Category Archives: Poetry

Shhhh, Excuses and A Poem

It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’d like to do more, but for now I’m not sure if that will happen. For the first time in my life I’ve been dealing with real, serious depression. It’s hard to understand and harder still to explain. The description I’ve found which best fits my experience is on Cracked.com “5 Facts Everyone Gets Wrong About Depression”, and I’ve also written before a little about depression on this blog. Anyway, that’s the excuse I’ve had for not writing more. For now I don’t want to write any more about it. Possibly I will later but not now. Now I just want to give an update, and because you deserve more than just a short little paragraph, here’s a poem:

Shhhh

I’ve heard rumor of a room
so silent,
you can hear electricity hum
through your own nervous system.

There the heart beats loud enough
to wake the damned,
and blood rushes through your veins
with all the gentle whisper of a freight train.

Visitors are not allowed
to remain in the room longer
than 45 minutes,
for fear they will go mad.

What secrets could we divine,
if only we had the patience to listen?

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The Importance of Science Literacy in the Arts, or I have a bone to pick with Billy Collins

If you are not aware of Billy Collins, he is a famous and deservedly acclaimed poet. He acted as US Poet Laureate from 2001 – 2003. He is very good at his craft. Now my bone to pick.

The other day I was introduced to a poem of his titled, “Earthling.” I won’t post all the text of the poem here because I don’t know if I legally can, but the whole text is posted other places on the internet. Straight off I want to say this is a very good poem, and the part I have a problem with is very nitpicky and doesn’t actually affect the overall message or sense of the poem. But it bugged me, and what is the internet good for if I can’t declare nitpicky wrongness about well made works of art?

“Earthling” deals with issues of body image and weight, and it does so in a clever and unique manner. Right off Collins starts by commenting on the effect of scales commonly found in planetariums which show a person how much they’d weigh on other planets. I visit the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City fairly often because it’s fun and awesome, and as soon as the poem mentioned the scales I was hooked.

I particularly love it when science and poetry come together. The universe is easily as strange and rich and beautiful and amazing and incredible as anything the human mind can imagine. Sometimes even more so. As such, it lends itself perfectly to the imagination and invention of poetry. On the other side, poetry is perfectly situated to make people aware of the majesty of science often blurred by the math we don’t understand. This is the kind of thing you get when science and art inform each other:

Holy shit! Isn’t the universe amazing!? I don’t think you can look at that picture and not want to be a scientist and feel like a poet at the same time. They are a perfect match. And that is exactly why the poem’s fourth stanza irks me. It reads,

Imagine squatting in the wasteland
of Pluto, all five tons of you,
or wandering around Mercury
wondering what to do next with your ounce.

Did you catch that? It’s okay if you didn’t. We’re not all scientists, and that’s kind of the point. The problem here is that the poem seems to suggest that weight is directly proportional to one’s distance from the sun. In other words, on Pluto you’d weigh 10,000 pounds (1 ton = 2,000 pounds) because it’s so far from the sun, but because Mercury is so close you’d only weigh one ounce. This is so utterly false.

Weight is a measurement of the force of gravity on an object. This means higher gravity = higher weight. A quick internet search reveals Mercury’s mass to be about 38% that of Earth. This means in order to weigh one ounce on Mercury, you’d have to weigh a little less than 3 ounces on Earth. That’s less than a quarter of a pound. For anyone out there using metrics that’s about 0.08 kilograms or 80 grams. Now Pluto’s gravity is only about 6.7% that of Earth. Which means to weigh 10,000 pounds on Pluto you’d need to weigh a little more than 149,000 pounds, or about 68,000 kilograms.

Do you see the problem the poem presents?

