Last year was big for Big Brother, and 2014 is shaping up similarly. The queasy ethics of observation continue to fill front pages across the country, from the Snowden affair to the limited release of Google Glass. What is privacy, anyway, in an age of drone strikes and targeted advertising? What are our rights?

These poets—heightened observers by profession—have contributed new works, political and personal alike, entering into a larger dialogue on what it means to have open eyes and ears in the twenty-first century. Poetry is not a mirror held up to the world; it is a lens.

Andrew Ridker

Inside Beyonce
My dad once walked in on my dream

       Don’t you have any privacy settings
An old man was massaging my scalp in a bath
and it felt delicious, then Dad barged in
                       Buy Pantene Rinse for
       I only have dreams of people streaming
       into my dreams

        Oh wait, that’s Imogen
I’ve blocked her.  Her traffic causes migraines.
         She’s a megaplex of selfies
If she shat out scrabble tiles, she’d have better spelling
         No, it’s Beyonce, I’ve been waiting
        forever to gain access
Is she still alive

      Boring! Beyonce’s just thanking God
      and her ten thousand handlers
I don’t think she’s alive
      The more people you thank, the more you’re worth
I have no one to thank. I’m worthless
     I wish I had a paywall to hide behind
I’d kill myself
I keep his carbon data in a locket
      Your headvoice is oily.  It needs a rinse
His embalmed traffic is inside me
                  Latest news on Pwanu Trafficking  
       I hear they get exiled into their bodies
Gross, my lipids are now viral.

        Can you zoom in
I see human-trafficking ships over an ocean
of dead links, no, they’re fish
       Your Dream Recall is epic
Then I realize I’m in one too but I don’t care
         Is this an ad-free zone
since this old man’s massaging me.
        This is my hometown
I’m giving you a tour of my reverie
        You’re in my reverie
He used to tickle me with his knuckles, it hurt
          That’s my encrypted memory
as if he didn’t think I knew his thoughts,
but I knew, and he knew I knew
       Stop thinking what I’m thinking

that he loved me more than my sisters
       You’re so full of envy, it’s sad
       how you hack into me
which made me feel secretive and guilty
so I learned to train my thoughts into an
ever long performance
       because there’s nothing inside you,
       you’re just a plug.
But I have this pang.
       It’s my pang.

—Cathy Park Hong


Andante and Filibuster
Remember last month, when he was saying
doomed lovers’ syndrome uproots us all?
They all wanna hear that,
and hanging them out to dry slumpingly caresses
the center for new needs, and we’ll stiffen some near
the walled city and find 100 per cent electricity of the vote.
(Not sure about that.)  Funny you should ask.
We got a small grant to have the house inspected and
as a result of that discovered a small crack
leading from the front door to the basement.
Much thinner air here, although the nation’s salt and pepper
sprinkle the neighborhood.  Hose her down.  Keep trying
to creep out, test ingot possibilities.
Recently in the stores I spotted
preppy garbage.  Grew a ten-gallon hat shopping
in the ruins, how it feels around
the edges—something you do for a moment.  Brutally
obnoxious, I like to know who’s coming and going
and not be bothered.  (Promised

to wake him up in July.)  Still not doing
anything to incur our attention?
Then you have followed all what we have to say.
Cough it up—little green cross-eyed slits.
No bricks.  Just mortar.  Ready.  Ready for a takeover.
The catalpas of reconciliation wilt,
proving, if little else,
why a good presentation matters.

—John Ashbery


Cloud of Mexico Pork
Too easy to laugh at the list of trigger words
In the Analyst’s Security Binder as revealed
By a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. 

A website smirks at Mexico & Pork & Cloud
Amid Al Quaeda (all spellings), Hazmat,
Enriched, Interstate, Nitrate and Phishing

Delicious, unkosher, dark, vague, the Cloud
Of Mexico Pork threatens our borders.
Experts will improve the list, the logarithms,

Adapting meanings to effective analysis beyond
Effective and affective. Adopt and adapt.
Surveillance—French for watching over

Preceded the apprehension of who became
The Disappeared. Their infant children, adopted
Were raised by Intelligence Officers as their own.

If I were a contemporary poet I’d make
A poem consisting entirely of that list.
Random, Shale. Repurposed, Information.

—Robert Pinsky


The Ides of July
’Twas the summer of ’13, Edward Snowden was in flight
The state was coming down on him with all its craven might.
Back in the homeland, patriotic, freedom-loving souls
Debate the merits of A. Weiner’s latest Twitter pose
(An epic act of self-surveillance, goodness only knows).
I ogle royal baby, scan lobby video feed
Modern life is all about looking and being seen.

July 24, 2013

—Charles Bernstein


He’s a Runner
For some, the anxiety becomes charisma. You know you’ve been spotted like a dalmatian/hysteria/numb, nigga playing god or artman/atman/fugitive/furtive/figurative/urge to give or even gather the tiny eternity of a chasm where fame and anonymity shadow this black american life like a missing language/myth or karmic backlash or the tangle from django to shango, Griot, growl, row of owls but one treehouse on the perch to signal purchase or that those roving eyes are to scale or for sale and forever. My map to the new world is through the foot which was the drum in the field which trusts the run/don’t kneel/ to mean, to me, to medium—romance, which these days is about disappearing and in the film I’m making it’s a black entertainer’s main thing, remember backwards, lack words, excess words, words that are drums, words that beat me, words that beat me to it, words I beat you with or for or forefather words or for example, just 8 lantered minutes of montage of black men and women running, from the cops, from their mothers, from their wives, from their husbands, from their mistresses, from their masters, and re-masters, from their children, from the confessions, from their triumphs, from the sun gods, from the humming neon of progress and slow change, from the gold chain, from the gold medal, from the training, from the narcissism of differences small and large, in the rain, from the rain, to the rain, tainted love, from the urge to run, from themselves—And the final shot, where it all converges, a spotlight with no one in it and do you get too poignant or make a subtle shift in pitch to reach the place that’s neither ironic nor overly earnest which is where the imagination makes us real to ourselves on either side of time and space/intangible and certain and chimes jingling in the race toward nirvana     calm as invisible camels    calm as a blues echo in the footsteps of an iambic soldier, picturing the swift jab of our survival as he runs from out of no where—
—Harmony Holiday



City of the future
in which each subway station’s stairs
lead to the ground floor
of a casino/


What counts
is the role
defined for each piece
by a system of rules saying
how it can move,
not the stuff
the piece is made of.


