Sunday, June 05, 2011

Space junk poetry: Kinsella's Skylab and the Theory of Forms

Today, I am making final revisions to my Skylab paper for a special issue of the Journal of Australian Studies, edited by Ursula Frederick and Kylie Message, on the theme of media and materiality. This poem is the star guest. I'd quite like to write an exegesis of it, as there are so many finely nuanced metaphors in it, but that will have to wait for another day .....

Skylab and The Theory of Forms
John Kinsella

For Jeremy Prynne

We didn’t make it but we ended up getting it,
or parts of it at least.  I’ve seen chunks
and my wife’s father brought some home
for them as kids.  In the tradition
of those splinters of the True Cross
held in reliquaries around the world,
if you added all the chunks
together there’d have been an entire
city in space. There’s a novel simmering
in its iconic resonance, the charred black
remains the talisman that starts
or in the very least attracts a cult.
Like the Aum Supreme Truth Cult,
that had a place out there, somewhere
where the land is less fertile and not so
closely scrutinised. Members may
not have known about Skylab
but the prospect of the world
crashing down on their neighbours
would have spurred them on.
But Skylab’s not like them,
nor like the couple from the Subcontinent
who names their newborn in its honour,
being American it’s as good as having
Elvis or Marilyn paraphernalia dropped
in your backyard. People pay
good money for stuff like this.
Kids of my generation remember
the diagrams in magazines
and newspapers. The neat bodies
of astronauts suspended in the neat
compartments. Small had great potential.
And it looked much more modern
than anything the Ruskies
put up there. But maybe now
we can see that such assumptions
were merely a matter of taste.
Soviet Space Trash is also
worth a fortune, and promises
the exotic in the subtext
of THE modern novel.  A kind of
accidental empire building,
an occupation of the vacant spaces.
Like Woomera. A roar that fills
the void of Terra Nullius.

From Kinsella, John 2003 Peripheral Light. Selected and New Poems.  Fremantle:  Fremantle Arts Centre Press pp 73-74

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