I must go up to the stars again…

by limebirddennis

I must go up to the stars again, to the lonely stars in the sky,
And all I ask is a rocket ship and a bearing to steer her by.
(Apologies to John Masefield)

In my last article “Tales around the Campfire” I talked about the role of poetry in the history of storytelling; and I mentioned the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

This time I am going to focus on that subgenre of poetry, science fiction poetry. The SFPA’s founder, Suzette Haden Elgin, defined it thus; “an sf poem was one that had two parts: a science part, and a fiction — narrative — part.”

Over the past eighteen months, whenever I have taken a break from prose, I have focussed on sf poetry. For me it is a liberating thing; subjects can be as broad as one’s imagination and the format can be just as varied.

Here are some examples, I will illustrate them with my own work, to avoid any copyright issues.

Scifaiku or science fiction haiku, are inspired by Japanese haiku but with science fiction themes. “SciFaiku is a distinctive and powerful form of expression for science fiction. It packs all the human insight, technology, and vision of the future into a few poignant lines.” (From Tom Brinck’s Scifaiku Manifesto (1995)

sputnik
silent beeps on high
falling star never grounding
our first step outside

escape
shivering buildings
creating their own earthquakes
drip dirt as they leave

Another technique that I have used is to create a sort of poetry mash-up, taking an established poem and re-working it into something new.

Here is the beginning of my sonnet “A Daemon’s Lament” which is loosely based upon Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, and is in the voice of Frankenstein’s monster as he roams “the Northernmost extremity of the globe” seeking his own death. In this example I felt more like a screenwriter, adapting a novel for a new audience.

By man’s hand formed, by man’s tongue roundly cursed,
I roam wastelands too cold to permit tears,
Daring dark skies, heaven must do its worst,
Come arctic snow to smother my last years,

I used a similar technique in “Blind Obedience” which was my take on Milton’s “His Blindness”.

Beneath metal towers technicians toil;
A race glassborn, created for their Lord.
Each action preordained by program’s word;
Hidden away, a life spent drowned in oil.

However, one doesn’t need to define a new form (or co-opt an old one); sf poems can simply be a poem (of whatever form) that has the sf part and the narrative. Sometimes the story that one wants to tell doesn’t warrant pages of prose, the idea can be covered better in a couple of hundred words in a poem.

For example, in “Legs Akimbo” I looked at the conflict between modern man and technology in a (hopefully) humorous way. I started, as I often start an sf story, with the question “what if?” and then took it from there.

My legs are not talking to me.
I wanted to watch TV but, they didn’t…

Before they could carry me through the door, I dived for my chair, and pressed the kill switch on my hip.
Collapsing there, so that I could sit watching the game.
With a beer, and two highly engineered, quiescent, limbs.
And so, my legs are not talking to me.

Now that is more than enough of my examples!

1) If you have written any science fiction poetry, please share it with us (either here or a link to where it can be found).

2) If you write poetry, try one with a science fiction theme for a change. Again, please share it with us.

3) If you do not usually write poetry, try a scifaiku or re-work one of your old favourites. You may surprise yourself!

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12 Responses to “I must go up to the stars again…”

  1. Scifaiku sounds fun.
    Alien life and planets
    hard to see from here.

  2. I rarely write poetry, but it’s rewarding to find someone who knows poetry and uses it in his work, as I do. I’m partial to your game-watching, beer-drinking robot (or android?)

    • Thanks for the comment,Lorinda. Glad you enjoyed the snippet. It is actually about a cyborg (a man with high-tech artificial legs that have a mind of their own).

  3. Well, I learn something new every day. I had never heard of science fiction poetry. I’m interested now, and I’ll be following this one!

    • I am a recent devotee myself, There has been much written over the years and the Rhysling Awards have been given every year since 1978 (along with an anthology of the year’s best being published). One of my targets in my writing is to at least get nominated for a Rhysling one day…

  4. Reblogged this on dmlbooks – dennislanebooks.com and commented:
    My article on Science Fiction Poetry is now up on the Limebird Writers site, why not take a look?

  5. I love these Dennis! I’ve never written a normal haiku but maybe when it’s not pushing 5 a.m. I’ll give scifiku a go!

  6. I will have to give this a try. Reworking someone else’s words actually scares me, though. I love your poems though.

    • Thank you! They were just tasters 😉 the full poems etc. will be in my collection coming out later this year.

      In relation to the reworking, it is more that you (or at least I) take their initial poem and use that as the skeleton (the rhyming scheme, the meter, perhaps the ‘feeling’ of it etc.) and then build something completely new on top of that.

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