Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Guest Post by Carol Berg

Here is the guest post by Carol Berg as part of the "Couplets" project for National Poetry Month.  I sent her a copy of my book Prismatica: Science Fiction Poetry Spanning the Spectrum and this is her response.

Elizabeth Barrette informs us in her dedication to her poetry collection, Prismatica, that this is a “voyage through what could have been, what might be…what if” (vi).  Barrette’s voyage of science fiction poetry begins with the poem, “One Ship Tall,” a sonnet, mythic in tone, that sounds as if it is a precursor to a historical accounting of our future society.  Barrette writes:

Some folks just say it will not happen soon,
While others say we can’t do it at all.
Let them give up, and settle for the moon.

The poem ends with the line, “Thus our ancestors heard – and yet they flew,” a compelling invitation into this fascinating world Barrette has created. 

Prismatica is organized around the colors of the spectrum, albeit her own fashioning of a spectrum, starting with yellow.  “Sandboxing,” the poem that begins this section, is a fabulous prose poem with lists of colors: 

The sky here is not blue but begonia brushed with burnt
umber. The sand here is not tan but every shade of
orange: apricot and cadmium, mandarin and mikado,
tangerine deepening to terra cotta.

Many of the speakers in these poems are explorers grappling with a new world.  In “Sandboxing,”  the speaker is an astronomer on a unidentified different planet, who witnesses the strange phenomena of “clouds of helianthin and salmon,” that  “hid[e] the / heavens for a few hours.”  The speaker states, “They say a sandbox / can become anything” and in Barrette’s capable hands these poems become anything and go anywhere. 

In the section Red, the tone shifts slightly to become more sinister, the speakers more vulnerable.  For example, in the poem, “Under the Skin,” the speaker decides to “abandon my plans of trading, hasten the others / Back to our still-laden ship.”  The poem ends omniously with the prayer that the “aliens never discover that we / Bleed red.”

What is remarkable in this collection is that Barrette has so skillfully rendered the experiences of her speakers that we are never quite sure who the aliens are—“them” or us.  We are both alien and explorer, searching out clues to find that ephemeral knowledge of each other.  She is also not afraid to bring humor into her poetry, as is evident in the poem, “RoboSoldiers.”  These soldiers,

never go AWOL,
Embarrassing brass;
They don’t screw each other
Or grab someone’s ass.

The last section of the book, Green, includes the delightful poem, “Unraveling Time Travel” which begins with the lines, “The end / Comes loose in your hand,” and ends with the two lines, “Until you arrive at / The beginning” so that the end and the beginning are changing and exchanging with each reading. 

Science fiction poetry is certainly becoming more available as the number of science fiction journals, such as Star*Line and the Magazine of Speculative Poetry, make clear.  For anyone who is nervous as to the poetic agility and success of science fiction poetry, one need look no farther than Elizabeth Barrette’s wonderful Prismatica.  Hers is a journey truly worth embarking on. 

Tags: holiday, poetry, reading, review, science fiction, writing

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