Inclusion in Ed Steck’s The Garden

garden_cover_giantThe Garden
by Ed Steck
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013
104 pages / $14  Buy from UDP








If the Romantic model of the garden is cultivation, then the Post-War model is invasion. Robert Duncan inquires of that famous, primordial garden, “is it dream or memory? homeland of the pleasure principle in the libidinal sea, an island girt round with forbidding walls?”[1] And of ornamentation, William Carlos Williams reminds us “that the bomb also is a flower.”[2] The multiflorous gardens of Ronald Johnson abstract whole histories for admission into their horticultural field. Rampancy, tended by besieged consciousnesses, overruns “the old garden-ground of boyish days.”[3]

The degradation of idealized forms is, of course, a hallmark of post-modernism, but the temptation of placing the world within the garden, or enlarging one’s garden infinitely, enacts a dialogue of control and ownership that becomes problematic for any anti-imperialistic project. Similarly, there is the risk of oversimplification that an artist runs when attempting to account for the volume of media produced around the event of war. Ed Steck’s The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, published by Ugly Duckling Presse, continues the erosion of privileged space begun midcentury with an all-important newness equipped to navigate the bizarre landscape of the 21st.

As part of the UDP’s Dossier Series, the book is itself stylistically heterogeneous, including prose, poetry, found text, documentary, and image. As per the publisher’s note, all books in the series display “an investigative impulse”[4]. While this certainly pertains to the book’s investigation into source materials, The Garden also investigates the relationship of languages’ materiality, which concurs with their space, to a distinct event occurring with and within a warzone. The book’s multimedia are presented in six parts.

The opening to The Garden comprises a log of correspondence between a Dynamically Generated Virtual Perimeter (DGVP) and a Remote System Administrative Monitor (RSAM), with deviations into training manuals and guides. There is an appendix at the back of the book that includes relevant abbreviations and some basic information about the, what I’ll call, characters in this section. Apart from being a helpful tool to those unfamiliar with military geofencing (instantiated here by a DGVP), the appendix recreates for the reader the act of reference, just as the RSAM might consult a training manual. This mechanism, as well as the text’s appropriation of military documents, are conceptualist techniques, and they add a certain gravitas to the work. The heavily jargonized language of military procedures defamiliarizes and essentializes English. However, the crafted presentation is able to insert broader considerations of epistemology and ontology into its decidedly more functional language.

A good example for the dichotomy I’m trying to draw appears when the DGVP internally logs both “Sequence: 01-012 Enabled” and “I am self I am self aware.”[5] In doing so, this computer program, which generates a virtual representation of space as for GPS mapping or military simulation, displays an invented programming language and a human consciousness. It reminds me of any amount of science fiction that takes on the speculative project of imagining the interplay between sentience and technology begun with Shelley’s Frankenstein and reaching a particularly violent pitch through the voice of AM in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream in 1966. An acute difference being, of course, that DGVPs are actively involved in the brutality of modern war.

The introductory section also reveals an essential element of the book’s aesthetic: the copula. Page 12 has sixteen sentences. In eleven, “is” functions as the main verb. In a general poetic sense, “is” does the work of all metaphor, explicitly or otherwise. But, in addition, the abundance of “is” produces an effect uniquely relevant to this text. Namely, it performs a doubling act in the same way a geofencing program doubles the data of a landscape. As is noted “there is a… looping point… The looping point will not be noted.”[6]

Replication remains a theme and device of The Garden. In that sense, the book’s synthetic environment seems close to more conventional gardens and their metaphors. Indeed, the second section, called The Garden, introduces an ostensibly real garden serving as “a fictional setting for actual event”[7], which I call the narrative. With little in the way of direct citation within the text, if imposed, the narrative doubling seems to me the most contrived duplication in the book. But, both its presence and its contents get to essential thematic tensions of the book: humanity in the information age; experience confronting information; endurance and fragility.

Through those terms, The Garden reminds me of other recent projects dealing with the reality created when indiscrete space acts as an informational storehouse; a world in which natural language is no longer the most efficient means of data storage. Juliana Spahr’s This Connection of Everyone with Lungs attempts to find the human within the deluge of wartime media, or, “all of us with all of that.”[8] Noah Eli Gordon’s The Source (Futurepoem, 2011) uses procedural writing to level thousands of urtexts into a single volume. As I see it, the anxiety, centered around a perceived loss of function for language craft and its vessels, affects a lot of current projects.

