"Strandbeest Dreams" is a five-page poem inspired by Theo Jansen's Strandbeests, elegant kinetic artworks that Jansen aims to make self-sufficient and one day release in herds on beaches.
Because humans are not very good at letting creatures exist for their own sake, I imagined any such herds would be pressed into service, perhaps as beach cleaners. From one of our family vacations to a beach of Lake Michigan, I knew there would be plenty of clean-up for 'beests to perform on shores carpeted with zebra mussel shells.
JJ has long admired the Strandbeests. When he found out Theo Jansen would be giving a lecture at the University of Iowa, he insisted our family attend. Jansen spoke of the 'beest evolution in a couple of different ways. Strandbeest enthusiasts all over the world download plans and create their own versions of the 'beests, often improving or customizing the designs. This is one mode of evolution. (Our family has actually bought and constructed two mini-Strandbeests, but we followed the instructions as closely as possible.) Another form of evolution is Jansen's pragmatic recycling of damaged, failed, or retired 'beests for parts. Subsequent generations may use the same PVC pipe "bones" or plastic pop bottle "air bladders" as their "ancestors" did.
Our poem posits both methods at work in our imagined Lake Michigan cleaner 'beests. The steward of the 'beests is a Latina scientist with lupus. Initially, the scientist (called The Hands) does not understand the titular 'beest's idiosyncratic malfunctioning, but eventually she applies her own experience of chronic illness to formulate an explanation and possible solution.
I have a different form of lupus than The Hands, but I'd really been wanting to write about the lengthy road to diagnosis for a host of autoimmune disorders. I also wanted to acknowledge the agony of these often invisible illnesses while honoring the achievements of folks suffering from them. It's not that good comes of the illness, but that we find and create good in SPITE of the illness, often using skills we've developed to cope with our illness. The distinction is fine, but important.
Our poem incorporates Spanish, pseudo-code, and the kind of medical questionnaire I've grown to despise. We were very careful with the formatting of the code, because, even though it's made up, the steps must be precise. If one has any hope of debugging a program (or navigating the health care system, for that matter), one must follow protocol, no matter how arbitrary that protocol may seem. Formatting turned into a big deal for the poem as a whole. Fonts, emphasis, columns and rows...we tried to maximize every inch of the page to reflect transitions in physical space, mental states, between languages and the narratives structured by differently purposed systems. That meant some back-and-forth in the copyediting stage, but publisher Joanne Merriam was very accommodating and conscientious, even when, late in the game, J and I decided we couldn't possibly use the word micron. No, it had to be micronewton.
Obviously, this was an incredibly personal poem for us. And our first poetic collaboration! We hope you enjoy "Strandbeest Dreams" and all the solarpunk speculations that Sunvault has to offer.