Poetry with A Kick and A Bite, Beck’s Words Are A Call To Arms

So, after yet another hectic weekend, the scourge of the summer months, some rest was required. Being of a relatively antisocial bent at times, I wanted a chance to sit by myself and simply exist. In my extensive experience of avoiding others, a good book is always a worthwhile companion and so I managed to form a delightfully withdrawn bubble of isolation for a short while this week.

The trusty defence against social intrusion was Virtual Living by Gary Beck. Published by Thurston Howl Publications, this is a collection of Beck’s poetry previously published in a wide array of publications including Boston Poetry magazine, collated for the first time into a slim, snappy volume. 

Virtual Living is a ‘revealing glimpse’ into our ever-evolving relationship with technology, particularly our relationship with online spaces. In this poetry collection, Beck has remained abstract enough to allow readers to form their own view. But he has provided a ‘peek into humanity’ designed to shift the readers’ perspective regarding their relationship with technology and the impact this has on their interaction with the rest of the world. Described as a ‘harsh but necessary’ collection of poetry which is ‘a gut punching’ reminder that we grow increasingly connected to the technology we use every day, this collection challenges and seeks to inspire readers to ‘transform their poetic views’ and stimulate social and political movements. 

As well as being an established author, Gary Beck also has a history of working in the arts, as a theatre director, and also as an art dealer when he “couldn’t make a living in the theatre”. He has published a number of poetry collections including Days of Destruction, Expectations, Dawn in the Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions and Fault Lines. His novels include Extreme Change, Call to Valor, and Flawed Connections. He has also published a short story collection A Glimpse of Youth, as well as poetry, fiction, and essays in hundreds of literary magazines, whilst producing a number of Off Broadway plays.

Whilst this is an anthology of existing poems, rather than a new collection, there are obvious themes to Beck’s work. The poems here encompass all realms of virtual space, from gaming to chat rooms and social media.

“…a triumph of human feelings over the anonymity of cyberspace.”

the hazards of our progressive dependence on technology 

Intimacy and the impact of technology on relationships is a frequent theme and many poems in Virtual Living focus on the negative effect of technology on love, sex, and human interaction. It is difficult not to feel the fatalistic sense of ennui swamping Beck’s view of online relationships and it may cause the reader to stop and contemplate the likelihood of heartache when making that Tinder profile. 

“Video games train our youth, with quick eyes, quick hands to kill the enemy…” 

The insidious impact of remote violence on empathy also occurs throughout this collection and Beck makes some interesting, thought provoking points about the effect of virtual, assumedly victimless, violence on compassion and connection. The development from massacring thousands of people in video games to massacring thousands of people overseas in remote military campaigns is highlighted with bruising clarity here and should stimulate debate for those of you who extol the stress relieving properties of Call of Duty. 

“…but junior, hubby, boy friend, assorted creeps, won’t catch disease from small screens.”

Even Beck’s views on the positives of virtual life are tinged with wry cynicism. Although online sex won’t leave you with an itch, it will in all likelihood leave you unfulfilled. We may be living in the information age, with the answer to any question available instantaneously but we are now a generation of narcissistic ‘malicious dolts’ who spend our lives glued to small screens, killing virtual people, having computer generated relationships, and slowly eroding the planet. Many of the poems included here are cautionary tales about the hazards of our progressive dependence on technology and hold a mirror up to our ever-evolving relationships within increasingly simulated societies.

This is a collection for those who like their poetry with a kick and a bite. Not a cheery volume by any stretch but at the very least, many poems included here will cause the reader to pause and consider the impact of their own technology use on their life, for better or worse, and may at least promote a desire for a digital detox. 

Virtual Living is a call to arms for those who fear the relentless march of the digital age and feel the metallic fingers of technology grasping them around the throat

Virtual Living by Gary Beck is available now from Thurston Howl Publications.

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