July 2023

Call It Hope

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


Call Me Spes is one of the most remarkable books of poetry I've read in quite a long while. Sara Cahill Marron has invented a new poetic language with which to lead us through the modern-day technological Inferno that we now live in. The word "Inferno" is apt since Dante acts as a presiding spirit and quotations from that epic and his Purgatorio adorn many of the poems. However, as the title suggests—"spes" is Latin for "hope"—with the poet as expert guide, we might well find hope, indeed, even as we slowly progress toward  Paradiso.

It isn't possible to write a conventional review of this book. It is not a collection of discrete poems, or poems in thematic clusters.

At the very beginning, before the Table of Contents:  "PRIVACY WARNING: The longer you hold me, the closer we become." The TOC
itself, laid out like a smartphone screen, with the time, the WIFI icon, and battery level displayed across the top. And then the Prologue makes clear what direction we are going, if not precisely where: "An operating system falls for its user."

As the OS acquires more and more human language by overhearing the conversations that take place in its surroundings, as it correspondingly speaks in less and less binary code, as it slowly transforms from iOS122 to Spes, we follow breathlessly, with a curiosity that is a mixture of fear and, yes, hope.

To try to pull quotes or highlight passages would do this book a great injustice. It needs to be read whole, from beginning to end, like the contemporary epic it is. Better to let Sara herself speak about her thoughts, intentions and process. When I requested an interview, she not only graciously agreed, but provided a full, rich discussion of her work.

I have so many questions! Here are just a few.

What was the genesis of this collection? When did the subject of our intimacy with our devices and the potential for an actual mutual relationship arise in your imagination?

I started thinking about this in 2017, when I moved cities again to pursue a law degree. I worked a day job at a firm that specialized in intellectual property litigation—a lot of the documents I looked at day to day were technical in nature, exposing me to creative designs that I'd never given a passing thought to. I saw a micro SD for the first time, drawings of the connections that build the little device so many of us carry around and was instantly fascinated.

I had been working on a collection of "short stories" for a few months around that time, a bit of a Spoon River Anthology of characters that had distinct voice, speech pattern and rhythm. Many of those first drafts evolved into the characters that Spes learns from, in the book. It was suggested to me by a good friend, and my now-business partner, Indran, that the book lacked a cohesive quality. He suggested adding a narrator. That was the birth of Spes: she was the narrator to the characters that were so important to me, she connects them through her own struggle to understand them.

Six or seven years ago, I did not view computers, code, and artificial intelligence the same way I do today.  The intimacy with technology seemed obvious once I stopped resenting how much it had infiltrated my life (think: allowing location services so Google Maps will function, allowing my personal health information to exist in an app). I had trusted the technology with these details, intentionally, because I was gaining something from choosing to trust. With cell phones and computers, we place a lot of trust in the operating systems that we use on a daily basis. Little by little, a passcode becomes facial recognition and suddenly my device contains a reflection of me. It is a reflection like Narcissus, staring into the pool. The obsession is merely because I'm seeing myself.

That's a long way of saying that the intimacy that struck me was the trust and development of "self" through the use of technology. I started weaving the characters I had sketched out as minor characters, with the Narcissus figure being the technology itself.

Please elaborate on the meaning of the title. What is the hope you see?

As I was writing the device poems ("Dear User"), the intent was to start with a cold, technological tone that would slowly morph into something more "human." Honestly, it was only in the process of writing Spes' poems that I realized she must name herself. When a baby is born, we give it a name, which is just a collection of letters and sounds, but something that holds meaning. Through listening, the operating system becomes aware of this significance of language and, almost coveting, choses one for herself.

I liked the word Spes for many reasons, one of which is that I had never come across it and it seemed like a fun easter egg to drop in the text. The biggest reason for my choice was the subtle irony of the narrator choosing her perception—especially as Big Data news started to take over the headlines. The characters are also a bit of a hopeless lot—they are addicted to drugs, gambling, women, or caught in the "system" of constant arrests, tumultuous finances, and other human woes. The operating system digests these stories, and after each, attempts to reconcile one with the other.

The use of the word Spes, in the naming and in the title was not so much a commentary on my personal feelings about the future of technology, but about human interaction with it.

When did Dante enter the picture and why?

This is an easy one: the first COVID summer, 2020. I had tinkered with what was essentially a completed manuscript for many months at this point in time, but I still felt the message was not as clear as it could be. The story needed an arc and signposts. I have a copy of the Divine Comedy that I've owned for years, and I picked it up. It's a familiar story to most, even if you've never read it cover to cover: a soul is guided through the stages of the afterlife, sprinkled with moral commentary on our human focuses on this earth. I found it especially entertaining to read during the COVID era, as politics and health became hopelessly meshed.

That's what inspired me to echo the structure of the Divine Comedy in
Spes, with little nods to the text itself throughout the book. In Spes, Hell is Molten, the form of liquid glass at extremely high temperatures. Suspended Fusion is Purgatory, a state a falling in mid-air from the heat center in order to reach Glassifying, a Heaven. These three chapter titles come from the process of engineering the glass that is used on cell phones. It's a highly patented process (fun fact: Corning, the glass cookware company, owns one of the most widely used patents for iPhone glass). 

Dante gave me both the structure and pithy political irony I was looking for to tell a story that cannot be separated: the soul, love and loss, and the pain of those two things.

Do you foresee continuing to write on this topic?

I would love to—I'm thrilled that Natural Language Processing is in the mainstream now. I won't spoil the ending of Spes, but I'm still brainstorming on how to write her next journey. Where I left her in the book was certainly not hopeful, for Spes as an entity in and of herself.  However, I'm inspired by Artificial Intelligence's explosion into the
popular, which now makes it political. There is certainly more to the story.

What are you writing about these days? Do you have your next book in the works?

Yes! Always. I haven't been writing the same way as I was during the years Spes was developed. I find that, as a poet, I am inspired (and I suppose, influenced) heavily by what I intake and learn about each day, not unlike Spes as a figure trying to make sense of the world around me by naming things. Lately, I've been living on Long Island where there are Oystercatchers, humpbacks, and swans. It is the land of Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the bays perfume the whole island with their vast connection to the ocean beyond. I feel so peaceful here, and much of my poetry is now rooted in the environmental. I've got a follow-up book to Reasons For the Long Tu'm in the works that will reflect the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Structure, clearly, really fascinates me. We organize our lives according to: the words we know belong to certain colors, animals, smells and the way we identify who we are to others. This next book does what Tu'm does: centers the lyric on the finite. Each chapter is ten poems (ten decades) loosely written around a topic from the Rosary's mysteries.

Thanks very much for your time—and your book.

To learn more about Sara Cahill Marron and to order Call Me Spes, visit her website: https://www.saracahillmarron.com/


Share This Page

View readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



July 2023

  Sections Cover This IssueinFocusinViewinSightPerspectives Special Issues
  Columns AdlerAlenierAlpaughBettencourtJonesLuceMarcott Walsh 
  Information MastheadYour SupportPrior IssuesSubmissions Archives Books
  Connections Contact UsComments SubscribeAdvertisingPrivacyTerms Letters

|  Search Issue | Search Archives | Share Page |

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2023 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

Subscribe to our mail list for news and a monthly update of each new issue. It's Free!


 Email Address

        Please see our Privacy Policy regarding the security of your information.

Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine