This will be a short prompt compared to others I’ve posted. Please accept my apologies.
This was not meant to be posted on the day after Ray Bradbury’s death. I planned to post the prompt for sometime, but Ray’s legacy as a craft master of alien worlds plays well into the prompt. Dedicating our poetic efforts to his memory will serve as a tiny memorial to his work.
Okay, you might have guessed what I’m going to suggest as a prompt today. I’d like you to write poetry that evokes an alien world, as close as our human abilities allow. I say this because I do not think that language and its link to our sensory-psychological make-up truly allows us to create a “real” alien world. Unfortunately, even the best creations of what might be an alien world always seem to resemble the one we are familiar with.
But a little history and some examples might give some perspective on what a depiction of an alien world could include. Envisioning other worlds is quite prevalent in human history. From the time when humans began to write, we find tales of otherworldly travel. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, the ancient Persian texts on paradise, the Pseudepigripha, the Jewish Bible. There’s the Roman writer Lucian’s story of traveling to the moon. The idea of other planets and other worlds even made its way to Christian theology in the works of Origen. And then, of course, there’s Dante’s Divine Comedy. The list can go on.
The depiction of the world beyond what we call reality which is found in Gilgamesh might serve as an example. Consider whether the evocation of what might truly be “alien” has been achieved?
The mountain is called Mashu.
Then he reached Mount Mashu,
which daily guards the rising and setting of the Sun,
above which only the dome of the heavens reaches,
and whose flank reaches as far as the Netherworld below,
there were Scorpion-beings watching over its gate.
Trembling terror they inspire, the sight of them is death,
their frightening aura sweeps over the mountains.
At the rising and setting they watch over the Sun.
When Gilgamesh saw them, trembling terror blanketed his face,
but he pulled himself together and drew near to them.
The scorpion-being called out to his female:
“He who comes to us, his body is the flesh of gods!”
The scorpion-being, his female, answered him:
“(Only) two-thirds of him is a god, one-third is human.”
The male scorpion-being called out,
saying to the offspring of the gods:
“Why have you traveled so distant a journey?
Why have you come here to me,
over rivers whose crossing is treacherous!
I want to learn your …
I want to learn …”
trns. by M. G. Kovacs
These lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh are pretty intensely visual, and in this translation evoke that sense of terror that one must feel in the presence of such evil and alien beings. The description of the nether realms are as equally strange, weird, and “alien.” But is it the strangeness of the mythology and belief system behind them that makes the words seem alien? Isn’t that what might constitute the essence of anything that we might call a decent semblance of alien worlds?
I’ve been asking whether we can actually create works of art that depict the truly alien. For me the closest thing to an alien world that I am familiar with is the world of the Mayans and Aztecs. As their language opens up their world view to us, I realize that this is a way of life that I find truly alien. Immersed in a world where blood-letting was used to induce visions and other-wordly journeys to see the dead, where sacrifice of others was routine, that is something I find difficult to imagine.
Getting back to literary examples of alien worlds, in my experience Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan, evokes a world that is certainly fantastic and wonderful. It’s considereda classic, though left unfinished.
The shadow of the Dome of Pleasure
Floated midway on the waves,
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device:
A sunny Pleasure-Dome with caves of ice!
The poem evokes a time and place supremely unreal, ethereal in its beauty and charm. It leaves us desiring to hear more, but unfortunately the poet’s dream was disrupted and we are left with just a fragment of what promised to be a journey in a land beyond dreams. Some speculate that Coleridge wrote the poem under the influence of laudanum, an opium derivative. Whatever the truth of the matter, we must regret that he did not finish it. On the other hand, perhaps Jorge Luis Borges is right, that these lands exist somewhere, we have just lost the map to find or see them.
For another example, see the fine poem, The Fishmonger, by Joy Ann Jones.
And then there’s always the Captain:
In this week’s prompt, write a poem that creates or evokes another world. To accomplish this, you might
- write a science-fiction type poem
- describe a journey to a world unlike our own
- think of our world in alien terms
Cool? Then let’s get it on. Here’s how it works:
- Post a poem based on tonight’s theme to your blog.
- Link in the poem you’d like to share by clicking on the Mr.Linky button just below.
- This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog url and entered your name, simply click Submit.
- Don’t forget to let your readers know where you’re linking up and encourage them to participate by including a link to dVerse in your blog post.
