Monday Miscellany: 25 June 2018

Monday Miscellany, “Yeah, I know it’s Tuesday already” Edition:

Speculative Poets in Conversation: Jeannine Hall Gailey

The Speculative Poets in Conversation Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry about how their work addresses social justice issues. For the third post in the series, I spoke with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey about her 2015 collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, published by Mayapple Press.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, which was a finalist for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal and a winner of a Florida Publishers Association Presidential Award for Poetry, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and her latest, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and SFPA’s Elgin Award, Field Guide to the End of the World. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. She has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in English from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Pacific University. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. In 2007 she received a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant and in 2007 and 2011 a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. 

Freethinking Ahead: In the collection, we see the character of the Robot Scientist’s Daughter as both of the community and yet outside of it. How did you initially conceive of her in respect to your intentions for the poems? Did your concept of her change over the course of the collection, especially in light of your personal connections to Oak Ridge National Laboratories and that of the research you did for the poems?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a mythological character who has Cover of The Robot Scientist's Daughtera lot in common with me, but isn’t actually me. I’ve always enjoyed writing persona poetry, and in this book, which is much more personal (and actually has first-person autobiographical poems in it) I thought it provided a little bit of fun and more potential for sci-fi experimentation inside the historical story of Oak Ridge and my own history living there.

FTA: I’m curious about the theme of the perilous nature of the parent/child relationship in the collection: the dangerous offspring elements created in “Radon Daughters,” the wasps and swallows building nests from radioactive mud in “Hot Wasp Nest,” “The Girls Next Door” and their daughters, and, of course, the Robot Scientist and his daughter.

JHG: In this book, there is a definite sense of menace in terms of scientific “fathers” – I specifically reference some scientists who made what I consider unethical decisions when it came to their creations in nuclear science and of course, they carry the responsibility for the creation of the most devastating military weapon ever – the nuclear bomb. There’s a feeling that people in the nuclear era – and in Oak Ridge – trusted the government to tell them about the dangers nuclear experimentation exposed them to, and that trust was betrayed multiple times, in multiple ways, over the last fifty years. In environmental terms, the endangered babies of various animals raised in a toxic environment represented by own (and many other children from the area’s) damage from exposure to nuclear pollution – but I wanted to represent the damage this nuclear pollution does to the entire ecosystem, not just the human part of it.

FTA: You note in your introduction to the book that one of your reasons for writing the collection was to draw attention to the potential harms of nuclear research, particularly “that the half-life of the pollution from nuclear sites is longer than most human life spans.” The presence of the children in the collection, affected as they are by the pollution, seems to work in tension to the danger, however, as we see the children as a kind of emblem of some better possible future. What drove your choice to place them both within and as narrator(s) of the poems?

JHG: Children don’t have a choice about where they live, or what their parents do for a living, and yet, they are still exposed to dangers that they may or may not be aware of that can affect them for the rest of their lives, and even their children’s lives. Children can make decisions when they become adults about what they do about that exposure, whether they speak out against it, or keep their families (and their governments’) secrets for them. You can see the results of this now in young people in Japan who are much less tolerant of nuclear power and nuclear pollution after living through the disaster at Fukushima than perhaps previous generations have been. I hope this book raises some awareness about our own problems – still unfixed – in cities near the readers – not just Oak Ridge and Hanford, the sister “Atomic cities,” but many secret cities around our country. Anyone who talks about how “clean” nuclear energy is needs to be educated about the real dangers and the effects already around many rural (and some not-so-rural) areas in America.

FTA: Throughout the collection, you anchor the poems in the landscape around the ORNL with almost incantatory series of plants and animals, from “lilacs, daffodils, black bears and mockingbirds” in “Oak Ridge, Tennessee” to “wild onion, grass, green apples” in “Lessons in Poison” to “Pears and apples, asparagus and peanuts, rows and rows of lettuce” in “Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Unlock the Secrets of America’s Secret City!”

These groupings give us as readers a view of the wildlife affected by the ORNL, but they also seem to make of the land and landscape a sort of community, a spare and haunting gathering of its inhabitants. How did you view these groupings in your poems? How do you see them in relation to the same groupings of body parts affected by the radiation, such as the “bones, fingernail, brain” you group in the first poem of the book, “Cesium Burns Blue”?

