Short Answers (Extended Version)

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.

Raw Camshafts

Raw Camshafts

2mm Nick on Camshaft Lobe

2mm Nick on Camshaft Lobe

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:

SPOILED CHILD
by Kurt MacPhearson

 A nebulous toddlerSTRLNJLGST2010
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
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 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.

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6 thoughts on “Short Answers (Extended Version)

  1. Thank you for opening up to the world at large and to those of us who read your blog, your poetry. Maybe I could help by recording a poem or two of yours for you. It’s what I do because I can’t do what you do!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert Graves said once that the indirect rewards of poetry are often greater than the direct ones, by which he meant that you’ll never make a penny from writing poems but there are many other jobs that come your way through the kudos of being a poet.
    My brother works for a car parts manufacturer too, funnily enough, and I find it quite comforting that someone is checking that everything is working well!

    Like

  3. I am enjoying your written work Bryan. I look for my baby nephew in all the words you write. The one that had no problem w/telling his Grandmother you wanted more of the tasty things she was cutting up for dinner on her old pull out cutting board. You could speak then! I remember you w/just a diaper on tell grandma in what I was certain was Japanese that you needed more cucumber, NOW! As your infatuated w/all things Bryan, Auntie I told anybody that would listen how smart you were. How you knew Japanese and were going to talk any day now and ask your favorite Aunt for 5 bucks and icecream. I love you.
    Keep the words coming…. I like this Bryan too.

    Like

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