In meditations on everything from Marx to the Marianas Trench, Off Message probes the troubling corners of our globalized lives with humor, pathos, and verve. Political without being preachy, these poems are unafraid to implicate themselves: like us, their speakers are part of the problem, and their struggles highlight the absurdities of broadband capitalism. What should we make of televised warfare, revitalized totalitarianism, and spectacular environmental degradation? Which pages should we highlight in our history books? Off Message wrestles with these questions by overlaying the near and the far, the lyric and encyclopedic. Each poem is a mixtape, an abandoned essay, a satire of modern conscience. Veering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to Kasparov’s chess match against Deep Blue, they revel in the sights and sounds of information overload even as they yearn for knowledge and connection in our hyper-mediated present.
from “Observations in a Port City,” from Off Message:
changed to other forms I sing. The palazzos
of the oligarchs are now the palazzos
of the oligarchs: Paribas, DB, Credit Suisse.
Marco Polo dictated his travels
in the prison of the Casa delle Compere
di San Giorgio, Europe’s oldest bank,
so both interest and China were invented there.
It’s the port authority now, of course.
A young woman helped a blind man
navigate the piazza. It was either kindness
or her job. Everything is changed; nothing
ceases. The dead woman who ran for it.
The dead woman who got too old. The dead woman
weeping at the gangplank to the Tunis ferry
with a dirty peony of Euros but no passport.
I cannot recommend the tour of Columbus’s house.
The price of admission is extortionate
and also he never lived there. He’s crossing
borders drawn in the air. He speaks
every language. Everything is translated;
nothing signifies. …
“Joel Brouwer’s itinerant and moral mind is always online, seeking to aggregate our surfeit store of information into some kind of meaningful ore, and to measure the distance between civilian and collective, between action’s rhetoric and action itself. Off Message‘s disquieting prognosis for our era of surveillance should make us all more alert, more aware. It’s a thrilling and masterful book.” — Cathy Park Hong
“Lacerating. Skewering. Anything you can do with a blade Joel Brouwer does in Off Message, in poems attuned to hypocrisies large and small, where ‘after intense / lobbying the transparency committee / approves a series of closed door hearings,’ where seabirds ‘cloaked in oil’ can be considered rich. ‘They must have marveled at distance’s power / to deceive and to wake deception’s twin, oblivion,’ he writes in ‘Lines on Distance,’ a poem that opens the book up with a bang. We need a book like this, to sound through all the fiddling in burning Rome; they should hand it out to every voter at the polls.” — Dana Levin
“Off Message beautifully disproves the reductive cliché that politics makes bad poetry. Instead of proclamation, Joel Brouwer pursues complication, distressing a quiet free verse tradition. Nothing in these poems is easy. It’s a vexed world, and Brouwer is writing equally vexed, yet stunning, poems about and for it.” — Juliana Spahr