Jeannine Hall GaileyJHG: I would say it’s fair to say that as a child living in Tennessee I spent more time with the plants and animals there than I did with any fellow humans. I loved the woods and the animals we kept on our small farm and the wild things there. As a kid I pretended to be a horse and ate grass; I pretended to be a cat and climbed trees; I pretended to be a bird and built nests. There was no way those items would not become an important part of the book. I live in a beautiful part of the world now, but there’s no doubt, with every garden I plant, I’m in some way trying to recreate the beloved gardens of my childhood home.

Also, when I studied ecotoxicology and toxic botany in college, I learned about the way that plants take up poisons from their environments, and I read studies that showed that, say, children who drank milk from cows in the Oak Ridge area or ate fish from streams even miles away were exposed to high levels of radioactive cesium, for instance, so I became aware as an adult that the fruits and flowers I loved were actually poisonous, toxic.

FTA: Are there any speculative poetry titles you’d like to recommend to the readers of the Freethinking Ahead blog? Or poetry collections that also touch on the same kind of environmental concerns that The Robot Scientist’s Daughter explores?

JHG: As far as environmental concerns, the terrific Plume by Kathleen Flenniken explores similar themes to The Robot Scientist’s Daughter from the perspective of an actual former Hanford, WA engineer who was also the daughter of a Hanford engineer. Hanford has almost more terrible lessons than Oak Ridge, from an American nuclear perspective. (Plus: google ‘the Green Run.’)

Speculative poetry that I love? Margaret Rhee’s Robot Love; Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life; Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars; Dana Levin’s Banana Palace. More female speculative poets to check out: Stephanie Wytovich, Lesley Wheeler, Nancy Hightower, Sally Rosen Kindred, Jenna Le, Shannon Connor Winward, Lana Ayers, and Mary McMyne.

This Was Supposed to Be a Post About the Runoff Election in Texas

This was supposed to be a post about the past week of early voting here in Texas to determine party candidates for November’s election.  Because it’s never just about elections, is it?  Not about the two Democrats vying for the party’s gubernatorial candidacy, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houstonian Andrew White.  Not about the slow start and the low turnout.  Not about strategies Democrats are using to encourage non-voters to vote.

Not when the week is punctuated by at least two mass shootings here in Texas: a mother whose ex-husband murdered all their children on Wednesday, and the Santa Fe High School murders on Friday.

But it is about elections.  It has to be.  In response to the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at a press conference about his plans to address the issue of gun violence in schools.  From The Texas Tribune:

Abbott said that he had already been preparing to release several new proposals for gun laws in Texas.

Now, he said, he will begin meeting with stakeholders to propose “swift solutions to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”

That said, we have to question how much this willingness to act is a response to the upcoming November election.  Immediately following Gov. Abbott at the press conference was Sen. Ted Cruz, who has received an A+ rating from the NRA.  Though Sen. Cruz should have been at the press conference as one of the elected representatives of the state, his presence after Gov. Abbott’s remarks seemed, to me anyway, to throw a shadow over any proposed action.  If any of the GOP elected officials from Texas had been serious about gun control after, say, the church shooting in Sutherland Springs or the shooting at a home in Plano last year or any other recent mass shooting, then why wait for this particular horror to announce the proposed new gun laws?

In a year when Gov. Abbott’s position isn’t realistically threatened by his Democratic opponent, whoever that turns out to be, Rep. Beto O’Rourke does have a chance at unseating Sen. Cruz, and in smaller races around the state, Republicans may be defeated by their Democratic rivals.  So perhaps Gov. Abbott doesn’t need to speak to moderate voters for his own good, but he does for those candidates in his party.

So, Gov. Abbott may be right about one thing: what we need isn’t more “thoughts and prayers.”  And what we need isn’t just announcements of proposals overshadowed by reminders that too many members of his party are beholden to the gun lobby, either.

What we need is solid blue turnout in November.

Speculative Poets in Conversation: Christina M. Rau

The Speculative Poets in Conversation Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry about how their work addresses social justice issues. For the second post in the series, I spoke with poet Christina M. Rau about her 2017 collection Liberating The Astronauts, published by Aqueduct Press.

Christina M. Rau is the author of the sci-fi fem poetry collection, Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press, 2017), and the chapbooks WakeBreatheMove (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and For The Girls, I (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). Her poetry has also appeared on gallery walls in The Ekphrastic Poster Show, on car magnets for The Living Poetry Project, and in various literary journals both online and in print. She is the founder of the Long Island reading circuit, Poets In Nassau, and has read and run workshops for various community groups nationwide. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College where she also serves as Poetry Editor for The Nassau Review. She tweets on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, reposts on Tumblr, reviews on Goodreads, updates on Facebook, regrams on Instagram, and does whatever one does on Snapchat. In her non-writing life, she teaches yoga occasionally and line dances on other occasions.  Find her links on http://www.christinamrau.com

Freethinking Ahead: The poems in book touch on topics as varied as romantic love, self-discovery, art, technology, memory, and so on while creating a whole that uses science and science fiction as metaphor, reference material, and context. Did you start writing the collection with that end in mind? And do you see the wholeness of the book as working in tension to the “standing out through not fitting in” you note in your dedication? Or as an act of standing out in itself?

