by G.O. Clark
My poem “Distracted While Gardening” [on sale in the current Asimov’s now] is like a snapshot of my day-to-day routine and randomness of my thought processes. There are 30-year-old grape vines clinging to the carport supports of my mobile home, which I periodically prune, letting my mind wander as I do so. One sunny day while clipping away, I remembered an article posted online about a recently discovered canyon beneath the Antarctic ice, big as the Grand Canyon according to the latest satellite data.
My imagination quickly built upon the simple facts provided and came up with some possibilities of what might be hiding within the canyon’s depths. Alien artifacts (proof of their visitations), followed by advanced technology from our forgotten ancestors were my first considerations. Then the sound of an old biplane passing overhead brought me back to the here and now. My speculations about the future interrupted by a symbol of the past, (biplane crop duster), the pruning shears idle in my hand. Past, present, future nicely overlapping.
Within a couple of weeks, and many revisions, I had a finished poem. Having been published in Asimov’s over the years, I have a pretty good handle on what fits editorially, and off the poem went with electronic ease.
The grape vines, by the way, produced zip that year, and only a few grapes since.
These days I can’t seem to shut out the craziness all around me. The morning news brings the twitter-drone of our president, recurring sectarian violence old as religion itself, and the ruthlessness of various despots both here and abroad. People, who otherwise seem intelligent, ignoring the facts even as they nurse the bullet holes in their own feet. Politicians gone mad, scanty details at eleven.
I was weaned on science fiction movies, TV series like Star Trek, and paperback wonders. The future always held possibilities, if humans could just get their acts together. Like many, I enjoy a well written apocalyptic tale now and again, but recognize fiction for what it is, and don’t consider it self-fulfilling prophesy.
Survival mode is often one of last resort. Though romantic to some, rummaging among the ashes of the past seems a pitiful option compared to the possibility of a positive, progressive future.
My poem was written a couple of years ago, and reflects the state of the world and my life at that time. Little has changed since then, in my opinion, other than some of the players on both sides.
Now in my seventies, I still consider myself a progressive (liberal) and have high hopes for the future generation. They have the correct tools, more advanced than my generation had, and—I believe—the impetus to use them.
I look forward to watching the first humans walk on Mars, on my old flat screen TV before I die, Bradbury’s grinning ghost hovering over my shoulder.
The fact that I have hope for the future doesn’t always reflect in my poetry and short stories. My horror poetry collections, though at times humorous, are dark and blood smeared. My science fiction themed poems often tiptoe through post apocalyptic landscapes, and commune with evil aliens and wound-too-tight robots. Human frailty, technology run amuck, the malleability of time and space, just to name a few, are standard themes in most science fiction and horror fiction, and what I feel comfortable writing about.
The Antarctic canyon of my poem is a natural wonder, worth expanding upon by using the power of my imagination. Physicists turn their abstractions into mathematical equations. Poets turn their daydreams into metaphors and meter. A sense of wonder is the glue that holds my poems and stories together. Without it, the words just pile up like Scrabble pieces abandoned on a forgotten card table.
Perhaps a hundred years from now some future grad student will dissect “Distracted While Gardening,” along with my other poetry. Stranger things have happened. Who among the hundreds of writers and poets from the past might he/she decide had the greatest influence on my work? I have no idea. Personally, I like Dylan Thomas, Donald Hall, William Carlos Williams, and Billy Collins when it comes to mainstream poetry; Bruce Boston, Robert Frazier, and Marge Simon in speculative poetry. These are the poets I often read and reread. There are many others that I enjoy as well, individual poems catching my eye online or between the paper covers of a book. There’s a lot to absorb, the field ever expanding.
One poet, Bruce Boston, has been objectively critiquing my poetry (via emails), for years. He nudged me into the speculative poetry field years ago, and the fact of his casual mentoring would be central to my future grad student’s thesis as he/she faces their dissertation review.
I’ve been writing poetry for forty-plus years now. Speculative poetry for about thirty. My sense of wonder has weathered many changes in life, good and bad. Daydreaming has been a form of survival for me. Of course it didn’t help my grades back in my K–12 days. Still can’t spell so good, or accurately count my toes. I vaguely remember doing better in college, however, trying to make the grade.
With much effort, and strained patience, I did succeed in turning my distractions into publishable work, often wading through a deep pile of rejection slips to the occasional acceptances. The latter added up over time, contributor copies a welcome sight in my otherwise junkmail-filled mailbox.
What appears as my daily self-absorption to some, is actually the writer in me off visiting some planet or picnicking in a graveyard, doing research, daydreaming with intent to entertain.
Serious writers never give up. They ignore their clocks, and only consult their calendars when approaching a deadline.
I’m still wondering what might be hiding under the Antarctic ice, and can’t wait for the first live-stream reports to appear online.