Friday, January 17, 2003

Clayton Couch has invited me to publish "Notes" in his e-journal sidereality and I'd certainly like to invite my readers (it astonishes me that I have readers, but half a dozen friendly e-mails (so far) and my Site Tracker counter inform me that this is indeed the case) to check them out. Mr. Couch describes himself as being interested in "speculative poetry" as well as experimental and good mainstream poetry, which would appear to mean poetry with a science-fiction bent (the fanboys used to say "SF" which stands in handily for either "science fiction" or "speculative fiction"). Fascinating to encounter or re-encounter a genre which suggests that the kind of geek I morphed into (literary geek) is not so far from the ur-geek devoted to Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, and the works of Ursula K. LeGuin. I would have to confess to being both, but I'd long ago built a firewall between the two theaters of geekdom: my passion for books (and now movies! I love 'em) like The Lord of the Rings has seemingly had little to do with my literary interests. The very existence of such a genre as "speculative poetry" suggests that this firewall has more to do with my own desires and neuroses than any inherent contradiction. It's disingeuous of me, of course, to suggest that Tolkien, etc., have had no influence on my work—his influence is all the more pervasive for being unconscious (I internalized his archaisms and his Britishisms long ago, and didn't stop spelling "color" without a u until I was a teenager).

Science fiction has lost its hold on me more decisively, though at one time I was sufficiently into Isaac Asimov to read both mammoth volumes of his autobiography in the air-conditioned reading room of the Morristown Public Library one muggy summer when I was 14. I was never very interested in "hard" SF—what I really loved was world-building, the detailed imagining of entire cultures with their own history, languages, peoples, and landscapes. This is what compelled me about Star Wars and Dune, and what I most loved about games like D&D. Playing those games was great, but what I really loved was sitting in my room listening to Mister Mister's "Kyrie Eleison" on the pop-40 radio station carefully drawing the outlines of imaginary continents onto graph paper.

I suppose the impulse for world-building could be satisfied in the long poem. From Keats' letter to Bailey, 8 October 1817:
I have heard Hunt say and I may be asked - why endeavour after a long Poem? To which I should answer - Do not the Lovers of Poetry like to have a little Region to wander in where they may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many are forgotten and found new in a second Reading: which may be food for a Weeks's stroll in the Summer? Do not they like this better than what they can read through before Mrs Williams comes down stairs? a Morning work at most. Besides a long Poem is a test of Invention which I take to be the Polar Star of Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails, and Imagination the Rudder. Did our great Poets ever write short Pieces? I mean in the shape of Tales - This same invention seems indeed of late Years to have been forgotten as a Poetcial excellence.
The "shape of Tales" seems to have re-manifested itself in these latter days as a kind of masqueraded narrative—Mark Levine for one is a master of creating the impression and flow of narrative without in fact leaving the reader able to answer that basic narrative question, what happens next (check out, just glancing at random through his book Enola Gay, his poem "Unlike Graham"). He is not the inventor of this technique but he may be one of its popularizers. Oh I digress, or I would if digression were not the heart and soul of blogging. What is Tristram Shandy but a massive masterpiece of 18th century blogging technique? "The Life and Opinions." Now a blog that managed to pull a Tom Jones—to be truly the "Life and Adventures" of soemone—that would be an accomplishment. Or would it just be another computer game?

Not that Tolkien is without his "languagey" moments:
   "Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.
   "What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
   "All of them at once," said Bilbo....

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