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Monday, March 11, 2024



(Left:  Marí Peté)

OlduvAI to AI: we with our tech tools – e-Poetry by Marí Peté

This is a wonderfully wild, almost-organic approach so apt for this defiantly trans-disciplinary multi-frequency body of work, evidencing what’s possible when we give ourselves creative and intuitive permission, liberating ourselves particularly within the academic zone. (Review by Malika Ndlovu)

In the e-Poetry collection OlduvAI to AI, a book skin contains the concept, yet the actual poems live on YouTube where they could be found when someone searches for other things. Shadow art inspires these performances, associating this primal edutainment tool with the topic of technology. When stories of our technological tools crisscross time, they ask what technology constitutes: the Lebombo bone calculating moon cycles; bird bone needles from Sibudu cave in KZN; and ancient communication across the Nile, are tethered to poems about modern Information and Communication, and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies -- from robotic surgery in Tygerberg Hospital, to drones in Rwanda. OlduvAI to AI. We and our tech tools is an open educational resource downloadable below.

OlduvAI to AI is Marí Peté’s 8th collection of poetry. She holds a PhD in Visual and Performing Arts from the Durban University of Technology, where she has provided eLearning support to her academic peers for 30 years.

“The invitation to read or access this extraordinary work is fittingly an online navigation path which leads to an immersive multi-modal–media-dimensional experience: Follow the link below > Click on the cover> A pdf book will download >

In the book, go to page 7 and click on e-Poetry Playlist. This will lead you to a YouTube collection of poems. I found the repeated action of spontaneously clicking to dive into full screen mode and then pressing to exit – within one sitting with this collection, like a kind of page-turning but somehow beyond the two/three dimensional, the tangible. The scope, depth, scale and psycho-emotional impact of this unassuming work is in fact immeasurable. We don’t often describe our encounters in the digital sphere as those of ‘tenderness’ and ‘nurturing’ or a ways of ‘know human experience more deeply’, as the opening quotation from Sean Wiebe illuminates. Yet here on an absorbing and expansive 50-minute journey with Mari Pete’s OlduvAI to AI: we with our tech tools – this feels and rings absolutely true.

This is one of those scenarios where you can gush with tides of words to describe the content, the experience, yet in her own introductory words Mari insightfully states: In poetry everything is deliberate, but not explicit. I wholeheartedly agree – you have to ‘be’ there, ‘be’ with this work to grasp its contours, swim in its currents and be fed by its nutritive meanings. The poems as stations or sites on the journey, are actually portals opening up fresh neural tracks and inspiring links to other bodies of work, in the manner rhizoids or constellations take form.

Through her thoughtfully-curated entrance into this vast domain … a threshold between physical and virtual is crossed and time or direction as linear, collapses. A freedom to navigate with all senses and in any or multiple directions at once, becomes possible. The ‘minimalist’ or intentionally economical form of poetry chosen serves as an all-in-one-wordimagesoundsense- compass, affording us easy pathways startling clarity and meaning.

Invisible currents of emotion are inexplicably stirred and I found myself not wanting to pinpoint which of these elements or tools was impacting me in the moment. Mari’s even-toned, intimate and warm–voiced rendition of the poems is another moving and accompanying element across this boundless cyberspace, a whispering wind or breath, becoming a familiar guide as the poems progress.

Where the voice is absent, an intentional silence or soundscape ‘speaks’ with/to the imagery on screen. In some cases, like the poem Amen with its visual totem and cosmic aura of sound, certainly require no further amplification. Spaciousness invites deeper listening, listening wholly. The credits and citations following each piece are another intriguing and informative aspect of this body of work, following the academic researcher ethics of honouring source material or inspirational root/route, are also like a sign-posts to a wider and deeper web of exploration into ancient and contemporary bodies of resonant work. These offer an abundance to the reader/listener/explorer beyond the already substantial Youtube playlist.

Wordless interludes like Loom serve as bridges made of static image and sound, allowing the previous piece/track to sink in as well as providing a clear crossing over - into a more dense terrain of history, science and intellectual analysis in Superseded - for Lady Lovelace, yet still engaging the senses with effective audio and written navigation tools, punctuated with full silences, serving digestion of meaning and calm reflection.

Towards its conclusion, another navigation tool is highlighted, that of poetic inquiry and imagination as research methodology. This is a wonderfully wild, almost-organic approach so apt for this defiantly trans-disciplinary multi-frequency body of work, evidencing what’s possible when we give ourselves creative and intuitive permission, liberating ourselves particularly within the academic zone. And just when you have surrendered to an emerging conceptual mapping and flow of ideas in the collection, in other words sussed out the environment, a sudden wave – a dip and drop into (a woman’s) heart and pure, human connection and delight, with a sequence of poems paradoxically titled Cyborg Eyes, Digital Divide and Speaker.

Then there’s another swift pivot into poems like the edgy yet humorous Eyeborg, exposing the ineptitude of security current MOs and the ‘general population’ at the frontiers of such biotech realities. Escalating in ominous nature, military lingo or deadly subtext with Silicone Circles and Cheap Tablets, the subsequent interlude offers a breathing space/window, shifts tack. With the Eng & Afrik twin poems Upwards & Boontoe and Lusona, there is thankfully a circling back into the realms of the generative and transcendent.

With Mari’s attuned ear, her precise yet soft way with words, the music of language in poems like these, she skilfully weaves so that it serves rhyme, rhythm and topography like a delicious (poem) recipe. And to ensure we don’t take ourselves and it all too seriously, Chuckle, a 21 second poem capturing a bubbling laughter arrives right in time before the closing arc of the collection. Here we arrive at the grace of the final poem Drone – ending the reverberating theme of eyes, ways of seeing, degrees and kinds of blindness. Then like earth-wise architecture a bridge of image and sound into the epilogue Mobile, appears. Going offline, exiting the collection, I was left with lingering sensory imprints: the image of a girl child, one resuscitated/resurrected just in time and another, new born and gurgling, fussing, calling out – both with eyes opening - wide.  I imagine that each launch into this ancient-future work, will be stimulating in different and surprising ways. This should definitely not be a once –off trip.” - Malika Ndlovu