Finding Poetry in Urban Life

Cover of Marcus Gilman's new volume

Marcus Gilman’s new volume

merciless circle
the metroplex never sleeps
dreams far away
– Marcus Gilman, Urban Haiku

When I think of places to inspire poetry, I don’t often think of the city. Don’t get me wrong: I love city life; my 130-year-old house is situated in a downtown, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That being said, it’s never occurred to me to write poetry about urban life.

Fortunately for the world, I am not Marcus Gilman.

Many of you may know Marcus as a long-time member of the European steampunk community, author of the German-language steampunk guide Steampunk- kurz & geek, and the brain behind the popular blog Daily Steampunk (recently nominated for a Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice award, too!). I met Marcus through a blog feature he kindly ran about the web show project Aurelia. Later he became a regular contributor to the show. So naturally, when I heard he had a new poetry book coming out, I had to get my hands on a copy.

Introducing Urban Haiku—Poetry for the Metroplex.


Urban Haiku author Marcus Gilman

“I have been composing Haiku for years,” Gilman shares. “[I’ve been] noting some down every now and then but never keep track of where I put. Some can be found in the margins of D&D 3rd edition character sheets of mine, actually.”

But dabbling finally paid off one year, when Gilman set out to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. “I knew I could not participate in NaNoWriMo due to time constraints,” he explains, “but at least I could pursue the goal I set for myself.”

He chose to set a goal of one Haiku a day for a year. The result is a substantial volume of poetry with a cover playfully reflective of its creator.

On my first tour through URBAN HAIKU—Poetry for the Metroplex, I found much to love. For one thing, there’s a good dose of humor. At various points I found myself chuckling in spite of myself—for all the right reasons. The moments of lighthearted fun seem to balance out the darker, more poignant introspections.

Old commuter train
Air so thick, you could cut it
Need Zeppelin, now!

But urbanism isn’t the only theme of the collection. Marcus’s own personal interests–as a steampunk, Lovecraftian, and general self-proclaimed “geek”–peek out from between the poems here. This is not just poetry about the rhythm of a European city: it is poetry about life within it, informed by a love of the fantastical.

x-wing magnet clicks
stylish white board accessory
geek stuff always wins

What I also loved about the volume is its candor about the ups and downs of the writing life. Some days, you hit your stride right away. Other days you do your duty with—it seems—little to show. Raschfuss’s offerings do not camoflage those “off days” but instead capitalize on them for moments of wry acknowledgement:

empty thoughts drift on
no inspiration now
haiku writing fail

Finally, I appreciated the organization. It can be difficult in anthologies, sometimes, to find your way. But with Urban Haiku, you can choose a particular topic or simply begin reading. Either is a good place to start. As I read each section, I felt as though I got to walk beside Marcus on a day in his life, catching hundreds of glimpses into what a filmmaker would call those “gleaming moments” that somehow make daily life special.

a reflection
face on polished desk lamp
now: Just the darkness

It should be noted that I am not a haiku expert. I enjoy the form immensely, but subtler details and expectations of style are beyond my level. As a novice haiku-ite, I found much to love in this volume. However, those with a stronger handle on the genre would be more qualified to review aspects of its craft. My only comment would be that quite a few subjects are treated multiple times throughout the book. On the surface, this might appear repetitive; set against the backdrop of a year-long personal experiment, however, it makes perfect sense.

If you’re looking for a fun volume of modern haiku that celebrates geek life in the city, Urban Haiku—Poetry for the Metroplex is a recommended choice. Let me know how you like it. And while you’re at it, why not take inspiration from Marcus and commit to a year-long daily creative effort of your own?

* * *

Urban Haiku–Poetry for the Metroplex by Marcus Gilman is available on Amazon. Visit Marcus’s blog Daily Steampunk, too, for regular updates on what’s happening around the speculative community. You can also find him in the Steampunk Museum.

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