Hello my friends! Today I have the awesome pleasure of introducing one of my absolute favorite people on the planet, my friend Christopher Hennessy. I’ve known Chris forever now, and he’s an inspiration as a poet and a person. I adore him, and I absolutely adore this post about how a childhood reading sci-fi/fantasy helped Chris become a poet. Enjoy!
Hello fellow Selkie lovers,
I am not only a fellow fan, but I count Dr. P. as one of my dear friends. She has invited me to say a few words on the occasion of my debut book recently being published, for which I thank her.
A brief introduction and explanation: I’m currently an English Literature Ph.D. candidate at Umass-Amherst, have just published my first book of poems (yes, poems), but am a lover of all things science fiction and fantasy and even have the bare bones of a SF novel I some day hope to finish. And what I want to share with you is a brief story of a little boy fascinated by the fantastical and the futuristic became a poet—and the debt both he and poetry owe to the genre of speculative fiction, to writing that imagines beyond the present and the possible.
In my earliest writing memories, I am fabulist. I write about a talking proto-zebra who leaves the savannah on an epic journey into the big city to acquire black stripes; I write about a crash-landed alien who needs orange juice to fix and power his spaceship; I write about magical snow that slowly swirled to life (an six-year old’s homage to Frosty!). This wasn’t just what I wanted to write. This is what I believed writing was. The fables and fantasies and talking animals and secret bridges and little boys whose touch could turn anything to chocolate—these were not only my diet, they were having a kind of genetic effect on my imagination. I was being engineered on a molecular level as a specific kind of dreamer.Â (If I were to trace things back as far as memory allows, I would find myself in a black movie theater in 1977…I am four years old…I am about to fall in love…I am about to watch Star Wars.)
Fast-forward to high school. I am trying my hand at Star Trek novel in which Enterprise-B is crewed by a chaotic assemblage of screw-ups, neurotics, and dreamers.Â Sacrilege, I know.Â But I wasn’t a “popular kid,” was decidedly not athletic and chubby and so was using the novel to help myself feel empowered—look at this world I’m creating, the power I wield! At the same time, a friend of mine starts to write poems in math class. As a hard-core reader and future English major, this blows my little rule-following mind. It is the most daring act of anti-math terrorism I can imagine. I start to write poetry, too. The poems don’t make much sense, as I recall. They were mainly about sounds and playing with white space on the page. Perhaps that’s all I could manage while I listened to the teacher drone on about quadratic equations. Or maybe, just maybe, I was feeling my ways along the edges of language because that’s all I knew of poetry.
I see this as a kind of nexus, where things merged and were clarified for me–where I went from a child copying the stories he loved to a young adult learning the power of the word—where I began to see language as not just the means to tell a story but as a way to celebrate the imagination, to draw from fantasy a sense that I was special.
As I type these recollections, I see how science fiction and fantasy were teaching me to believe in their power, to believe in my power, to believe that one could create anything one could imagine just with the right words ordered in the right way.Â (I can’t help but think of Coleridge’s belief that poetry is “the best words in their best order.” Of course, I am also reminded of Fox Mulder: “I want to believe.” I need both of these references for my brain to work.)
As I flip through the pages of my book of poems, I see in those pages that love of the fantastical still at work, only now it’s not talking animals or aliens. It’s the love of speaking in another voice, (what the poem does so well)—like the poem in in which I am in drag as Rosaline from Romeo & Juliet. There might not be spaceships, but there’s a Winged Muse who flies high over the Azure Coast and drops words into an unknowing human being below. There might not be magic snow but there’s Icarus who flies to the Moon to escape a judgmental daddy Daedalus. Another about witches and a “ghost boy.” And of course poems where the fantasy lies embedded in the form—a poem using Google to create a collage, another built solely out of the deathbed words of the famous, even one poem addressed to a tuxedo.
I am so grateful to have taken this tour of the fantastical and of the imagination in my life and my poetry. It helps begin to pay a debt to my childhood loves that I now see are the very blood and being of my adult voice.