- Visit as many other poems as you like, commenting as you see fit. Chances are if you comment on others they will comment on you. Funny how that works.
- Remember, we’re here for each other. Engage your fellow poets, talk, chat, comment, let them know their work is being read, and enjoy the input you also will receive. Feel free to tweet and share on the social media of your choice.
Finally, enjoy–this is poetry alive.
NOTE: All images via Wikipedia Commons.
Brian Carlin said:
Is it too much of a stretch to use the Antarctic as an alien place… I hope not, just finished a piece!
this is a very cool prompt charles…as you know, i love traveling..and traveling to other worlds is even more adventurous..no matter where those may lie…
Your poem really brings out the alien that lives inside, I think. I love to travel too, and I think that all of your poetry provides a map of external and interior landscapes. Your piece is lovely, I really loved it.
Excellent prompt, Charles, and the tie-in to Bradbury and his often dystopic vision of our own world once removed, though coincidental, is most apt. I agree about the Aztecs–a very alien world.
Thanks for the reference to my own poem as well. Unlike Coleridge, that one was found, not under the influence of drugs, but insomnia and a fireplace at 3 AM, a dangerous combination. ;_)
Off to see what I can come up with here.
I was glad to use your poem. I wish I’d contacted you earlier so I could have quoted from it a little. Otherwise I think it works fine. If you pulled together your piece tonight in a few hours… wow, great work.
No, it was an older piece–it just seemed to fit.
Yes, I saw later comment, but did not return to reply to this one. Notwithstanding, a very powerful and beautiful poem, as terrifying as it is! I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I really think the fascinans and tremendum dialectic is so powerful in explaining who we are as humans and our relationship to our selves. Your poem has that tremendum part down pat, much like Poe’s work which uses the same parts of the human soul from where these emotions come from.
In desperate need of an alien world today Charles! Thank you for paying homage to the brilliant mind of Ray and giving me an awesome reason to escape these real world confines! Off to share, then off to write!
I wish I could create worlds like that so quickly. You did a wonderful job with the prompt, and it carries thru brilliantly on Bradbury’s often dystopic view of technology (as Hedge says above). I have written sci-fi kind of poems, and a play which is really long and uses the motif of flesh-eating aliens! (seriously, though I would hope it’d be perceived as a little more subtle than that 🙂 Thanks for making this a successful outing Tash.
Laurie Kolp said:
I do not know why I sat here and persisted into over-tiredness instead of napping this afternoon. You brought up the Aztecs which brought me to the Mayan folks and the basketball game, but only the shape of that came into my poem with no blood–no fluids at all, actually. It’s oddly sterile, and if it weren’t for that would remind me of the nightmare where I am a dancing bear turning a large ball round and round but going nowhere forever.
aztecs, mayan folks, basketball and a dancing bear…what a thought trail…i like how a poet’s mind works at times..smiles
that sounds like the start of a great surreal poem! Very alien indeed 🙂
Thank you Chaz for a wonderful prompt. I shall keep it and write to it, but no way will I make the Mister Linky closeure! I have just arrived home at almost 11pm at the end of an intensive poetry workshop which started last Sunday morning. I am temporarily (I hope) written out, besides having a big heap of stuff to edit.
nice… seems you had a wonderful time at the workshop and the written out won’t last long i guess..smiles
Weeell – you’ll see about the wonderful time here: http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/envoi-from-le-moulin/
brian miller said:
smiles….thanks for the link…and glad you had fun…sounds like it was really productive…
I look forward to your work Viv. Wow, four days of poetry, almost sounds like paradise! But there is mind overload too 🙂
nice..enjoyed the traveling on the poetic trail to your other worlds… my eyes give in now though….boarding dreamland and be back in the AM to read more..
Polly Robinson said:
I’m unsure whether faerie folk count as aliens, but I think they might … nice prompt 🙂
definitely think they do.. 🙂
I think so, in a wyrd way! 🙂
I’m submitting a repost of one of my more alien worlds that seems to fit the bill. Apologies to those who remember it from One Shot Wednesday about a year and a half ago.
It’s great. As you can see from comment, it blew me away pretty much.
Victoria C. Slotto said:
Here’s an invite to the alien world I call “home.” Thanks for the fun prompt, Chaz. I’ll be back to read later.
Mark Kerstetter said:
Really excellent post. And Beefheart! I’ve not heard that version, so thanks for that. I’ve always considered Don Van Vliet to be a poet. And Joy’s poem is superb.
