Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Building Audience for Speculative Poetry: Starting with Definitions

I've been following an interesting discussion (or twelve) on twitter about speculative poetry - specifically why there are so few people who seem to be interested in spec poetry and then how to go about changing that situation.  Since I do my thinking by writing, it's no surprise that a blog post (or twelve) has/will result.  I've decided to put together the parts of such a scheme here, and see if it goes anywhere.  If not, at least in the process I will certainly have educated myself on some issues that are of interest and import to me, anyway.

If this post is the so called "start" then my inclination is two fold: first to define terms, and then to plan initial assessment.  I can't do anything without assessment - too long working in science and science education.  But doing both in one post would be too long, so here is the definitions post.

So, what is the definition of "Speculative Poetry" anyway?  Definitions abound, of course, since for every person there is a spin or angle unique to them personally.  I'm going to take the very broadest definition of the word "poetry" since I want to be as inclusive as possible.  It is largely poem content that makes a poem speculative or otherwise, generally speaking.  Though there are exceptions.  Of course.

For a plethora of definitions, one can always start with Wikipedia.   Bruce Boston discusses speculative poetry in an interview, Mike Allen has an Introduction to Speculative Poetry, Suzette Elgin posted About Science Fiction Poetry, and several other folks have blogged about it, including Sofia Samatar and a post by Mae Empson in Inkpunks. (Okay, what have I missed?  What works/does not work with these definitions and discussions?)

In my mind, speculative poetry includes the range of subject matter within sci-fi, horror, fantasy, slipstream, the weird, and all the places in between.  It also includes poetry about science, which is something of a deviation, on the surface, anyway.

I think what sets speculative poetry apart is the emphasis on the strong imaginative element, even the "science" poetry.  These poems seem to take us someplace else, before bringing us back to the truths we already know, and now see through a new perspective, thanks to the poem.  Here's an excerpt from one of the very first speculative poems I ever read ...

Among the hills a meteorite
Lies huge: and moss has overgrown,
And wind and rain with touches light
Made soft, the contours of the stone.

Thus easily can Earth digest
A cinder of sidereal fire,
And make the translunary guest
'Thus native to an English shire.

- C.S. Lewis
excerpt from "The Meteorite"

It is entirely "scientific" but also speculative.  This is fiction - the speaker is not referring to a meteorite that exists "in fact."  (If it did, it would have been retrieved for study or sale, no doubt, and not continue to erode in said shire.)  The journey of this meteorite and its final resting place exist within the head of the poet.  I also find the personification of Earth as 'digesting' to have a kind of mythological feel, i.e. Earth as a powerful force or deity.  (What do you think of this example?  What is your first or favorite speculative poem?)

Having now created a sort of cloud space of ideas that loosely form the definition of speculative poetry, I can now blog further about what to do with that.  Building audience for this genre of poetry might mean revisiting the definition later, or realizing that a targeted audience might only be interested in some subset of these poems.  But again, that's for later.

Ideas on definitions?  I would love to hear them.

Image Credit:  Wikimedia Commons, public domain, Writing Desk


Virginia said...

Sharing your bent toward inclusivity, I think intention is part of whether a poem is "speculative." I mean, "Fairie Queene" is pretty dang speculative, right? But the term didn't apply in Spenser's time.

I like what you said about a "strong imaginative element." There is space in that definition for all kinds of poetry.

I think some of the dividing line is where poets prefer to submit: to outlets that self-define as speculative?

A triad of fiction is writer-editor/publisher-reader. That makes a community. To choose to submit within speculative fiction is to choose a community.

One hopes a welcoming sort of community.

J.A. Grier said...

Hello Virginia - thanks for reading and commenting! I really resonate with your statement "To choose to submit within speculative fiction is to choose a community." I'm in the process of trying to define that, too - the 'community' of speculative fiction. If that's the community we'd like to grow, then I certainly need a good definition! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't think choice of submission destination really defines the product. A speculative poem is a speculative poem, and we've been re-classing historic works i various genres such as fantasy, and various categories such as YA, that were not even a glimmer in literature's eye when those works were published.

I think the content of the poem, or maybe the theme depending on how strong it is, defines whether a poem is speculative or not.