The Garden’s narrative is rightfully tragic, and rather than oversimplify it, I will restate that the book too struggles with the way experience becomes information, which, as the book reminds us, is co-opted. So the narrative, or, the “malfunctioning sprawl of warfare fiction,”[9] is repeated with variation as a fugue. The problem of documentation appears (twice) neatly as:

To observe technical renditions of death into symbolized text block structures is a very banal thing, entirely constructed as if data is being compiled by its own unintelligible disintegration.[10]

These “symbolized text block structures” may refer to the poetic form used at length in the fifth section, The Hologram, but the description also resonates with images portrayed in section three, The Motorcycle. In that way, the book references itself both explicitly and textually creating yet another mirroring. The rhyming of text blocks with rectilinear images shares an affinity with an earlier book in UDP’s Dossier Series, Cole Swensen’s Greensward (2010), also about gardens.

By casting the DGVP, the objective chronicler of warfare, and RSAM, the subjective, transhuman, other, as interlocutors, The Garden furthers the book’s case that information generation, and consequently documentation, becomes difficult to ascribe to one source. What, then, of the book itself. Is it a skeuomorph, merely enacting the no longer necessary form of bound information? Does it only redouble, at a slower rate, that which is being doubled better and faster by digital process?

One thing Ed Steck’s, The Garden, does is that painfully difficult act of reminding society of its culpability and collusion with wartime event. The Garden’s garden is self-generated and determines its own borders; therefore, it includes society and its activities in ongoing process, regardless of consent or awareness. This is markedly different from the postwar poets’ tendency to amalgamate space and event into poetic architecture. Instead, it is a snapshot, “an encrypted screenshot,”[11] of a process, precisely described, that is otherwise indigestible or, at least, overlooked.

Joyelle McSweeney’s oft-discussed Necropastoral is described, in part (and if apophatically), as:

The Necropastoral is not an “alternative” version of reality but it is a place where the farcical and outrageous horrors of Anthopocenic “life” are made visible as Death. [12]

Humans have always distorted death, if for nothing more than psychological well-being. The momentum of postwar poets, continuing into McSweeny’s and others’ work, like The Garden, push us to consider death as it is, unembellished. The Garden procedurally loops the moment in which death is represented. In doing so, it is able to take nothing away from death’s stark horror (“Crush chest cavity”[13]), yet, it subverts, if momentarily, the forward, mechanized motion of the war machine. Paradoxically, by looping the moment of death it forestalls further death by simulating a malfunction in the machine. In other words, the reader is forced to “question the Dynamically Generated Virtual Perimeter.”[14] This act artificially represents a solution, but, importantly, does not prevent atrocity.

There are seemingly countless ways to reenter The Garden. It offers lapidary statements with huge social considerations. Its form invents, while it refers. Above all it is relevant: to the present, to poetry, to art, to language, to war, and ramifications of each. That is to say it is participating in what is called the conversation. Why the concern with gardens? Discrete (concrete) vs indiscrete (imaginary?) space? A sense of longing or nostalgia for simpler (more understandable (consumable??)) times? Is it a mytho-etymology resonating with a post-911, post-“fall” america? Is it the death throes of books as we know them?

Whatever the moment pivots upon, its processes are being dutifully recorded in The Garden and elsewhere. So, etiologically, “a system ends with an introduction,”[15] and The Garden progresses a larger conversation through looping, as a needle moves towards a center by concentrism.


[1] Duncan, Robert. Roots and Branches. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York: 1964, pg 146

[2] Williams, William Carlos. Asphodel, That Greeny Flower. New Directions, New York: 1995, pg 23

[3] Keats, John. The Complete Poems of John Keats. Endymion, Book IV, ln. 784. Random House, New York: 1994, pg 132

[4] Ugly Duckling Presse Website:

[5] Steck, Ed. The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation. Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, NY: 2013, pg 23

[6] Ibid. pg 14

[7] Ibid. pg 76

[8] Spahr, Juliana. This Connection of Everyone with Lungs. University of California Press, Oakland, CA: 2005, pg 75

[9] Steck, Ed. The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation. Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, NY: 2013, pg 75

[10] Ibid. pg 75 & 77

[11] Ibid. pg 19

[12] McSweeney, Joyelle. “What is the Necropastoral?” Harriet: A Blog, The Poetry Foundation, Chicago, IL: 2014:

[13] Steck, Ed. The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation. Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, NY: 2013, pg 74

[14] Ibid. pg 107

[15] Ibid. pg 81


Joe Fritsch is a poet whose work can be found online at Underwater New York and Mad House Journal. Originally from Rochester, New York, Joe is Program Coordinator at Poets House in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn.

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One Comment

  1. Poires Poires

      I know ed steck scorned me but I can’t remember the particulars of the situation(s). I will probably read this.