I’m thinking about writing a poem for Mr. Bradbury, probably not appropriate for this prompt, but wanted to let you know I like this post.
Thanks mark, i look forward to anything you might write. Yes, Don was a poet and a painter. I think his words/music are genius… I really do. This is one of those songs I used to play all the time. Great stuff. It calls up all that is familiar yet really strange, really alien in a lot of ways, the way the music just creates these incredibly rpimitive, expressionist soundscapes.
brian miller said:
ha. enjoyable prompt man….just getting off work and out on the trail now…mt bradbury was def an influence on me…
Fabulous prompt Charles. Have a good night all.
The Happy Amateur said:
is prose allowed?..Short, flash fiction kind?
brian miller said:
go for it….
The Happy Amateur said:
OK! Just wanted to make sure I’m not breaking any rules..
Joseph Harker said:
Wait, this was a short prompt? 🙂 It was a good one, anyway; maybe didn’t quite follow the sci-fi route (a moment of silence for Bradbury), but I suppose other worlds can take all kinds of forms.
Thanks, Chaz…can’t wait to see what creative works your prompt stirred up. Mine is a recurring vision…a world unbound by time or space.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks you for posting today. I’ve been thinking about this theme for some time, and it really does run pretty deep in my thoughts. The ability or not to understand others who are really other, almost unknowable to u, though they be human has many spiritual and ethical meanings for me. Thank you for sharing your insights with me on it.
Thank you, Chaz.. Really a great idea to put our imaginations to use. Mostly when the question of “alien” comes up..I go to a more spiritual place of connection..but perhaps I need to expand my thinking on that..
Charles, great prompt, and great notes. Thanks!
Hi Charles – wonderful prompt. I went a bit obvious, I think, but I tried several different approaches and this worked the best for me. k.
Your work is always great. I liked the angle you went at the prompt from. It is always good to remember those times when we ourselves get that alien feeling brought upon us. It brings insight, if you live thru it. Your poem is also quite relevant socially, as you know, bringing up questions about differences – cultural and otherwise – that are causing so much hatred.
It is a very good prompt though — I was thinking of various angles and started things – life after school – age after beauty! (Not one I know too much about – ha- or at least only the age part!) etc etc. All these alien places we find ourselves in. k.
hmmm… age does bring a certain kind of awareness, if we’re able to learn from experience. Poets are good at that, open as they are to possibilities that many often take for granted or conditioned by social norms not to look into.
fabulous prompt charles, wish i could do a poem, but will content myself with enjoying the read, digging and tweeting it
thanks so much charles
Thanks Ada, I always look forward to your words, in poetry or otherwise. There’s been a lot of great stuff written so far, so it looks like you’ll have a lot of pleasurable things to read as well as insightful!
Had trouble finding my aliens but did want to honour Bradbury … so, gave it a bit of a shot … love the info tho’ Chaz
brian miller said:
you did a great job….enjoyed your piece thoroughly….
brian miller said:
alright poets…off to bed…be back in the morning to read…
sleep well bri.. just about to get a coffee and see what the overnights brought in..
Words, words, words…
Just now found myself using the word ‘overnight’ as a noun, and wondered how that came about. Now I know :-), thanks.
Charles, thanks for hosting. Very cool write-up. Love the examples you sited here. Very interesting topic. Thanks
brian miller said:
nice fred on my way over to see what you have….
rosemary mint said:
Anything I write at 3 in the morning is probably going to sound alien. 🙂
David King said:
Like it. Good one. Thanks for.
Reckon Dave is absolutely exhausted after writing his poem this morning. Quite a feat. Go read it if you dare:-)
Hi ya’ll. I’m late but couldn’t resist. Short and based on an island adventure, closest thing to sci fi I could do.
Despite being a regular for Open Link Night and Poetics, I must confess I’ve stopped by for Meet the Bar until tonight and I’m glad I did, really enjoyed the prompt, hope you like my take on it! Thanks
I look forward to it. Ready to read now. Thank you for coming by Vanessa.
Sad that this link expired, I guess it’s a 24 hour window and I got busy…
That said, my poem reflects the “other world” I plan to visit this weekend!
brian miller said:
sorry i am just getting back…got hit with an audit yesterday so was offline all day with that…just now getting back to the last 5 or so…good morning everyone! see you in a bit for poetics as well…where it will be all about Choice today…