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.

Monday Miscellany: 12 March 2018

A few links of interest from around the web:

Early Voting Begins in Texas and Democrats Turn Out

Early voting for the primaries began yesterday here in the Lone Star State, and, turns out, Democrats turned out.  From The Texas Tribune:

On Tuesday, more Democrats cast primary ballots than Republicans on the first day of early voting in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters. That hasn’t happened since 2008.

Here’s hoping we see that sort of turn out in November.  It’s quite a mix of candidates, and the primary race for governor includes a number of promising candidates.  Here’s a list from North Texas NPR affiliate KERA.

Perhaps things aren’t so bleak as they seemed back in August, when the field of Democrats was far more sparse and far less well funded than the incumbent.  Still, November’s turn out is the key here.  We’ll see if the Democrats maintain their momentum.

Screaming into the Void: Or, a Letter to Senator Cruz

In light of recent events.  How useless do we feel “in light of recent events”?  Especially when there is little we feel, as individuals, can do against well funded special interest groups?  Especially when we feel, as individuals, we see the same things happening over and again, with nothing done to address these “recent events,” events which are just the latest in a long string of the same kind of event?

In light of recent events, I’m screaming into the void again.  That is to say, I’m writing to my red-state representatives.  I’m posting the body of a letter I’m sending to Senator Cruz, who received an A+ rating from the NRA, and whose campaigns received considerable financial support from the group.

As your constituent, I am writing to you to urge you to take action to ban assault weapons.

I might have begun by saying “In light of recent events,” but that would imply the presence of assault weapons and ease of access to them is a recent development. You know this is not the case.

You know the devastating history of murder involving assault weapons and that shootings involving them will continue if we as a nation do nothing to curb their availability. I don’t need to outline any of the recent terror involving such weapons in this letter: you know the details.

Given your A+ rating from the NRA, I realize that you won’t heed my concerns–I’m only one of your constituents, not one of your donors.

But let me remind you that you were not elected to represent special interest groups. You were not elected to represent groups whose ideology runs counter to the safety and well being of your constituency.

You were elected to represent the citizens of Texas.

Stand up for us, please. Stand up for your constituents and act to ban assault weapons.

If you find any of this letter useful, feel free to copy and modify as needed to send to your representatives.  In light of recent events, we need to keep screaming into the void.  And in November, those of us in Texas need to vote Cruz out.