A Review of Disappearing, Inc. by Laura Esparza

From Gold Wake Press comes a debut collection of poems from Brandon Amico, Disappearing, Inc. Amico is a 2019 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow and a 2017 BOAAT Retreat Fellow. He is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Grant and the Hoepfner Literary Award for poetry. His poetry can be found in a variety of journals including The Awl, The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Booth, Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, and many others. Apart from writing poetry, Amico works as a freelance writer and writes blogs and reviews of books and poems on his website. He is currently on a launch tour for Disappearing, Inc. which explores the shared millennial experience in a social media consumed, capitalist, dying world.

        The book contains three core themes: financial instability, all-consuming social media/technological presence, and perception of the self, all intermingled with internet references, climate change, and existential dread. The first poem in the collection, “Customer Loyalty Program,” captures the essence of the first core theme. Amico evokes a sort of BDSM relationship with capitalist America, of being screwed over by low minimum wage, high national debt, student loans, and the objectification which comes with being labeled by a credit score. He writes, “will the nation spoon us after? / Do we need SSN safewords? / Are we expected to speak with all this debt in our mouths.”

        A similar vein of this theme comes through in the poem “Compulsion.” Amico breaks the poem up into three sections, each one exploring a different stage in life, the first being full of worry about the financial future, the second full of self-doubt from sacrificing passion for financial stability, and the third attempting to reconcile the choices made in the previous two, only to be defeated by the realization that survival demands sacrificing happiness; “no one sings / while waiting for coffee, while staring / at the text conversation and its burbling / ellipses of possibility.”

        Amico also perfectly combines his second and third theme through the persistent feeling of needing to be connected to all things at all times, with multiple poems on the increasing invasiveness of technology and the imbalance that comes with feeling too connected and simultaneously not connected enough. The poem “Push” captures the former and “#MoonGate” the latter. “Push” successfully reproduces the stress that comes with receiving constant reminders from push notifications by putting the reader in exactly that position. The lines run on, each one adding a new reminder, a new task, and each taking away whatever freedom is still left: “Reminder: Call Jerry back. Don’t forget: 6 deadlines, 3 birthdays, and a semiquincentennial celebration to start planning,” and on and on.

        “#MoonGate,” however, does the opposite, focusing on how one must always stay connected to their social media presence out of increasing societal pressure to be perceived as perfect. The poem is in the voice of a (presumably female) person who tells another person, Harold, that they cannot attend the Springtime Ball together because Harold has less than one hundred followers. Readers can only sympathize for Harold as Amico elicits from the reader a sense of inadequacy, of never being good enough.

        References to the Internet come through more directly in the poems “I Hate The Weather Channel,” “Life Hacks For Being A Person,” and “If You Like This,” each using a different internet phenomenon as a metaphor. “I Hate The Weather Channel” explores how clickbait headlines both enhance and distract from the real issue. One line shows how the speaker feels about these clickbait titles: “This clickbait and switch, This Python / Ate WHAT? – yes, ate that exactly… the hollow / of nineteen seconds wasted to fill a hole.” These lines sit among other clickbait titles, causing the reader to become distracted even within the poem itself. The next poem, “Life Hacks For Being A Person,” references the Life Hack phenomenon; it reads more like a recipe, with many of the ingredients being circumstances that are out of a person’s control, with lines such as: “Substitute water, accounting for / air at a given altitude, ego, / attitude, whether parent A / was more helicopter or drone, / more corporal punishment or / peaceful protest. “If You Like This” refers to the commonly employed internet technique where a site suggests other articles/songs/pages in order to keep you on their site. Amico takes this concept and expands on it, with two of the most memorable lines, “Did You Know you can sell your cultivated loneliness at 2¢/word?” and “if you like the sound of your own voice, create Content.”

        Though Amico is mostly consistent in his three core themes, there is one poem that does not fit neatly in with the others. The poem,  “A New Gun Folds Up to Look Just Like A Smartphone,” references a 2016 Huffington Post article of the same name. The poem itself does an excellent job of deriding guns rights activists and the NRA by listing different and increasingly ironic objects the gun folds into. It stands out in almost jarring contrast to the rest of the collection, which is far less transparently political. But Amico strategically places the poem very early in the collection, thereby minimizing the level of disruption.

       Amico skillfully weaves his themes throughout his collection, each poem illuminating a new aspect of the shared millennial experience. His masterful use of language evokes a sense of despair, urgency, and transparency. Disappearing, Inc., published March 2019, can be purchased for $15.95 through Gold Wake Press, Amazon, Powell’s, and Barnes & Noble, among other book retailers.

Laura Esparza is an experimental and hybrids editor of Miracle Monocle.