From Aural Innovations #13 (October 2000)
I've always been - let's be frank - a bit clueless when it comes to poetry. And it started to bother me that I publish a spacerock zine, love science fiction and fantasy, and am a Hawkwind fan, yet I didn't have a genuine understanding of the power of Robert Calvert's words, and why he was so noted as a poet as opposed to a "mere lyricist". And being a presumptuous fellow I decided there might be a lot of Hawkwind fans out there who given a few beers might admit to the same. So last year I confessed this to Steve Sneyd and asked him if he would be interested in writing an introductory article for the "lost but interested" like myself, the result being his "Science Fiction Poetry Of Calvert And Many More" article that appeared in Aural Innovations #7.
Gnawing Medusa's flesh is a 44 page, digest sized, softcover book published by Hilltop Press. The two main sections are "Gnawing Medusa's Flesh: A post review of the science fiction poetry of Robert Calvert" by Steve Sneyd, and "Working Down A Diamond Mine: A brief review of Calvert's life and work as a musician and poet" by the late David Jones. There is also a Calvert discography that confesses to being representative rather than exhaustive, A listing of all the poems that appeared in Calvert's two published books: "Centigrade 232", and "Earth Ritual", an appendices of insightful quotes, and a bibliography.
Though I initially set out to simply read and review this book, I found myself constantly referring to Knut Gerwers' Spirit Of The Page web site, a valuable reference tool with which I spent many hours reading back and forth between the poems referred to in the book and the poems themselves at the web site. In fact, this went on for a few hours here, a few hours there, for some months... there's so much to digest, and, especially, so much to rethink when returning to the book and poems.
The Sneyd chapter is the first, and is the one that demanded so much effort while offering so many rewards. The chapter begins by discussing science fiction poetry as a genre and points out the lack of inclusion of Calvert's work in the literature. We learn that though there had been anthologies of science fiction poetry, Calvert's work was neglected until the 1974 anthology, "The Purple Hours", which was assembled because the organizers of the 1974 Tyncon convention agreed to include a poetry reading. Calvert's contributions included four poems and he also read at the convention. Sneyd's research has uncovered no other appearances of Calvert's poetry in the genre literature other than Michael Moorcock's New Worlds.
Sneyd then moves on to a "post-review" of Calvert's work, starting with selections from the "Hawkwind Lyric Book", and moving on to "Centigrade 232". This section includes numerous examples of Calvert's words, and while reading Sneyd's critical analysis I read most of the poems themselves in their entirety at the Spirit Of The Page web site. I've long said that this valuable resource is one of the most well constructed and information packed sites on the internet. Gerwers fully utilizes the web's hyperlink capability to create a literal web of easy to access information.
For example, Sneyd discusses "Ten Seconds Of Forever" in detail, examining its strengths and weaknesses as a poem. He notes how it "builds anticipation through its "tenth second..., ninth second..., eighth second..." etc, a device likened to a rocket launch countdown. It was interesting to read this point and then see The Spirit Of The Page multimedia presentation which forces this anticipation on the reader, giving each second it's own page, each with colorful images and a banner slowly scrolling that "second's" line. The reader must click to get to the next second, the result being that I would linger on each second, only moving on to the next when I had absorbed individual lines.
In another example of Sneyd's analysis, and how we gain insight into Calvert's thoughts, the author describes "The Clone's Poem" as "an effective depiction of the nightmare quality of life as a clone". "If you had ever seen us, You would rejoice in your uniqueness, And consider every weakness, Something special of your own". Looking at this so closely makes the whole concept quite frightening. And later in the quotes section of the book Calvert reveals his concerns about biological advances in general:
"I mean, the prospects are quite terrifying that a human being can actually be created... I think that in fact is the most important thing we have to worry about in this period of history... I think what it does is it fundamentally questions what a human being actually is. It enables the possibility of human life being considered to be extremely expendable if it's extremely creatable... I mean, if you can create a human being without any trouble at all than why should you worry about getting rid of it?"
Sneyd also points to the "sense of wonder" and "speculative" elements of Calvert's poetry and I was particularly drawn in this regard to the poem, "The Swing", and accompanying commentary. Having formed a close bond with a 3 year old [my grandson] I was able to relate to the notion of the child on the swing, "wherein the child feels himself to be moving the world is true insight back into the "lost viewpoint" of the mind before schooling has done its best to impose "wonder-free" parameters". [Sneyd quoting Brian Tawn]
"It rocks the heavens, this clanking machine
An engine to swing a planet
Through its axis, made simply out of chain
And wood, with a child to man it."
I can see the look in the young boy's eyes that feels like he's rocking the heavens. I even
surprised myself that I could remember it.
Combined with the poems available a the Spirit Of The Page web site, this chapter provoked hours of reading and re-reading, and I found the exercise rewarding in that I can now appreciate Calvert more than as the talented eccentric who performed with Hawkwind and wrote many of the band's great lyrics.
The Jones chapter presents a short history of Calvert's involvement with Hawkwind and a look into the character of the man himself. Jones' method is to organize numerous quotes, a device that works well for an 11-page essay. He begins with how Calvert encountered Hawkwind, reading his poetry during gigs, and contributing to the Hawklog booklet that accompanied the In Search Of Space album. The quotes are well chosen and well placed giving insights into Calvert himself and from the words of those around him. The article is also supplemented by an Appendix of quotes that give even deeper insight into Calvert's thoughts.
In summary, if you've been visiting The Spirit Of The Page and would like a concise guide to help you wade through all the poetry housed there, then Gnawing Medusa's Flesh is for you. Likewise, if you've come across this book already and are wondering about all the poems discussed within it's pages then head on over to The Spirit Of The Page where you can read them in full.
Gnawing Medusa's Flesh is available for £2.99 from Hilltop Press in the UK, and $7.00 from NSFA in the USA. The addresses are:
Hilltop Press; 4 Nowell Place; Huddersfield; West Yorkshire; HD5 8PB; England Payment should be made out to S. Sneyd.
NSFA; 31192 Paseo Amapola; San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675-2227; USA Payment should be made out to A. Marsden.
You can access Knut Gerwers' Spirit Of The Page web site at http://www.thing.de/projekte/future.
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