Sci-Fi Poetry

I know I’ve been slack on my Astronomicon 11 posts, especially since the con was a month ago, now. But since we’re done with one holiday and I’ve pushed a bunch of rejected short stories back out to various markets, here’s the next entry, as I promised last time.

I attended the panel on “Sci-Fi Poetry” (Moderated by Gerald Schwartz, with Herb Kauderer and John Roche) having no idea what to expect. My only exposure to genre poetry came in some of the pieces in The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the occasional piece I might catch in one of the “Big Three” print genre mags or some of the online mags I submit stories to (but only if I’d heard of the author previously).

There wasn’t too, too much in the way of discussion. Just readings. The pieces read were very competently written verse, at least in my uneducated “I know what I like when I hear it” point of view, covering a variety of topics. I was surprised –and I say this again in the context of my ignorance of the area of genre poetry–that until the very end of the presentation, I hadn’t heard any prose poetry.

Perhaps I had that one preconception about genre poetry. I don’t know why, exactly. I think it has something to do with a particular piece by Charles Simic, which starts, “He held the Beast” from Part I of his collection The World Doesn’t End (reprinted in The New York Times–second piece from the bottom).

He held the Beast of the Apocalypse by its tail, the stupid kid! Oh beards on fire, our doom appeared sealed. The buildings were tottering; the computer screens were as dark as our grandmother’s cupboards. We were too frightened to plead. Another century gone to hell – and for what? Just because some people don’t know how to bring their children up!

Simic and others might not say so, but I thought this could’ve easily fit into the rest of the work read in this session.

As it happens, the one prose poem I did hear–my favorite of all the pieces read–was from John Roche. Here it is, posted with permission.

“Reading Comix”
by John Roche

Those long rainy afternoons spent huddled on bed or chair with pile of DC comic books: The Flash or Superman or Batman or Green Lantern Clear heroes for an altar boy who believed Vietnam was a just war and didn’t talk to bad girls, or any girls other than his cousins, for that matter. Later, with onset of puberty, the Marvel anti-heroes: Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider Man. Rare ones from my collector friend: Dr. Strange, Strange Tales, The Silver Surfer. Always the sense of forbiddenness, the frown of parents who didn’t quite approve of comic books, at least anything other than Nancy or Archie. Even Bugs Bunny too subversive. And connection to the darker side, the fat dorky guy with disheveled hair and pattern baldness sitting under impossible ziggarats of books reading a paperback and looking pissed when you disturbed him with your pitiful pile of comix then totaling the sum in his head never using a cash register except to make change. Then the older cousin of your collector friend, the cousin with ID to buy you all cigarettes and maybe the occasional six-pack and he had some cool comics but there was something not quite right about him you couldn’t place it except you didn’t want to be alone in the room with him and his pimply face, anymore than to be alone in the sacristy with Father McSheffield. Then, around age 16, came potsmoking, came the comix: Mr. Natural the Furry Freak Bros. Felix the Cat. Visual equivalents to The Fugs and Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention. Girls with impossible breasts sucking off skinny cartoonist alter egos or upside down against walls, their giant asses primed for virtual penetration by fat bikers and smooth-talking gurus alike. Trucking on trucking on trucking on page after page after page joint after joint after joint masturbation after masturbation after masturbation laugh after laugh after guilty laugh while the hi-fi played The Doors and The Who and the Airplane such were the joys of reading at that age. But still the appeal of virtual worlds, the Bat Cave, the laboratory of Lex Luthor, the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Strange, or his Himalayan lamasary, the Silver Surfer’s lost home of Zenn-la, the place you visited after your friend gave you that tab of windowpane to see through seven dimensions seven generations seven suns and daughters seven rings of Saturn seven hours and counting seven heads are better than one and after that you didn’t read many comics for a good long while because you lived in the world of Dr. Who and didn’t even need a phone booth to dial home to your extraterrestrial parents just had a tough time walking on the x’s never on the o’s lest you fall into the vast void opening up under your feet and that would be almost as bad as getting shipped off to Vietnam like your cousins and not even Sergeant Fury could save you then nor the Sky Pilots neither so you walk carefully on the lattice scaffolding between the sidewalk cracks for years, it seems, until Don Juan the Brujo and David Carradine the Kung Fu master come to teach you the proper way for a warrior to walk, magic string from the belly pulling you forward past unseen terrors, calmly past all the hunched up horrors of the next fifty years, unafraid through the transitive nightfall of diamonds.

Some of the references pre-date me by (precious) few years. Yet I and most everyone in attendance agreed that every bit of the poem resonated. To me, it was an archetypal resonance. If sci-fi/comic-book fandom has anything resembling a “race memory,” this piece listed most of them.