Dark Matters, new sci-fi poems, Russell JonesThere's a 1980s feel to the cover design. It's scarlet with a black starburst just above the middle, black lines radiating out. The title is in thick lower case letters -- italicised and fills the full width of the jacket in the top two inches. Below this in thin lower case sans serif the subtitle (new sci-fi poems) and this is black and right justified. The book title is either pink or white. The name of the author is biggest of everything and takes up about a third of the cover. it is right justified at the bottom and huge titling caps: white.

Tapsalteerie, 2018    £5.00

What sort of world are we in?

A leading poet once told me science-fiction poems were to be avoided. They weren’t popular with editors, she said — it would be a waste of effort.

So I stopped after the first five. And although I spent an age at least on a pastiche of Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’, unlike Russell Jones I never attempted ‘To His Coy Dalek’ where ‘universal love’ acquires a new dimension. There’s an interesting twist in the last line, too:

Darling, my two hearts beat because of you.

So although the first-person speaker is apparently not a Dalek, Dr Who fans know who he must be.

But even though I was discouraged from making sci-fi poems myself, I welcome the idea, and I’m inclined to think — especially since reading this pamphlet — they’re not as rare as one might suppose. When reading anthologies or magazines, there’s a certain kind of poem that you gradually realise must have an extra-terrestrial or a futuristic setting. But in this collection you know from square one this is so. The poem could be set in any world, anywhere. And if it happens to be this one, it could be anywhen.

In Russell Jones’s work, I liked working out what the setting might be. ‘An Official Guide to Surviving the Invasion’ is probably on earth, but what kind of invaders? They ‘may appear human’ and '‘They’re hurt, as we are, by misery’. So to stop them moving in, the key is to stay miserable:

Close the cupboard doors, lock
the children inside, don’t open
the tinned peaches for a fortnight.

And in ‘Lie of the Land’ the dystopian future is equally vivid — alarmingly so:

The city’s dark and distant. Ice
shears from car windows.
You ride by towers of glass,
the streets littered in heads
spiked during the commute.

How horrible! But easily imaginable. Not, in fact, a million miles from certain current fears.

All science-fiction writing is really about now. It has to be, when you think about it. A poet can only write out of individual experience, and imagination works with the building blocks of what we already know.

So working out what kind of world is the setting for a poem, is the same as working out what the poet is saying about what kind of world this one is. And that's interesting.

Helena Nelson