Regular readers here might be surprised to be reminded of Skunkworks’ raison d’être, namely, to showcase the work that goes into a long poem project attempting to portray the infinite stories of UFOs as a mythology, somewhat after the fashion of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (that so artfully collated and presented the mythology of his time and place) and somewhat in the manner of Ezra Pound’s Cantos or Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony ( among other exemplars). Some of these attempts are readable here at the Skunkworks via the “poetry” tag.
In this regard, it’s a pleasure today not to have to compose something of my own, but direct readers to an article by Tony Trigilio, the author of Proof Something Happened, a poetic treatment of the Barney and Betty Hill abduction, viewed by many to be the archetype of the experience. In his piece, “Writing What You Don’t Know”, Trigilio describes composing this latest book (among others), referring, along the way to other poets who have dealt—quite explicitly—with “Martians”: Craig Raine, Robert Hayden, and Jack Spicer. As he writes, his book
does not attempt to solve whether something physically happened to the Hills that evening. The poems take no stand on the possibility of extraterrestrial life and alien abduction. The collection presumes only that the three hours of “missing time” the Hills experienced in the White Mountains truly did happen psychologically, whether caused by an alien abduction or something else on the fringes of the known. As the poems explore the aftermath of that evening in 1961, they emphasize the Hills’ struggle to understand their terrifying dreams and disjunctive flashbacks…
Such experiences, or, more importantly, how the come to occupy a place on the margins of culture, “arcane” in Trigilio’s terms, serve, ironically, to reveal as much about the heart of culture, if in a refracted, “alienated” way.
10 thoughts on “Sightings: Saturday 11 December 2021: The “alien” in “alienation effect”: concerning poetry, Martians, and related matters.”
This is very interesting, Bryan. Thank you for posting it!
It would be worth gathering the uses of UFOs in literary projects outside the standard SF or SF-related genres. I think of Gore Vidal’s “Messiah” and Jeff Gundy’s poem “Scenario,” in his 2004 collection “Deerflies” (https://www.davidhalperin.net/scenario-the-aliens-arrive/).
David, Glad you got some charge out of this post. I’ve been compiling a bibliography of anglophone ufo poetry for my own uses for a while now: apart from Trigilio’s, there’s Rane Arroyo’s _The Roswell Poems_, Judith Roitman’s _Roswell_, Mei-Mei Brussenbrugge’s curious book of “star people” _A Treatise on Stars_, Cardenal’s epic _Golden UFOs_, and the miscellaneous poems mentioned by Trigilio (tho I wouldn’t include Spicer), along with some other poems by a poet whose name eludes me right now… Most of these are mentioned if not delved into on at the Skunkworks here.
It would be _most_ interesting to address the vision of Ezekiel in this regard (within British Romanticism, especially William Blake, the “Old Testament” prophets are received first as poets), given the uncanny status of his writings, which are a kind of “avant garde” prophetic writing: on the one hand, undeniably springing from the prophetic tradition, but, in terms of its poetics/rhetoric, a perennially perplexing innovation, perhaps due to the author’s own dis/relocation to into a context of foreign influences and materials, whose effect on Jewish literature is, as you know better than I, well-known….
I should of course thank you for bringing my attention to Vidal’s and Gundy’s works.
I address the topic briefly here https://skunkworksblog.com/2020/05/28/ufo-themed-poetry-seriously/
(Clewell was the poet whose name I forgot…)
One might add Fowles’ _A Maggot_: I’m unsure myself why, but Vallée recommends it in this regard…
To paraphrase Chaucer: bookshelf long, life short…
Probably off-topic, but since “prophetic” literature has been brought up, whenever that “new” grainy footage of the dancing space blob comes up on the news (not so much these days, but recently), I think of these lines from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:
Out into distant futures, which no dream has yet grasped … where all becoming seemed to me dancing of Gods, and frolicking of Gods… For mustn’t there always be that which is danced over and above, danced beyond? Mustn’t there, for the sake of the nimble, the nimblest, be moles and clumsy dwarfs?
