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Letters from Proxima Thule

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The Future/I mean/wow
tech failure
This is a difficult post for me to make. I almost didn't. I almost kept quiet, suffering in silence, weeping in the small corners of my house and bearing within my solitary soul the knowledge of this horror, these crimes.

But fuck, dude, when you've made some weird commitment to the internet to post every day, there's no such thing as keeping it to yourself. Ahoy, my precious intertubes.

But seriously, I almost didn't post. Because some people are going to get mad. And think I'm talking about them specifically. And I'm not. I am not talking about you. If I didn't have love in my heart I would just look at the trainwrecks that come through my inbox and cry lollerskates for honor and glory. But I do know love, humanity, and puppies and kittens and everything. And I can't stand by. This is a greater issue, one I've been quietly observing for years, in workshops, in anthologies. But now I'm an editor, and it's my job to witness this thing, and if it's my job to suffer for poetry, by god, y'all are going to suffer with me.


What the hell is wrong with science fiction poetry?

Now, I'm a card-carrying member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (I actually don't think we have cards) and I've won a Rhysling Award. It's not like I'm not invested here. Everything I am about to say is because I want SF poetry to grow up and mature and be good, so good it breaks your heart. I want it to be awesome. But I went through my entire poetry slushpile last night, and it was 90% SF poetry, and 100% the same as all the SF poetry I've had to read in workshops and in anthologies for quite some time. It's that heartbreaking sameness that deeply creeps me out. It worries me, because I don't think anyone is conferring on the rules of SF poetry. And yet, the vast majority of the SF poetry I've seen seems to think that simply explaining an oft-used science fictional concept and putting those words in a column is sufficient to create poetry and access the great profit and literary respect available to science fiction poets everywhere. And since haiku is for some inexplicable reason SUPER POPULAR among the SF set, they're also often extremely short. And/or have puns. In fact, almost all the SF poetry I have ever read goes a lot like this:



That is not a poem. That is not even content. And I am not actually exaggerating. Now, of course, there are some exceptions--please do not list for me all the amazing SF poetry I am ignorant of in the comments. There are always exceptions. And obviously, your poetry is wonderful and delicate and perfect. It's those other guys, the vast majority of SF poetry that has ever burned my eyeballs, that I'm talking about. If I didn't see this 900 times more often than I didn't, I'd be having breakfast right now instead of writing this. I've had to come up with positive things to say about poems of this kind for years in workshops, and I can't take it anymore.

Time travel.
You know?

I know that a lot of people in the SFPA hate fantasy poetry and think fantasy poets like myself should not be allowed in the SFPA. But I find that at least when I'm presented with a fantasy poem, there is more effort involved than just using a big Science!Word and taking a Lovitz-style bow. They're trying to say something about the fantasy concept, or how fantasy and real life come together, or something, anything, beyond: elves man. WTF? And I look at an SF poem and think: this is your cry to heaven, your expression of your deepest self, what you are desperate and aching to say, what you must say, because it burns you not to, and you could not find it expressed anywhere else the way it sparks and flames in your soul?

Wouldn't it be awesome
if the world ended?
I'm so there.


I feel like this has something to do with the whole "SF stories are IDEA STORIES and shouldn't have, like CHARACTERS or FEELINGS because those are GAY and also for GIRLS." Because poetry, despite having been written by straight white dudes for many eons without any problem, falls into the category of things that are gay and for girls, at least in the minds of people who make statements of that kind on forums and private email lists and such. So maybe there's a defensiveness about the very act of writing an SF poem--poems almost always deal in emotion and rich images, it's kind of poetry's thing. So obviously, the way to make these poems Proper SF is to strip away any feeling, or adjectives, or speakers which might be characters, and to put in a pun because Douglas Adams made that ok, and poems have to have wordplay, right? (Puns are arguably never funny. But puns in SF poetry are definitely never funny.)

Space elevator, man.
So weird

I mean, there's a reason that fantasy poetry has dominated the Rhysling Awards for the last several years. No one wants to be the one to say this, but when you put contemporary fantasy poetry next to contemporary SF poetry, there's just no comparison at all. And perhaps it's possible that there's a reason we don't get to play with the big poetry kids. And I'm not sayig fantasy rules, SF drools. SF can be awesome. I've been an SF reader my whole life. But somehow, the idea has gotten into a whole lot of people's head that the IDEA of SF is enough. You don't need sophisticated language or passion or a connection to human experience. Just say the idea, then go on break.

Humanity is a virus.
I am so deep.

I mean, maybe this is it. This is the ultimate SF. All idea, nothing else. Pure. Unvarnished. Unadulterated. The ultimate proof of that horrible meme that says that SF is better than all the rules of literature.

