Words and Imagery

An Abundance of Words

I love to read. I can’t help to read whatever my gaze falls upon. Books, blogs, magazines, newspapers… The only criteria the words are strung together to convey thought, emotion, and detail with such precision that, while reading, it feels as if I’m sharing the experience. This love affair with words naturally, for me at least, leading to writing.

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve written dozens of short stories and enough fault-started novels to fill a footlocker. I’ve been fortunate to have several stories published (most recently “A Memory Deferred” in Interstellar Fiction). According to any number of successful authors who discuss the business of writing, however, “The first million words are just practice.” Only a million? Ha! I think I passed that milestone three years ago, and despite the constant frustration with word choice, I keep plugging away.

A Single Image

When it comes to writing poetry, I love imagery (painting pictures with words). Whether it’s a single image, or a string of a dozen, imagery gives a poem depth, breadth, and meaning. Remove an image and the poem crumbles into a pile of incomprehensible syllables.

The images used in science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry (and prose) require a partnership between the writer and reader. The writer uses speculative imagery to show the reader a world that could exist, and it is up to the reader to either suspend belief, consider possibilities, or draw upon the imagination in order to make the imagery truly effective.

For the following poem, I used one image to show a world that could exist and carried that image as far as I could. Now it’s up to the reader to make it effective.

by Kurt MacPhearson

exchanged oath for credit extension
with a tentacled handshake

exposure to a Capellan microfungus
left a freckled spray of chemical burns

grease from the cyborg’s truncated knee
required weeks of scrubbing before fading

torque wrench sprung from grasp —
thumb smashed; two fingers broken

pinkie surrendered to pirate’s knife;
preferred conscription to air lock expulsion

met an Aklaran in a spaceport dive;
her blue skin sleeker than anticipated

signed on with a short-trader crew
to escape a lawman’s pursuit

knuckle pulverized against a bulkhead
after learning she’d grown tired of waiting

punched out the bridge watch;
altered course to slingshot Earth

crawled behind the computer’s console36.3
to avoid the captain’s fire as Mars loomed

 scaled Elysium Mons to set a rescue beacon —
tore open glove; shredded both palms

huddled beneath salvaged bubbletarp
while drawing Phobos and Deimos in red sand

thick prison glass between the spacers splayed hand
and that of his half-alien son

Originally appeared in Star*Line 36.3


From Image to Inspiration

I found this image of Jupiter and Io the other day. The stunning detail reminded me of the interplay between the two objects described in the poem “Io’s Reality Check,” that I posted in Unreal to Real.  Images like this one stir up my creative juices. If you’re anything like me, there’s plenty more to be found on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day site. Check it out, and see where your imagination can take you…


Jupiter and Io

The Importance of Poetry in an Unpoetic World

So well stated. I couldn’t have said it better.

sabrina speaks

Poetry is a very misunderstood being.  Children seemingly grow up dreading the meeting of poetry in classes, but why? Poetry has such a rich history, it should be cherish, and embraced, not feared, and pushed aside.  Anyone can learn an exponential wealth of knowledge from poetry, and it should be valued much more in the American education system.

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Unreal to Real

zombie restaurant
live physicist tank

I’d posted that horrorku (horror haiku) on Facebook. I didn’t care if I got a response, I was just doing what everyone else is doing on Facebook – sharing. Two weeks later I accumulated a grand total of three “likes” and one comment, the latter being from none other than my wife. “I never know what he’s talking about,” she wrote. “Lol.” What she was really saying was, “I really don’t care for your poetry, Babe, but I support your love for it.”

She does. From the hours I spend at my desk to the stacks of printed pages lost to revision, she won’t interfere as long as I am enjoying myself. (If I told her I was quitting my job to focus on my body of work… Well, I probably wouldn’t have much of a body left to speak of.) But honestly, as much as I value her support, I’d accept some friction every now and then if she understood what I was “talking about.” It’s not just her. I expect puzzled looks when I share my poetry.

I’ve shied away from explaining my poems because of that same underlying fear I spoke of in Short Answers, that fear of saying the wrong thing. Also, I feel that if I explain one of my poems it will go supernova and then what’s left of its meaning will be sucked into the ensuing black hole. But then again, I guess that can’t do much damage to a tiny poem that accumulated a mere three “likes.”

