This is another poetry review that is long overdue. I could say that about 20 of the next 25 reviews I’ll write – I’m hopelessly behind, so maybe I should stop calling attention to it? Be that as it may, I had intended to write this review when the collection was fresh and new (in June) before the extended hiatus necessitated by moving from one country to another. But well, life got in the way.
There’s kind of an interesting genesis story that goes along with this book (Well, at least I hope it’s interesting, but if you’re not at all into it you can skip down a couple of paragraphs to the actual review): I’ve been a member of NetGalley, a service that connects books/ARCs with reviewers, for a while, but I hadn’t gotten any poetry out of the deal until I got a newsletter promoting an exciting new collection of Science Fiction Poetry. Amazingly, they had combined my interests (listed as Science Fiction and Poetry, plus a lot of other things I enjoy reading) and thought I might be interested. They were right and I hadn’t heard of this poet, either. A week or so later, I got an email from a rep at the publisher of this book, Inkshares; asking if I would be interested in reviewing this collection of SF poetry for StarShipSofa and could they send me a hard copy? Why yes, I’d be interested, but not for SSS, but for this venue and Star*Line. Could you send it to Paris, please? No problem! A few days later, I got 2 more emails from them, admittedly to different email addresses, asking the same thing. They did all address me as Diane. I mean, how many Diane’s who review SF Poetry do they think there are in the world?!? I told the rep that she already had one on the way to me and that I didn’t need 2 more, thank you though!
I read the collection and loved it. Easy to read and fun. It is fresh and funny and could speak to a lot of people of (at least) my generation and younger. Then I found out that the poet resides in Paris. But this information was unfortunately shared with me just after I had missed the book launch reading/party. What a pity. Luckily, there were more of that sort in the works. It was at this point that I got in touch with Yann Rousselot himself to make a plan for the review and perhaps meet up for an interview of sorts. It’s not very often I actually get to meet the poet before I write a review. Or at all, for that matter. Living in mainland Europe has its disadvantages at times.
My husband and I went to the second reading, which was in a funky art gallery/club of sorts close to Place de la République. It was small and packed. There was a slide show of the artwork from the book on a continuous loop. In addition to reading several of his poems Yann also presented each of the illustrations and explained the genesis of each, which was very interesting and proved to explain a lot about the poetry as well, even though the illos came after. The reading in Paris was an interesting experience for me. I don’t get to go to many such events, living in Europe and being involved in the English language poetry scene online, has meant that I didn’t really realize that there was a real live English language poetry scene happening in Paris. It’s really a shame that I only discovered it a few weeks before my departure. Le sigh.
Yann is the son of an ambassador. His father is French and his mother English. His accent
however, is fairly Americanized, something he explained by having attended American schools all over the world. He claims to have grown up in airport lounges, which would then explain his wide familiarity with pop and nerd culture. I mean, what else is there to do in an airport lounge than read, play video games and watch movies? The artists were mostly 20 or 30-somethings who had some sort of personal connection to Yann grew up living in several exotic places and made friends with similar artistic outcasts (if you will). Varied as the art is, it is invariably perfectly suited to each poem, and I quite liked most of it.
We had a brief chat in the intermission of the reading, but there were so many people vying for his attention that we agreed to meet up another time. We met for an aperitiv at a café/bar on a busy Boulevard (de Grenelle) in my neighborhood (the 15 arondissement) a few weeks later. I can’t say it was an interview. I didn’t record it and I barely remember the specifics of what we talked about. Mostly, we just chatted about the differences in how we grew up (I led a very normal Midwestern childhood. He… did not) and how we came to love science fiction poetry. We also talked about what we do in “real” life. We just kind of shot the shit, ya know?
My first reading of the collection was quick and easy. The poems are written in a style which flows very well, is easy to understand, but the language is never trivial. They are playful, witty and sometimes downright funny, despite being basically dystopian and apocalyptic. As someone who styles herself as a bit of a SF nerd, the overt content is delightful, full of superheroes and pop-culture references, most of which I “got”. After his public reading and our conversation, I realized that there was a deeper, most subtle sub-context, which was underlying much of Yann’s writing. And that was one of alienation. A certain sense of wanting to but not quite belonging and trying to figure out one’s place in the world. As a bit of an outcast myself – as a kid, I was never the popular one – and having chosen exile (I mean, living in other countries than that which I grew up in), I get it.
i am a lonely cloud in terran skies and it is so cold here —
the cirrus and nimbus trawlers are mindless–
as the rock at the core of my jobbing world–
mobile and mindless–sentience a curse–
time–i now comprehend–
it is slow and so cold below the critical point–
i long for home–
–ugly bags of mostly water
I particularly like the above poem, not merely because I recognize the title as what a very bizarre alien on Star Trek called humans, but because it is a gorgeous poem, different from many of them, which sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go. It is the story of a being from Jupiter, which is very strange and incomprehensible to us, who tells us of its being, its experiences and how being taken to Earth has changed it. It’s truly heartbreaking.
I come from a relatively small city (Madison, Wisconsin, USA), and it is always a thrill when an author mentions Madison or a specific place there or nearby. (I was over the moon when Neil Gaiman made the House on the Rock the Nexus of Magic). Now that I’ve lived in both London and Paris for awhile, the thrill happens much more often, but it’s even more exciting when “my” neighborhoods get specific mentions. I couldn’t resist recording this one for myself. I lived right around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, the big playground in the Champ de Mars was “ours” and our first year there we walked past Les Invalides daily. Listen:
Audio – “A Thousand Disaster Movies” (read by Diane Severson)
Yann has created numerous recordings on SoundCloud, some with “musical” accompaniment or sound effects. Here’s one of them, but follow the link above to listen to all of them:
Audio – The Giant Dung Beetle vs. the Moss Monster (read by Yann Rousselot)
He also pointed me toward a Motion Poem, which is really cool:
Motion Poem Video – “A Roll of Film”
Now, a little about this publisher: Inkshares Press is pretty similar to a crowdfunding concept. Here’s what the website says on their “How it Works” page:
You’ll run your pre-order campaign from Inkshares. We’ll publish your book if you reach at least 250 copies pre-ordered. When you reach your pre-order goal, we’ll start the publishing process with you. We’ll edit, design, print, distribute, and market your book where the intensity of each is based on your goal level. We are your publisher. You’ll make 50% of gross revenue for each printed book we sell, and 70% for each ebook.
There are plenty of poetry publishers who require an author to drum up pre-sales. The more you sell before it’s published the bigger the print run. It seems like Inkshares is a little different once the magic number of 250 in pre-sales has been reached; namely, that they really get down to business, publishing a beautifully produced book, and actually getting your book into stores (through Ingram) and chasing up interviews, reviews and whatever else they can think up to sell your book. See my experience with Yann’s publicity manager, Angela Malamud, above. A quick Google search for Yann’s collection, shows that he’s done a few interviews (most notably with SF Signal) and the book has been widely reviewed. And not just the typical GoodReads review of a few words or even only stars; actual thoughtful reviews that get into the nitty gritty much more than I have. Inkshares seems to do an enthusiastic job of promoting a book so that it’ll sell!