16 June 2015

Tuesday Poem: Kraken, plus entry details of the Interstellar Award for Speculative Flash Fiction

TL;DR version for flash fiction writers: head on over to https://interstellaraward.wordpress.com/interstellar-award-for-speculative-flash-fiction/ for details of the competition.

I'm very pleased to say that my poem "Kraken", reproduced below, won second prize in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry, the results of which were announced on Friday. You can read the excellent winning poem, by Kevin Gillam, and the judge's comments on the Interstellar Award results page. Congratulations to Kevin and to all the Highly Commended and Commended poets!

(Incidentally, Kevin is one of the poets whose work is represented in The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, which Highly Commended poet P. S. Cottier and I edited.),


Millennia of sunlight passed the Kraken by.
He slept where he had fallen, each molecule
bound up in water ice, kept safe by permafrost
or the pressure of the deep. Kraken lay
unmoved beneath the waves, deep in his dreams
of fire and air, while the ice sat heavy on the poles
and the clever, clever apes, fizzing with language,
trudged northwards out of Africa.

Unperturbed slept Kraken as the glaciers withdrew.
Lapping at their tongues came the clever apes,
furred, speared, striding on. Wintering in caves,
they met and mated with their slow-tongued cousins,
gaining their immunities, their thicker skins.
Tinder sparked to flame in the wolf-howled night,
each tribe protected in its ring of fire,
but Kraken took no notice of such things.

Light disturbed Kraken’s millennial dreams,
sunlight no longer reflected by protective ice
but slanting down into the depths, unchecked,
warming the shallow seas, permafrost
proving to be less than permanent. In his sleep,
Kraken rolled over, farted, belched. Siberia trembled,
craters forming where none had been, methane
bursting skyward across the Arctic night.

The clever apes looked, and shrugged, and looked away.
They had bigger fish to fry: death, war,
their endless clawing at the Earth for fuel. Kraken
had been banished from their world. He was a relic of myth,
terror of the Greenland Sea, muse to Tennyson,
John Wyndham antagonist, large-boned
inhabitant of green-screened Greek epics,
set free to give Perseus something to kill.

The old Norse knew his nature well. Hafgufa
they named him, sea steam: and so he rose,
bubbling up beneath the circumpolar seas,
so much methane rising to warm the skies
that it roused him more, the loop reinforcing,
unstoppable, his coils releasing, sea floor gaping open,
undersea landslides lashing crowded coasts with waves,
the clever apes at last obliged to pay attention —

but too late. The Kraken is awake.
Flares light the Arctic night to write his name.
His is the fire that heats the deep, that scours the land
clean of everything that flies and walks and crawls —
the few survivors, vainly fleeing south,
hearing his voice forever louder at their backs.
The Kraken roars, and as he roars
soon every trace of clever ape is burned away.

This poem refers to “The Kraken Wakes” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830).

Credit note: This poem was published for the first time on the Interstellar Awards website on 12 June 2015.

Tim says: Competition judge Joanne Mills makes some very kind & perceptive point about "Kraken" in her Judge's Report, so I suggest you check those out. I'll just add that, while I still have hope that the apocalyptic scenario of this poem can be avoided if the right steps are taken - and in particular, if fossil fuel use is swiftly reduced - it is nevertheless the case that the destabilising effect of climate change on Arctic methane deposits is cause for major concern - whether one takes a mainstream climate scientist or very worried indeed perspective.

The Tuesday Poem: The Tuesday Poem this week is "Grave secrets" by Helen Bascand, selected by Andrew Bell: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/…/grave-secrets-by-helen-… - a fine tribute to this stalwart of the Canterbury poetry community, who died in April

The Interstellar Award for Speculative Flash Fiction

This competition has a generous word limit, for flash fiction, of 1200 words. Entries open on 1 July and close on 1 October, and the prizes are also generous: $500, $150 and $50. Head over to the Interstellar Award site for all the entry details.

09 June 2015

Book Review: Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around The World, compiled by Elaine Chiew

When Rachel Fenton asked me if I'd be willing to review Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around The World, I had my doubts - not about reviewing a book featuring Rachel's work, because I already knew what a fine writer she is, but because I don't boast strong credentials when it comes to the culinary arts. I can cook, if it's simple and straightforward and repeatable, but I am neither gourmet nor gourmand.

But it turned out that my failings on this score didn't matter. The food in most of these stories is an enabler of story, serving to bring characters together or push them further apart, and it was the one piece in which food was front and centre that seemed a little out of place among the rest of the stories.

As befits a New Internationalist anthology, the range of authors and countries represented is wide. The anthology starts with a short-short (a "stoku" - story + haiku) by Ben Okri, which didn't grab me at first but which I like more on re-reading, and then traverses continents and cuisines before ending with a story by the compiler of the book, Elaine Chiew.

My favourite stories in the anthology include:

Krys Lee, "Fat" - a young man's efforts to get out of military service through overeating reach an ironic conclusion
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, "Mrs Dutta Writes A Letter" - probably my favourite story in the book, a moving story of an elderly woman's emigration from India to the US to be with her children, and the difficult adjustment that confronts her
Rachel Fenton, "Food Bank" - a sharp-edged relationship tale which showcases the author's ability to pack a lot of story into a limited space through drawing out the implications of her characters' behaviour
Elaine Chiew, "Run of the Molars" - not a million miles away from "Mrs Dutta Writes A Letter", but seen from the perspective of the children who must deal with the visit of the elderly relative from home.

There's a lot of other very good stories in here, and the anthology as a whole is definitely worth reading. (I was slightly puzzled by Diana Ferraro's piece, which appears to be a non-fiction discussion of changing times and changing foods in her Buenos Aires - but maybe there is a metafictional element here too subtle for me to notice!)

This anthology is well worth your time.

02 June 2015

Interstellar Award Shortlist plus this week's Tuesday Poem

I got the very welcome news yesterday that my poem "Kraken" has been shortlisted for the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry.

There are some fine poets on the shortlist, including two poets represented in The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry: they are P. S. Cottier, my co-editor on the anthology, and Kevin Gillam. Congratulations to Penelope, Kevin, and everyone else shortlisted!

In other news, I'm the overall editor for the Tuesday Poem blog this month, so I won't be posting Tuesday Poems here during June. The Tuesday Poem this week is "Chernobyl Wedding, 1986" by Naomi Guttman, selected by Eileen Moeller: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/2015/06/a-poem-by-naomi-guttman.html