EPIC POEM: Our World Is A Lifeboat

I started writing this after recently becoming entangled with the early access game Subnautica, a survival sandbox game where you play the lone survivor of a starship crash on what seems like a largely aquatic world (though most spaceships that crashed on earth would think the same thing, statistically).

The world in the game is conveniently earth-like enough that you can breathe its air and consume its food and water with reasonable filtration and processing, but early on in the game, before you gather enough resources to use magical technology to construct a habitat, your home is a tiny emergency escape pod bobbing in the shallows. It’s big enough for two people, but simultaneously claustrophobic and clangingly empty with just one.

This poem started with the idea of a scenario like Subnautica’s, but tweaked. What if the water was less shallow? What if the world outside was that much more dangerous, that much less compatible with terrestrial biology? What if the lifepod was not just your first home on the new world but the whole of your world? What if you weren’t alone?

That’s what I started with. Where it grew from there is complicated, and far deeper than I initially planned or intended. Essentially, it’s a creation myth shown from the other side.

The poem consists of fourteen named and numbered segments. The first one is like this:


I – Stranded

*

Our world is a lifeboat.

*

This was once metaphor

for all humanity,

back on ancient Earth,

back before the push,

back before the spread

of all humanity

to every corner of the cosmos,

to every habitable world

beneath every sky.

*

Our world is a lifeboat.

*

Outside is a world,

not habitable,

not safe, not ours.

*

So close, on the other side

of our pod’s glasteel ports,

so close and yet so far,

too close for comfort sometimes

when the tempest rages

and the hull shakes

and we toss and twist

upon the surface

of the sea.

*

The autoevac

did its job

as best it could

with the materials

available.

*

No plotted worlds within range,

nor any habitable ones,

it put the survivors down

in a planet-sized puddle

we could almost survive.

*

The exosurveyors speak of

the Goldilocks zone;

just the right distance

from just the right star,

everything just right,

just like the old story

that only survived

because exosurveyors

still tell it to explain

about the zone.

*

The only tell half the story, though.

*

Sometimes, Goldilocks

shows up and the porridge

is thin and runny, or already gone.

*

Sometimes the bears are home when she gets there.

*

Sometimes there is no home.

*

The world outside is in the zone,

but it feeds us watery gruel indeed.

*

Warm but not the right warm.

Wet but not the right pH.

Life, but not the right life.

It can’t grow inside our bubble.

We can’t live in its world.

It can’t live in ours.

We cannot cultivate it.

It cannot sustain us.

*

The replicycle

does its job

as best it can

with the materials

available.

*

It filters the water.

It filters the plants.

It filters the wriggling

fish-like organisms

that have never encountered

a single artificial object

in their brief lives

and have no reason to fear it.

*

The water tastes like ionized nothing.

The food tastes like stale nothing.

The nutritional supplements taste,

but like nothing good.

*

Our world is a lifeboat,

bobbing on the surface

of a world we can see

but not touch,

a world that

will never

be ours.


Again, the full poem contains thirteen more segments: Fruitless, Fruitful, Benediction, Malediction, Posterity, Titanomachy, Flowering, Awakening, Foreboding, Temptation, Apotheosis, Exegesis, and Coda.

At around 5,000 words depending on who is counting, it’s long for most short stories, though not unduly so for one of mine. I have posted the whole of it to Patreon, but as part of my new approach to Patreon, I am keeping the whole of it under patron-locked wraps for now.

You can read it immediately by pledging any amount. Because we’re trying to rebuild our financial cushion, I will also unlock it for everyone to read if I receive one hundred dollars in PayPal or Square Cash tips today.

The Devil Signed Onto Twitter

(With mumbled apologies to Charlie Daniels.)

The Devil Signed Onto Twitter

Well, the Devil signed onto Twitter,
he was looking for some grist to mill.
He was in a bind ’cause he had a deadline,
he was willing to make a deal.

When he came across this blogger
jawing on a topic and playing it hot,
and the Devil slid into her mentions all slick
and said, “Girl, let me tell you what…

I guess you didn’t know it
But I’m an aggregator, too
and if you care to let me share
your content, I’ll boost you.

Now you write a pretty mean blog post,
but give the Devil his due.
I’ve got exposure online like you’d never find.
My platform’s perfect for you.”

The blogger said, “My name’s Nonny,
and this might just be me,
but I’m gonna take a pass, you can kiss my ass,
’cause I never write for free.”

Nonny polish up your work and shop your pieces hard
’cause all hell’s broke loose on the web and the Devil holds the cards.
He promises you a byline and a credit to your name,
but if you pass, you’ll get paid just the same…

The Devil opened up his site
and he said, “Oh, gimme a break,”
and words flew from his fingertips
as he fired his hot take.

And then he slid his hands across the keys
and they made an evil click.
A cap of Nonny’s post appeared
in the Devil’s piece, the dick!

When the Devil published,
Nonny said, “Well, that’s pretty nice, you know,
but you just take down that work of mine,
or else you can pay me what you owe.”

