24 August 2009

Astropoetica: Mapping The Stars Through Poetry

In 2003, I came across a call for submissions for a new webzine, Astropoetica. Its mission statement was "Mapping The Stars Through Poetry", and editor Emily Gaskin had the excellent idea of launching it with a Constellations Issue: at least one poem for each of the 88 constellations recognised by the International Astronomical Union.

"That sounds like a good idea," I thought, and set about finding some Southern Hemisphere constellations that would by the overly-prosaic Abbe Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille - you can see the poems at the bottom of this post. Octans is the constellation which contains the South Celestial Pole.

Later, I had poems in a couple more issues, including two in the Solar System Issue - these two form part of the Mars sequence in All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens. But, not having written any suitable poems for a while, I was especially pleased that my poem Losing Weight was included in the latest issue.

I'm not the only New Zealand poet to be included in Astropoetica: Mary Cresswell has been published there several times, and Su Lynn Cheah had two poems, including a particular favourite of mine, Insects, in the Constellation Issue.

It isn't easy to keep a small-press magazine appearing so consistently, especially when you're paying the contributors. Emily Gaskin has done both poetry and astronomy a great service with Astropoetica, and if you are interested in either, I recommend it.

Three Constellation Poems

Antlia, the Air Pump

The good Abbé
had a telescope, and time
and a cloth ear
when it came to names

Abbé Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille
You'd think a name like that
would awaken a sense of rhythm
in the most prosaic of men

a sense that would guide his choices
as he looked up
from the Cape of Good Hope
at a southern sky crying out for names

But no. He wished to honour
Robert Boyle, great father of the Air Pump
Antlia Pneumatica and Machine Pneumatique
that's the name he lumped me with

Dogs, bulls, and virgins
wrapped in their antiquity
chased me from the north
with their mortifying laughter

Later someone had mercy
shortened me to Antlia
People now think
I'm named after ants or antlers

Squint and you can see me
crawling through the southern sky
keeping my head down
as air leaks from my broken heart

Horologium, the Clock

Clock, clock
Tick tock
In the southern sky
Counting down the lonely years
All are born to die

Clock, clock
Tick tock
Entropy remains
As your stars drift out of reach
Leaving only names

, the Octant

I was there when the Yamana
sailed south from Cape Horn
in their flimsy bark canoes
and found a world of ice

I was there when the Maori
dared the Southern Ocean
in twin totara logs
sailing from Te Waipounamu

There for Ross and de Gerlache
Bellingshausen and Borchgrevink

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they came to the South Pole
I was there

When Roald Amundsen
planted the flag of Norway
at his best guess at the Pole --
I was there

When Robert Falcon Scott
lay down for death to claim him
Somewhere high above the blizzard
I was there

There for Mawson and Shackleton
for Hillary and Byrd

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they came to the South Pole
I was there

Above the chattering of tourists
and the scientists' endeavours
Above the melting and the greening
I'll be there

When the sea level rises
and the ice turns into water
Or when a new ice age beckons
I'll be there

There for artist and astronomer
Protester and prospector

Nothing much to look at
Not shining like Polaris
But when they come to the South Pole
I'll be there

Antlia was included in All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens. Horologium and Octans have not been collected in book form.


Kay said...

Brilliant Tim - pun intended! Great poems. I can see a whole collection on this theme (a constellation, maybe!)

Meliors Simms said...

gorgeous poems, yay, thank you
(and my word verification for this comment is ephonali)

Emily Gaskin said...

Thank you so much for this, Tim. I've loved having the privilege of publishing your work in Astropoetica.

A bit of Astropoetica trivia for you: "Antlia" consistently shows up in the top twenty search strings leading casual web surfers to Astropoetica. I just did a quick Google search for "Antlia," and your poem appears on the first page of results. You're practically an authority on the constellation!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Kay and Meliors, for those kind words about the poems, and thanks so much, Emily, for commenting! The Constellation and Solar System issues in particular would seem to be ripe for turning into books, should the time and money become available.

I have clearly missed my calling. I'm going to buy a suitable degree from one of those spammers offering degrees "based on your previous life experience", then travel the world (carefully offsetting my emissions as I go) to lecture on that most pneumatic of constellations, Antlia.

Mary said...

Onward, Antlia! Lacaille has a lot to answer for, though I suppose we should be grateful we are not looking soulfully upwards to the Motherboard or the Dongle.

Tim Jones said...

I rather like the idea of a constellation called the Dongle, Mary (and folks, if you don't know what a dongle is, it's not what you think). I'm just glad that the IAU has resisted the urge to bolster its income by allowing sponsorship and naming rights for constellations - it wouldn't be quite the same searching the night sky for the outline of the Ed's Used Car Barn Toyota Cressida (or the IBM Motherboard, for that matter)