31 January 2010


Visual Poetry by Individualist

Author’s Notes:

The poem is a Pantoum. This is another repeating poem made of quatrains rhyming in ABAB form. The second and fourth lines of a stanza are repeating in the next stanza as the first and third lines in a traditional Pantoum. I have modified the rule and changed the order so that the first line is the last line of the next stanza and the third line is the first line in the next stanza. The first line of the first stanza of the poem will be the fourth line of the last stanza and the third line will be the second. Thus each line in a Pantoum is repeated twice. The Pantoum was developed in France based on a form from Malaya. For this poem I have settled on twelve syllables per line but no standard meter. The following website explains Pantoums better than I can.

I came across an organization called the “Science Fiction Poetry Association” whose website is listed in the link.  According to the website science fiction poetry is poetry with “some element of speculation” usually based in science fiction fantasy or horror. This poem Revenant is based on elements of science fiction and horror put together in what I am going to term Gothic Futurism or “Dark” Futurism. Notably examples are showcased in the Novels 1984 by George Orwell and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and in television I think is best portrayed on “The Twilight Zone” episode “The Obsolete Man”. Futurism is defined by the dictionary as either an Italian art movement developed in the 1910’s which emphasized the painting of industrial machinery and technological innovations in their art. I have attempted to incorporate similar imagery in the visual elements of the poem. It is also defined below:

“A belief that the meaning of life and one's personal fulfillment lie in the future and not in the present or past.”
An individual who represents the best of modern day futurism is Michio Kaku who can be seen on the science channel. He is a theoretical physicist specializing in string theory who on his shows takes the current understanding of science and develops what the future may look like . His website is listed here: Michio Kaku.

Gothic Futurism then would seem to be a contradiction. For after all, the stories in the Novels and the TV show I have mentioned are a horror story. These tales appear at first glance to be an opposing view, one that perhaps would be held by luddites. They show the dangers of technology, focus on their misuse and seem to paint a dark portrait of the societies to come. Certainly they are in many respects counter to the optimism shown by Doctor Kaku.

For me there is one element, one yardstick that is missing from the analysis above, the plight of the individual in these societies. One of the things these three stories do very well is to illustrate the struggle between the society as an anthropomorphized entity and the individual controlled by the society.

The societies in the Gothic Futurism tales are ones that eventually restricts progress. In “1984” the Inner Party members had decided that no further research was needed because their system had reached an equilibrium which would not be upended. In “Brave New World” his Fordship noted that those curious and creative scientists and philosophers would have to be banished to an island since all new inventions and technology would have to be scrutinized to determine if it had any potential to override their society. In the “Obsolete Man” books were to be banned so that no knowledge outside the state could be obtained. Thus it is the society’s culture as a whole that embraces ludditism.

It is instead the individuals that are the free thinkers who embrace their curiosity and their creativity. Winston Smith seeks companionship and to find the lost knowledge of the past and in so doing seeks Truth. Henry Foster is looking for solitude and meaning to the shallowness of existence as a consumer for the state. The savage seeks a place in this world only to be repulsed by it seeking escape eventually through suicide. Wordsworth seeks poetic justice. In each case it is the individual that is seeking true progress.

In each story the state wins. In the end the only thing that is gained by the collective machine is the loss of all elements of humanity. The protagonists stand up for that which makes one truly human. The desire to embrace knowledge is how one finds one’s purpose in life. The struggle for this is an end in and of itself even if it is eventually doomed. These were the individuals brave enough to stand up and live and thus exceed the state if only for a brief time because they were more than a machine.

This then is why I maintain this genre is still Futurism even though the end is the opposite of the definition. It is the struggle against the machine. The positive element of these tales is the human spirit. These works show the “ghost in the machine” which is that same human spirit which the collective must stamp out since it cannot control it. (Note: this term was coined by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle as a critique of Descartes Mind Body dualism of which I must admit I have had little exposure. My use of this term is thus based on its connotation in the works of modern culture.)

This at any rate is my poor understanding of the works. My inspiration for this poem is an idea that came to me while recently rereading these works. I gave consideration to the technology in 1932 when Brave New World was written and 1949 when 1984 was written. This idea led me to reconsider how the future technologies to come could craft a new version of this dystopian nightmare. These technologies were not even yet able to be dreamed by the individuals of that time. It is this idea that has formed the inspiration for this poem. I am not sure that I can give either of these works an answer that does them justice with my meager talent but the idea is staying with me, rattling around in my head so it is helpful to me anyway to try to give it voice. These notes are more to help me than anyone else. The poem itself would probably be better served if this discussion were not included. However, this helps me to think about this “idea”. It also could give the reader some insight since I have read that it is difficult for the poet to communicate the ideas in science fiction effectively in the abbreviated language of poetry. Difficult but required nonetheless.

Essentially, I intend to turn the concept of the” ghost in the machine” around. For me it is the “machine in the ghost”. What happens when they can literally enter the thought processing capability of the human mind? This is also the derivation of the poem’s name, Revenant. For me this is something that suggests the connotation of a dead soul in limbo.  I hope the poem was enjoyable.


  1. Individualist, I'd say that you've capture a feeling of paranoia quite well. It has a feel like the movie Pi. . . if you've ever seen it?

  2. Hi Andrew,

    No I had not heard of that movie but I goolged it and read the synopsis and it seems pretty interesting. I was really trying to use the pictures and the repeating lines to emphasize the "horror" elements of the story. I thought a Pantuom would work nicely for this. I am glad you think it had that effect.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  3. You're welcome Individualist, I enjoy your work. And I think you really hit the nail on the head with this one.

  4. I think poetry is so much more difficult than prose. With poetry, you have to say so much more with fewer words. That's not easy! Love your site.

  5. Thank you WriterX I really appreciate the kind compliment.

    For me the writing of poetry comes in two ways. Rarely, some poetry just flows out in a few minutes and the result is finished then. For me this happens only in cases where the poet is in an extreme emotional state that is prolonged when he or she has time to contemplate but still feel. If I were to wait for this "state" to occur I would probably be able to write two maybe three poems in my life.

    To write more poems than this I try and force this state which requires a lot of thinking and rewriting. For me the goal of this "forcing" is to find the same emotional voice. This then is an irony. I think Poetry is difficult to write because you have to first find the point where it is easy to write. This is a point which will come naturally, very rarely.

    I am not sure how this works for others. I assume there are some people for whom poetry is written more "easily" since they are more emotional in nature or mayhap have more control and understanding over their emotions. I am not sure as I find myself at the beginning of this "journey" in attempting to publish work.

    Thanks for your encouragement.