Flame war in the comments, run boys, run. 
Devil’s in the Post of the Huffington. 
Digging in your mentions, picking out quotes. 
Mister, does your blog pay? No, lawlz, no. 

Well that ol’ Devil bowed his head,
because he’d been DMCA’d,
and he took that borrowed blog post
down for which he hadn’t paid.

Nonny said, “Devil, you can put it back
if you ever wanna meet my fee.
I done told you once, you quote-mining dick,
I never write for free.”

Flame war in the comments, run boys, run. 
Devil’s in the Post of the Huffington. 
Digging in your mentions, picking out quotes. 
Mister, does your blog pay? No, lawlz, no. 

 


 

Author’s Note: do make the decision to give a lot of my work away for free, but I do so on my own site and my own terms rather than generating traffic and revenue for others who gain more “exposure” from the content donated to their sites than they give to the paid works of their content creators.

If you enjoy and/or benefit from my presence on this blog or elsewhere on the web, please consider paying for it through PayPal or Patreon.

POEM: We Ride The Line

We Ride The Line
By Alexandra Erin


First Publication: September 23rd, 2015


 

When night comes out,
it does not fall.
It just shows up
when the light dies.

The darkness was always there,
hiding behind the light.
I try to wrap my head around this,
look at the moon,
so pale in the morning sky.
I know it shines as bright in the blue
as it does against the black.

I know the stars are there
behind the glare, somewhere.
I know darkness is just what’s left
when light goes out of your world.

I don’t know what it means.
I just know it’s true.

We ride the line, she says.

I tell her I knew a girl like her once.
She tells me I’m mistaken,
I didn’t know that girl then
and I don’t know her now,
I’ve just confused real people
with the intersection
on a Venn diagram
between observable traits
and my own imagination.

She says she’s used to it,
she knows I’ll learn better.

We ride the line together,
tell our stories, say our prayers.
We pass from dark to light
and back again, frequent flyers
on the annual trip around the sun,
all expenses paid
one way, or another.

Daylight changes things
more than we’d like to admit.
Each time the light dies
we swear we’ll get it right
next time, tomorrow,
next year, time after that.
We burn up our somedays
like we’re made out of maybes,
like we’ll never run out.

We ride the line to the end.
Alone, we go around together.
Somewhere is a last stop
waiting for us.
Someday the fare box
will take our last pennies,
exact change
from one state of being to another.

Just like flipping a switch.
Just like shutting off a light.
The darkness is there already,
hiding behind it.

We ride the line.
Night does not fall.
It just comes out,
when the light dies.

POEM: Toll Call

Toll Call

By Alexandra Erin


 

First Published: September 22nd, 2015


 

To continue this call in English, press 1.
To continue a different call, press 2.
To resume a call you don’t remember placing, press 3.
To end a call you had no intention of ever beginning, press 4.
To speak with technical support, press 5.
To speak with the dead, press 6.
For billing inquiries, press 7.
For all other inquiries, press 8.
For other other inquiries, press 9.

If you know your party’s extension,
enter a perfect dreamless sleep
and never awaken
now.

If you’d like to leave a message,
please consider with whom,
and at what cost.

If you’d like to speak with the operator,
please hang up the phone
and turn around
slowly.

Please have your account number
and be ready to scream.
Be ready to run.
It won’t help.
Nothing will help.

Your call is very important to us.
It will be answered in the order it was received.

Poem: Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callistos

A poem of mine that I’m really fond of recently appeared in the anthology The Martian Wave 2015, now available in limited hard copies and multiple e-book formats. You’ll have to buy the anthology to read it the whole thing, but here’s how it opens:

Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callistos

By Alexandra Erin

There are no seasons in space,
they say, but they’ve never been.
Earth-bound poets project their own lack
of imagination onto the black,
say it has no romance, no rhythm.

The food is good,
the old joke says,
but it’s got no atmosphere.

They were telling that one on Earth
before the first foot fell on the first moon,
and they’re still telling it to this day.
Only the venue has changed.

They’re wrong on every count, including the food.
The food is usually indifferent, often terrible,
nothing special at its decadent best.
It’s not always freeze-dried,
not always vacuum-locked,
not always so loaded with stabilizers
it has more aftertaste than taste,
but it’s never fresh, neither.

You don’t go to space for the food.

You go for the atmosphere.


…and that’s how it starts. It’s a meditation on the difference between earth-bound expectation and space-found reality. As I said, I’m very fond of how it turned out. Get it here, along with other poems and stories on the theme of interplanetary exploration and expansion within our own star system.

POEM: The Night Wind’s Ballad

My new poem “The Night Wind’s Ballad” is available as part of Niteblade #32. Niteblade uses a sort of hybrid sales/free model. You can buy the issue here, but once they have reached a total of $50 for the issue they will unlock the web-based version on their website (which currently only shows incomplete teasers).

“The Night Wind’s Ballad” is a piece I wrote on the plane while flying to Florida for Christmas last year. The title changed a few times before I submitted it. It was originally “A Night Song In Common Meter” and then “The Night Wind’s Lullaby”.

