The Poetry Drone: Prophecy for Our Time

The Poetry Drone (known lovingly as the “Po Dro”) is a creation of LA-based poet, David Shook. In a modern-day effort to “beat swords into plowshares” Shook is seeking to arm a drone with—not bombs—but anti-war poems printed on flower paper. The project’s received considerable media attention with write ups in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Vice, Huffington Post, and even a mention in The New Yorker. It is what Dave Harrity of Antler calls “a contemporary act of prophecy, though it professes no religious affiliation.” In his brief interview with Shook, Pedrito Ortiz finds out where Shook got the inspirationally “ludicrous” idea for this project, as well as his take on poetry and politics. To learn more, visit the Kickstarter page here.

—The Editors

Poetry-DronePedrito Ortiz
How did you come up with the idea for the poetry drone?

David Shook I had just translated an interview that Nathalie Handal did with the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, who I admire a lot. In it he discusses his work with the Colectiva de Acciones de Arte, a collective he was a part of under Pinochet, which eventually led to two of his most inspiring projects: writing a poem with a plane in the sky over Queens, and bulldozing another into the Atacama desert in Northern Chile. The next day, I was meeting with a visual artist, my friend Laura Peters, to discuss an installation I had commissioned her to build for a festival, an enormous nose made of foam, about 2’ by 3’, to promote Mario Bellatin’s Shiki Nagaoka. We were discussing the nose, brainstorming other unconventional methods of promoting literature, when our waiter, another friend of mine, approached. He listened in for a second before offering his own seemingly ludicrous suggestion: a poetry drone. He might have been stoned. I left the meeting and immediately went home to google drones, to see if the idea was even possible, affordable, legal. A couple days later I launched my fundraising campaign.

PO Do you consider yourself a political poet?

DS I don’t believe there’s any poetry that’s not political, because poetry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Poetry’s exploration, reappropriation, invention, exploitation, reinforcement, and even utter destruction of language is in some sense political, because language is an instrument of power. I think the “political poetry” genre has been corrupted. Most of it sucks. It’s boring, patronizing, reduced to proselytizing. I look to Latin American poets like Joaquín Pasos, Huidobro, Neruda’s most interesting work. The term “political poet” doesn’t just mean the hacky-sacking, Chaco-wearing, only-yell slam poet at the Occupy camp. Nothing good rhymes with due process.

PO Why drones?

DS Drones, to me, epitomize the dehumanizing nature of systems. It’s absurd that we’ve killed, by remote control, over 3,000 Pakistanis since 2004, because of potential terrorism threats, considering that during roughly the same period only 30 Americans have died because of terrorism within the United States. You know how many of those 30 deaths were perpetuated by Pakistanis? Zero.

There are plenty of other political issues that I think our poetry can and should address, and I hope our poets do so in new and exciting ways.

Pedrito Ortiz is a Nicaraguan poet and playwright. He lives in Jinotepe, where he edits Operación Búfalo, a magazine of art and politics.

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