Copies of Warehouse Zone. Photo by Publication Studio (Guelph, Ontario)
Open to a random page of Zane Koss’s Warehouse Zone—a small (4” x 5”), short (approx. 44 pgs.), unassuming edition, published with a plain boxboard brown cover by Publication Studio in Guelph, Ontario—and you’ll find something like this:
zero eight pick one each *beep* pick
one each one ready one one three
pick three each *beep* pick three
each three ready three bravo zero one
pick one each one ready one zero
seven pick one each *beep* pick one
each one ready one charlie zero three
pick three each *beep* pick three
each three ready … three ready three
delta one three pick two each *beep*
pick two each two ready two two four
alpha zero three pick one each *beep*
pick one each one ready one one zero
pick two each *beep* pick two each
two ready one confirm one no pick
two each two two ready delta zero
nine pick two each *beep* pick two
To those familiar with conceptual poetry, it’s clear that Koss’s work takes a cue from some of the genre’s well-trodden territory: mimicking the processes of systematic transcription, repetition, and sheer amassment of text employed by conceptual writers, Warehouse Zone is composed almost entirely of dialogue (all of it in the form pictured above) between Zane and the robot voice of the order picking computer system he works with. (“[i said, i’ve come up with a name for her: robo-erta … roboerta … roberta. jessica says: that’s funny, i just call her bitch]”.) Only occasionally is this morass interrupted by the speaker’s sometimes snarky, sometimes desperate, and always raw observations of the bleakness and vapidity of his workplace.
Overall, Koss balances these elements brilliantly, engineering a text whose impact actually far exceeds the effects promised by any pure conceptualism. By juxtaposing walls of opaque data with too-brief commentary and expressiveness, Warehouse Zone doesn’t give us perspective on “the precise level of concentration between oblivion and engagement that monotonous labour requires,” so much as it ensnares us within that concentration. We’re forced to trudge, bit by bit, through every task and instruction; we even relive each of Zane and his computer’s infuriating errors and mistranslations in precise detail. Yet we also cannot allow our attention to drift or wane, since this would mean missing the jolts of human consciousness that give Warehouse Zone its verve, if not its substance. These experiences make disturbingly palpable the ways human life grinds against postmodern mechanized work.
The uniquely affective economy Warehouse Zone activates gives credence to Koss’s claim (in the afterword) that the book, despite its close affinities with conceptualist texts, “is not a conceptual poem.” If much conceptual work is designed to stage its content as a kind of monument, diorama, or think-piece whose real-life subject matter can be observed from a distance, Koss persuades us to feel the weight of digital atomism as it permeates not only the sphere of information and thought, but also the physical space of the “warehouse zone” and the efforts of the worker’s voice and body.
Most strikingly, he is able to do this because, as both writer and worker, he too feels this weight. Koss goes on:
Warehouse Zone is not a conceptual poem. Warehouse Zone is a lyric poem, insofar as it is not a transcription of work, but the imaginative reconstruction thereof. As I wrote the poem in the mornings before I started work, I imagined how much easier it would be to photograph an order sheet at work on my phone and then write it out as though the poem were that actual order. This would have, of course, saved me from having to imagine working, when I would have preferred to be doing anything other than imagining working.
Koss’s story recalls a memorable episode from Warehouse Zone in which Zane asks his supervisor “if i can get paid for the hours i worked in my dreams.” All told, it’s a good question, one relevant not only to the worker-writer but also to the author-reader, especially in a literary environment where (as evidenced, for example, by the popularity of conceptual writing) reading and writing often mean literally replicating the same structures of oppression from which art was meant to save us. It might not be surprising that Warehouse Zone doesn’t go so far as to offer definitive answers. Nonetheless, that it allows us to raise this question, and others of its kind, is a testament to the book’s rich and surprising insight.
MicroLit Reviews is an ongoing series on the Town Crier. We’re looking for 400-600 word reviews of micro press books, chapbooks, broadsides, zines, visual poetry, digital literature projects, and everything else weird and wonderful being made in literary communities across North America. Please send all submissions or pitches to towncrieronline [at] gmail.com with the subject heading: MicroLit Reviews Submission. Submissions are ongoing. Feel free to inquire about review copies.