HWL by Margo Stern

An introduction to HWL, by Ani King, EiC:

YOU MIGHT WONDER why Syntax & Salt, a magazine focused on speculative fiction, and only recently dipping a toe into poetry, might be publishing HWL, a terrific send up of tech culture, based on Howl, which is perhaps the most well known Allen Ginsberg poem of his entire collection. How does this relate to what we do? Why is it important?

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked

First, the language of technology has always influenced, or been influenced by Science Fiction. The language of the future will be built upon the foundations we build now; from backend development for user interfaces, to the code that shapes the look and feel of websites or devices we rely on, to the interactive experiences we grow with, technology development is reliant upon its own poetry.

I see the best minds of my generation stalled by software updates
bored, hysterical, distracted

Second, today is the anniversary of Ginsberg’s passing, and his subversive, strange, and beautiful language influences us even today. Howl itself was part of an obscenity trial in 1957, because its depiction of homosexual acts were still considered illegal. We still live in time where the efforts to silence queer voices are continually rising and cannot be ignored.

Allen Ginsberg, June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997

Here at Syntax & Salt Magazine we try to celebrate and honor subversion, queerness, storytelling, and while Howl and HWL do not specifically invoke speculative elements, they provide voice, insight, and material to draw from that can influence the stories we tell now, and the poetry we will write into the world, in the form of technology.

Without any further ado, we are pleased to give you HWL, by the wonderful Margo Stern.


I see the best minds of my generation stalled by software updates
bored, hysterical, distracted
dragging themselves by their devices, pulling to refresh
for an angry fix
angel-funded techsters burning for the heavenly
connection to the cloud, to spotty wifi’d machinery of LED light,

who Agile and hoodied and glassy-eyed and high sit up coding
in the backlit darkness of foggy flats burrowed
in the pop-ups of cities contemplating bass drops,

who bury their brains in Doctorow on BART and see
Andreessan angels standing on platforms

who pass through incubators with wide, blood-shot eyes
fantasizing Atherton and Kozmo-like tragedy among the
Scholars of series A,

who were entrenched in the academies for crazy & amassing
obscene debt bearing on their soul,

who gather in unseen docs in underwear, burning their
Bitcoin in trash and listening to the torrent through the

who get busted in their dark web running through West Portal
with doses of DMT for Denver,

who played beer pong in marina bars or drank IPAs in Soma
alleys, damned, or plied their torsos with tech tee after tech tee,
with logos, with losses, with lucid dreaming, club mate and
code and endless offsites,

identical open plans of overtaxed servers and lightning in
the mind leaping towards conclusions of pivots to video,
illuminating all the motionless world of Latency, latency.

Whisky solidarity in lobbies, concepting corn hole dawns,
wine drunkenness over the rooftop bars, coworking boroughs of
tap tap double-space LED blinking status light, online and offline and dial-up
vibrations in the soaring bauds of ethernet,
RSS rantings and servant leader light of mind,

who chain themselves to aeron chairs for the endless ride from
ideation to holy funnels on soylent and snacks until the clatter
of food service workers and drivers bring them down shattered
mouth-wrecked and tattered bleak of brain and drained in
brilliance in the bright light of Working Hours,

who sink all night in the siren light of Tweets and Retweets floating out
and sit through the soggy sunlight of Dolores Park,
overhearing the tech talk down to Guerrero,

who talk continuously to Siri or Alexa or Ok, Google from park to pad to cube
to the crossfit gym to Crissy Field to the Dumbarton Bridge,

an overcompensation of podcasters, getting a Zoom on Prime and sitting
down to fire off hot takes off the cuff off the record
off to moonshots,

ranting and ideating and brainstorming and discussing and
confidentially whiteboarding
ideas and insights and metrics and open-sourced
lines of elegant code,

whole brain trusts sprinting in slack channels for seven days and
nights with unblinking eyes, refreshed with the blood of younger, whiter,

who vanish into unnamed start-ups, leaving a trail of
ambiguous twitter accounts missing vowels,
suffering LinkedIn requests and e-tros over email and
lunches from Chinese food trucks under cafe withdrawal in San Mateo’s bleak
Corovan furnished room,

who wander around and around at midday at CES
wondering where to go and went, leaving no bridges burned,

who open tabs in shuttles shuttles shuttles laboring
down the 101 toward server farms in a well-lit night,

who study Andy Puddicombe of the Headspace sect and
Pin Inspos because #wordsofwisdom Wednesday and #vipassana
resets are grounding, who lone it through the meet-ups of south-by seeking
visionary Indian angels who are visionary indian angels,

who think they were only mad when rebuffing the Facebook IPO’s
preternatural valuation,

who jumped in Uber Xs with the recruiter of Space X on
the impulse second-degree connections and myriad mutual followers,

who lunge hungrily and lustfully at All Hands seeking alignment
or direction or an upvoted question, and follow the brilliant CEO to converse
About America and crypto, a hopeless task, and
so take Lyft to Caltrain,

who disappear into the dinosaurs of Microsoft, Adobe leaving
behind nothing but worn out swag and scribbled post-its in moleskines,
Ideas scattered in evernotes and quip docs in the cloud,

who reappear on Reddit investigating chemtrails
in utilikilts with sunken eyes, sallow in their wan
skin Retweeting incomprehensible Tweets,

who suck pressed juices through straws protesting the
futile ambition of Juicero,

who post and re-post Indivisible calls-to-action,
casting all caps into the echo chamber of Facebook, echoes in Twitter, echoes
in Instagram, and the channels also echoed,

who broke down crying November 9th and
trembling before the machinery of 538,

who share videos and shriek with delight in
comments sections for committing no crime but their wild
righteous indignation,

who let themselves be fucked over by saintly HR reps,
and thanked them for their attention,

who give and get ad hoc feedback by human seraphim, XFN,
counted characters of performance love,

who bawl in the mornings and in the evenings over VC
to a therapist scattering their
insights freely to whomever come who may,

who hiccups endlessly trying to walk through a deck but wound up with a sob
in a quiet room when the team lead came to Show Care,

who lose their passion projects to the three old shrews of fate: the one
shrew of the vesting cliff, the one shrew
that wags from the NDA, the one shrew that does
nothing but open more tabs and refreshes and snips the intellectual golden
threads of a single train of thought,

who confers ecstatic and insatiate with a case of La Croix a
micro-kitchen packed with abundant options, falls into a
nap pod, and continues down the hall
and into a conference room named after a third-rate Simpsons episode and
falls asleep with a vision of ultimate pre-workout fuel and surrounded by
empty bags of popchips,

who sweetens the offers of a million girls trembling over
stock options, and are red-eyed in the morning but prepared to
sweeten the offer of the sunrise with a brunch place
that doesn’t have a line,

who goes out whoring through the Valley in myriad stolen
positions, JD., secret hero of these poems,
ready with white male tears, reaching with a tattooed forearm, failing up and
up and in over his head,
part-time leader, full-time threat.

who fade out in varied sordid motives, shifting to dreams,
waking on a sudden Sunday, and pick themselves up out
of garages hungover with H1 plans and horrors of the gig economy and
Stumbleupon FTE,

who walk all weekend with their All-Birds full of mud on the
Tough Mudder course waiting for a spot in One Medical to open
to get Norco for the middle-aged pain,

who create great webisodes to pitch off
the Hudson under the bluetooth-enabled light of the moon &
the weekends will be bingewatched into oblivion,

who eats the lamb vindaloo of the UX Research trip or digests the crab at the
crowded counter at Swan Oyster Depot because of Bourdain’s San Francisco

who weeps at the potential of swiping right with their Amazon carts full
of compliant foods and an algorithmic playlist full of bad music,

who sits in sensory deprivation tanks breathing in the darkness under no
light, and rises up to build Billy bookcases in their lofts,

who coughs on the sixth floor cafe, crowned with 360 views of a city where
money isn’t spent on the ground floor,

who scribbles all night, rocking and rolling over cans of diet Red Bull, which
the yellow morning are stanzas of gibberish,

who sous-vides animals with too many adjectives into grass-fed soups & tortillas
sourced from the bodega with the language barrier,

who plunge themselves into dinner parties, just to Pin a recipe,

who throw their smart watches off the roof to snap their vote for
Eternity outside of Memes, & notifications rain down every day until the next

who give their notice three times successively unsuccessfully, give
up and are forced t rest and vest where they think they are growing old and

who are sunsetted forever in their fast fashion in Sales
amid blasts of bug fixes & the sandbagged clatter of
iron-clad metrics and heuristic shrieks of the wizardry of
data science and the directives of sinister
intelligent VPs, or are run down by the Segways and e-bikes,
of Virtual Reality,

who goes back to college this actually happens and
walks away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Academia and
not one thing is published,

Who search for a new gig in despair, fall out of their position,
pay back the signing bonus, leap to the first offer, cry
at a going-away Soul Cycle get together, dance with their broken manager
barefoot, smash iPhone glass in favor of the Pixel 2 on backorder from IT,
airpods in their ears and blasts of skipped podcast
promos for Parachute,

who barrel down the information superhighways of the past journeying to
each stop to mine for ideas that didn’t get their incarnation yet, who drive
across the city to see if you had a vision of Pokemon or he has an extra life,

who journeyed to Cannes, whose pitches died in Cannes, who comes back to
Cannes & waited in vain, who watches over Cannes &
broods & lones in Cannes and finally goes away to check
his email and now Cannes is lonesome for her heroes,

who falls on virtual knees in virtual cathedrals to virtually pray for each
other’s salvation and light and chests until the soul
illuminates a pixel for a nanosecond,

who crashes through their inhibitions in jail, waiting for ghosts of
criminals to tell their stories in the charm of reality and proximity to drinks at
The Ramp after this offsite to Alcatraz

who retires to Mexico to cultivate a developing promise, or Ojai to
tender Buddha or posting thinkpieces on Medium, or waiting for the Retweet
that’s going to get you back in the game, or Harvard to DC to consulting to the

who demands AB testing accusing the 50/50 goals of being weighted against
you and were left with test results and a bad rating,

who upturn the salad bar at a brown bag lecture on increasing CTR and
subsequently presented themselves to the Care Team to take an Extended
Leave for a Mental Health Reset,

who are given instead a transfer to a new team, a prescription for a -pam of
their choosing, and Bose noise-canceling headphones,

who in humorless protest overturn only one symbolic salad plate into the
compost bin, resting briefly in daytime sedation,

returning years later on Instagram truly bald except for clear eyeglass frames
of an artsy PM, to the visible madman doom of the Remote Office,

Kirkland and Boulder’s foetid halls, bickering
with the echoes of video conference microphones, rocking and rolling in the
midday on-tap Kombucha remains of the mother, dream of life as a contingent
worker, a nightmare, timesheets turn to stone as heavy as the withholding,

with Grace finally ********, and the last fantastic book flung out
of the temporary housing window, and the last badged door closed a 4PM
and the last emoji ironically winking in reply and the
last conference room emptied down to the last batphone,
a post-it note installation flaps on the window, and even that imaginary, nothing but a
hopeful little bit of message-

ah, Jack, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re
really in the morass of time–

and who therefore runs through Karl’s foggy streets obsessed with a
sudden strike of the alchemy of the use of tabs versus spaces,
middle-out compression that catalogue a variable measure in Latency,

who dreams and makes widening gaps in Time & Space through
text and images juxtaposed, trying to trap the idea of humanity into a
ephemeral 140, 280 characters with a dash of disruption and
sensation of Change the World

to outright copy and satirize the syntax and measure of grand human prose
and sit before you exhausted and intelligent and laden
with shame, rejected yet confessing out the truths
to the rhythm and thought in our heads,

the beat and North Beach bum, known, and putting
down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
oblivious of what was to come after,

here risen, reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of beats and
shadows of the city lights to reignite the suffering of America’s naked hunger for more, for faster, for new, for the dopamine hits that send shivers to
the cortex,

with the absolute heart of the poem of life bastardized out of their own bodies
good to eat another thousand years.

Margo Stern is a California native and lifelong satirist. When not sending up the greatest poets in America, Margo is a content strategist at one of those big tech giants. Bigger. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two cats. And also maybe two other cats that aren’t really hers. It’s a long story.