In his debut lyric essay collection, Anthony Michael Morena aims an epigrammatic lens at the gold-plated phonograph record launched with the twin Voyager spacecrafts in 1977. The Golden Record contains a ‘70s mixtape of words, pictures, and music –118 images, a collage of Earth sounds, 27 musical tracks, and greetings in 55 languages. Morena takes a similar tack in his ekphrastic consideration, transmitting his own record of the Golden Record by using a bricolage of historical fact, imagination, and personal reflection.
Like the interstellar record’s tracks, Morena’s lyric “tracks” take a variety of forms. There is a joke (“A producer calls up Arnold Schwarzenegger one day and …”), a micro-fiction (“Carl Sagan comes home from a long day at NASA …), a flash story, and an accentual poem. Threads run through the book on interspersed pages. One thread imagines the various alien species who might receive the Golden Record, and it’s likely that none of the speculations ends the way Carl Sagan and the UN Outer Space Committee hoped. Another thread considers the context of a haunting Bulgarian folk song included on the gold-plated recording. “The aliens who find Voyager listen to ‘Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin.’ They look at each other, nodding their bulbous, testicle-shaped heads, and know, yes, this is the sound of a well-fed people.”
Often, the book focuses on what’s not on the record. No photo of a naked man and a naked woman. No hip hop. No gay couples. No Grandmaster Flash. Many of the book’s pages contain only one paragraph, or a single word, with each snippet floating in a white space that invites further rumination. Zooming the lens way, way out, the book asks us to consider humanity’s need to nail down our context in the universe. Zooming in invites us to explore personal context. In some of the fragments, Morena explores his own sense of alienation after moving from Brooklyn to Tel Aviv. As Morena explains in our interview, “it’s not one obsession but a few different things that the record unifies. There’s space, there’s culture, love of music, science fiction, nostalgia, social justice, aesthetics.” In effect, his debut collection elegantly and soulfully reaches to grasp the vastness of space, human experience, and manifestations of our attempts to matter.