To Boldly Go, Martin Zarrop

V. Press, 2021     £6.50

So much of a dazzling wonder

Martin Zarrop describes himself as a mathematician ‘who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it’. His poems in To Boldly Go reveal a cosmos of otherness, isolation and mystery, pinned down by specific names, place and dates. With humour and melancholy, he explores various space projects and the role of maths in grappling with complex problems. As a student, I failed miserably at the sciences. This pamphlet grabs my imagination.

The conversational poem ‘First Step’ records Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon. The astronaut reflects on his celebrity status, while longing for more recognition:

I dream of a home outside
Grauman’s Chines Theatre,
the adoration of feet.

In the piece ‘ To Boldly Go’, referencing the Star Trek legend, Zarrop invites us into a pub. Here we meet two tortoises boasting of their lunar travels. Lovell and Gagarin make an appearance. ‘The flickering ghosts of Apollo 1’ rise out of the ‘roaring fire. It’s a wondrous film shot caught on the page. In the emotive last lines Laika the space dog bays at the full moon.

Life on Mars is examined in the poem ‘Chocolate’. Humans are on their own. Life on Earth is dystopian and we’ve run out of supplies. It’s such a topical piece, ‘telling / of the latest viral curse, of infertility / and chaos, martial law’. Watch the film The Martian and you’re there. On Mars they ‘miss the chocolate most.’ Wouldn’t many of us choose it as our luxury item?

Back home, the narrator celebrates the pleasures of an earthly existence in ‘The road before mine’. Coffee, walking, music and neighbours’ company combine to lift his spirits. Each wine glass is

a magic wand, conjuring weekend fun
as I punch the air, drink in the sun,
almost human once more.

Martin Zarrop both records mankind’s achievements and connects them to the human spirit with witty observations and surreal imagery.

Maggie Mackay