What to do during a class meeting in which you strongly suspect all the students will be sleep-deprived and unable to complete any assigned reading? Well, snacks, of course. Open-ended discussion, too, of the problems of research writing: my speculative poetry students are, I hope, revising like demons, because version one of their big essay is due tomorrow at 5. I’m also going to show them some speculative spoken word poems and use them to discuss whether speculative poetry is, like, a thing.
I know, of course, that by most measures, it is: fantastic poetry is fostered by multiple communities and has a history that’s decades or millennia long, depending on your perspective. However, some definitions of speculative fiction are potentially very wide, encompassing all kinds of fictionality. It’s “the literature of cognitive estrangement” (Suvin on science fiction). Hume labels as fantasy “any departure from consensus reality.” Calvino identifies fantasy’s theme as “the relationship between the reality of the world we live in…and the reality of the world of thought that lives in us.” Then I think: well, those are pretty good descriptions of poetry by Wallace Stevens, or Bill Manhire, or Mary Ruefle, right? So is speculative poetry just good poetry, or is there a sharper way of drawing the line?
We’ll see what they say tomorrow. Here are the poems I intend to spring on them (trusting that no student reads her professor’s blog to get a jump on the lesson plan). I’ve divided them into a few handy/ spurious categories. My criteria: the poem has to be a performance piece (meaning as much at home in the voice as on the page), and tropes or strategies from sf have to be pretty central (yes, I know that’s even more arguable than the first criterion). A recording also has to be easily available online.
To find poems from fandom—except for “I Am That Nerd,” an influential poem I’ve shown to classes for years—I ended up scrolling through WAY too many clips of Star Trek’s Data reciting “Ode to Spot” (it’s not the poem I mind, but the extended, painful reaction shots of other cast members). Most of them I found really depressing, but Rostad pointed out a few things about Cho Chang I hadn’t considered.
Shappy, “I Am That Nerd” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJxZfpu-kG0.
Rachel Rostad, “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFPWwx96Kew
Poetry is Magic:
And some slam poets are wizards, dude.
Saul Williams, “Ohm” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJHquOEChRg
Megan Falley, “Long Island Medium” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIHiDjFVplg
The scary future is happening right now. The implicit argument: realism IS sf. The world we live in is deeply, damagingly weird.
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, “Crack Squirrels” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngUa9HjKV8o
Reed Bobroff and Olivia Gatwood, “La Llorona” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKxtq1_ebNg
Shira Lipkin, “Changeling’s Lament” http://stonetelling.com/issue5-sep2011/lipkin-changeling.html
Thanks to Max Chapnick, who scouted out many of these during a season attending New York City slams, and some friends who made suggestions over Facebook. If you’re not satisfied, enjoy a couple more. I listened to some Tracie Morris recordings because I really admire her sound poetry. “Mother Earth” isn’t sound poetry, but it’s sf and I like it. And Tim Seibles’ poetry is pretty page-oriented, but “Natasha in a Mellow Mood” is pretty weird and man, he has a great voice.
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