Russell Jones has worked hard in recent years to bring the sub-genre of Science-Fiction poetry into the mainstream, culminating in his editing of the 2012 anthology Where Rockets Burn Through, published by Penned in The Margins. This ground-breaking anthology harnessed a diverse range of poets and poetic themes, unified by a fascination with the science underpinning this world, or the contemplation of possible worlds beyond or in parallel with our own. One year on, we find Jones striking out on his own again with a second chapbook of Sci-Fi poems, following up his 2009 collection, The Last Refuge (Forest Press). Some of the poems from that first collection reappear in Spaces Of Their Own.
The first words of the first poem are ‘Thinking futuristic…’, words which constitute an abstract for the subsequent twenty pages. Jones presents fourteen poems, reflecting a variety of approaches, both in narrative terms and in their presentation on the page. Star, for instance, describes the condensed death of a star, constructed from near-homophones to form a kind of tongue-twister –
in a din
a dim din
ending in a then and then and then and a din
Arranged in the form of a five-pointed star across the two central pages, the poem itself is on the right-hand page forming half of that shape, with the left page a perfect, and completing, mirror-image. “Teleportation Error” is presented in a similarly innovative form, though more random in shape, presumably to present the idea of the resultant jumbled stream of atoms prompted by the title. Elsewhere, “The Bang” is offered as a drama script, complete with stage directions and peopled by two characters described as “opposing protons in the Large Hadron Collider”. Jones also uses more formalist approaches; in “Study: Siblings” he works a fine sonnet, and he pieces the cosmos together through metaphor in “Ghazal Jigsaw”.
By now you’ll be getting a sense of the thematic concerns which Jones addresses; yes, this is a collection of Science, and Science-Fiction poems, and it’s only fair to say that if you don’t have an interest in those topics this collection might not immediately find a place in your heart. However, as with other poets whose concerns are sometimes with the world of science and the possible worlds of science fiction – Simon Barraclough and the great Edwin Morgan, for instance – Jones is above all a writer of poetry rather than merely a genre poet. Consider his rich and vibrant exploration of conception and birth “0008: The Human Race”, which contains the simple but effective observation that
…There aren’t always choices
but there are always decisions. The baby won’t be born
with a book but it may still read.
Elsewhere, Jones suffuses spooky little poems such as “Blue Planet” with visual nuggets, suggesting he has viewed the universe and its occupants in more detail than would be possible through imagination alone:
That emerald glow might sweep us
up like a grainy imperfection
on the immaculate night, recalling,
when we’re long gone, how our waves
swerved and our apes walked upright.
Such subtle mastery of imagery and his ability to draw in a billion years of evolution through one sentence should render unfounded any worries a reader might have about whether they are geek enough to tune in to Jones’ work.
Jones writes about Science-Fiction as other people write about love, loss or flowers, confident that these are genuinely inspirational topics with which he is comfortable. As a poetry reader you may feel that his poems stray far from the mainstream and into a distinct niche, and readers just turning to poetry for the first time may find Jones’ poetry a challenging place to start. Science-Fiction buffs, however, will find themselves on thematically familiar territory and may conceivably find their way into the burgeoning Science-Fiction Poetry genre from this collection. Wherever you start from, there is much wit and insight into the human condition in Spaces Of Their Own to enjoy.