Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sci Fi Poetry Liftoff

Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary science fiction poems from the UK. ed. Russell Jones. Penned in the Margins £9.99.

A substantial trade paperback of 208 pages making a strong bid to take poetry out to the bigger Science Fiction audience. Unusually, both the Preface and Essay are well worth reading. Russell Jones' introduction is properly more practical and about the intention of the book.
In the preface, Alasdair Gray defines both the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost as science fiction – an original point indeed – and says we base today's science fiction on today's scientific view of the world.
Steve Sneyd, the doyen of Sic Fi poetry when it was a smaller clique comprising himself, Edwin Morgan and friends, is an inspired choice for the longish introductory essay, Wormholing into Elsewhere. Sneyd really knows his stuff. He has been more accustomed to the small press, sometimes the very small press, as he churned out leaflets and booklets published from his home in Huddersfield, in a manner reminiscent of Sheena Blackhall's activity in Aberdeen. Over the decades it is a sure way of becoming known. Sneyd has read everything relevant and pulls great fish out of the water. “Our new mythology is science fiction,” he quotes from Henigan. He considers the changing boundaries of Science Fiction, places it has already been, unbeknownst to ordinary poets, places it might end up.
With titling by Edwin Morgan running through the book, Morgan and Sneyd lead a wide range of contributors, all poets to professional standards, with a high proportion of previously published poems, but in books or journals that would probably not reach the SF readership.
The proportion of women contributors to men is smaller than one usually sees in current anthologies, though Pippa Goldschmidt, Kona Macphee, Claire Askew and others hold their own. Another noticeable feature is the strong Scottish contingent, which must reflect an editorial ear to the northern ground. There are even some nice pieces in Scots (Dr Wha and Intae the Ooter) from widely known novelist James Robertson, welcome because Scots is rarely seen in publications aimed at the whole UK.
Some of the poems are substantial and very well researched – correct detail being essential – e.g. the collaborative sequence Lost Worlds by Jane McKie, Andrew C Ferguson and Andrew J Wilson.
An important strand in such a book is poems which link SF imagination and astronomical research with more immediate human concerns or world political problems. Pippa Goldschmidt's From the Unofficial History of the European Southern Observatory in Chile does this very well.
Steve Sneyd's special personal language in his poems is worth clocking if you have not come across it before (perhaps you should have done). We have been happy to print poems from him in Poetry Scotland several times.
There are very many witty poems here, e.g. Kirston Irving's Supper – where
a boat of lush green paper on the plate
transposes to
aboard: a flash of green peppering the palate
and so on.
There is also good lyrical poetry, but wit rides stronger in the collection as a whole.
This book should be appreciated by any SF reader whether previously familiar with poetry or not (meaning usually not). Like Red Squirrel's successful Split Screen it reaches out to further audiences. An achievement and a milestone. We hope to see it prove poetry books can sell.

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