You know, this one time when I was in college, I had this idea that meaning in literature was like, the man getting me down or something. (Don't even smirk like that.) I had a reasoning at the time, that language could be beautiful on its own and perfect logic from one image to another wasn't strictly the most important thing ever, and emotional meaning could arise from non-meaning. Dude, whatever, I was in college, and it's not that dumb. But then my professor told me about the language poets, and how they had this idea before me (SHOCKING) and he gave me some of their work to read and it was all green/czechoslovakia/cumulus and it was terrible. And I thought: oh, it sucks. That's the part I wasn't understanding. Surrealism is fine but we need some meaning. And I went on to be a mildly famous genre writer who posts stuff on the internet.

I wish that lesson on all of us. If you take away everything but the OMG IDEA of SF, it sucks. You need something else, some meaning, some feeling, some voice, some beauty, some ugliness, some violence, some pain, some apotheosis, some damnation, some glory, some putrescence, some desire, some need, some disappointment, some loss, some girls, some gays, some love, some sacrifice, some ambition--some point.

Singularity, dude.
Like, whoa.
Like, Turing, and stuff.
I can be on BoingBoing now?

Montana Wildhack
built my car.

Ectoplasmic pig
You light up my PKE
Readings off the chart

You sexy ghost swine
My proton pack is ready
Let's go cross the streams

(Deleted comment)
That's more or less my reaction -- sound a lot like typical depressing slush percentages.


(Deleted comment)
Dare you. Double-tribble dare you. And I might actually do one too ;)


I don't have anything to add except that.

WORD. Preach it, sister!

Wholeheartedly agree. And may I respectfully point you in the direction of Shweta Narayan's Cave Smell, an SF Poem that Could? It is featured on the Mythic Deliriym page here: http://www.mythicdelirium.com/

I would call that borderline fantasy.


But just because I am really sensitive about Douglas Adams, I want to express some ♥ for the genuine article. He was genius, but of course copying genius kinda takes away the genius part.

(Oops. Finger slipped.)

Edited at 2010-07-01 07:51 pm (UTC)

Innovation and Deeper Meanings Transform Us
A verbose SCIFFY poet awaits
Babe, ludicrous!

BTW, I'm loving your 30 days project, but Congress called and their extending our reader benefits another 270 days... can you keep it up, please?

Dude, I gotta tell you, it's a lot of work to do a full essay every day. Maybe I'll do a kickstarter page, and if people want another 30 day block...

I mean, maybe this is it. This is the ultimate SF. All idea, nothing else. Pure. Unvarnished. Unadulterated. Got it in one.

I don't write SF.
I write Space Opera.
Retro futures of gleaming ships
And handsome cleancut white men
in shiny uniforms.
In love.
With each other.

Every now and again, I commit poetry. When I subbed "The Ballad of Angelina Calamity" for a steampunk anthology, I made darn sure it was both steampunk and a ballad. (It can actually be sung)

I don't write SF.
I write Space Opera.
Retro futures of gleaming ships
And handsome cleancut white men
in shiny uniforms.
In love.
With each other.


Who'd look so awesome
in skiffy-stompin' mech armor?
Cat M. Valente

With apologies for the presumptive and uninvited red pen, I humbly suggest "Cat M. F. Valente" to convey the correct purple lightsaber effect.

I've got one I could send you, but it kinda sucks... are you overloaded on suck yet? :(

You should never preface an offer with "it sucks." If it sucks, then no, don't send it. Work on it til it doesn't suck.

I had this exact same reaction when I started paying attention to the SF poetry out there.

I mean, I'm not a poet. My experience with poetry is extremely limited1. But holy hell in a bucket of burning sodium! Stuff that gets published and nominated for awards can be eye-clawingly awful.

At this point I have a much clearer idea of how terrible things get published, it's the award nominations that kind of baffle me.

A long time ago, in another life, I did game design. I bought a groundbreaking book on artificial intelligence because that was one of my major areas of interest. The book opened with a poem by the authors.

Alan Turing would have shot them were he alive.

That poem, which actually made me throw the book, was better than a lot of the SF poetry I see now.

1 Though I never went out of my way to read poetry until the last couple years, I was read William Blake and ee cummings as a kid, and my grandmother regularly quoted Shakespeare at us, so maybe I had a certain idea of quality inculcated pretty early.

The people who vote for awards often have agendas involving what SF should be, and or favor an author, not necessarily the work.

AI Poem? (Anonymous) Expand
I was just talking about this. Well, not exactly this, but the whole "tyranny of the idea" thing in SF and whatever.

This makes me want to try my hand, though I haven't written poetry for longer than I'd care to admit. Sounds like a good challenge, though.

Oh, and I wasn't sure whether it's OK or not, but I've just added you. Hello!

Didn't know there was a SFPA




Is about all I've written in the SF vein but if there are people who like SF and think it's real poetry I might write some more