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Dedicated to ‘ all the women in tech making it happen,’ Breakpoint by Betsy Aoki is a debut poetry collection that combines intense lyrical free verse with found Python “code poems” to explore the modern technological and societal landscape.
Aoki, a video game producer by day, brings the reader into her world of polygons and fractals, Japanese folklore and family stories, computational language and robot factories, and the timeless yearning to be seen clearly. The machines speak in this book, but more strongly the women in tech’s voices rise in the rooms where the future is being made.
Breakpoint was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2019, and won the Patricia Bibby First Book Award in 2021 by Tebot Bach. The $500 Bibby Award prize from Tebot Bach was donated to Black Girls Code.
PRAISE FOR THE POEMS OF BREAKPOINT:
Betsy Aoki has magically brought the technological — and in her hands, playful — language of computing into the realm of poetry: breakpoint, collide, return— and of course, code. Her poems using digital diction are quirky and adamant – here is a woman in a male-dominated field staking her territory in real life and in metaphor.
A second code, so to speak is Japanese American culture, hers. In these Aoki takes us to internment camps to anime to Japanese legends and beyond. Across this debut collection we come to see various dimensions of the poet and how what seems disparate collide and collude into unique poetry. No one else could write these marvelous poems – enjoy!—- Kimiko HaHN, Author of Foreign Bodies
Of the book’s signature poem, “Slouching like a velvet rope”:
“This poem unwinds toward unexpected shifts and turns in just a few lines. And it manages a kind of lyric punch at the mention of each image.”—- Jericho Brown, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Tradition and judge for the 2021 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize
Breakpoint is an evocative mixture of sensual experiences, and mathematically infused linguistic patterns. Coding offers a way to store and retrieve details, a blueprint for narratives that link the poems to love, trust, and persistence/resilience. Much like a word problem, the poems underscore the way we store and retrieve details. Of the many ways we can remember – sound, taste, smell, texture – coding allows us to leave a trail in the chaos of random experiences where those details may be easily reached and reassembled. Reminiscent of Alice Fulton’s Fractal Poetics, these poems assemble, conflate and arrange: what we know, what we feel, and what we remember. You don’t have to be a coder to know it’s love when memory and language share the same equation.—- Colleen J. MCELROY WHOSE latest collection of poems, BLOOD MEMORY, was listed as a Paterson Poetry Award selection
“In Breakpoint, Betsy Aoki sharpens the nerves of her poems, applying, brilliantly, the terse grammar of computer code to family immigration stories, from detention camp incarceration to the speaker’s “coder-girl” design for a game in which female characters use combat as an
unapologetic mode of self-making— all cast against the glaringly white backdrop of Silicon Valley.
Aoki’s poems are restless, allusive, spikey, mournful, mystical, yearning, lovely, and always always open to the attention and sway of language over time.”–— Dorothy Barresi, Judge of Patricia Bibby First Book Award and author of What We Did While We Made More Guns
Several years ago, a friend of mine who is one of the too-rare women leading engineering teams at some of the biggest tech companies told me that when interviewing for new software engineers, she asked about their creative pursuits. In her experience, the best engineers were also musicians, writers, crafters, artists.
Evoking and referencing sci-fi and science, fables and fantasy, technology and trauma, code and culture, Betsy Aoki’s Breakpoint is a unique techno-literary work, and I hope it introduces techno-lit as a genre. Breakpoint unveils what those of us in the world of tech, like my friend, have long known, contrary to popular belief: Creating innovative tech is equal parts art and science.
You don’t have to work in tech to experience technology as inextricably intertwined with your life. Aoki captures it as an ever-presence, for good and bad, in our work, relationships, health, and even our memory. Breakpoint is haunting, as I find all good sci-fi to be, and it is visceral, as excellent drama is. Like the very best code, Breakpoint is also both clean and beautiful, with no word or command wasted.— Elisa Camahort Page, Entrepreneur and Author, Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All
Book Club leaders and librarians may be interested in the following resources based on Breakpoint:
For Book Club Leaders: Discussion Questions
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