Katharine Coles


What can we get behind, if not
The world we see. Made visible

By daylight, under eyelids it may be
All-encompassing or only

A sometimes-lovely backdrop, hell
-of-a distraction, temporary place-

holder of presence. Why holster
The mind’s lady-pistols? Some days, I’m for

Brandishing purse-sized guns or reality
(Boom-boom) sounding like desire.


The visible is only a placeholder for real desire.
— Richard Powers, The Overstory.




In this at least it’s way
Ahead of me, sunk in a body

Not too happy with
The way I’m sloping

Along, wires fizzing
And clocks unsorted. Think

Success in circuit
And these automata will make

Art after their makers
Long go, according

To program adapting, becoming
What the artists delighted in

Failing to imagine. Whose
Idea was it? Hard

Not to think about
The Tin Man: a little oil,

A buffing rag, we’re
Good to go. Then again

It rained. He needed
Handling as much as any

Ever did. Unlike
Most of us, he knew it.


Title from Artists and Robots, Grand Palace, 2018.



About "Robot": For me, the state of dislocation induced by travel, art, or time change—the unfamiliar in general—is a productive one for poetry. This poem had all three: I was in Paris, deeply jet-lagged, and looking not only at art but at art for which programming was the common medium for expression. One of the ideas that really engaged me was the way in which many of these works keep growing beyond their creators, so that they become expressions the creators couldn’t have foreseen. Of course, this is the problem of artificial intelligence, not to mention Frankenstein: at what point does the creature become a self, with determination? Like "Platonic," the poem investigates the nature of reality and what we can really know about it, which seems to be my subject these days.

[Link to exhibit]

In case you’re curious, see a self-portrait in the exhibit: