By: Jessica Dismorr
March 21, 2024

A (pro- or anti-) science-, mathematics-, technology-, space-, apocalypse-, dehumanization-, disenchantment-, and/or future-oriented poem published during sf’s emergent Radium Age (c. 1900–1935). Research and selection by Joshua Glenn.

Jacob Epstein’sThe Rock Drill (1962 casting of the c. 1915 truncated version of the 1914 original)

My niche in nonentity still grins —
I lay knees, elbows pinioned, my sleep
     mutterings blunted against a wall.
Pushing my hard head through the hole of
I squeezed out with intact body.
I ache all over, but acrobatic, I undertake
     the feat of existence.
Details of equipment delight me.
I admire my arrogant spiked tresses, the
     disposition of my perpetually
     foreshortened limbs,
Also the new machinery that wields the
     chains of muscles fitted beneath my
     close coat of skin.
On a pivot of contentment my balanced
     body moves slowly.
Inquisitiveness, a butterfly, escapes.
It spins with drunken invitation. I poke my
     fingers into the middles of big succulent
My fingers are fortunately tipped with
Tentacles of my senses, subtle and
     far-reaching, drop spoils into the vast
     sack of my greed.
Stretched ears projecting from my brain
are gongs struck by vigorous and brutal
     fists of air.
Into scooped nets of nostrils glide slippery
     and salt scents, I swallow slowly with
In pursuit of shapes my eyes dilate and
     bulge. Finest instruments of touch they
     refuse to blink their pressure of objects.
They dismember live anatomies innocently.
They run around the polished rims of
With risk they press against the cut edges
     of rocks and pricking pinnacles.
     Pampered appetites and curiosities
     become blood-drops, their hot mouths
     yell war.
Sick opponents dodging behind silence,
     echo alone shrills an equivalent threat.
Obsessions rear their heads. I hammer
     their faces into discs.
Striped malignities spring upon me, and
     tattoo with incisions of wild claws.
     Speeded with whips of hurt, I hurry
     towards ultimate success.
I stoop to lick the bright cups of pain and
     drop out of activity.
I lie a slack bag of skin. My nose hangs over
     the abyss of exhaustion, my loosened
     tongue laps sleep as from a bowl of milk.

— From Blast #2 (July 1915)

Francesca Brooks on this poem:

In Rock Drill (1913) and Venus (c.1914-1915) the Vorticist, Jacob Epstein, presents us with his antithetical vision of modern man — part human, part inimitable machine, and the archetypal woman — slumped and hunched in a passive pose. In ‘Monologue’ […] Dismorr plays with these visions of the masculine and the feminine Vorticist. The female body in ‘Monologue’ is subjected to the ‘new machinery’ of Rock Drill: the poem’s subject becomes automated, mechanic, with ‘arrogant spiked tresses’ and ‘chains of muscles’, yet she also struggles with the corporeal apathy of Venus as she lies a ‘slack bag of skin’; the two corporeal identities (slack skin and chain muscle) are seemingly at impossible odds with each other. ‘Monologue’ is evidence of Dismorr’s negotiation of the gender archetypes implicit in Vorticism’s aesthetics and her struggle with their aggressively binary nature.

Here’s how the lines break in the original.


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF POETRY: Stephen Spender’s THE PYLONS | George Sterling’s THE TESTIMONY OF THE SUNS | Archibald MacLeish’s EINSTEIN | Thomas Thornely’s THE ATOM | C.S. Lewis’s DYMER | Stephen Vincent Benét’s METROPOLITAN NIGHTMARE | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | & many more.


Poetry, Radium Age SF