Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Future Poem: A Poetry Prompt from Instructor Terese Svoboda

In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is sharing prompts from current and former instructors. This installment includes a prompt from Terese Svoboda.

I've been interested in “future poetry” since I spent a couple of years in Silicon Valley in its heyday, before people found messages on their actual telephones and their cars talked to them. Plenty of poets have plumbed the future with fear and trepidation just as much as with hope—see the example poems below—but few go into particulars. Sure, we imagine what it would be like to step onto the moon, ho-hum, or what that employee might think tomorrow if he didn't get a raise, but the real blank of the future—whoa, here comes Khlebnikov! Write a poem inspired by the future. Here are some example poems to draw from:

The Future
By Rilke, translated by A. Poulin 

The future: time's excuse
to frighten us; too vast
a project, too large a morsel
for the heart's mouth.

Future, who won't wait for you?
Everyone is going there.
It suffices you to deepen
the absence that we are.

Look to the Future
By Ruth Stone

To you born into violence,
the wars of the red ant are nothing;
you, in the heart of the eruption.

I am speaking from immeasurable grass blades.
You, there on the rubble,
what is the river of vapor to you?

You who are helpless as small birds
downed on the ice pack.
You who are spoiled as
commercial fruit by the medfly.

To you the machine guns.
To you the semen of fire,
the birth of the maggot in the corpse.

You, to whom we send these gifts;
at the heart of light we are crushed together.
When the sun dies we will become one. 

You May Forget But
By Sappho

You may forget but
let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us 

The Radio of the Future
By Velimir Khlebnikov, 1921

The Radio of the Future—the central tree of our consciousness—will inaugurate new ways to cope with our endless undertakings and will unite all mankind.

The main Radio station, that stronghold of steel, where clouds of wires cluster like strands of hair, will surely be protected by a sign with a skull and crossbones and the familiar word “Danger,” since the least disruption of Radio operations would produce a mental blackout over the entire country, a temporary loss of consciousness.

Radio is becoming the spiritual sun of the country, a great wizard and sorcerer.

Let us try to imagine Radio’s main station: in the air a spider’s web of lines, a storm cloud of lightning bolts, some subsiding, some flaring up anew, crisscrossing the buildings from one end to the other.  A bright blue ball of spherical lightning hanging in midair, guy wires stretched out at a slant.

From this point in Planet Earth, every day, like the flight of birds in springtime, a flock of news departs, news from the life of the spirit.

In this stream of lightning birds the spirit will prevail over force, good council over threats.

The activities of artists who work with the pen and brush, the discoveries of artists who work with ideas (Mechnikov, Einstein) will instantly transport mankind to unknown shores.

Advice on day-to-day matters will alternate with lectures by those who dwell upon the snowy heights of the human spirit. The crests of waves in the sea of human knowledge will roll across the entire country into each local Radio station, to be projected that very day as letters onto the dark pages of enormous books, higher than houses, than stand in the center of each town, slowly turning their own pages. […]

But what now follows?  Where has this great stream of sound come from, this inundation of the whole country in supernatural singing, in the sound of beating wings, this broad silver stream full of whistlings and clangor and marvelous mad bells surging from somewhere we are not, mingling with children’s voices singing and the sound of wings?

Over the center of every town these voices pour down, a silver shower of sound. Amazing silver bells mixed with whistlings surge down from above. Are these perhaps the voices of heaven, spirits flying low over the farmhouse roof?  No….

The Mussorgsky of the future is giving a coast-to-coast concert of his work, using the Radio apparatus to create a vast concert hall stretching from the Vladivostok to the Baltic, beneath the blue dome of the heavens.

On this one evening he bewitches the people, sharing with them the communion of his soul, and on the following day he is only an ordinary mortal again. The artist has cast a spell over his land; he has given his country the singing of the sea and the whistling of the wind. The poorest house in the smallest town is filled with divine whistlings and the sweet delights of sound.

Terese Svoboda's When The Next Big Wind Blows Down The Valley: Selected and New was published in 2015; Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet appeared in February 2016; Professor Harriman's Steam Air-Ship (poems) will be published in September; and Live Sacrifice (stories) in 2017.

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