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Beautiful Machine Woman Language

By Catherine Chen

Catherine Chen’s dense, richly imagined debut, Beautiful Machine Woman Language, considers the commodification of the artist imbricated in capitalist structures. In “Empire Empire,” they describe the extractive nature of creative spaces, in which an artist-in-the-making is forced into a supplicant role: “because I was curious because I could because I wanted the / exposure.” They maintain this role because “I will be the laughingstock if I do not continue. I’ll be starved out and abandoned. They will seek nightcaps with other younger willing talent.”

Lou—the lover–sister–cyborg hero of Beautiful Machine Woman Language—demonstrates a different way to be. She plays the world while remaining aloof to it. A double/Other, she is at once shield and muse, her body “another way of saying no to harm.”

Images from the poet’s visual work, Spirit Article, mark the chapter heads, and the text moves between free verse, prose, and single lines. In one poem, Chen repeats a question posed in Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: a space for monsters: “Please tell me. What is the difference between a monster and a cyborg. I need to know.” Historians of science relish the etymological kinship between “monster” and “demonstrate”: the monster reveals. As this collection shows, a cyborg is our era’s chimera: a revelation, a prediction, a binary-flouting both/and, an exception exposing invisible rules.

The final poem ends: “Like any proper lady, I know I’m not capable of anger.” Still, the book as a whole bracingly avers the opposite. As Chen declares in the opening piece, “Every poem contains my anger.”

Reviewed By Sylee Gore
Cover of Beautiful Machine Woman Language by Catherine Chen
Publisher Noemi Press
Pages 104
Date October 15, 2023
Price $18.00