Christina M. Rau: I had no clear end in mind when I was putting the collection together. Actually, I had no idea I was putting together this specific collection. (I was actually working on a collection about nymphs and gnomes and other magical creatures). When I found the poem “Liberating The Astronauts” in my files, I realized what it was about—I usually don’t know exactly what I’m writing about until later on. I realized it’s a metaphor. I’m the astronaut, along with anyone who has ever felt out of place. I’ve spent my entire life in an awkward phase, and through poetry, I found that I can be free in that awkwardness. All the poems about relationships and science are really about self-discovery and self-acceptance. When I put all the poems together and sought out a home, I found Aqueduct Press and realized that sci-fi fem was a real thing, and that’s the thing I’d been doing. They helped set my little poems free into the world.

FTA: I’d like to ask about the fact a number of your poems in this collection are erasure poems or are poems that quote canonical SF movies. I think there’s a tendency to see prose as more accessible or at least as more visible than poetry. Do you view your poetry as engaging prose and other media such as film in a way that works against this view? How does this use of canonical SF tie in with your larger concerns as a poet?

CMR:  The erasure poems in this collection are the first ones I’ve ever written. I’m a blogger, so that’s my prose outlet. Otherwise, I stick to poetry. Sometimes even in poetry, finding exactly what I want to say doesn’t click, but I do get inspired by reading a lot. That’s where all the epigraphs come in. I use them often. I gave erasure a try using one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby. Then I went back to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, knowing that it spoke to me but I wasn’t exactly sure how. In reworking that text in two ways, I found a lot of ideas bursting through that were stuck when I had a blank page. Though sometimes prose is thought of as more accessible, the way in which this latter erasure emerged seems to be even less accessible! However, since the genre is speculative, it fits into that breaking-boundaries mindset. Poetry, in many ways, is boundary-breaking, too. Poems help people find a voice, and that voice can tie into many different facets of life. A lot of the poem in Liberating deal with a coming-of-age voice and a voice of feminism.

FTA: Some of the poems in Liberating the Astronauts use scientific principles as underlying metaphors (for example: “The Atomic Hypothesis,” “Kepler’s Laws,” and “Withstanding Mars”) while others venture into science fictional contexts (such as “Colony Collapse,” “Where to Go on a Rocket Ship,” and “Mermaid on the Moon.”) What guides your choices in moving past contemporary science (or contemporary settings) and placing these poems in speculative contexts?

CMR: As I alluded to earlier, I steal as many poets do. However, I don’t steal and keep it the same. I steal an idea and make it my own, so all the hard science I find fascinating becomes a basis for exploration in a more poetic direction. Science must rely on research, methods, and facts. While some poetry deals with those ideas, it doesn’t have to. I take facts and reinvent them. That’s where speculative comes into the picture—once I make the science mine, it’s all speculation. The main sources of guidance are connotation and sound. I grew up in a household that lent itself to math and science, so math and science words sometimes take me back to growing up, and that’s what I mean when the science becomes my own and emerges as poetic verse. Plus, science has a lot of great-sounding words. Sometimes I don’t know what a word means, but I know I need to use it because it sounds spectacular.

FTA: Recently, you spoke at the Split This Rock festival about speculative fiction as a voice of activism. Can you recommend one or two books of speculative poetry that exemplify this?

CMR: The panel I’m moderating for Split This Rock is entitled Fantasy As Reality: Activism and Catharsis Through Speculative Writing. Each panelist has their own spin on speculative writing:

  • Rita Banerjee’s novella A Night With Kali appears in the anthology Approaching Footsteps (Spider Road Press) [https://ritabanerjee.com/];
  •  Alex DiFrancesco’s first novel, The Devils That Have Come to Stay, is an acid western that deals with social justice histories of the California Gold Rush [https://alexdifrancesco.com/];
  • Marlena Chertock’s On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press) explores space travel and skeletal dysplasia [http://marlenachertock.com/].

Speaking of space travel, The Voyager Record: A Transmission (Rosemetal Press) by Anthony Michael Morena offers the B-side to Carl Sagan’s late 1970’s experiment [http://www.anthonymichaelmorena.com/].

Additionally, there’s a whole world of speculative poetry—from more science-y stuff to super-sci-fi-fantasy— that gathers virtually over at the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association [http://sfpoetry.com/].It’s a great place to dive in and get lost for a while.

 I couldn’t stop at just two recommendations. There’s simply so much good speculative writing out there.

The Speculative Poetic Justice Series: An Introduction and FAQ

The second speculative poetry project I’m launching for National Poetry Month here at Freethinking Ahead is the Speculative Poetic Justice Series.

What is Freethinking Ahead’s Speculative Poetic Justice series?

The Speculative Poetic Justice series takes a cue from John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” and Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit” and adds a twist. Posts in this series will feature poets on the social justice elements of their work.

The goals here are to:

  • showcase upcoming and available speculative poetry collections,
  • curate a searchable list of speculative poetry collections to highlight authors, and, similarly,
  • create a hub for featuring presses and magazines that feature speculative poetry.

I’m also always on the lookout for poets and editors to interview for Speculative Poets in Conversation, and I anticipate an overlap in these series.

Who Can Participate?

Anyone who has a book-length work that contains speculative poetry (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, slip-stream, horror, weird, etc.) can request to participate. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Full-length and chapbook-length works that are currently in print or forthcoming in the next three months.
  • Books published by a press not owned or operated by the author. I am not accepting self-published works at present. (If you work for the press that published your book, however, I may make exceptions, depending on the history of the press; just send a quick query to the email address below.)
  • Single-author and multiple-author books as well as anthologies or special theme issues of magazines.

Collections of multiple genres–short stories, poems, essays, etc.–are eligible, as long as the included poems touch on social justice issues.

Please do not send collections that contain graphic and/or needless violence, especially graphic sexual violence, and especially violence against children or animals. I’m not a horror reader for a reason, y’all. The topic is not off the table, of course, since poems that decry war, crimes, etc. are powerful statements against these things. But there’s a vast difference between useful mention of horror and gore for its own sake.

What Do Authors/Editors Need to Submit?

Just send an email to info at tdwalker dot net with the subject Speculative Poetic Justice Series Query: [Title], [Author] and include the following:

  • A brief (250-1000 word) post on the social justice elements of your poems (i.e., How does your poetry address concerns about representation of women? How do the speakers of the poems work against type? Etc.)
  • A brief bio (no more than 150 words)
  • An ARC (ebook in .mobi format or a print copy). If you plan to send a print copy, just let me know in your email. I’ll reply back with a mailing address.
  • An image of the work’s cover.
  • Any social media links and websites for the author/editor and for the press (as applicable).
  • If your book is forthcoming, please include the release date.  If it’s already available, please indicate this.

Please note that submission to this series does not guarantee that your book will be featured on the blog.

When Will the Posts Appear?

Speculative Poetic Justice series posts will appear on all Wednesdays of the month that I have content available, except for the first Wednesday of the month. These Wednesdays are reserved for the monthly Speculative Poets in Conversation posts.

In your email, let me know if you’d like a particular date, and I’ll try to accommodate your request as I can.

Where Do I Get More Information?

Just send me a message at info at tdwalker dot net if you have any questions.

 

Monday Miscellany: 16 April 2018

A few links of interest from around the web:

Monday Miscellany: 9 April 2018

A few links of interest from around the web:

Speculative Poets in Conversation: Kristi Carter

The Speculative Poets in Conversation Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry about how their work addresses social justice issues. For the first post in the series, I spoke with poet Kristi Carter about her 2017 collection Cosmovore, published by Aqueduct Press.

Kristi Carter is the author of Red and Vast (dancing girl press), Daughter Shaman Sings Blood Anthem (Porkbelly Press) and Cosmovore (Aqueduct Press).  Her poems have appeared in publications including So to Speak, poemmemoirstory, CALYX, Hawaii Review, and Nimrod. Her work examines the intersection of gender and intergenerational trauma in 20th Century poetics. She holds a PhD from University of Nebraska Lincoln and an MFA from Oklahoma State University.

Freethinking Ahead: Given that consumption is at the core of the poems in Cosmovore, the book seems to present an argument about the dangers of desire: Cosmovore can have the physical world and incorporate it into herself, but she can’t have her beloved or their child. 

What led you to create the character of Cosmovore, her desires, and the ways in which she attempts to satisfy her hunger(s)? And why address those ideas in poems?