In the intersection,
a muscular, shirtless man
with small American
flags tied to each wrist –
so that he looks
like a wrestler –
pushes, no, shoves
then catches, a stroller
piled high with plastic bags –
his stuff.


City of the future,
where a tramway to the top
of a peak
opens onto
a wax museum
in which
Michael Jackson
extends one gloved hand

—Rae Armantrout


We cross over an age’s anarchic gyre, we
Get emotional.  We blink.  What are you
Trying to prove sidewalk?  Devoid of the me
That has warned you in bright lights, without

A trace of plausible explanation, we go
Together, take a very hot bath.  Without you,
I am a bundle of sensations.  Oxygen,
Overalls, this pair of rubber boots.  We are

Now in the refrigerator, getting warmer
With our breath.  Listen, you just could not
Go any further with the me, valiant comrade
To this stillness that passes.  I don’t want to

“Grow” anymore.  I just want to sit here
And bathe in our light that blinds, and sing
Songs about rivers or stars.  Plump as a
Lamb, the universe, you and I, in it.  

—Noelle Kocot


Wire Tap Therapy
Redacted, fleshed abstract into a green field—the blacked-out pell-mell space in which one is victim but decoding upward into a sublime (cloudless) tenderpink (raw meat), shown-for-the-first-time (hymen) imperative (you is the subject of any imperative sentence) to wield violence (swing bat). In all of the tapes, you mention “blue” 

(what is that?)

choking you for years, the ochre blue, the veiny fatherly blue, beaten blue in the sedge. In this attached image, a fat infrastructure proctors your throat, unhelpful to the analyst. Listen to yourself. Are you even alive to this pain? All former orphans of collateral damage only point to exhausted landscapes not reported to the secret court, but know


—Richard Greenfield


The Stars are Calling, Skin Sacks
See, your chemical warfare is no warfare I
Bend over the altar, shove 
My tongue into your daylight, finger

Your escape routes, 
The riffs and struts
On wireless maps, a participle medley from your breathing apparatus
Singing the Body Technology, a schizophrenia always giving back.

The way they watched me felt like love,
I said let me write you like love,
Let me write you like love’s fire.

But I missed the star guts crashing theGlobal Market ways,
Crushing me with its gentleman hands, eyes without a face.  

Every man is a symbol
Along the axis of Rorschach etchings.
I see your face again, the fluorescent light

Repeating my face back to me.  Echo chamber,
I learn so much in hiding, my electric nest cake.

Google Maps for the brains attached.  

In Real Life sexual dimensions hold it against us, 
Could not map us out of eleven dimensions.
They would just go on forever, smudging the details down,

Wearing us the fuck, most pleasantly, out.  

Amy King

The Future of Writing in English



After being released from a concentration camp and becoming an exile in Shanghai, Charles K. Bliss invented a language of no sounds. A writing system of symbols to circumvent speech, its manipulations. Ideographic. Ideo. Idea. Ideal as the space between mind and page as silent.

In the future, English writing more and more becomes the opposite of this. Each word must be said aloud before it appears on the screen. Seeing, without saying—that’s the manipulation. From voice, which has become content the way sex is the subtext. The flesh of meaning.

English adopts a notational system of dots and dashes above and between words to approximate tone, to make the speaking silently talk. We can’t trust them, the words, to be the mind behind. A dot. A dash. The speech within speech.


In 2013, a Canadian company released the program ToneCheck that screens emails for potentially conflict-causing language. Post-meeting anger: alert. Late night reach/bite toward a lost lover: don’t.

In Future English, the thread of feeling in each word has become an overt overture, a prioritized primal focal point. Words are color-coded according to an emotional template based on the smallest fluctuations of pulse and temperature in the tips of fingers. What do we encode into words with our bodies as we speak? There is technology for this. It’s right there in red red red.


Dear A,

I just want to say. I have been. I think about. Now you know.

With a feeling,



Jennifer Kronovet


Life During Wartime
Yeah, yeah, said the cab driver. The car TV said: see and be seen is more than a pedestrian slogan. What you want is watching you — the eye of a strange cartoon. Let's stack the multiples, the extra copies of our smaller tasks. There: a calendar year. A pile that has no sense of itself, no desire to look further. A torn out page from a chemistry textbook falling from a window and directing your line of sight from one neighbor's bedroom to another's porch. This is the new surveillance proposal: to sing you a song for you to sing along with. Sing it. I feel close to what I witness. I love an ocean breeze. I love to shut my eyes and be touched. 
Jessica Baran
Babylon Mic Check
As if ears

were not ears but body                                                     


swimming through

a common sounded space                                                                  


How they embrace

it the new ones with nothing


they fear

to lose                     to occupy


the street is to meet

and assemble, greet and garble


what truncheoned man                                                     

would flatten straight out


O Babylon

yours was a beautiful tower


it was no god                                         

struck it down


Maureen N. McLane


Editors' Note: These poems are part of Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics, forthcoming from Black Ocean.

Photograph: fotdmike