Poetry against the machine

The Book of I.P., by Chris Courtney Martin

4 minute read
Book cover. An abstract illustration in purple, yellow, blue, and orange, with author and title in white.

I.P., or “intellectual property”—the legalese that categorizes human intellect and creative thought—is such a sterile notion. Under its umbrella, all art seems flattened. All art seems refracted, distorted through a corporate prism, as if its primary concern is not the artists who create nor the audiences who listen but those who sell it from one party to the other. As if stories were not stories but nodes and networks of capital, the sum total of the wealth they reap, now and in the future.

Writer Chris Courtney Martin rages against this framework in The Book of I.P., a hybrid poetry-and-essay chapbook collection out now from Alien Buddha Press. Martin, a former screenwriter (and a Philadelphia native), decries Hollywood’s obsession with I.P. in the book’s introduction. “For some reason,” they write, “work which manifests itself outside of the goal of making it to screen is estimated at a higher value than original … screen stories.” It’s an odd and troubling contradiction: that an industry supposedly fueled by stories harbors such disdain for those who tell them.

“So, what’s a writer to do, other than pull a dangerous stunt that will make them the front-page news that tops an original screenplay in the hierarchy of producibility?” asks Martin. “Write, is what they do.”

High heat and unbothered rhythm

If the introduction is Martin’s simmering discontent, the poems are the boil. They blaze with the freedom of a voice wholly their own, manifested in the scathing tenor and structural abandon of their verse. Their protagonists are often artists, such as those in “Jeremy Laramie” and “Kira & the Fly King,” weary of the edicts imposed upon their work and alternately struggling and succeeding to burst free of these systems. One senses the dictates of Hollywood cast aside, each poem an implicit argument that this is what is possible when art needn’t answer to a demand for profit.

As much as the collection resounds with righteous anger, it is also in equal measure a sheer delight to behold. Martin’s ire is never at the expense of their playfulness, the pleasure with which they cull and repurpose language. Poems like “American Juju; (&You Thought You Knew)” and “Sundowners” incant their verse with the cadence of old scripture, while others blend pop-cultural tidbits with the jargon of social media. In Martin’s poetic landscape, such figures as “a blinding white knight ’pon a cremello steed” exist comfortably alongside “the baddest motherfucker you chased out of your nightmares.”

The book’s title too is a perfect example of Martin’s repurposing. Its subtitle reveals I.P. as an abbreviation not of “intellectual property” but “idle poems.” “Idle” at first may seem an odd choice for poems that so often bristle with fury, but the word does not signify here a calmness or a languor. The poems idle in that they unfold at their own rhythms, on their own time, unbothered by the demands of some suited overseer—the precise opposite of intellectual property.

The condor’s offering

If some of the poems struggle to coalesce, messier in their barrage of sharp ideas and modern coinages, these are eminently forgivable flaws. They are experiments, after all, the result of distilling an artistic voice rather than sanding it down: still noble in their designs, resonant despite their flaws. And for any poem that does not connect quite as successfully, Martin delivers a master class like “Queen Leer,” perhaps the finest of the collection, a haunting rumination on the art that we save for ourselves.

Martin, a dark-skinned person with short locs, glasses, & pink lace shirt. They look at you with a thoughtful expression
Author Chris Courtney Martin. (Photo by Petra Shrieves.)

The non-fiction essays that bookend the collection serve as a thematic coda, offering stories that ruminate on the anger of the long-scorned and the homogenizing monolith of business. They underscore the tension that fuels the collection: that even though Martin has cast off the fetters of the corporate machine, its faceless phantom lingers ever-present in these poems. It feels impossible to dispel. How does the artist reconcile this oppressive presence with the seeming freedom of the art?

The closing lines of “God Complex” offer something like an answer: “Yes / We STEAL / The way a condor makes off with a / Corpse / Already claimed by carrion worms / …What else, really, is a gal supposed to do?…”

In a sense, this is Martin’s art distilled. They are the condor presenting us with a corpse, and as worm-infested as it may be, one discerns in their carrion offering something startling, something new. They show us the struggle of the artist beset by the strictures of life: how given a world hegemonized by corporate interests, it is yet possible to find within a kernel of beauty.

What, When, Where

The Book of I.P. (Idle Poems). By Chris Courtney Martin. Alien Buddha Press, May 11, 2022. 65 pages, paperback; $10.44. Get it on Amazon.

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