Poetry possesses the potential to fit into almost any genre. Perhaps the most obvious genre of poetry is romantic poems, such as Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare. Other genres include horror (The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe), slice-of-life (Mending Wall, Robert Frost), fantasy (Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll), and coming-of-age (Adolescence, Claude McKay).
Science fiction seems an unlikely mold for poetry. When looking through literary magazines, you’re more likely to find fantasy elements in the poems than science fiction. Fantasy elements include some source of magic, spontaneous transformations, and so on, while science fiction elements rely more on technology and the principles of science.
But just because it’s uncommon doesn’t mean science fiction poetry shouldn’t be done. Yes, it’s a less popular genre of poetry, but this presents a unique opportunity for exploration. Looking at other forms of science fiction might stir up inspiration. The more science fiction you take in, the better you’ll understand it, and the easier it will be to incorporate it into your poetry.
To get started, let’s take a look at a few common themes found within one particular science fiction sub-genre: the space odyssey.
Titles that count as a “space odyssey” include Star Trek, Interstellar, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Typically, there’s a human astronaut traveling through the universe, looking for home or adventure or some sort of cosmic anomaly.
Themes found within the space odyssey genre include:
The Human Experience
Essentially, the question “what does it mean to be human?” Star Trek uses Dr. Spock as a mouthpiece for this idea. Dr. Spock is part human and part vulcan, an alien race that doesn’t express emotions. He struggles with his identity and conflicting ideations on experiencing feelings.
Aliens in general are a useful tool when it comes to this theme. By comparing humans with another creature that functions in a similar way, you can analyze the specific details that make a person human. Planet of the Apes accomplishes this by comparing the human race side-by-side with an advanced version of apes, diving into the differences between the two.
Our Place in the Universe
With all this star-hopping and space travel, the protagonists encounter all sorts of crazy, inhabitable planets housing everything from aliens that look like fish to furry puffballs of doom. There’s complex societies and desolate wastelands. There’s always some other galaxy or solar system to explore, which poses the question: how do we fit into it all?
Why do we live on the planet Earth? Why did we adapt the way we did? Are we alone or merely isolated, and which reality is more terrifying? These questions all tap into existentialism, and science fiction provides an excellent platform to dissect these questions.
Meaning of Life
This theme ties in with the previous one. Once we’ve addressed the “how” humanity fits, it’s only natural to address the “why” humanity fits. What’s our purpose for being here? If we’re so isolated from the rest of the universe, what’s it all mean?
The meaning of life theme drives a lot of narratives, and lies at the center of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Planetary supercomputers attempt to calculate both the answer and the question to the universe. By sending tiny humans off on a journey through the vast expanses of space, you can set the stage for lots of self-reflection and soul searching.
Our Relationship with Technology
There’s a theory that the film 2001: A Space Odyssey portrays human evolution in four parts: evolving past the stone age, traveling beyond earth, outgrowing the need for technology, and transcending physical form. Focusing on the third section — the need for technology — poses some interesting topics of conversation. Do we truly need technology? At what point does our technology become a part of us? Will technology eventually surpass us?
Space travel requires reliance on machinery. You need navigation systems to keep you on course, a vessel to protect you from the vacuum of space, and a pressurized suit to provide you with oxygen. By creating an environment where technology plays such a pivotal role, you open up a wonderful opportunity to examine our relationship with machines.
In an isolated environment like space, there aren’t many options for interaction. There’s only the crew and the machines, each with their specific function and role. A safe voyage through space requires a certain level of trust. In Interstellar, the scientists onboard challenge the allegiances and motives of one another. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer HAL turns out to be untrustworthy and attempts to kill the astronauts. Both instances jeopardize the lives of the humans accompanying the voyage.
We all deal with trust and the challenges that arise from it. Capturing the solitude of space might be what you need to address trust in a poem.
There’s no right or wrong way to write poetry. These themes are meant to get you thinking about the possibilities. Feel free to experiment with genres, forms, and content. After all, it’s your universe to explore.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.