Healing Scars Though Robot Apocalypse

I’d like to introduce a fellow poet of mine, James D. Fuson. He writes mainly in the speculative genre; however, he hasn’t allowed labels to define his work. Nor has he allowed them to define him as a person. Labels are easy to come by these days, especially in James’s case.

Image via OTIS

Image via OTIS

In 1995, James was sentenced at 17 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’s still there. And unless sentencing laws are changed and made retroactive, he will stay there for the rest of his life. He makes no excuses for his actions, which led to the deaths of two innocent people. He also understands that he can never make up for any of the pain and suffering he’d caused.

Because of his actions, several labels [insert your favorites] are tattooed across his back. These tattoos glow with a virulent florescence. No matter what good he does, he will most likely never outshine them. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. Even in a place as dark and morally devoid as prison.

20 Years cover

In the introduction to his haiku collection, Twenty Years: Reflections of an Empty Sky (Soft Sculpture Press, 2014), James writes:

“’Prison is not for the naive, and a kid, regardless of how much he thinks he knows or how wise he thinks he is, is not ready for it. One of two things will happen to that kid: he will either break and become part of the machine or get tough and grow into a stronger individual. Either way, prison will leave a black stain on his soul. Regardless of what he grows to be, no matter what he learns or becomes, the abuse, alienation, loneliness, and frustration will leave a scar that remains until he dies. It then comes down to this: How does he heal this scar?”

While not all of James’s work focuses on prison or other dark topics, he loves to write about apocalyptic landscapes—zombies, plagues, aliens, you name it. When we discuss collaborating, he always manages to slip in a shambling corpse or other such device that indicates humanity’s impending doom. His favorite apocalypse, however, is the robot apocalypse.

There isn’t enough robot apocalypse stuff out there. Even reading social lit that uses comparative references to genre themes, robots never come up, although the menace of heartless, emotionless, sometimes faceless, machines are a no-brainer for comparisons for some social ills. They give you that relentless, unrelateable threat to which there is no negotiation or plea. It’s scary enough when they’re our own creation, but when they come from beyond, from some unknown source, they’re even scarier. And not those robots that are a “metal endoskeleton surrounded by living tissue.” Gears and hydraulics, wires and blinking lights. Totally inhuman.

Okay, maybe a little bio-organic mass is cool; metallic grayish with some kind of moisture covering it. Whatever brings out the nightmares.

I’ve invited James to contribute to A Speculative Poetry Blog. In fact, he may occasionally appear as a guest blogger. Until then, here is a sample of James’s robot apocalypse haiku (none of which appeared in the collection Twenty Years).

giant robots
invading earth
childhood fantasy

(Originally appeared in Star*Line 38.2)

doomsday robot
unleashed on the populace
zombies scatter

asteroids
fall from the sky
robot apocalypse

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Dawn Emerges from the Darkness to Send New Views of Ceres

I love the term “dwarf planet.” It is much more descriptive than “humongous asteroid.”

Lights in the Dark

Animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDAAnimated sequence of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

After a brief period of silence (due to its position on the dwarf planet’s night side) NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now sending back images from orbit around Ceres, revealing amazing details of its surface and giving another look at those mystery “bright spots” that have intrigued scientists since their discovery in 2003.

The animation above shows Ceres’ northern hemisphere as it rotated into the sunlight on April 14. The brightest bright spot can be seen in the crater at right – as Dawn was on approach earlier this year it resolved that spot into two distinct regions.

Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what those are, but soon Dawn will be getting an even better look.

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My Singularity

Image via astroblogs.nl

Image via astroblogs.nl

My Singularity
by Kurt MacPhearson

At this point, everything slows
spaghettification rends
meaning from words
as they plunge
one by one
into the
void

Nothing escapes

Not even the light of your heart

Scifaiku #6

Titan's seas

Image via nasa.gov

amino acids
in a hydrocarbon stew
Titan’s methane seas

Teach your children about Taxes – some good advice

galesmind

bill murray taxes

I think he may be low balling this but we don’t want to see children cry. At least not as much as the adults when they get their tax bills.

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Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych

Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych
by Kurt MacPhearson

feeding                 poised                 wife
coins                     with                      bars
to a                         open sack           front
one-armed         as windows        door
grocer                   display                 I don
for                           abundance        sackcloth
promised             in                            and
cherries                lemons                ashes

I worked on formatting this for 20 minutes and I gave up trying to get the columns to match up. Oh well, that just follows along with the poem’s theme: Nothing works out like you plan.

U.S. Postal Service Issues “Forever” Stamp For Maya Angelou With Quote From Different Author

JONATHAN TURLEY

ST-maya7341428096065The U.S. Postal Service not only has issues a new limited edition “Forever” stamp honoring Maya Angelou with a quote written by another author but it doesn’t appear particularly disturbed about it. The stamp above features the quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” However, that is a quote from Child book author Joan Walsh Anglund.

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While I Was Away…

So, for the last two weeks I’ve been plugging away at a detailed report on radio telescopes. It’s kept me away from my blog, but it’s done, and I’ll finally have some time to write a few things for myself (and my blog).

Stay tuned… I’ve got a few posts in the works, though I don’t think that any of them have much to do with radio telescopes.

Barstool Contemplation

barstool

BARSTOOL CONTEMPLATION
by Kurt MacPhearson

The bar is a rubber band
stretched to its limits
with flat beer & watered whiskey
as the ashtray brims
with choke
that I’ve smoked
while thinking & drinking
& trying not to rhyme
with words that fall
like hammer on hand
between nails of a pensive day
bearing the stoic exterior
of an after-hours drinker
& seeing the world
through beer-bottle eyes
not sure whether to live
or to lie
because sober words
require countless drafts
to dilate time
while thinking & drinking
& rhyming all the time

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.