Now, you may be saying, “But its a poem.” As in, “It’s not meant to be taken literally.” And you might be right. But here’s a counterpoint, I’m not a scientist. I’m not even that well versed in science. I got a C+ or something like it in Physics 101. But I did all that research and math in about five minutes with a quick internet search. You might say, “But this poem isn’t brand new. Maybe Billy Collins didn’t have all that information at his fingertips like we do now.” To which I say, this poem was first published in 2001. The speeds were slower, but we still had the internet back then. But maybe Billy Collins is a bit of a Luddite. Well, there are these places in pretty much every major city all over the US where you can get this information. They are called planetariums and he references them in this exact poem. And if none of those were in easy reach, there are these dusty old places called libraries. They’re basically the internet without computers. Except in 2001 most libraries had computers which connected to the internet and were free, or very cheap, and were set aside for public use.

The point here is that as a professional it’s your job to get it right, and if you have to do a little research then fucking do the research. It’s a small price to pay for science literacy and it won’t drive people like me to write crazy, nitpicky rants about fairly harmless mistakes and post them online.

I could go on about how scientifically literate language wouldn’t ruin the language or cadence of the poem. I could point out in depth the problem presented by an earlier stanza in which Collins seems to get the science right. But I’m sure if anyone is still reading this far in you just want it to end. Or maybe those who have stuck it out are only the crazies and want this to go on forever. Either way though, I’ll bring this entry to a close with a few short thoughts:

1. I don’t mean to attack Billy Collins’ character or claim he’s bad at his job. He is a terrific poet, but I feel he kind of dropped the ball here. Or maybe he wasn’t even holding this particular ball to begin with. But he should have been.

2. Science literacy is appallingly low among American adults (and probably elsewhere as well). It is especially important to get it right in venues where you can reach people who aren’t scientists and who may not have much to do with science in their day to day lives. People who read poetry in general tend to fit into this category. But there’s no reason it needs to be that way. In fact, science and literature can and should complement each other perfectly. When they do they improve each other, and the world is better off for it. And I want to live in that world.

The Butterfly

Sometimes when you write a lot, you need a break. Sometimes, for that break, you write something different. Here’s a short poem I wrote during a break from writing.*

*Yeah. I know that doesn’t really make sense.

 

The Butterfly

The smell was awful. The pain was intense. I lost control of my bike, and rode headlong into the fence.

My mood was besoured. I’d lost all my glee! I cursed the insolent God who’d let this happen to me.

I saw nothing but squiggles. My glasses were cracked. I tripped over the bike, and hit a rock with my back.

My ears were still ringing. My face was aflame. I knew without checking, it was one part injury and two parts shame.

My tongue was so dry. I tasted blood, dirt and grass. I picked up the bike, and rode away from the crash.

I rode swiftly for home. I felt the wind in my hair. I kept gaze forward, and avoided the stares.

I entered the parlor. Mom said, “How was the race?” I stuttered and stammered, “I caught a yellow butterfly with my face.”

Soap: A Poem

A splash of red, bright, crimson

The warmth of life spilled on my vest

Her name was Freggr

Even foul nomenclature makes a pretty dye

For the moment

 

Brown, gray, more brown

My tunic has lost all Freggr’s shine

Another voyage, another village

More color for my boots,

and I feel pretty again

For the moment

 

Screams, alarms, the watch is calling

The longhouse shakes, and I heft my blade

The Danes are so drab in the night

Cold pain in my throat

Blood stains my vest, and I am another man’s dye

For the moment

Words in Tandem: A Poem and a Thought

Words are funny things, especially when they work in tandem. Last night I wrote a poem, and I let my wife read it this morning to judge if I should let anybody else see it or not. I wrote it with a specific scene in mind. My wife read it and interpreted it very differently from how I wrote it. I haven’t told her what I meant with it, and I don’t think I will. It’s really a terrible disgrace when readers aren’t allowed to draw their own conclusions.

 

To The Gods of GraceLess Escapes: A Toast

 

Vengeful! Vengeful!

Trick me with your merry ways!

Never a man did I meet before tonight.

Never a woman.

 

The night! It calls! It sings! It beckons!

Icy black fingers creeping out from beneath the pudding

Yes! I’ll go. I’ll come.

To you my blushing bride three years dead tonight!

 

I come! I venture!

Wait on me, young footman.

Be easy ‘til the Dawn, it breaks our night in twain.

Alas! No time! We haven’t the time to make a cordial farewell.

 

To bed! To sleep! To Death and then awakening.

