Peter's review speaks for itself, and we hope it'll prompt you to buy the book to reward our risk-taking, if you haven't already done so, and also to share the news.
One of the most enterprising, unusual and rewarding anthologies of the last year is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, edited by New Zealand writer Tim Jones and Australian poet PS (Penelope) Cottier. The key word in the sub-title is defined with an appropriate generality: "the speculative is the area in which we attempt to write what we can't possibly know".
The poets included range from the 19th century to the present, a much narrower temporal span than their poems, which travel millennia into the future and across galaxies. Bearing the latter point in mind, the editors note that theirs is a book "with a wide geography and an interesting fauna". They continue: "Here be dragons, true, but also zombies (traditional and vegetarian), werewolves, swagmen, poets small enough to fit into pockets, aliens of various sorts, angels, people made mostly of spare parts, or preserved wholly in DNA, and intergalactic tradies."
Though the book covers so much territory (and given the list above, unsurprisingly has several poems set in museums and zoos), it is tightly and wittily organised into five thematic sections, each taking its name from a notable nineteenth-century poem. The first, dealing with "space travels and related pursuits", is "We don't know where he's at" (from Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"); the second, "Howsoe'er anomalous", concerned with "aliens, weird creatures, surrealism and magic realism", comes from a poem as strange as any that is to be found here: Barron Field's "Kangaroo". Next – with its title from Henry Lawson – is "On the Wallaby (temporal)", whose subject is "time travel and visions of the end of the world". It is followed by "The fifth part of the earth" (Field again): "Australia in various lights". Last is "His ghost may be heard" (Paterson – in a version of Waltzing Matilda – and the ballad is here in its entirety too), whose business is "ghosts, fairies, myths and legends".
|P. S. Cottier|
The collection opens with the controlled whimsy of "Tea and Stars" by the always engaging John Jenkins: "The mouse travelled to the stars/in a blue teacup". John Dolce's "Job for a Hyperdrive Mechanic" works with a wry matter-of-factness: "As I recall the ambient temperature/of the angular discharge tub/airlocked the anode rod". David Adès' travel to "The Three Moons of Tenoa" ends plangently: "how unimaginable a world/with placid seas, and no capacious moons/to sing serenades by". Travel is also the affair of S.K. Kelen's brilliant parody of a tourist brochure in "Flying Toasters". This of Kursa in Beta Eridani: "booking accommodation well in advance is wise though entirely futile". This first section also contains "The Last Planet Out" by David Reiter, who is also the publisher of the admirable risk-taking Interactive Press that we can thank for this book.
As promised, aliens roam in Part Two. Diane Fahey's "Silverfish" imagines the Thysaurans, while Benjamin Dodds' "Others" muses of a possible arrival from so-called outer space and then decides "Perhaps they'll simply pass us by/indifferent in sleek behemoths/on the way to a place less/parochial than here". Emilie Zoey Baker presents "The Vegetarian Zombie – the undead salad beast" – while there is homage to a master of the weird, H.P. Lovecraft, in Jude Aquilina's "Cthulhu Calls". Jan Napier's "Poets in Pockets" shows how "they shrill and argue/like an aggravation of lorikeets", while there are poems by Philip Salom and Lisa Jacobson about Daedalus, the space traveller who flew too close to the sun. A number of the poems in The Stars Like Sand were invited. Much to the editors' pleasure, one of those who accepted was Les Murray, whose superb poem "The Future" begins: "There is nothing about it. Much science fiction is set there/but it is not about it. Prophecy is not about it … Even the man we nailed to a tree for a lookout/said little about it".
In this splendid anthology, that entertains from start to finish, we find such colonial poets as J. Brunton Stephens in "The Courtship of the Future" (AD 2876) depicts a world where – even though people coupling have been "taught to draw the whole soul though/A foot of gutta-percha tubing"– sexual misconduct has not been eradicated. Tim Sinclair's vision of the future in "Silent City" is quietly mournful: "There is no sunrise or sunset in the city,/just a uniform, sourceless glow". In "The End of the World", Lawson's contemporary Victor Daley reveals a peevish and disappointed God who brushes Man off his knees: "With all its glories ripe/The Earth passed, like a spark/Blown from a sailor's pipe/Into the hollow dark". The Stars Like Sand shows us, in the work of the more than 80 poets included, much of that illimitable dark, as well as the flights of fancy and hope that can give brief and brilliant illumination. Seek out this book – admirable, and one of a kind.