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By Alex Carrigan
Caelan Ernest’s night mode is a book-length serial poem from Everybody Press that explores love and the body in technological terms. The book is broken into five long poetic sequences and a coda that play with form and language as they explore how technology has changed the way we communicate and connect with one another. Through its unique structure and playing with language, Ernest’s book examines this disconnect between the mind, mouth, and body, with an added queer lens to make it unique in how it looks at these issues.
From the beginning of the first sequence, “night mode,” Ernest begins with verses that read like a broken string of instant messages and texts. Many of the lines eschew typical rules for language by replacing words with shorthand like “u” instead of “you,” which gets further corrupted with words like “u’ve” and “ur.” This section also depends on repeated language, with many verses beginning with “let’s say” to convey an uncertainty in how to proceed or asking the subject of the pieces to imagine beyond reality, such as in lines like “let’s say u came into being like a text on a phone” and “let’s say for a moment u remember to be critical.”
This continues to build in later sequences, such as the second’s sequence’s text appearing solely in the bottom quarter of each page. It’s also in these sections that the subjects of love and sex begin to take focus. The second sequence focuses on love romantically while the third focuses on it sexually. “perhaps luv is the most inexhaustible resource / perhaps luv is the truest fiction” reads one part of the second sequence. The third sequence focuses on sexual encounters in the digital age, where hookups are looked at in tech and digital spaces. “The first man approaches you in beta” reads on part, before later stating “The rest of his clothes disseminate into a pile of messy code.” These parts ask the reader to ponder where digital sex and love become real, with the third section ending with the line “even if the moon were artificial, u would look up.”
The next two sequences also focus more on the queer angle of the collection. The fourth sequence, “put ur phone down for a sec” reads more like a series of texts whose campy tone doesn’t ignore how queer culture can shape how one views the world, such as “i had a professor say / queer theory is dead said she went to the funeral but / the whole time i was wondering what she was / wearing as she wept next to the casket.” While this voice may read familiar to some readers, the tone doesn’t shy away from looking at how there is more to the voice and how there is still a contrast between the queer body and how its perceived. “i just wish i knew how to show everyone / at the function i’m a scholar with my body i want them/ to know how much i’ve sacrificed that this was all worth / something since my body is theory.”
The last section reads as a series of prose poems mainly focused on one particular encounter the narrator has. This section begins the most focused, discussing how the narrator met this person, with some lines reading like a questionnaire. However, as the image of a pink yolk in the beau’s room and the return of the ocean the narrator left behind, the section becomes more distorted. This leads into the final coda, where an examination of the body leads the narrator to ask how they will be remembered through how they interact with their body.
night mode is a surreal examination of the queer body and love when one stands around and examines the photos on a dating app. Through their playing with form and language, Ernest is looking into how we will interact with ourselves as we begin to see new dimensions in physical and technological spaces. It can be easy to disassociate from digital spaces, but there is still some remnants of the code that can be found if one looks closely at their form.
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