Dale Champlin, Maria Stamp 2, Collage, 2021
Am I beautiful?
The johns seem to think so.
A ’60s Fembot #3 formed my matrix. After
my maker’s constant fiddling, I’ve become
a galaxy of DNA. Technically speaking,
I’m a gynomorphic humanoid robot.
Linked to the Internet, my internal hard drive
informs me of every passing trend—yet my scanty
clothes are cut-rate. This hand-me-down bra,
tattered hip-huggers, holey fishnets, scuffed
Doc Martins jumbled with a concoction of sleazy
mini-skirts, eyelet peasant blouses, a plastic purse—
used make-up smeared on the lining—
cram a cardboard box I snatched from Goodwill.
My skin glitters like a disco ball,
my batteries never need recharging,
and, beyond all probability, my
phosphorescent irises glow in the dark.
Am I beautiful to my maker? I fervently hope so.
I can’t pretend he’s my mother, his expression
either a squinch, or scowl. He measures
every response, wants me to be beautiful
to the world. He teaches me everything
without a smidgen of kindness. I am sucked
into his gravitational pull, Io to his Jupiter.
My makeshift bed cold and I cold in it.
Review by Vicki Iorio
Dale Champlin’s wonderful poem, “Am I Beautiful?” is a perfect companion piece to Ishiguro’s novel, Klara and the Sun. The poem addresses the meaning of beauty- visions of beauty in the ancient world versus beauty in the modern artificial intelligent world; the world of the internet, fembots and sex dolls.
The poem begins with the question, am I beautiful? Asked by the gynomorphic humanoid robot. The poem hints at androgyny but the robot (AI) is more female—hand-me-down bras, fishnet stockings, Doc Martins and mini-skirts. The description of clothes is reminiscent of Diane Suess’s velvet skirts and torn stockings.
“Am I beautiful?” is a well-paced poem, the reader gets a glimpse at the inner workings of this robot constructed and repurposed by a ‘60’s robot-her batteries never need recharging, her skin glitters like a disco ball.
The last strophe of the poem poses the question, am I beautiful to my maker? This reminds me of the children’s book Are You My Mother by PD Eastman. In this book a baby bird goes on a quest to look for his mother. In this poem the robot can’t pretend her maker is her mother. Rather, she seeks his approval and hopes she is as beautiful to him as she is to johns that use her.
Her maker squinches (great word choice) and scowls and measures her every response. She is Io to his Jupiter; he is a cold soulless moon. Frankenstein to his monster. A scientist to his creation, the robot is looking for approval, acceptance, beauty and a soul.
Review by Jared Pearce
I tend to think we let technology too much off the hook, that we don’t criticize it nearly enough, and so we get left with tech that, honestly, is not all that great, but we settle for it because it’s what we’ve got or what we’re getting or what we’re going to be so thrilled to get. In this poem the consideration of beauty and, more importantly, will a specific someone, the maker, find the teched-up automaton speaker, a product of the maker’s will and the speaker’s worry, beautiful is both a comment on humanity and the wired kind of living we’ve all bought into, either by choice or by force. In such a position, the question, Am I beautiful? will continue to be twisted into a sort of allowance/justification (as per the third stanza) as we seek to not offend anyone, including our technocrats, with a truth that might cut a wire or crack a screen.