I think I like the lullaby title best, but I wasn’t sure it worked, given the actual theme of the words. It is in common meter, which makes it a “pick a tune and sing along” song, though for best creepy effect, I recommend reading it with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in your head.

Niteblade has announced they are closing after their next issue. I am very pleased to have been able to make the cut before they vanish into the night.

On Genre Poetry

If you think about it, it’s kind of weird that speculative fiction even exists as a genre. In a way, all fiction is speculative. If we weren’t imagining a world that is other than the one we know in some fashion, it wouldn’t be fiction.

But it goes beyond that, because once upon a time, there wasn’t a special word for fiction that was fanciful, fiction that included monsters and magic or even mechanical marvels. Those were all just part and parcel of the storyteller’s palette. The people who spun myths into tales were both entertainers and historians. There was no sharp, bright line. It took a long time for the idea of telling stories grounded in mundane reality to catch on to the point that we need a special word for stories that deal with glittering fantasticality.

This is perhaps even more true when it comes to poetry. So many poets throughout even recent history have worked in mythic realms, trafficking in fantastic or spiritual symbolism, incorporating folklore and legend into their verses. Poetry often deals heavily in metaphor, of course, so the argument about whether a given poem is really a work of fantasy or merely using fantasy to make a point while not actually telling a story could go on forever in some cases, if anybody felt it was worth their time to make it.

So we might ask ourselves: is there any need to label speculative poetry, genre poetry, SF/F poetry, or whatever you might want to call it?

Despite the case I just laid out, I would say that yes, it is a useful distinction to make… just not an absolute one. People tend to want to read things that speak to their interests, after all. We like what we like. If what you like is robots and artificial intelligences or mermaids and dragons—or robot dragons and artificially intelligent mermaids—then it might well be that speculative poetry would be right up your alley, even if most of the poetry you’ve encountered has done nothing for you.

I wouldn’t know how big and rich the world of speculative poetry is if not for the friendship of Elizabeth R. McClellan, who introduced me to it first through her participation in its fandom and then, increasingly, through her own career as a poet. I spent years watching from the fringes, convinced that this was all that I could do, that I didn’t have the right skills or anything to say.

That changed when I wrote “Institutional Memory“, a poem that started out as a short story that just wouldn’t come together. The time scale I wanted to capture was too grand, the point of view too diffuse. I couldn’t make it work as a story, so basically on a lark I tried it as a poem.

It worked, and I caught the bug. I’ve written easily a dozen solid poems since then, and sold four of them so far. The first sale was “Institutional Memory”. It was bought by the magazine arm of the SFPA, the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association. The fee wasn’t large in any objective sense, but it paid most of a year’s dues to the SFPA, which struck me as a fitting way to spend it.

Now, the SFPA isn’t like the similarly named SFWA, the Science Fiction& Fantasy Writer’s Association. Note that it’s the Poetry Association, not the Poet’s Association. This is not an organization for professionals but one for appreciators. In practice I suspect that most people who join the organization are or hope to be poets, and I also suspect the benefits of joining such an organization are more immediately clear if you are or hope to be a poet, but you don’t have to prove your right to be there. I had my first pro sale when I joined the SFPA, but that is not a requirement. There is no requirement. Nothing is required, everything is permitted.

Earlier in the year, I announced plans to promote speculative poetry through a website called The Every World Poetry Digest. My goal would be twofold: to let readers know what’s out there to read, and help poets learn what’s out there for them to sell to. I had planned on launching the project in earnest in May. That has been pushed back until I’m done with Angels of the Meanwhile, an unplanned and unexpected labor of love on behalf of Elizabeth R. McClellan, though it’s still coming.

In the meantime, I’m still going to do two things to promote my chosen field of poetry.

The first is to highlight the fact that the SFPA exists, it has open membership, and for as little as $15 a year you can be a member, get a quarterly PDF zine with poems from both career writers and rank neophytes and a chance to nominate for and vote on the Rhysling Awards (the equivalent of the SFWA’s Nebulas). The SFPA can be found online at http://www.sfpoetry.com/

The second is to mention that if you want to know some names you should be paying attention to in the genre poetry scene, you should seriously check out Angels of the MeanwhileThere are some serious big name, big time poets in there, along with some people I think will be well worth watching in the years to come. It’s by no means an exhaustive list; I’m not saying “Anyone who is anyone is in this collection.” But if you’re looking for a place to start, it should be a good one.

Actually, I’m going to do a third thing. I’m going to ask people to comment with the poem or two (or if you really can’t decide, three, but let’s keep things reasonable) that they would most recommend to others as a starting point if they’re interested in exploring the topic but not 100% sure where to look. It can be a classic work like Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” or one of Poe’s grim fancies, or something that came out more recently, but ideally it should be something that folks can find and read online for free, because I’m going to take them and collect them into a Speculative Poetry primer post of sorts.

There is a surprising (and growing) wealth of genre poetry on the internet, but one thing I am absolutely convinced of is that there are far more people who would read it than who, at current time, do. What I want to do—with this post, and with the Every World Poetry Digest—is give the world a signpost for finding it.