The Utopia Found in Dystopian Poetry – A Writers Perspective

The imagined world of the future is filled with terrible things. Each day is frightening and filled with peril from multiple antagonists, some living and others environmental.  The greatest fears of the conspiracy theorists are brought to life in a Frankenstein-like experiment where any semblance of control has quickly evaporated into a widening chasm of bleakness and desperation.  Humankind is reduced to a primitive state of self-preservation and distrust.  Everything associated with civilization is either altered until it’s no longer recognizable or simply abandoned, along with all links to morality, decency, or structure.  Economies are reduced to bartering, religion becomes idolistic with the strongest assuming the roles of messiah incarnate, and technology becomes both the mortal enemy of humankind and its ultimate savior simultaneously. Violence supersedes all other activities, as wars ravage the remnants of civilization, disputes settled with body counts, and blood sports emerging as entertainment.  Ground zero is no longer a specific place, but a condition of all occupied territory.  Individualism surpasses collectivism as nations are reduced to savage bands of angry, desperate souls who objectify anything of value, hoarding resources and taking prisoners.  Cities are reduced to vast and crumbling piles of twisted metal, concrete debris, and radioactivity where life is measured in days and sometimes hours.  The warlords, slavers, pimps, prostitutes, thieves, brigands, and unsavory elements of a civilized world rise to take the place of governors, captains of industry, and surrogate parents.

The cause of the rapid and disastrous state of the dystopian world is often environmental with the worst fears of modern science coming to life in a state worse than previously imagined. Global climate change leads to scorching deserts across once-fertile farmlands or frozen wastelands where population centers once existed, bring pain and deaths numbering in the millions.  Asteroids or meteors impacting the planet cause immediate and life-changing shifts in planetary alignments, bringing the earth and its citizens into a new era of de-evolution.  Nuclear winter ravages the cities as successive strikes of computer-controlled warheads impact the already mutilated ground, over and over, despite their total destruction.  Totalitarian governments, militaristic and vengeful, march armies of armor-clad warriors across war-torn continents, seeking out the last remnants of resistance to their tyrannical reigns.  Language and social barriers prevent any chance of dissent or organized resistance to what might be known in the future only as “the machine.”  The Machine is all knowing, all seeing, and has absolutely no tolerance for insubordination, disagreement, or violating any rules.

The reduction of mankind to a primitive state, coupled with the loss of the ability to produce meaningful supplies of food, clean water, and basic necessities provides dystopian writers with a canvas of almost unlimited possibilities. If we add in the technology-gone-wild aspect, where machines, either through artificial intelligence or computer virus, either malfunction, becoming useless hulks of colored wiring, metallic plates, and frozen gears, or they decide mankind is no longer a capable master.  The frailty of humankind will quickly become exposed to the horrors of slaughter or enslavement by mechanical masters that can’t be bargained with or extorted by any means.  Multiple other scenarios are easily overlain to the darkening landscape; famine induced riots, deviant sexual fantasies and human trafficking, an unholy union of man and machine with cyborg-types emerging, or perhaps a toxic atmosphere making movements outside of safe houses nearly impossible.  Finally the impact of lack of energy or the negative influences of nuclear energy leaks and how they can mutate people, animals, and otherwise affect life on earth in weird and unexpected ways.  With unlimited possibilities we find a utopia of new storylines, artwork, and imagination to explore, exploit, and invent.

The challenge of dystopian authorship comes in the form of presentation. The idea pool is wide and deep, but can easily overwhelm the writer and leave a finished project that is full of a little bit of everything but not enough of a single storyline to carry the work.  Readers of dystopian works easily identify repetition and they aren’t afraid to call out the writer as unoriginal or uninspiring.  So, what we find is that many writers avoid this genre due to the problems it presents.  Those who do accept the challenge find themselves a stranger in a stranger land, aliens on their own planet with no one to guide them to success.  The dystopian poet on the other hand can find the route much easier than the novel author as the imagery plays a much larger role in the verse development.  Most readers can understand the bigger concepts of apocalypse, global war, or other perceived disasters without an overwhelming amount of detail.  Relying on the imagination of the reader is a risky proposition, but one that, if done correctly, pays huge dividends.

My writing style has definitely evolved over time; with its origins firmly anchored in romantic poetry and filled with flowery words, erotic verses, and a healthy dose of established romantic icons such as roses or sharing a bottle of wine. Influences from steampunk, Goth, and everything supernatural opened my mind to thinking not about what is, but about what if?  Questions such as what if some of the fears mankind stood in awe of actually happened?  Or how would the world survive after a nuclear winter?  These and many more led me to read, research, and retain many ideas and concepts.  I studied survival techniques, prepping, industrial development, new technologies, and I read all the classic dystopian books.  This new primordial soup of ideas gelled in my head and yielded an entirely new way of thinking about poetry and its application to a dystopian world.  The results are still developing and I’ve been able to capture ideas that I’ve already put on paper and others than I still have yet to fully get my arms around.  The biggest challenge in producing dystopian poetry is switching modes.  It seems to take complete days of immersion; a complete deep dive into the whole body of dystopian thinking, before I’m able to put something down on paper.  Strangely enough, the environment is akin to utopia from a writing perspective as it provides inspiration and is nearly limitless in what can be incorporated into a given piece.

R J Schwartz
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R J Schwartz

I write about everything and sometimes nothing at all. I'm fascinated by old things, rusty things, abandoned places, or anywhere that a secret might be unearthed. I'm passionate about history and many of my pieces are anchored in one concept of time or another. I've always been a writer, dating back to my youth, but the last decade has been a time of growth for me. I'm continually pushing the limitations of vocabulary, syntax, and descriptive phrasing.

3 thoughts on “The Utopia Found in Dystopian Poetry – A Writers Perspective

  • February 23, 2017 at 4:52 PM

    Well discussed and expressed Ralph, as to the challenges for the writer in dystopian possibilities. Have you seen the series ‘The 100’ a scenario 100 years after the nuclear war has stripped the earth. Great work

  • April 8, 2017 at 3:33 PM

    Ralph, your wonderfully written text describes many disturbing but possible scenarios for our world. As you say writing dystopian literature is very challenging but I also find that poetry is a much smoother vehicle for its delivery and have written a couple of poems in this genre on HubPages. Good work with this.

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