Australian and New Zealand Speculative Poetry
edited by Tim Jones
Introduction to Issue 2
In 2004, poet, editor and publisher Mark Pirie suggested to me that we jointly edit an anthology of New Zealand science fiction poetry. That sounded like a good idea to me, so we issued a call for submissions and, dividing libraries as we went, plunged into an informal historical survey of New Zealand poetry to look for previously published poems that fitted our brief.
When we announced our project, we also got a lot of reactions along the lines of “what is science fiction poetry?” “do New Zealanders even write that stuff?” and “Hah! That’s going to be a very thin book!”
Not so. We found a lot of eligible poems in published collections, much of it dating from the 1950s and 1960s and sparked by fears of nuclear war or dehumanisation. We received a very high number of original submissions—many more good poems than we could hope to include. And we were soon convinced that we had a viable anthology on our hands.
Unfortunately, New Zealand publishers were less convinced. Too niche, we were told. No market. Far too risky to take on. As we soon discovered, literary funding agencies felt the same way.
In the end, we had to go offshore to find our publisher. Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand was published by Interactive Press of Brisbane in 2009, and it has since gone on to have good reviews and good sales. The case was proven: there was such a thing as New Zealand science fiction poetry.
II. Therefore, when I was asked to edit an issue of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s new online journal focusing on New Zealand and Australian speculative poetry, I knew that there would be no problem finding enough good poems. Two countries, not one; all the speculative genres, not just SF. The first problem, I already knew, would be the number of excellent submissions I would not be able to include within the 20-poem limit.
The second problem would be to make sure enough Australian poets heard the call for submissions. The rest of the world, when it thinks about Australia and New Zealand at all, probably thinks of them as neighbours so close as to be almost indivisible, colonial cousins tucked away at the bottom of the South Pacific, so close that their flags—the Union Jack anachronistically prominent on both—differ by a single star.
In literature at least, that’s not the case. Poets in both countries disposed to look outside their own shores have tended to look to England, to the USA, and increasingly to the Pacific and to Asia, rather than to their trans-Tasman neighbour. We are separated by 2000 kilometres of ocean, by different indigenous histories and different colonial histories, by different poetic traditions, and even by the vagaries of book distribution: one New Zealand bookseller, told that I had had a book published in Australia, shook her head sadly and told me that it was easier to import books from Kazakhstan into New Zealand than it was to import books from Australia.
Yet the call went out, and Australian poets answered. This issue has some excellent poets from both sides of the ditch.
III. So what do we have for you? Something of everything, I hope, something of everything good. Most of the poems submitted fell into the sub-genre of science fiction poetry, but this issue also has fantasy poetry, and a touch of horror, and a touch of the surreal. Poems submitted ranged from the very short to the very long, but I found that many of the best poems operated at a medium length; fortunately, the first issue of Eye To The Telescope celebrates both short and long speculative poetry.
I think of sequencing a collection of poems as something like sequencing an LP—thus, perhaps, a lost art in this iTunes age. I like to start with a strong introductory poem that sets the tone, then put subsequent poems together in a way that provides both points of comparison and points of contrast. On “side 2” it’s time to challenge the audience with some more experimental material, then make sure to close with a poem that recapitulates the themes of the collection.
Does this issue manage that? Over to you to decide, over to the poets to draw you in to to the richness of their imagined worlds.
A final note: some of the poets, including some of the successful submitters, included notes that said something along the lines of “I didn’t realise that anyone else in my country wrote this sort of thing!” I hope that Eye to the Telescope 2 will go some way to making speculative poets in Australia and New Zealand visible both to the wider poetry public and to each other.