Well, it’s blog-o-clock again, and today’s pulp fiction pondering has been triggered by an exceptionally interesting essay about different modes of poetry by Reality Street supremo and exceptionally cool modern poet Ken Edwards. Here’s some of his poetry; and here’s the essay.
Edwards launches a sustained assault on systems of reading that privilege a (relatively conservative) mainstream over a (relatively experimental) ‘parallel tradition’, taking as his exemplars competing poems by Matthew Sweeney and Allen Fisher.
The essay’s well worth reading, not just to find out more about modern poetry but to be reminded that the most powerful system of discourse operating within a given field isn’t necessarily the most *right* system, and that such systems can achieve their dominant position for a variety of different reasons, many of them having nothing to with quality of debate or inherent worth.
But something pulpy leapt out at me as well. I was particularly taken by Edwards’ definition of Fisher’s poem as a ‘nonequilibrium structure’. That’s a scientific term; such a structure is one that requires ‘a continuing input of energy to sustain [its] ordered structure’. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is one such structure; for Edwards, Fisher’s poem is another, because it requires the ‘continuous creative input of the reader to constellate its energy’.
That energy is needed because Fisher has, very deliberately, avoided writing a poem that resolves into a single fixed and coherent meaning or image set. Rather, it creates an open field of thought and feeling within which the reader is free to play, creating his or her own definition of what the poem is or could be. Deliberately incomplete, Fisher’s work demands the collaboration of the reader to attain one of many possible final forms.
That tends to be the kind of poetry that I prefer, and oddly enough it set me thinking about the visionary pulp writers who lie at the heart of so much of what’s interesting in the great tradition of SF and Fantasy.
There’s an incompleteness to much of their achievement too, but not necessarily such a conscious one; it springs from overwhelming indulgence of deep and exclusive personal obsessions, or an only partial attention to key aspects of the craft of writing, rather than from in-depth attention to literary theory, the deleterious effects of crumbily obvious poetry, and so on.
The Pulp Furies – ferociously obsessive, searingly primal, utterly unputdownable and at their best unforgettably resonant and evocative – created a literature that remains addictively engaging precisely because of its often lopsided incompleteness.
Hurling unhinged imagery, berserk plotting and often terrifying prose out into the void, for the most part not even noticing the classic procedures of fiction, still less paying any lip service to them, they created their own ongoing nonequilibrium structures.
Fifty, one hundred, one hundred and fifty years later, we’re still engaging with those structures, still finding them fresh precisely because of their failure to resolve into any final meaning. As readers, we collaborate with them, filling the gaps that obsession left with our own obsessions and thus finding life in them where other, more formally achieved works come across as decaying, if not dead.
Oh, and I was rooting around on his web page because of this excerpt from his new book, ‘Nostalgia for Unknown Cities’, available here – astonishing writing that I haven’t properly got to grips with, but that struck me on first reading as a kind of assembly code for an entirely personal fantastic.