National Poetry Day Series

Introduction by Tim Jones

In 2004, poet, editor and anthologist Mark Pirie had a good idea, and he turned to me to help him realise it. Mark’s idea was to put together an anthology of New Zealand science fiction poetry, with a mixture of previously-published poems and new work: an anthology called Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand.

The idea was met with a degree of scepticism at first: was there such a thing as science fiction poetry? Had any New Zealanders written science fiction poetry? Even more pertinently, would anyone want to publish such a book?

The answers to the first two questions were easy. Science fiction poetry has a long history that includes the involvement of many distinguished authors, as the story of the Science Fiction Poetry Association makes clear — and plenty of New Zealand poets had written and were writing poems with science fiction themes, content or images.

The third question was a little harder to answer. Publisher after publisher told us there was no market for such a book in New Zealand, and when one publisher did express interest, the relevant funding agency couldn’t be convinced.

But, in 2009, IP of Brisbane published Voyagers, and since then the book has gone from strength to strength. It was well reviewed, listed as one of the Listener’s “100 Best Books of 2009″, and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Collected Work”. One of the poems from VoyagersTwo Kinds of Time by Meliors Simms, was also nominated for an international Rhysling Award for science fiction poetry.

We’ve just received word that the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair have selected Voyagers for inclusion in the “Books on New Zealand” exhibition at this year’s Fair. To celebrate, here are four poems from Voyagers plus brief notes and/or bios from the poets. They give you a glimpse of the distances covered by this particular voyage.

*

Iain Britton, Departing Takaparawha

A woman squats.
She’s not peeing
or grubbing for worms.

She hugs her coffee
and stares at clouds
at islands in the gulf.

A man
cut from wood
and heavily tattooed

sits astride a gate
his penis
pointing at the sun.

Another man
the colour of dirt
comes to us

strips off his old clothes
and stands sweating
upright in the light.

In his house masked people
leap down from walls
and sit on the floor. They talk

and chant genealogies.
On the roof
someone

tugs strings,
works eyes
and limbs.

The show goes on.
We traipse outside
visibly swallowing the day.

A child (as if hatching)
crawls from her dugout
in the ground

and takes off.
A man as if wrapped in silverfoil
tells us she has this passion

for re-enactments
for re-entering the earth’s atmosphere
when she’s ready.

About Iain Britton: Oystercatcher Press published Iaian Britton’s 3rdpoetry collection in 2009, Kilmog Press his 4th in 2010. The Red Ceilings Press and the Argotist have recently published ebooks. A full collection with Lapwing Publications is out now, plus a pamphlet from Like This Press. Beard of Bees (US) chapbook is now online. Forthcoming: poems in Peter Hughes’ Sea Pie: a Shearsman Anthology of Oystercatcher Poetry. Also, Department Press and The Gumtree Press will be publishing collections later this year or in 2013.

*

Janis Freegard, Beside the Laughing Kitchen

I’ve been past the unbelievable planet:
Slabs of nostalgia, the soft skin of memory

Disruptive days, now swiftly approaching
For a stolen second I was myself again

I’ve been squeezing out the careful old songs
Eyes up looking, lights down dancing

Irregular obsession, beside the laughing kitchen
Tell me again, in empty eyelid sleep

Just how you got here: overgrown and delicate
Anxiously correct in curtained ballrooms

Author Commentary: “Beside the Laughing Kitchen” came about through a process of cutting up sentences and lists of words I’d written, then rearranging and adding to them until a poem started emerging with its own character. In this case there seemed to be a traveller in a dreamlike world encountering a strange, graceful creature – although I like to think there’s enough room for readers to find their own interpretation.

About Janis Freegard: Janis Freegard is the author of the poetry collection Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011) and co-author of AUP New Poets 3 (2008).  Her poem “Gator” was included in the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems 2011 and one of her science fiction poems was recently nominated for a Rhysling Award. She also writes fiction and is a past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award. She lives in Wellington with an historian called Peter and a cat called Polly, and blogs at http://janisfreegard.com.

*

Harvey Molloy, Nanosphere

The Enemy of the World
watery eyed, unkempt,
finally captured after months in a hole.

A lab coat prods his back dentures
with a disposable spatula. How
slow and compliant the prisoner moves
like a rest home inmate.

In this cosmos his capture
shall be eclipsed by news
of the accidental discovery of the end of time

as weightless above this earth
from the station console
Irina checks the Doppler shifts
from the Sombrero, Andromeda, closer Tau Ceti.

Aware of the pressure of the moment
she pauses to gaze at the withered fingers
of a passing river delta
then tells Control her final confirmation:

the expansion is over and the big crunch has begun
the slow seven billion year retrenchment
from universe to nanosphere.

Her news crosses the twittering
of the only known radio intelligence:

0800 chatline numbers
psychic advice lines
impending Serbian elections
weather updates
body counts
Chinese operas
Marilyn’s slow turn in a hall of mirrors
Chico & the Man.

The day’s journeying calls roll out
within the bounded horizon of vast contracting dot.
There is only so much time. And time is running back.

The children watch television in the dark.

Author Commentary: I was thinking of Saddam Hussein’s final capture from his hideout, how pathetic he looked, and I started to imagine an alternative world in which the date of his capture coincided with the astounding discovery that the expansion of the universe was over and that the great contraction had begun.  The poem explores this idea.  The Sombrero was one of the first galaxies discovered beyond our Milky Way.

About Harvey Molloy: Harvey Molloy lives and teaches in Wellington, New Zealand. His poems have appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Blackmail Press, Brief, International Literary Quarterly, JAAM, Landfall, Lancashire Life, NZ Listener, Poetry New Zealand, Snorkel and Takahe. His first book of poems, Moonshot, is published by Steele Roberts. He blogs at http://harveymolloy.blogspot.com

*

Sue Wootton, the verdigris critic

Suddenly tired
of the complicated interlacing of words in lyrical trim
she goes outside
and shouts very loudly
into the night.

The stars tremble
infinitesimally
then regroup.

In a distant time
on a distant planet
a literary critic with a greenish tinge
cups a tentacle to a blobular ear

hears UCK! UCK! UCK! UCK! UCK!
reverberate gently in the heavens.

Ah, sighs the verdigris critic.
Truly, poetry
is universal.

About Sue Wootton: Sue Wootton has won several awards for her work, most recently winning the 2011 New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition.   She has published three collections of poetry (Hourglass 2005, Magnetic South 2008, and By Birdlight 2012). She also writes for children and is the author of the children’s story, Cloudcatcher (2010).  Some of her work has been translated into Hungarian, Romanian, Vietnamese and Spanish. Further information is available on her website, http://www.suewootton.co.nz.