November 25th, 2006

ozarque figure

Science fiction poetry; a unifying metaphor?

Back in September [at ] I was lamenting the fact that science fiction poetry doesn't have the advantages that Cowboy Poetry has; I was all over envy because Cowboy Poetry has the sturdy Old West metaphor to unify it and draw listeners/readers in, and wishing that sf poetry had something -- anything -- like that.

You [youall] were right there with very helpful comments....

kimuro wrote: "When I think of Science Fiction poetry, one image comes to mind, culled from 'The Green Hills of Earth' - Earth in a matrix of stars with the flare of a departing ship visible, arching out." Michael Farris said that "Science fiction doesn't have a single big 'western' metaphor, it has a bunch of smaller metaphors. Star Trek is a full-fledged cultural metaphor and everybody knows the roles, symbols, typical plots etc. You might say that that's part of a larger metaphor (the Space Opera or Space Frontier or whatever you want to call it...). Dragonworld (as a cover term for fantasy with or without scifi elements) is another as is Post Atomic Dystopia, Brave New World, Cyberpunk and a few others." msminlr commented that "Cowboy Poetry's props have the advantage of originating in a consensus history. Never mind that, as with the SCA, a lot of the messier details have been dispensed with. There IS no 'Consensus Future' for Science Fiction Poetry to draw on for imagery. Every writer has to roll zir own." time_shark wrote that "what you see is no overriding single theme other than individual voices wrestling with some aspect of being human, using some otherworldly setting or condition as the catalyst to make their point."

And then there was the comment from nmstrange, which went: "I think sf has a unifying idea....What If? And, since that can end in an infinite number of ideas and concepts, the scenarios can also be unlimited. But, the idea of 'what if...?' still is unifying in itself."

My September reaction to what nmstrange had said was that the statement was absolutely correct, but that there was nowhere for sf poetry to go with it. How could you turn "What If?" into the equivalent of a Stetson and a lariat and a covered wagon and all the rest of the Old West semantic construct? I could see the icon for the metaphor -- a question mark -- but then I thought, "That's also the icon for science fact. And for philosophy. And for theology. Putting that on bumperstickers and coffee mugs (and sf poetry books) and pin-on badges and so on wouldn't help." It wouldn't make people take one look and think, "Science Fiction Poetry!"

But that was in September. And the comment has been marinating in my head all this time, especially as I've been writing the poems to go into my in-progress n Novel Poems [see if, as is likely, that's opaque]. And I'm beginning to think that although it wouldn't be possible to give a plain unembellished question mark the kind of promotion-and-marketing treatment that would set up a reading/listening-public equation between it and sf poetry, there's no reason why it has to be plain and unembellished.

I'm beginning to think that it might very well be possible to use a question mark outline and put things inside the outlined space. Like "Earth in a matrix of stars with the flare of a departing ship visible, arching out" and maybe a dragon in hot pursuit of that departing ship, or perhaps coiled cosily around it. Like -- clear at the other end of the continuum -- well-crafted letters that spell out the question "What If?" Like .... something else that I'm not clever enough to think of at the moment?

Something like that might actually work. Maybe even in time to start using it in or on n Novel Poems. Hope springs eternal, you perceive...