Review: Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács

Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish agender writer and reviewer, and the editor of the award-winning Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. Thank you to Takács for sending #EnbyLife Journal an ARC of eir debut poetry collection Algorithmic Shapeshifting, a collection that spans languages and genders, countries and universes. A collection that made me sit up and take notice.

As I swipe through the first few pages of this volume on my tablet, the first thing I observe is the contents pages are themselves a form of poetry, each title merging and chorusing with the next: ‘Trans love is / A Self-Contained Riot of Lights’. Each individual title itself is poignant and perfect, causing me to whisper them out loud as I read – I want to feel the taste and movement of every word on my tongue like ‘Rays of Light, Stretching’. I find myself asking, can everything about a poetry collection be a poem? How do I classify poetry in this instance?

Some folks (mostly white cis straight blokes) would have you believe that poetry can only be written by those with voices like theirs and the experiences Bogi draws on (as a queer, trans, non-Western, disabled, immigrant writer) are not part of the poetic canon. And some folks would have you believe that speculative fiction poetry is not ‘real poetry’. But as a trans spec-fic poet myself, I’d roll my eyes at them, hard. Because Bogi is canon. Algorithmic Shapeshifting is part of the ever-flourishing landscape of poetry by marginalised folks and this poetry matters. It makes a difference.

The scope of Takács’s poetry is extensive: speculative fiction story-telling is woven through Jewish life and Talmudic history, interlaced with experiences of being queer, trans and disabled. One of the most joyous parts of reading eir book was pinpointing some of my favourite poetic devices (especially those I utilise in my own writing):

  1. swerving sentences and swift enjambments to shock and engage the reader (‘You will need the riper gem-flowers, / those that grow on cliff faces / around this time of the year; / they attach to flesh easier.’ – ‘A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers’)
  2. the use of gore and body horror (‘all tunnels burrow into flesh. are you sufficiently unsettled?’ – ‘The Oracle is DARPA’)
  3. and the mentions of gender diverse pronouns, which is something I am seeing more and more in spec-fic and poetry (and in books like this one, which fuse together both) and it fills my little enby heart with ‘fluffy marigolds and dusky roses’ – (‘The Bursting Season’).

My favourite poems in this collection included: the gory staccato of ‘Continuity Imperative’, the lovingly kink-adjacent ‘Gently Chew to Soften the Ridges,’ and the playful yet urgent ‘The Tiny English-Hungarian Phrasebook for Visiting Extraterrestrials’.

It’s books like Algorithmic Shapeshifting that give voice to marginalised writers, they ‘unfurl petals and break into sunlight’ the importance of writing from lived experience and reading underrepresented voices (‘Grow’).

Rating: 5 out of 5 gem-flowers.

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About the author

Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish agender trans person (e/em/eir/emself or they pronouns) currently living in the United States with eir family and a congregation of books. Bogi writes, edits, and reviews speculative fiction and poetry. E is the winner of the Lambda Literary award for editing Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, and a finalist for the Hugo and Locus awards. Bogi talks about books at www.bogireadstheworld.com and you can also find em as @bogiperson on Twitter, Patreon and Instagram. 

About the reviewer

Rae White is a non-binary transgender poet, writer and zinester, and the founding editor of #EnbyLife Journal. Their poetry collection Milk Teeth (University of Queensland Press) won the 2017 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, was shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry and commended in the 2018 Anne Elder Award. Rae’s poem ‘what even r u?’ placed second in the 2017 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Their poetry has been published in Cordite Poetry Review, Meanjin Quarterly, OverlandRabbit and others.

 

Cover photo by Vino Li on Unsplash

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