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


Collaborating with Collapsars

I’ve been going through some of my old poems and decided that it was time that I put together a collection of old and new collapsars. I figure I have about a dozen or more to write before I have enough to submit for publication, but I think I can knock them out by the end of January.

I’ve always enjoyed working in collaboration with other poets. In that spirit, I’d like to use suggestions from readers as launching points for some of my remaining collapsars. I’m looking for declarative noun/verb statements such as “Don’t think there’s nothing to fear,” “Every planet wears a ring,” “Between the starry rungs lies a part of space,” and “The Aliens breathe chlorine.” (I’m specifically looking for phrases of a speculative nature, of course.)

Anyone wishing to take part in such a collaborative effort please comment with a suggested statement or two. I look forward to some inspiring phrases.

Here’s a collapsar that I wrote a few years ago under my pseudonym, Kurt MacPhearson.

The Aliens Breathe Chlorine: A Collapsar
by Kurt MacPhearson 

The aliens breathe chlorine
purifies our drinking water
remains essential for deep space
requires thick suits
dominate a CEO’s worst nightmare
evokes little pity in most of us
refuse to acknowledge the aliens
plan to crack open the moon
influences flow in our tides
play havoc on castle walls

stymie the alien’s death machines
attack biochemical constructs
grow up to be girls or boys
dream of being astronauts
roam knight-errant above our skies
aren’t (fortunately) chlorine

Originally appeared in Star*Line 35.4

Inner Space

About a year after I started writing speculative poetry I submitted a batch of poems to Star*Line, the Journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). I was particularly proud of one called “Red Blinky Thing,” which focused on a dead planet that had been fitted with a blinking red beacon. I had a few poems published already, but nothing I’d written before could compare to the stunning imagery and profound message I’d stuffed into that poem. In less than a week, however, then editor Marge Simon responded with what was the most effective rejection I’d ever received.

 “…overkill. See too much of this. Try me with the ‘inner space’ in your head.”

At first, I struggled with her statement. Why would I be searching inside my head, when I’m trying to write about outer space? The only thing that sort of searching would accomplish would be to dredge up all the crap in my life that I didn’t want to think about. I didn’t want self-examination. That’s what therapy is for!

What I wanted out of speculative poetry was freedom. I wanted to explore places I’d never been, and perhaps make up a few things along the way like a 16th Century cartographer who scrawls “Here there be dragons!” on an uncharted region just to toy with the minds of his peers. Inner space? Please. Marge Simon obviously didn’t have a clue about speculative poetry.

Click here if you’d like to see how wrong I was.

So I bit my tongue, closed my eyes, and proceeded to try it her way. But ever so cautious. I could bump into strange things in the dank recesses of my mind. Hell, I might not even find my way back. It may sound a bit facetious, but that was how I felt stepping into that inner space. And those dark thoughts led me to black holes.

Event Horizon STRLNJLGST2010
by Kurt MacPhearson 

a pin-prick point
of everything
and nothing
lodged in the heart

 a cosmic eraser
leaving empty
theoretic explanations
as the soul rides

 originally appeared in Star*Line 28.3

I challenge all who read this entry to take Marge Simon’s advice. Search that inner space in your head and explore places you’ve never been, see things you thought you’d never see, and, in the speculative spirt, make up a few things along the way.

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

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