I suffer from social anxiety. It has rendered me mute or tongue-tied too many times to count. Because of this, I avoid new people whenever possible. I use the self-checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to talk to the cashier. When it’s time to order pizza, an epic battle between my nerves and my stomach ensues. I once suffered with a broken molar for three weeks because I was too apprehensive over yet another unwanted social interaction to make a dentist appointment. I’ve sought help, so the anxiety isn’t as crippling as it used to be, but there are still times when I believe that my biggest mistake in life was not striking out to the nearest National Park on my eighteenth birthday to become a hermit.
My anxiety affects my personal relationships too. I’ve never been comfortable conversing with people I do know for fear of saying something offensive or that I’ll be misunderstood. And, because negative thoughts are self-defeating thoughts, I’ve often walked away from conversations with friends and family members to look for a crowbar to pry the foot from my mouth. Over the years, I’ve compensated for this by guarding my opinions and responding to questions with short answers.
Short answers have served me well.
A good example of an effective short answer is my response to questions concerning what I do for a living. The short answer is that I inspect engine parts. And it’s the perfect answer, because people rarely ask me to elaborate. Elaborating leads to questions about the manufacturing process. I can’t answer those questions because I’ve never been a part of that process; my entire job consists of examining raw parts for defects. If it sounds boring, that’s because it is. I find it 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.
Another aspect of my life that I’ve never been comfortable discussing is the fact that I am a poet. I am a poet because I love words. I love words because they have the ability to fit together to form images that are only visible through my mind’s eye. I love to break down words, examine their etymologies as a forensic anthropologist would a body preserved in a tar pit. Then, like an aerospace engineer, I try to rebuild them in new and interesting ways. I’m always thinking about words. I think about words while I’m inspecting parts, mowing the lawn, and even while pretending to listen to my wife. I cannot not think about words.
One of the reasons I rarely tell people I’m a poet is because of the questions I have been asked. One of the most popular concerns the stacks of cash I make writing poetry. This, of course, is a vicious myth. There is no money in poetry. I’ve been writing poetry under a pen name for fifteen years and have sold over 200 individual poems, and I never wrote a poem that paid a bill.
If the questions aren’t about cash, then they’re about subject matter. The short answer is that I write speculative poetry (often referred to as science fiction poetry). The drawback to the short answer is that it usually elicits strange looks and more questions. Questions requiring answers of increasing length and difficulty. And with these questions, my anxiety kicks into overdrive and fires afterburners. My ears buzz and my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth with a mental peanut butter so thick that no amount of milk could wash it away. The last thing I want to do is make a fool of myself while attempting to explain my passion.
So, instead of making a fool of myself by speaking, I figured that I could work through my social anxiety issues like any sensible member of the 21st Century: by writing a blog.
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 space
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 with avarice
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
I don’t have a longer answer for the definition of speculative poetry. The one I gave suits me fine. These work well, too:
- “[I]n the speculative poem, the poet presents an unreal world as though presenting a real one.” Mark Rich, “The Idea of the Real,” Strange Horizons
- “Speculative poetry [as opposed to mainstream poetry] has more to do with the imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be.” Bruce Boston, Grand Master speculative poet, interviewed by John Amen, The Pedestal Magazine
Finally, I love reading speculative poetry as much as I like writing it. After all, poetry is all about the words and how they fit together to form provocative imagery. And a great way to get the most of that experience is to listen to poets read aloud their poems. Perhaps one day I’ll muster up the courage to record myself reading one of my poems, but until then, here’s a clip of Neil Gaiman reading his poem, “Instructions.” I hope you enjoy the imagery and wordplay as much as I do.
In Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, the reader is thrust into a bizarre world where nothing is quite right, and it almost seems as if it should be that way. This world, known as the Slave State, unfolds in nine short stories that are not for the faint of heart. The opening story, “The Family Man,” is only a page and a half, yet the sheer brutality described therein sets a tone for the rest of the stories. The title story is told from the point of view of a mistreated dog who, after being castrated, is overcome with the desire to be a writer. “Baptizm of Fire,” set in surreal version of Lagos, Nigeria, descends into a nightmare of both love and murder that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the horrors of the Slave State. And when the reader finally reaches bottom, the incarnation of the bestial Slave State stares back with eyes dripping with viscera.
Few books have disturbed me. And of those few, none have disturbed as Chris Kelso has in this collection. From the bizarre atmosphere evoked from the first page, all the way to the final, horrific transformation in “Birth, Sex, Death, Stigmata,” I could not stop the mental cringes. The dark imagery, the emotional punches to the groin, the utter emptiness of the loss of control… Dread lurked on every page, yet I had to have more, as if I were searching for hope, though all the while knowing I would never find it.
“Baptizm of Fire” was the blood-curdling and thought-provoking standout of an amazing collection of bizarre fiction deserving of five talismans. If the lasting, disturbing impression this collection has made on me is any sign, Chris Kelso will soon be a major presence in the genre. One that should be feared.
(Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, published by Bizzaro Pulp Press, is available here. It’s been a few months since I’ve read it, but I still get shivers when I recall certain scenes in “Baptizm of Fire.”)
So its been over a month since my last post. I have plenty of excuses for the absence. Work, college, remodeling the house, my wife’s cancer and subsequent surgery, chasing after our 20-month old… Things that I haven’t bothered to discuss before. I’ve had a few chances to post, but with everything that was going on in our lives, it didn’t feel right.
But I was wrong. My wife was disappointed to hear that I’d stepped away from blogging. She encouraged me to get back into it, and even suggested that I include more details about my personal life.
So I am back. With her blessing. And I’ll try to keep the blathering to a minimum.