Hey, GKL, not off-topic at all, really.–I’m unsure exactly what for you brings to mind the passage from Nietzsche, but, for me, N’s gods are projections of those who are made dwarvish and clumsy by their imaginings, just as pilots who have interacted with UAP since the Second War imagine them to be more highly performing aeroforms, putting their own however cutting edge technology to shame…
Yes, that, definitely, but also in a wider sense the “dancing” motif, although these modern-day accounts usually do not make reference to dancing (correct me if I’m wrong), but rather to unpredictable/erratic movements, suddenly disappearing and re-appearing. But it does look like dancing through this more poetic, I guess, prism constructed by N. (based of course on his reading of Greek myth, particularly Dionysiac rites/imagery) and I don’t think I necessary know where to take it from there. It’s just interesting that these – explicitly or implicitly – “advanced” forms of… something or other dance like primitive child-gods. And they also cast nets! at least that’s what the infamous “abduction beam” always makes me think of.*
“made dwarvish and clumsy by their imaginings”: yes, that’s his point, I think you’re correct, but there is another reading perhaps, in the sense that the “dancing above” must be posited in order to condemn what is “dwarfish” and mole-like down here, in order to tend towards something beyond the mere human. BUT, in tending towards the “super-human”, one ends up simply inflaming the old “idol-worshipping” mania, that N./Z., Blake and all the other prophets, ancient or modern, strove to destroy.
So I read that last line, in spite of its more obvious meaning, as containing more than a grain of self-deprecating irony: there must be dancing above – whatever mysterious shape it assumes, from huge “thunderbirds” to “chariots” to drone-like 21st c. UAP – so that the mole and the “dwarf” may live with themselves (by worshipping “the Gods”) or aspire to transcend themselves (by becoming “the super-man”). And that’s not to reduce it all to just a version of the cosmic dancer archetype, or some “ancient aliens” bullshit, but – and this is something you’ve written about here, so no need to tell you – there is a lot of old-school mythmaking in the otherwise “futuristic” world of UFOs, and perhaps the mythical thinking is inescapable no matter how you try to come to grips with the dancing in the sky, naively, poetically, religiously, dismissively, agnostically, ultra-critically. It’s this impossibility to go “beyond” that that passage bittersweetly points to.
* sea full of many-hued fishes and crabs, for which even the Gods might long, and might be tempted to become fishers in it, and casters of nets,—so rich is the world in wonderful things, great and small!. Op cit.
Ha! You make some fun, provocative points!
First, I’m the last one to try to “pin down” just what a passage of philosophy, especially Nietzche’s might “mean”: surely our understandings are invited into a dance of interpretation…
That being said, UAP definitely dance and cavort–and sport, playing cat-and-mouse. As such, I think of them more as “lures” than “nets” (tho surely the metaphor is not unapt, either): as something that seems “just beyond” us and never quite graspable, attainable, they function to lead us on or guide us in a particular direction, an important theme here at Skunkworks and something I’m trying to articulate in the poetic treatment, the Greys as a kind of Promethean figure, not giving fire by teasing us into a _particular_ future…
Your reading that N must posit an (unreal, hyperbolic) nimble to condemn the clumsy is very germane and touches on a more or less implicit dimension of the thinking that goes on here in general, namely, the question of whether one need posit a concrete alternative to criticize the status quo. In answer, Marx was famous for _not_ describing postcapitalist society and Adorno refined the stance with his Negative Dialectics (not that I claim to have climbed that mountain of a book!).
Furthermore, in this dwarf/god dialectic, as Ovid makes clear, _the gods need humankind as much as the other way around_: so, to fill out the clumsy/nimble, dwarf/god binary at work here, _ya can’t have one without the other_.
I wonder if your remarks don’t also imply or otherwise suggest the idea more or less explicitly at work in musings about extraterrestrial life, that w/out ET _imagined as another species like our own_, the universe is lonely and desolate (e.g., the cliché “Are we alone” or the ending of the recent film _Ad Astra_…); thus human beings need gods, but ironically make themselves dwarves in the process…
At any rate, there is surely an essay in how these passages from Nietzsche play into the UFO/UAP discourse…