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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Allen, Dick
[Editorial comment: the poet looks at space--inner and outer],   pp. [184]-193 PDF (10.1 MB)

Page 185

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In Robert Heinlein's well known short
story, "The Green Hills of Earth,"
poet Rhysling becomes a legendary figure
- the first major poet to accurately
reflect the passions of space wanderers.
But, surprisingly, our own Space Age has
not yet produced any leading
poet primarily identified with chronicling
extra-terrestrial exploration. Neither
has it given us any major poet writing
from a future-oriented basis. What we do
have, however, is a large number
of disparte poems which more or
less indicate attitudes of contemporary
poets to space exploration, as
well as to other aspects of mankind's
improbable present and probable future.
These poems range from those which
only passingly use a word or an
illusion from space terminology to the
mystical interludes of inward-searching
post-Beatniks. Their authors are
establishment figures and young folk-rock
composers, hardcore s-f professionals and
radical young academics.
What they have in common is a
difficulty with the language of space.
The older contemporary poets, working
usually in a quite fixed form and
exercising new critical care on the choice
of each phrase, have been naturally
reluctant to avoid terms which allow
humorous Buck Rogers connotations.
Words such as "spaceship," "blast-off,"
and "planetfall" conjure up unwanted
associations with what they were trained to
consider unreachable and juvenile
fantasies. Moreover, due primarily
to the increased influence of William Carlos
Williams' poetics, American poets
of the modern period have been careful
to accurately record precise American
speech patterns and vocabulary phrasings in
their work. The Cape Kennedy vocabulary
still does not flow easily from the
tongues of most older Americans.
Individual words seem to call too much
attention to themselves, hampering the
effect of the loose natural
phrase and the poem as totality.
The younger poets working with space
concepts and vocabulary have a reverse
problem. The language of space belongs,
properly, to the television generation.
Yet their ease with it and their
inclusion of it in their work sounds
phoney to the older generation -
non-serious, "popish." They are, with much
justification, accused of composing
push-button poems: A-Bomb = BAD,
Trip = GOOD. Still, when "A-OK,"
"splashdown" and "retro-rocket" become
completely comfortable, their
young poems will seem more acceptable
to the makers of anthologies. The
equivalence is striking when we recall
how the "tele" words have become so
easily assimilated into the contemporary
poets' working vocabulary: "television,"
"telephone," telegraph." And witness the
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