The first step in understanding my poem is to understand what a speculative poem is. In a Strange Horizons editorial,“The Idea of the Real,” Mark Rich explains that “in speculative poem, the poet presents an unreal world as though presenting a real one.” And according to Grand Master speculative poet Bruce Boston, what separates speculative poetry from mainstream poetry is that “[s]peculative poetry has more to do with the imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be. (Read more of Bruce Boston’s interview with John Amen in The Pedestal Magazine here.)

In the context of my horrorku, in the “unreal world” as a “real one,” zombies exist. With that fact established, I imagined that, since zombies do indeed exist in this world, there would be five-star restaurants that catered to zombies with discriminating tastes. And taking my premise one step further, instead of live lobsters, this restaurant would offer a fresh selection of physicists—who, of course, have the choicest brains.

Instead of sucking out all the meaning of the following poem, however, I’ll just conclude by offering a little insight into its premise. It comes from a series of poems I’ve been working in which melds modern astronomy with Greek and Roman mythology. In the unreal world that I present as real, I speak directly to Io (once Juno’s high priestess, now one of the four Galilean moons) about how she found herself in her predicament for having an affair with Jupiter.

Io’s Reality Check
by Kurt MacPhearson

You’ll find no sympathy,
because Juno’s tears were more than irritation
from your stealthy plumes of sulfur dioxide.
It doesn’t matter
if you couldn’t resist Jupiter’s charms.
You were her priestess, dammit!
Yet you still simmer beside your peers,
just because, to avoid getting caught,
he temporarily transformed you into a heifer.
Give thanks.
You could have ended up like Medusa.
Europa surely doesn’t care.
They’ve got enough problems.
Why should they worry about the internal stress

from the command Jupiter still wields
over your heart.

Quit pretending.
We all know its iron.
Your tantrums don’t fool anyone.

Just be content with the fact
that instead of becoming one of four moons
that got Galileo’s attention,
Juno could have turned you

into a sow.

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #88


Short Answers

 I’ve never been much for talking face-to-face with people I don’t know. Can’t say where this aversion comes from, but what I do know that I have a fear of saying the wrong thing. Which is why when asked questions about myself, I usually go with the short answer.

Just a few of hundreds every night

Camshafts. Just a few of hundreds every night.

When asked what I do, I give the short answer: I inspect engine parts. It’s boring. And it sound boring enough to others that I’m rarely asked more. Which is a good thing because all I do is examine hundreds of parts for defects. It’s so boring that five minutes into my shift a fog settles over my mind, and I usually get lost in the fog for the duration. Regardless of how I feel about my job, however, it pays the bills.

What I usually don’t tell people is that I’m also a poet. I love to write. I love words and how they fit together to form images I can only see with my mind’s eye. I think about words when I’m inspecting parts, mowing the lawn, and even when pretending to listen to my wife. I cannot not think about words.

I don’t tell people I’m a poet because of the questions that follow. The first one is about the stacks of cash I make writing poetry. Well, I’ve been writing poetry under a pen name for fifteen years and have sold over 200 individual poems, but I never wrote a poem that paid a bill.

Questions about subject matter soon follow. The short answer is that I write speculative poetry. However, the short answer usually elicits strange looks and more questions. Questions requiring answers of increasing length and difficulty. And with these answers comes the fear that I will make a fool of myself trying to explain what I love. So, when it comes down to it, that’s the purpose of this blog.

So what is Speculative Poetry?

The short answer: Speculative poetry is poetry that incorporates science fiction, fantasy, and horror images and themes. Here is an example:

by Kurt MacPhearson

A nebulous toddler
woven over epochs
into blubbery orange and yellow swirls
with blazing green quasars for eyes
and a single curly tuft of blue
upon its bald, lopsided head
sits as a greedy Buddha
at the edge of spaceSTRLNJLGST2010
gobbling galaxies
like peanut clusters
and ignoring the dark matter
stuck between its two gaseous teeth
as it reaches for red giant crumbs
with tentacle fingers
squeezing avaricely
till knuckles form
all the while broadcasting
a collective mine-mine-mine!
in gamma ray belches
from deep within its black gullet
as a warning to the cosmos
should it learn to crawl

Originally appeared in Star*Line, 33.4

Long answers about speculative poetry are soon to follow, along with plenty of examples, thoughts, writing tips, and just about anything else relevant to promoting what I love. I hope you will join me and come to love speculative poetry as much as I do.