RHYTHMATICA: The First Ever Dragon*Con Panel Dedicated to Speculative Poetry

Do geeks “do” poetry? Stephen Segal, senior contributing editor to Weird Tales, asked this question with his panel dedicated to poetry slams on Saturday at 4PM in Greenbriar. Poetry was an important part of the Weird Tales tradition, including work by Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard, among others. Weird Tales has always had poetry in it. Cherie Priest joined him, along with Rogue from Crüxshadows, and Samantha Henderson.

Audience participation was not only encouraged, but demanded. Samantha Henderson started us off with hard sci-fi poetry,“The Final Report of the Sagittarius Rising,” two AIs faced conflicted in fractal emotions and memories, painted in astrology, astronomy, and the beauty of calculations. Samantha Henderson took this very complex poem and said, jokingly, that she wrote it as a poem because she was too lazy to do this complex idea as a story. In more a more serious answer, she explores many poets who use poetry to try to grasp the way artificial intelligences might “think”, because poetry can give you structure, logic, playfulness and emotion to explore the way AIs think. Sometimes there’s a place an idea cannot be pushed into a story, and that is when it wants to be a poem.

Steve Segal read “The Living and the Dead” by Campbell Evans, a poem about zombies, before inviting Tricia Wildridge to share a poem, who has a collection of poetry called The Unicorn and the Old Woman. A woman in poverty, old and decrepit, discovers her inner princess in a thumb prick and the mysterious unicorn appears to her, though he would not help her.

Rogue, talking about Crüxshadows music, discussed how he uses the old myths and fables to move them into new places, and new mythologies. He wants mythic figures to encounter ideas that are foreign to them completely. In this manner, using the myths, he can quickly communicate to his audience the complexity of the ideas he’s reaching for. Everyone knows, for instance, Orpheus’ relationship to Eurydice, immediately connects with audiences, who then experience the reinterpretation. Myths beg to be reinvented and re-applied. He followed up his talk with the lyrics to one of his most popular songs. He is Winterborne, ladies and gentlemen.

Rhyme is still an important issue for speculative poets, as well as rhythm. Formalist poetry, according to Samantha Henderson, is prevalent in the speculative field. Some editors hate it, and some like it. Rogue suggested that the poetry of the masses is rap music, popular music, and other things. To him, it is an Academia versus the Populists, as if to separate the highbrow and the low. This is true in the art world as well. Rogue suggests that we lessen ourselves as poets and artists if we choose not to do things that have been done before. One needs both form and concept, according to Rogue, and that is what he calls High Art. Form should not be rejected just to reject the form, for that is not the road to art, but the road to mere fashion.

Will Ludwigson’s poem “My Old Man’s Séance” was read by Stephen Segal. It was very well-received and brought a great laugh. Brian O’Hara volunteered to read “Introducing” with a powerful announcer voice, and lots of energy, destroying all of Atlanta with a 50-foot woman, Mariah Pariah, (Mariah Carey as a Godzilla, destroying urban culture). Rogue loved it, and said so openly, as did everyone in the room who laughed and applauded.

Finally the panel ended with Christina Springer’s humorous take on her son’s verbalizations while playing Nobi-Noby Boy, available in the latest issue of Weird Tales magazine. To close things out, we heard one more poem from an unidentified member of the audience. As the panel came to a happy, wholesome, beautiful end, Goblin Fruit was heavily plugged by Stephen Segal and Samantha Henderson, and Mythic Delirium. Yes, boys and girls, geeks “do” poetry.

Author of the article

Joseph McDermott writes for the video game industry by day, at Xaviant Software. At night, he writes fictions. His novels include Last Dragon, which was #6 on Amazon.com's Year's Best SF/F of 2008, shortlisted for a Crawford Prize, and on Locus Magazine's Recommended Reading List for Debuts. Maze, his second novel, will be out in 2011, from Apex Books, along with Never Knew Another from Nightshade Books. If you see him scampering about the convention, offer him Peanut M&Ms, iced coffee, and high fives (because he is awesome!).