Review: “press ctrl – alt – delete” by Vanessa Maki

What does it mean to start over? What does it mean to reset the system, to reboot the software of your own mind? Vanessa Maki’s powerful poetry chapbook press ctrl – alt – del engages with this question with incredible grace and bluntness in equal measure. The chapbook carries the metaphor of a filing system throughout, with some files deleted and hanging around the ‘recycle bin’, and poems having names like ‘LOVE.exe’ and metaphors about admin control.

control is the slight luxury / when you happen to be admin / i configure /i install / i have
control / control of body /

-“ADMIN”, pg 4 of ‘press ctrl – alt – del’, Vanessa Maki

I thoroughly enjoyed the poems in this chapbook, both under their own power and how they link with each other. It’s one thing to write a collection of poetry and another to make that collection cohesive. The same motifs repeat, never all at once; bitter fruit, broken glass, storm warnings and system shutdowns cycle around the poems, uniting to form an uneasy see-saw between the organic and the artificial. It circles back to oppression – to being traumatized, mentally ill, black, queer, a woman – and the constant balance of untangling what is ‘natural’, what is ‘real’, what is learned.

Of particular note are the final three lines of the chapbook.

i have no idea what it’d be like
to be a fully functioning system
that never needs constant repairs.

-B.S.O.D., pg 23, Vanessa Maki

While my marginalizations are largely different, this is a sentiment that lands, and lands hard. Being marginalized and traumatized in an oppressive system feels, most of the time, like a constant experiment in jury-rigging complex fixes with tape and glue. We survive day-to-day, waiting for the next big hit.

Vestigial to the chapbook itself but nevertheless part of the download file and the project, the image poems that come along with the chapbook expand on the theme. Each of them are short, fitting into a pop-up alert box that draws on older versions of Windows. While all of these are excellent, “DOWNLOAD ME” i think is some of the purest expression of the theme. Others expand further on the unhealthy relationship that weaves its way through Maki’s poetry, and all of them are further illustrated with pixelated icons. A skull and crossbones, a piece of pizza, a recycling logo.

One thing that I would have liked to have seen with this chapbook is interactivity – the format, with the dialogue boxes and talk of a system, teases at it but doesn’t fully follow through. It would be fascinating to see the disparate pieces of the chapbook put together in something like Twine or another digital-humanities interface.

Vanessa Maki’s press ctrl-alt-del is available at Payhip for $5 USD. She can also be found on Twitter at @theblackbuffy.

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