Almost every day I wonder if I should have written my science-fiction story in prose, as is usual with fiction. Instead I wrote all three books as free verse, in a long narrative poem. Many people do not like to read poetry — too complicated, too intense, too much like high school. Poetry books, even those that tell stories, do not sell well. There is not even a category in Amazon books for ‘Poetry, Science Fiction’. Poetry is boring.
I could have written my books as prose. I have written four books (unpublished) of fiction, so I know a bit about the process. If I was given the choice of reading a tale in poetry or prose, which would I choose? I only know, the story of Odymn and the Slain, set on the planet Meniscus, was made for poetry.
1. The strange world of Meniscus needs strange description. This is a world where all is viewed through a purple mist. The smell of cinnamon dominates. Water flows upward not down, and floats in droplets in the air. The alien language spoken on Meniscus is itself filled with alliteration and strange sounds. The word choices of poetry help the reader take the journey to Meniscus.
Bubbles rise, meet surface,
swell to domes, stretch and burst.
Disperse in elastic, floating drops.
above the sheen of mosses,
between emerald and velvet ferns,
fronds flat and freckled.
2. Poetry allows terse story-telling. A lot of information can be packed into a few lines. Description is sometimes sacrificed, but the reader, embedded in the story, can fill in the detail. Sometimes the world created by the dual effort of writer and reader is more complex and complete.
A slear-snake, trolling for prey.
Nostrils expel viscous breath, visible
in the light of the rising moons.
sulphides and zootoxins,
evolved to paralyse prey.
Three eyes, oozing.
Her muscles respond,
propel her forward.
Side-wind and a claw
rakes her back.
3. The brevity of poetry suits the communications of the characters. The Slain, a genetically modified human with nictitating eyelids and the ability to channel energy to his armour, speaks rarely and briefly. Odymn sometimes jabbers she talks so much. The gaps and rhythms of poetry allow spaces in their conversation, the way white space on the page relieves our eyes.
“Odymn,” she says.
“Named by my father.
“Now you,” and points at his chest.
Blue sparks snap to the tip of her finger.
Faint vibration through hand, along arm,
deep into torso.
Lazy double blink.
Membrane and lashes close and open.
“OK. I’ll choose a name for you.
Daniel. Or James.
Not quite right, too common.
“You need an alien name.
Something deep from Dock-winder mythology.
Amblyn, god of fire. Or De-al, water-weld.”
Steady stare. Double blink.
One hand lifts. One finger raised to lips.
4. Odymn, the main female character, has a skill to help her survive on Meniscus — she is a practitioner of parkour. Parkour is a way of moving through the landscape with running, jumping and climbing. The flow of poetry helps with the description of the fluid movements of parkour.
Dismount from the tree.
Trunk to trunk and flip forward.
Leap and struggle to stick the jump.
Vault and pivot.
Loves the silence,
quiet impact of feet, slap of fingers.
Ballerina toes thumping the stage.
Hands touching the surface of planet.
5. When I write in free verse, I leave out most of the little words, the, and, a … There is not much room for adverbs or unnecessary adjectives. The nouns and verbs tell the story. Actions read as more immediate, fast-paced and urgent.
Fingers ripping fabric.
Knee on her throat.
Violated by mouths and teeth,
dragged backwards over cobblestones.
Rising mist of red.
Fabric and legs splayed.
6. Love scenes are fun to write in poetry. The reader uses every word to suggest a hundred more. Even a word like ‘peel’ becomes sensuous, embedded with meaning.
He lifts her, removes
every barrier between them.
Cold copper and silken ribbons
His skin a brief pause
I have considered writing other books in the series in prose. But when I do, I remember what is sacrificed. Brevity, depth, intensity, strangeness and urgency are components I want to keep in the story of Odymn and the Slain. Occasionally, I can relax the poetry to write dialogue, for example. But I always want to return to a place where the reader can walk through a village on Meniscus and experience the surroundings in brief impressions, as we do in reality.
Smooth stucco, mossy stairs.
Aroma of brewing zed.
solace, comfort, repose.
All my best,