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Interview: Marie Vibbert on “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees”

Tell us a bit about “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees.”

I wrote the first draft of this story so fast.  The idea seized me and the point of view, for me, was easy.  I write a lot of robot-pov stories.  It frees me to be analytical.  So we have this cold, thoughtful machine in a war zone, and what more barren soil could you find for poetry to bloom?  But it does, like a wildflower busting through a crack in concrete.


Marie VibbertWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I have to make an embarrassing confession.  The story was prompted by an anthology call for “female battle poets.”  I’ve been working for some time on writing decent metered poetry and immediately decided to do something trochaic (to avoid the cliche of the iambic) and re-read Hiawatha to get the rhythm into my head. I came up with an excuse for the battle robot to be female (the fake breasts are ammunition storage) and wham! I had a draft in no time.

Then I sent it to F&SF for a “quick rejection” because the anthology wasn’t open yet.  I’m delighted with how badly my plans went.


Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

My parents were anti-war hippies, a heritage I’m proud to continue.  My dad told me lightheartedly of his time as a machine-gunner in the Marines, not knowing I was taking down every visceral detail to populate a future war story.  His friends had stories, too, and my great uncle had been a medic in World War II and conveyed perfectly the dark absurdity.


Can you tell us anything about trochaic poetry and your interest in it?

A college English professor introduced “Oats and Beans and Barley Grow” in his first class as an example of “one of the oldest poems in our language.”  It sent me on a long study of the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and the rhyme has always been shallow in my subconscious, waiting to be used.  I can still see Professor Bishop pacing the church-like sanctuary of Clarke Hall, rolling the vowels extravagantly in his Australian accent.

I’ve always been drawn to things that are off-ordinary, and so the well-trod path of iambic pentameter held no interest for me, but this!  BUM bah BUM bah… like a drumbeat.

I’m a contrarian.  When elementary school fellows declared free verse “not real poetry” I dedicated myself to it.  When my college fellows declared formal poetry “dead” I dropped free verse like a stone.  Now I like to think I’m mature enough to dabble in both, but there is something about meter that challenges me.  I never quite hear it right.   Maybe I talk funny.  I don’t know.  But it keeps nagging my brain demanding to be perfected.


Why do you write?

Such a short question and such a hard one!  Fear of obscurity?  A compulsion to always be talking?  I think most writers are slightly damaged people.  We never grew out of the “Dad! Dad! Look at me!  Look what I can do!” phase.

Which reminds me that my father’s art influenced me heavily.  My dad was a construction worker and a fine artist.  He couldn’t make money on art, but he drew and painted almost every day.  “Work is how you live, art is why,” my dad would say.  So it’s no surprise his daughters each have their own art they pursue.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I read a lot of CJ Cherryh and Asimov as a kid.  As an adult I’ve been ridiculously lucky to have some very close personal influences in my writing workshop.  Mary Turzillo is my writing-mom.  She taught me everything but how to type.


What are you working on now?

I’m revising this novel I wrote ten years ago and never sold.  It’s in first person omniscient because I thought that would be hard, and it was!  Also I’m shopping around a novel about a space motorcycle girl gang, and writing short stories and okay of course I have a couple other half-finished novels.  The poor dears.  I like to always have a novel, a short story, and a poem going at all times. I work best with all burners going.


“Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Click on Ms. Vibbert’s photo to explore her website and learn more about her and her work.


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