Kristi Carter, Author of Cosmovore

Kristi Carter: Thank you so much for starting with this focus on consumption. As someone who has long lived in blue pockets in red states, I’ve seen the way that women are coded as producers, commodities of making more, and the narrative of that repeated as an end goal has reductive implications for women as complex entities. Why is motherhood still an end-goal held above all others in the stories people are fed over and over?

It’s problematic in and of its own to limit women to be the custodians of other people and not have any alternative for their own lives. Considering all that, I think the real match strike for the flame that is Cosmovore was living in Oklahoma when personhood laws for abortions were coming into reality, with little opposition or variety of conversation regarding them. That said, the fatalism I saw in those who disagreed made me turn to poetry as a venue of agency, a kind of activism and alternative to those political choices about what could potentially be my body, in which I had absolutely no say.

Because poetry boils things down to the most essential elements, there is anger, there is hunger for more, and there is an insatiability that seems to reflect how little there is to really pick from.

FTA: One of the aspects of the collection I most appreciate is that it functions on both the literal, speculative level as Cosmovore’s story and on the metaphorical level as an exploration of a woman who loses so much in spite of trying to take as much as she does from the world.

Do you see the subtext of the collection as a critique of what contemporary society deems acceptable (or necessary) for women to want? If so, does that come out of your areas of research?

KC: Oh very much so! Readers who do not question how women are oppressed have seen Cosmovore as a kind of villain or bizarre character. If the conversation is not already happening in the reader’s own life, there is a disengagement from the poems because Cosmovore intensifies questions that are already a burden for most people who want to challenge patriarchal expectations. On the other hand, people who have survived some kind of violence and/or are just fed up with the lack of agency they have respond to those poems on an intuitive level, which is flattering. It’s a divisive collection, just as the issues within are.

In terms of my research, I think it’s no accident to see the reactions of who responds and how. Intersectionality teaches us no one thing about us makes us experience oppression and that our oppressions might parallel those of others and though we cannot always inhabit those differences, and thus empathize, different kinds of marginalization give us different access to those experiences. So for example, I have witnessed more readers who are men of color or LGBTQ men react positively to the text compared to white men. Women react more strongly overall, either in solidarity or in defense of their own attachments to motherhood, or some mixture. When those women are women of color, they react even more strongly. Obviously it depends on the individual, but these trends echo what we have seen in literature and sociology for some time.

FTA: In the poem “Cosmovore Has Night Demons,” Cosmovore contemplates the city around her–and its drive toward consumption through its “open signs […] burned coffee, stale bagels”–as she moves toward thinking about her lost lover and what seems to be their lost pregnancy. She tells him “You never understood anything about survival. About how I could / still be whole / after we lost what I was carrying.” Cosmovore is still a whole woman in spite of her losses.

Cover Image of Cosmovore by Kristi Carter

How do you view this wholeness–if we can see her as whole–in relation to the threads of horror and the fantastic that run through the collection? How did (or didn’t) your idea of Cosmovore change in the course of writing the poems?

KC: The idea of wholeness is really intriguing because it circles back to that idea of goal-fulfillment that influences cultural values, specifically the idea that women have to reproduce to check off some major box validating their existence. When we prod that patriarchal idea with the question of infertility or pregnancy by rape, confusion and aggression seem to arise. Since horror and other modes of surrealism have historically been used to comment on political issues, we witness hyperbolized, condensed narratives about these issues in those traditions.

The sheer power of Cosmovore makes her whole in one sense, but her strength also makes her intimidating. I think it’s a both/and situation that most of us combat in our day-to-day lives where we are told to pick either/or instead. As Cosmovore progressed I saw how again and again deeply engraved that cycle is in the world around us, which is why she is always searching for a kind of release from those confinements.

FTA: Any exciting recent titles (SF poetry or not) that you could recommend to the Freethinking Ahead readership?

KC: A novel I recently read that has been haunting me is Katherena Vermette’s The Break, a recent title which explores issues in the Métis community of Winnipeg, Canada. Vermette is also a poet which comes through in her glimmering prose. For poetry, I recommend Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Heather Derr-Smith’s Thrust, Chloe N. Clark’s The Science of Unvanishing Objects, and anything from the presses that have taken my work. It’s no surprise they make a commitment to the political urgencies of the work they publish as well as the artistic artistry.

 

 

Monday Miscellany: 26 March 2018

A few links of interest from around the web:

Stay tuned in April when Freethinking Ahead’s own interview series with speculative poets launches on the 4th.  We’ll be talking SF poetry, social justice, and reading recommendations.