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Poetry Canadian

Automaton Biographies

by (author) Larissa Lai

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2009
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2009
    List Price

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Shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize

Automaton Biographies is the first full-length solo poetry book by novelist Larissa Lai (When Fox is a Thousand, Salt Fish Girl).

With an ear to the white noise of advertising, pop music, CNN, biotechnology, the Norton Anthology of English Literature, cereal packaging, and MuchMusic, Lai explores the problem of what it means to exist on the boundaries of the human.

The books consists of four long poems: "Rachel," a meditation in the voice of the cyborg figure Rachel from Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner and its source material, Philip K.Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; "nascent fashion," which addresses contemporary war and its excesses; "Ham," which circulates around the chimpanzee named Ham sent up into space as part of the Mercury Redstone missions by NASA in the 1960s and later donated to the Coulston Foundation for biomedicalresearch; and "auto matter," a kind of unfoldingautobiography told in poems.

Ambitious, eloquent, and deeply personal, these poems taken as a whole are a personal and cultural history that jostles us out of our humanness and into our relations to animal, machine, language, and one another.

About the author

Larissa Lai is the author of two novels, When Fox is a Thousand, shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and Salt Fish Girl, shortlisted for the Tiptree Award, the Sunburst Award and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Award; one book of poetry Automaton Biographies, shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Award; and a chapbook, Eggs in the Basement, shortlisted for the bp Nichol Chapbook Award.

Through the 90s, she was a cultural organizer in feminist, GLBTQ and anti-racist communities in Vancouver. Now, as an English professor at the University of British Columbia, she teaches courses on race, memory, and citizenship, as well as on biopower and the poetics of relation.

Rita Wong teaches in Critical + Cultural Studies at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she has developed a humanities course focused on water, with the support of a fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She is currently researching the poetics of water, supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: .

Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women's Poetry and Poetics, Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry, Visions of British Columbia (published for an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery), and Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature. She has a passion for daylighting buried urban streams and for watershed literacy. Wong can be found on twitter at

Larissa Lai's profile page


  • Short-listed, BC Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

Lai makes her point with a precise and emotive execution of rhythm, flow, and diction. What evolves is an unwavering commitment to language and honesty. -make/shift

Automaton Biographies reckons with matters of identity and questions what it is to be human in our current geopolitcal and technological contexts. -Quill and Quire

Part exoskeletal enjambment, part shared soft biology, Automaton Biographies wends through creative industries and uncommon commons, picking up the shards of both our latent futures and our Polaroid pasts. Larissa Lai jacks into a sound system here that is already spinning everything from White Zombie to Elton John. Her stanzas, staccato and severe, deftly kern our ears to new iTunes and weTunes, creating poems that are simultaneously partial, powerful, and ever-emerging from the post-industrial landscapes where new technologies and alienated labor continue to collide.-Mark Nowak

The world is revealed as a circus in Lai's book - "barnum" becomes a verb here - vertiginous, illusory, distracting, surreal; but importantly the work disallows our spectatorship, insists that we grab the trapeze and swing in to speak, question, act. -Canadian Literature

In Automaton Biographies, Larissa Lai machine-tools the poem as a mode of narrative invention into a neuro-spatial surveillance where words become the heat tiles of re-entry tumbling through atmospheres of cyborgian desire, cosmic memory, prosthetic lament, and the dictation of identity. Poetry like this is just what we need for the invasion; writing that honours the debris of the imagination while it sustains the space labs of attention. -Fred Wah

[Larissa Lai's] playful pulling of pop lyrics and manipulation of movie scenarios are filtered through the depth and importance of documenting possible shifts in what it means to be human in an era of increasing technologization.... She pulls the globalized advertising image to the surface so that it operates outside of media function, and we can actually see the social world in which we live, not the peoplesoft version that is continually constructed for us to see. -The Georgia Straight

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