When I was a kid reading science fiction and watching first the Apollo missions and then later, all matter of movies and TV with the words “star” or “space” prominently featured, I was fascinated by the prospect of traveling to other planets, by the prospect of humans finding ways to live in hostile environments, of the ways we would, one day, bend the landscapes of these distant places to suit our bodies. Sometimes these stories used as their impetus the idea that Earth had become used up, overcrowded, unlivable, and so men (usually, of course) had harnessed their brawny manliness and conquered first the planets of the Solar System and then beyond, expanding the reach of and resources for humanity.
I don’t read or watch as many of those stories anymore, mostly because of time constraints, but what I have seen has less to do with brawny manliness and the colonization (with all the ugliness that term contains) of our neighbor planets and more to do with how much human life would have to change and adapt in order to survive in those harsh environments, and how easily it can go wrong. The poems in Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers’s The Tilt Torn Away From the Seasons fit into this latter category, imagining a future where humans are trying to recreate an environment to live in on Mars because they’ve messed up Earth’s beyond repair.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers, you’ll need to subscribe by December 15th!
Back to Rogers’s collection. She posits a not-too-distant future, and one where the question of whether we can avoid the mistakes we’ve made in the past takes on even greater importance.
Rogers’s answer is no, but I haven’t spoiled anything by telling you that because the landscape she creates in these poems is what really matters, whether she’s writing about the emotional toll such a relocation would take on those doing it, or about the harshness of the place itself. For example, consider these lines from “Red Planet Application,” where Rogers imagines a questionnaire for colonists:
You will never see your family or friends again. Discuss
The brush of another person
is more gravity than I can stand.
Like a lantern’s metal and paper
if you touch me, I may collapse. I have
sworn off skin to skin,
and not just during Lent.
Inside a bubble, I prefer to drift
at an arm’s length.
Would you be willing to participate in a strenuous seven-year training program?
Someone smashed my rearview mirror.
It never meant that much to me.
“Red Planet Application” is the second poem in the collection and Rogers is making clear that we’re not on the Enterprise with food replicators and warp drives. Instead, as she writes in “Ecopoesis (Phase 1),” “That algae had begun its alien, rash-like blooming. / Mirrors had turned the planet / from death to death warmed over.” It’s worth noting that the Mars Rogers posits in this collection is a better scenario for human habitation than any that current researchers think will be possible in the near or medium term. That’s important because we’re rapidly making our current planet uninhabitable for our descendants (or maybe even ourselves, depending on how old we are and where we currently live). Mars isn’t a lifeboat, not even for the mega-wealthy who seem to be the most interested in bailing on this planet after they’ve extracted all they can from it.
There’s a lot more to dig into within this collection, and I’m looking forward to reading the book again alongside our members and then discussing it online in our exclusive author chat with Elizabeth Lindsay Rogers. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by December 15th to make sure you don’t miss out!
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