Science Fiction Poetry
I have not gotten my hands on Andrew Joron’s latest 2008 collection, The Sound Mirror, so I’d like to push his older collection, Science Fiction, published in 1992. I’ve been curious about poetry that adopts genre narratives, especially sci-fi poetry, although I haven’t had a chance to do any serious research. Of course, there are over a million links when you type in “science fiction” and “poetry”: links to contests, conventions, and essays that attempt to define sci-fi poetry (It’s speculative, it must have narrative, and “SFP fans know it when they see it.”). There’s even a handbook.
Earlier in his career, Andrew Joron was known for writing poetry for science fiction magazines, finding ways to integrate poetic avant-garde techniques with the genre. “Science Fiction” is perhaps his last collection that directly experiments with the genre before he began to focus on how poetics should be more involved with current political situations. The preface of this collection, however, is prescient of his concerns in later works like “The Cry at Zero” where he asks "What good is poetry at a time like this?" I’ll quote the preface of "Science Fiction" in its entirety.
“It’s all science fiction now” – a realization made simultaneously by Allen Ginsberg, Arthur C. Clarke, Carol Emshwiller and others. We are living in the future NOW: it is our unique way of experiencing the present.
Science fiction came into being at the same time that industrialization moved out of the sphere of production into the sphere of consumption – at the same time, and for the same reason, that advertising came into being. Science Fiction and advertising are both means of assimilating our consciousness to the industrialization of everyday life. Science fiction completes the curve of history in the imagination; advertising, however, effaces it.
Advertising—the commoditiy language—is the secret positivism at the core of current aesthetic thought and practice. Conversely, science fiction is the only “populist” mode of writing that is capable of representing the industrialization of desire as an acceleration of history—that is capable , in other words, of imaginative take-off by making the materialist assumption that consciousness is rooted in social being.
The poem, by becoming science-fictional, simultaneously subsumes and frees itself from its commodity status. Then the poem’s emergence in the commodity system recapitulates the mystery of the emergence of mind in natural history. What is “poetic” always exists on the border between the human and the inhuman. In science fiction, what is human emerges as an inhuman construct. To thematize the loss of subjectivity as an act of awakening is the moment of resistance in the speculative poem.
And here is a taste of his poetry from "Science Fiction":
& lacking nothing of the living
Her prosthetic hand reaches for a cigarette
Whining softly, tiny motors
Press & release: tip to tip
On each glass fingernail glows a readout
Its motion in series—a miniature chase scene
A design for future assassinations.
For more recent examples of poetry that borrow from science fiction, read Jasper Bernes' densely layered Starsdown and Joyelle McSweeney’s ridiculous Flet.
Cathy Park Hong is the author of Translating Mo'um, (Hanging Loose Press, 2002); Dance Dance Revolution (W.W. Norton, 2007), winner of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; and Engine Empire (W.W. Norton, 2012). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the NEA, and the New York Foundation for the...