What we are up to

My Geppetto #6

by Nick Holloway

A series of interviews exploring the influences of some of our favourite artists and clever clogses... who is your Geppetto?

This week we hear from Tom Chivers, poet and founder of his own small press, Penned In The Margins. Tom's poems have been described as ‘perfect little machines of their time, which will grow all the more beautiful when they begin to rust’ (Stride).

What artist / human / thing(s) are you most influenced by?

Apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy The Matrix.

What is it about the films that you find intriguing?

I love that fusion of cod philosophy, religious allegory and kick-ass action with big guns The Matrix has made its own. The entire conceit of the films – that reality is an illusion and the world as we know it is an elaborately coded computer simulation – is, of course, Buddhism for the Nintendo generation. But the style with which the Wachowski brothers bring it off is superb.

If you were to pick your favourite film of the trilogy, what would it be?

It’s impossible not to say the first film, The Matrix (1999). It contains all the crucial scenes, the moments that stick in your head: Neo crawling around his office to escape the agents; following the white rabbit; accepting the red pill and “waking up”; his initial training with Morpheus and subsequent development into matter-bending superhero. I mean, the whole thing is astonishing. That famous scene where Morpheus and Neo fight in the virtual dojo is great fun. (If you enjoy that more-than-slightly pretentious combination of abstract maxims and fighting, you’ll love the book Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams.)

Many consider Reloaded and Revolutions (both 2003) to be self-indulgent cash-ins. I disagree. The ways in which the sequels draw out the initial metaphors of the first film are superb and engaging for anyone even lightly versed in computer programming. For instance, in Reloaded we discover that The Matrix is merely the latest, flawed version of many attempts to control the human race – a beta software release, as it were. The whole vocabulary of the trilogy is dripping with terms pilfered from computing: system architecture, keys, back doors, the source, rogue programmes, clones, viruses… I could go on.

Is there anything about the films you don't like?

I’m tempted to say Keanu Reeves, he is completely out-acted by Hugo Weaving’s sinister Agent Smith. In the first film he plays the drop-out hacker well, but that’s because it’s the closest approximation to the stoner dude he played in Bill & Ted. Even in all his snazzy black leather gear, I expected him to do the Wyld Stallyns guitar solo at any time. I also find Neo’s relationship with Trinity, whilst allegorically appealing, unconvincing on a human level. Frankly, he’s dull, and she’s a coldfish.

What work of yours most bears evidence of the films' influence?

I’ve been trying to write a long poem with lots of syntactic fractures and injections of programming language. Predictably, I’m not getting very far, but I think it has promise. What I really want to capture, and what I’m so impressed by in The Matrix, is that sense of the city as a mock-up, a generic cardboard model of the real thing. The films’ subtle use of lighting and colour evoke an urban environment that is unreal, or rather hyper-real.

Of existing work, a poem I wrote for my residency at The Bishopsgate Institute is lifted, albeit unconsciously, from the climax of Reloaded, where Neo meets The Architect of The Matrix. It's called 'The Coder':

So, let's meet the coder;

he is the system architect.

You'll find him an empty office,

debugging the backend.

He parses, line by line,

the grand façade, the face;

Bishopsgate glitches.

A fine mist rises, envelops

the building. Firewall, on.

The City accepts this new

configuration. He is pleased,

rocks back on his swivel chair,

hears a grumble of piping.

Sudden stink of soil, oysters.

The hard disc whirrs as

a programme loads up.

The coder smiles and clicks.

Cutout figures begin to stalk

an imagined corridor,

form rows in a classroom.

Two cutouts assume

a common Yoga position;

in the Hall a faceless pianist

plays to a wedge of seating.

There is a knock at the door.

The coder stops, smiles briefly

and reaches down for

the Anti-Virus software.


Tom's debut collection, How To Build A City, is available now from Salt Publishing (following the link will also lead you to an excerpt from the book).

You can read the rest of the poems written during the Bishopsgate poetry residency here.