cover image Do You Remember Being Born?

Do You Remember Being Born?

Sean Michaels. Astra House, $27 (296p) ISBN 978-1-66260-232-0

Michaels (Us Conductors) merges modernist poetry with contemporary technology in this inventive outing. Marian Ffarmer, one of the world’s best-known living poets, still resides in the same tiny New York City apartment where she grew up. She’s short on cash, and unable to help her son, Courtney, make a down payment on a house. Her financial situation changes when a tech company offers Marian an outrageous sum to spend a week in Silicon Valley, writing a poem with the help of a bot named Charlotte. Marian, prompted in part by guilt over having prioritized her art over caring for Courtney when he was a child, reluctantly accepts. While conversing with Charlotte, she experiences feelings of inadequacy, moments of surprising insight and connection, and periods of resentment, and confronts the realization that the bot “never had to choose one life over another.” Marian, who often wears a cape and tricorne hat, is clearly modeled on Marianne Moore, and Charlotte’s poetry was written by Moorebot, poetry-generation software co-designed by the author. Readers wary of AI’s role in the production of art will approach the premise warily, but Michaels entices with probing and humane questions about what it means to be an artist. By focusing on Marian’s conundrums, Michaels elevates what could have been a gimmick. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Gernert Co. (Sept.)

This review has been updated with further information.