates on the global membrane including xenophobia, the refugee crises, pilgrims both physical and digital, Trump and other authoritarian despots, cult leaders, shock jocks, trolls, hackers, the loss of privacy in the “web whorl”, the misuse and sale of our data, the disappointment of the digital environment to meet our basic needs of connection and community, information overload, fake news, our misuse of the environment, global warming, climate change, the compromise if not the loss of literacy, the loss of intimacy. He touches on many other topics ranging from the “me too” movement and the obsessions with selfies to tattoos, graffiti, yoga, head phones, smartphones, iPhones, search engines, Google, Alexa, Facebook, robots, AI, virtual reality, blogs, podcasts, never ending upgrades and all the other trappings of the 21st Century. In vivid detail, Powe reveals the dystopia of digital based and screen based life, with its endless flow of banal data “signifying nothing”.
While not providing remedies and solutions for the shortcomings of our global membrane, Powe through his searing analysis of all the woes that beset us at least identifies their stark reality, which is the first step in the amelioration of those woes. He also reveals their interconnections making another important contribution.
Powe’s communications’ analysis of Trumpism and the harm it does do society is connected to his media ecology analysis of the digital environment that makes Trump’s form of authoritarianism so compelling to so many. Powe shows how Trump uses twitter and TV sound bites to mesmerize his base. Powe also analyzes the way in which print media, television and Twitter as well as other social media impact political dialogue and politics itself.
Powe combines the literary criticism tradition of his mentor and professor, Northrop Frye, with the media ecology tradition of his other mentor and professor, Marshall McLuhan. He interweaves the two traditions in a fascinating analysis of our brave new world of digital media and the new literary forms of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Like McLuhan he critiques education, classrooms and reading styles. He references an endless stream of poets and writers: Emily Brontë, Blake, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dante, Simone Weil, Emily Dickinson, Coleridge, Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Elena Ferrante, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Carson, Marilynne Robinson, Sylvia Plath, Sam Shepard, and Allan Ginsberg
He reflects on pop culture, rock and Woodstock and connects the lyrics of the song writers Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell, to the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
Given Powe’s fascinating style, the reader should not expect a linear narrative. Rather B. W. creates a mosaic structure more in the style of mentor McLuhan rather than that of mentor Frye. But, I would suggest that B. W.’s writing style while somewhat similar to that of McLuhan’s that in a certain sense it is post-McLuhan in the way so many different streams of thought are juxtaposed challenging the reader to see the connections that animates B. W.’s vision of today’s digitalized reality. There is another major difference in the writing styles of McLuhan and Powe which is the beauty in the way B. W. expresses himself in a text that is highly poetic. As I said at the beginning of this review: “No – it’s a poem.”
Powe jumps from one theme to another often tracking back to a former topic and then pushing on in a never-ending flow of ideas moving forward again in a spiral whorl and whirling spiral of reflections and observations. By juxtaposing different currents of contemporary culture new insights emerge.
BW Powe’s Membrane is quite addictive. I read the book (I should say devoured it) in two sittings only interrupted by the need to get some shut eye resuming my read upon awakening the next morning. Once you start this book it is hard to stop. There are no chapters, no sections, not even page numbers. No preface. No footnotes. No index. One page flows into the next in a non-stop flow of ideas, words, insights and images. The book itself is a highly charged global membrane.
As the book comes to a close Powe pens a poignant letter to the Net Gens, the digital natives describing their challenges and what digital media are doing to their brains and their spirits. He offers them his advice for what it is worth.
Powe then closes with his hopes for the future setting a religious tone that runs throughout the Membrane. His diary entries, for example, correspond to various religious festivals and special days of the calendar with a spiritual dimension to them: Ash Wednesday, International Women’s Day, Daylight Savings, the clocks change, The First Day of Spring, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, a day of rest for some cultures, Easter Monday, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Ramadan, World Environment Day. Then there are the references to sacred book, Genesis, Book of Proverbs, Book of Job, Isaiah, and the Kabbalah
Maintaining this focus on things spiritual he writes as the Membrane comes to a close:
When cries and moans become prayers and calls for grace… “Greetings / Blessings / I hope / for / the approach of hope / sparks / for / sparks/ of hope / hope/”
And I close my review with my hope – hope you too enjoy B. W. Powe’s The Charge in the Global Membrane. It is well worth the read and the ensuing reflections that are sure to follow.
And I must say I have never written a review like this one because I never read a book like this one either.
Robert K. Logan
Joseph Amar was a Canadian artist, painter and sculptor. The magazine, Hamilton Art & Letters (HA&L), has published BW Powe’s piece about him: Amar, Artist: Essay-Memory Fragments by B.W. Powe.
Click on the image to go to the issue’s cover:
Click on this image that goes directly to B.W. Powe’s piece on the artist, his friend Joseph Amar: