Andrew Dodds, I, Sparkie
Nick Thurston, Ed.
(Information as Material, 2013)
In 1958, a budgie from Newcastle, U.K. named Sparkie received an award for having the largest vocabulary of any known bird. Raised by Mattie Williams, as a surrogate for her lack of children, Sparkie’s vocabulary of 531 words, 383 sentences and eight complete nursery rhymes was prodigious and initiated a performing, endorsement, and recording career. Dodds and Thurston, with I, Sparkie, explore Sparkie’s (and Mattie’s) biography. They include a fascinating series of archival transcripts, essays, photographs and recordings (included on a CD) that explore Sparkie’s intelligence and how his exceptional vocabulary undermines our assumptions of cognition and speech. Sparkie was a celebrity, famous for speaking people’s words. His performances, incited by Mattie’s conversational prompts, uncannily suggest more contemporary (human) celebrities and politicians who parrot the words of their handlers and funders.
I, Sparkie was published by Information as Material—Simon Morris and Nick Thurston’s U.K.-based press—placing the book within a back-catalogue primarily concerned with international conceptual and aleatory writing. Poetically, the implications of I, Sparkie, fall within the purview of Conceptualism. Implicitly, I, Sparkie undermines the human monopoly on literature, hinting at the potential for anthropomorphic authors to create text for an audience of non-human readers. For while Sparkie may insist “they call me pretty Sparkie / I’m just a little bird,” the size of his audience eclipsed that of most poets, and suggests that originality is for the birds.