A dragon’s gotta get zen
—From “What the Dragon Said: A Love Story” (Catherynne M. Valente)
So, how about that science fiction and fantasy poetry?
Show of hands: how many of you are thinking of skipping this one because you don’t read in this genre* and aren’t the least bit interested in elves, Queen Mab, steampunk, and or the fear of little men—or at least inhuman little men?
Could you stay put and trust me for a minute? Because you’re missing out.
I can’t say that SFF poetry is something I search for—Tom Bombadil put me off most of it at an early age, like that one weird clown at your best friend’s birthday party—though Faerie Queen gets a pass, because it’s Edmund Spenser and because anything written before the 1800s avoids all the gauzy winged Victoriana stuff that has made a recent. marketable comeback, via Disney.**
But I do read/devour/write a bit for/revel in the genre(s) and I also subscribe to Tor.com, which sends me a weekly newsletter with articles and stories and, every Sunday for this past month of April, poetry.
I’ll confess—I skipped it, until a friend asked me if I’d read “Nemi” by Jo Walton and sent me a link. I love Jo Walton’s work,*** so I gave it a try.
Lines from it have been running through my head ever since:
You know that a story
is open to answers
you know that a question
is open to lies
I only have permission to share a small portion here, so please click the link above and read the rest. While you’re there, try “Jane Austen Among the Women,” especially if you’re a writer or like subtle deals with death, or both.
It’s not as easy to find science fiction poetry out there, for some reason, but it can be done. Tor provided Twelve Steampunk Sonnets by Roz Kaveney—which are, as most steampunk is, skewed Victoriana and therefore fine by me—but I was curious enough to venure out on my own on a hunt for the harder stuff:
The silly beasts tempt death to find
how many lives
they really have; and gravity’s
their quantum toy.
—From “Their Quantum Toy” (Jenny Blackford)
One of the best things about SF poetry is the sheer volume of possible topics: physics, technology, biology—pretty much all the –ologies—and the depths and eddies of time and space.
their voices etched in vinyl
or rolls of magnetic tape
turned to white noise
and snow, confetti
jettisoned into space
—From “Shards” (W.C. Roberts)
Of course, fantasy is just as elastic. And there are crossovers, sometimes.
Like superheroes. And before you roll your eyes, take a few minutes and read Catherynne M. Valente’s “Aquaman and the Duality of Self/Other, America, 1985,” again posted by Tor. It damn near broke my heart.
The truth is,
I loved the Incredible Hulk
with a brighter, purer love.
wanted to turn so green
no one could hurt me.
to get that angry. But when the time came
to bust out
of my Easter dress and roar
I just cried
hoping that the villains I knew
would melt out of shame.
I know. Go read the rest—I’ll wait.
And while I’ll wait, I’ll obsess about how amazing Ms. Valente is and that I almost missed her.
She wrote another one for Tor, “What the Dragon Said: A Love Story,” which knocked my socks clean off and which I also quoted at the beginning of this post:
This is why I don’t get to be a unicorn.
Those ponies have clotted cream and Chanel No. 5 for blood
and they don’t burn up like comets
with love that tastes like starving to death.
And you, with your standup comedy knightliness,
covering Beowulf’s greatest hits on your tin kazoo,
you can’t begin to think through
what it takes to fill up a body like this.
It takes everything pretty
and everything true
and you stick yourself in a cave because
your want is bigger than you.
This poem is a modern day Boojum and that’s no snark. You can hear a recording of the whole thing here.
Not all poetry speaks to everyone, but genre poetry can speak far beyond descriptions of prepubescent children in pastels sleeping in roses,^ and odes to an airlock, or strange men bouncing around forests saving Hobbits and spouting Hey Nonny Nonny every five flippin’ seconds.^^
It’s us as much as anything can be: edgy and wistful, hateful and beloved, old and new, sexy and sterile, funny and not.
And it’s well worth a read.^^^
*Or genres, depending on how you feel about it—and some appear to feel very strongly about it indeed. Sufficiently advanced technology may be indistinguishable from magic, but don’t ever think you can fool the fans.
**Does no one remember that Tinkerbell tried to murder Wendy more than once? One attempt is even in the movie. But the minute she became a hot property (pun not intended, but apt), her jealousy became humorous and her murderous leanings disappeared. If you want an interesting take on this, without poetry, I highly recommend Pat Murphy’s story “About Fairies.”
***I was given two of her books just before Janie was born and used them as incentive and reward for the two o’clock feeding. The woman’s imagination saved my sanity.
^Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .Okay, yeah, but I try not to judge—well, no, but I won’t judge you. Even Arthur Conan Doyle believed in the little sparkling nitwits, and if any Victorian author gets a pass around here, it’s him.
^^You rabid Tolkien fans out there, please don’t flame me about Tom Bombadil being the spirit of chaotic nature giving them his blessing. Just don’t.
^^^Tor has more poetry on its site if you’re interested—and I hope you are. There’s also a webzine called Goblin Fruit that will give you a terrific sample of folklore and fantasy-based poems and the Science Fiction Poetry Association is a treasure trove admantium-lined, DNA-locked, storage module.
All poems and stories belong to their respective authors and have been quoted briefly here to encourage readers to go search out their work.