'TRACTOSAUR' by Amelia Dale
A central premise of Amelia Dale’s work is that it is entirely unconcerned with the valence of the work itself. She makes a poem that is a thing before it is a poem, a thing that never wants to be a ‘poem,’ that nevertheless is or gains something when we call it a poem. Here I want to spend some time with Amelia Dale’s 2015 poem TRACTOSAUR, published by Troll Thread in 2015.
A Word doc, for example (the origin of her PDF poems), a file type with a fairly rudimentary and utilitarian purpose, becomes for Dale a playful space in which the poem can extend itself beyond its limits. The format — an electronic file of white rectangular frames/pages with a basic sans serif font and a wonderfully gnarly-looking illustration rendered in MS Paint or similar — gives us a thing that wants to decimate our concept of the poem, of even the illustrated poem. It is drenched in early-2000s aesthetic, web 1.0 or maybe web 0.5.
The opening narrative, the fall that tractosaur takes with a lady, reads like a deliberate pastiche of a Victorian-era novel. Gentlemen abound. The tractosaur says things like ‘You are extremely obliging, sir’ and the dialogue soon descends. The gentleman says ‘What, sir! Are you tractosaur to tractosaur a tractosaur in that tractosaur?’ The hypnotising effect to which Dale slowly controls the decline of the language in this short narrative opening marks the true reveal of the poem. The refrain of poem sits on the following page, and looks like this:
It appears again a couple of pages later, distorted. The narrative, meanwhile, is increasingly replacing words with ‘tractosaur,’ devolving to noise and ultimately transitioning to the word ‘tractosaur’ over and over again, organised on the page in an almost-neat fashion, with spacing just inconsistent enough to mimic something a child might have formatted. This is part of Dale’s genius. This poem, in fact, is one very good example of how she plays with form so well — how she refuses content any room in a poem whatsoever. The distortions of the image continue, each time with a new fuckery: angled, or changed in texture or even multiplied on a small scale, like the word tractosaur itself. The tractosaur says ‘ROAR’ in one speech bubble.
This is a poem about inanity. It is a poem about entertainment, storytelling, and its ultimate success is how it magages to be none of these things while being about them. I love returning to this poem whenever I’m feeling down about my own writing, whenever I need poetry to slap me in the face and tell me to stop being a whingy, uncreative fool. It’s fun to unpack this, but only because it is such a strong example of how visual poetry or ‘illo poems’ can have another layer added to them in the Internet sense. TRACTOSAUR is a poem but it’s also a package and also it is a treasure. It invites you along for the ride and at no point demands any great thing from you in order to reap its rewards.