June 5, 2020

Science Fiction…Poetry?

Poetry isn’t the first thing one thinks of when it comes to science fiction. Indeed, the genre as a whole could be said to be extremely low profile, or at least have lots of room for expansion! Or do you simply say “speculative poetry?” When I first thought of the idea for this post, I thought to myself “You must be crazy. People will definitely think you’ve drunk one too many Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters for this one…”

But as the old saying goes, they are indeed out there. As preliminary research progressed, I uncovered what seems to be the underpinnings of a SciFi Poetry (what we’ll call it!) network! What follows is everything you ever wondered (or more than you cared to know!) about SciFi Poetry, as well as a short list of noteables who have dabbled;

Edgar Allan Poe: Did you that no less than America’s first and foremost horror writer proposed a solution to Olber’s paradox in a poem entitled Eureka?

Douglas Adams: Long known for his infamous Hitchhiker’s Guide series, much poetry is also contained within. Adams also tackles the feat of rating the three worst types of poetry in the known universe, (see below)…but our favorite has always been the limerick from Life, the Universe and Everything dealing with teleportation.

Frank Herbert: Known of course for his epic Dune saga, much poetry is also contained herein. Every chapter of Dune began with an intro from the history of the Dune universe (Princess Irulan was a busy gal!) and a fair amount of poetry was used to flesh out the Dune novels.

Jerry Pournelle: One of the first writers that clued me in that SciFi poetry exists (or was even possible!)… Reading one of his “There Will Be War” series of anthologies (#2, to be exact!) back in the 80′s first exposed me to the sub (-sub?) genre. They are worth digging up for some of the unknown SciFi poems they contained!

Ray Bradbury: Books like The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine are given to a poetic prose of their own. Ray is also known to have occasionally produced a SciFi poetry anthology or two!

Ursla Le Guin: OK, I may be the last one in the (known) universe to discover this amazing SciFi writer… I recently had the pleasure to read the classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas,” which patiently rocks! Her background is in sociology rather than the traditional ‘hard” sciences, and it lends to a refreshing take. Selected poems (including perhaps the only example of a Scifi palindrome?) can be found at the authors’ website.

Joe Haldeman: Of Worlds fame…Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman has also occasionally published Scifi Poetry, and won the prestigious Rhysling Award (see below) for, among others, his long poem Saul’s Death (of a style known as a Sestina!) and a tough to find (but worth it!) anthology of the same name.

Craig Raine: I give him honorable mention for his 1944 poem A Martian Sends a Postcard Home… I came across this trippy artifact in a recent college Lit class!

Disclaimer: Vogon Poetry is the #3rd Worst in the Universe!

And of course, who can forget the fifth grade (and for most of us, our only exposure to speculative poetry!) May Swenson’s thought provoking Southbound on the Freeway?

SciFaiku: You guessed it… this is none other than a sub-sub genre of Science Fiction Haiku Poetry! No, we’re not making this up! Could this be final proof that all of reality is now enshrined on the Web?

And yes, SciFi poetry has its own recognition and merits in the annual Rhysling Award. Since 1978, the Rhyslings have recognized long-and short-form SciFi poetry. Skimming the list of winners shows us who the closet poets really are in the genre, as well as demonstrates that we’ve got some reading to do to stay up with the field! These are compiled and released in the annuals of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, which also does its own publications.

Which leads me to my final burning question; does anyone know any writers that exclusively do SciFi Poetry?

Some SciFi poetry is definitely worth the effort of seeking out; I’ve learned a thing or two compiling this brief piece. I always love it when I uncover something that the world at large isn’t hip to yet! Now to try out that new piece I wrote at open mic night…

Of course, no one can forget the clip from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the REAL BBC series, y’know, the one that looked like a Doctor Who episode) of Ford and Arthur being tortured via Vogon poetry, considered the “third worst in the universe”…we’ll spare you that of Azagoths of Kria, the second. And the very worst? Read that of Paula Nancy Milestone Jennings… if you dare!



  1. brobof says:

    Serious omission “Trinary” Delphine poetry used in Brin’s “Startide RisingV the poetry actually moves the plot along!
    “a brief haiku in dolphin-Trinary.
    * The stars shake with storms
    * The waters below roll thunder —
    * Still, are we wet, love? *”



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