Marjorine! Marjorine, my love I cannot repay you.

 

My host! How quaint, the Porridge of our evening.

No wonder, no excitement.

Yet it fills the belly all the same.

 

To sum! In short! The Port was excellent.

Away I fly! But not without thanks.

To the Hospital of your home! Adieu.

A Poem For Ēostre Morn’

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

I’ve landed in a wondrous realm

Full of Unfug and Gaiety

The residents here revel in the most

Unmannerly of rituals, and gall to call it Piety!

 

Would you believe they worship a dead God

who torments leporids

splicing them with Vogel

and compels them to sacrifice their progeny to slaughter?

That the dead one may rise again and rule forever and ever. Amen.

 

Silly people will believe silly thoughts

But the terror of stampeding children

is more than a civilised mind can bear.

 

I must away at once,

return to my home

where the dead lay still as befits their station.

We do not bow to superstitions

And no cruel science contorts poor rodents.

 

Petty gods abound, itistrue

but my sensible kin do them no honours.

 

Back to home, Back to comforting sorcery,

Back to sanity, Vernϋnftigkeit!

 

Papa, Mother!

I’m sorry I ever ran away.

I’ll stay forever yours

and never age a day.

Illegal Poetry Slam

So I’m writing a book, as I mentioned briefly in my last post. I’m very hesitant to share things from that on here. Partly it’s because not even the first draft is finished, and I want people to actually want to read it. Also I hope to eventually someday publish it, and I don’t want it to already be online for free. Greedy? Maybe. Stingy? Yes. But overall I think it’s practical. I’ll make you a deal though. If for some reason I can’t get it published, I’ll send a digital copy to anyone who wants it. Fair? I don’t care.

On that rhyme, let’s get to the real reason you’re here. Last night I wrote a scene in my book where the protagonist discovers an illegal poetry slam performed by aliens in Hell. I was going to assure you something about it all making sense in the larger context of the story, but that’s actually a perfect description of what I’m going for here. I decided to share the actual poems with you today. There aren’t many of them, and I’m not a great poet, but I hope you enjoy them all the same.

Like this fella!

Like this fella!

*A note on the alien races: The alien names are not what they call themselves. They are names the protagonist assigns them based on one single character trait. For example, ewoks are short and furry, but they’re much more akin to werewolves than teddy bears.

Poetry Slam

About ten people all stood in a group, so it was impossible from outside to tell who was talking. It was a very diverse group, with ewoks, a large lady hobbit, one morlock, a couple of the blue-skinned buddhists, and even one angel. It only excluded humans. Morty, like everyone else outside of Earth, was a little racist. At the moment a deep voice was speaking in low hum. It sounded like a giant bumblebee.

At the end of the day I struggle home under my own power

Artificial wings can’t lift the air, but they lift my body

I tower over the waves, I am master of the domain

If I had to fall I’d fall with style, but you know this because here I am.

The deep voice stopped. It was replaced by a quiet humming from the other participants, continuing in the same rhythm as the poem for a single minute before cutting off abruptly. As soon it stopped another voice sprang out of the crowd, this one just as deep but with a staccato quality.

Wings are only as good as the mud on their folds

Tracing around through the wrinkles of the swarm

The swarm is everything. All for the glory of swarm.

But then what purpose do prisons serve when all is the swarm?

What purpose is exile if it doesn’t serve?

What purpose is life if not to live?

The swarm rejected us, but we are not gone.

We are the swarm, we are our own. We are the future, they are the present.

If you wanted to cut us down, you’ll need a bigger serpent.

Again the low hum sprang up as soon as the voice ended, this time matching the staccato of the speaker. Another poet began, but this time the humming continued, changing to match the speaker’s own alto voice.

The prophets say at the end times the dragon will rise in the stars

The prophets declare the coming of doom

The prophets betray the Goed for their own pleasure

The prophets lie for their Cad,

In the end they shall watch us

In the end we will eat the red

Our end is soon. Our end is soon.

All sound from the group stopped. They began departing one by one, making as if they were just at a casual meeting of friends.