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Tidings from Deep Sky

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by Pat Forster

Apologies -- cover image not yet available
Published by CAJ, 2003
40pp, paperback
Retail price £3

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

Tidings from deep sky is the literary equivalent of Holst's Planet Suite. A clever idea on the part of poet, Pat Forster, because a collection of verse needs some kind of hook, whether it be the writer's personal experience or a more specific "theme". The solar system is about as simple and obvious a theme as you could find, but I'm not aware of it having been done before, so full marks for originality.

Pat Forster's little book is produced by Carol and Allan Jones under the title of CAJ Publishing. It hasn't had a lot of money spent on it, but it looks neat and the space is used well. The cardboard cover is sturdy and the book won't fall apart (as has happened with some items we've been given to review!) The cover illustration, as you might expect, is of the planets, a simple monochrome image. Had the volume been any thicker, or had more been spent on a colourful design, it probably wouldn't have been economically viable; on the other hand, some potential readers are going to miss out, simply because they won't notice it among all those other poetry books that are out there trying to grab their attention.

Unlike Holst, the poet doesn't restrict herself to the planets; she begins with the sun and moves outwards, giving a sequence each to the earth and its moon, eventually arriving at Pluto -- and just for good measure, she includes some of the other planets' moons in her philosophy. I say "philosophy" because this work reflects Ms Forster's own spiritual beliefs as much as her physical observation of the heavenly bodies. Right from the start, she declares herself a Christian, and this naturally informs her writing and underlies her view of our world and its neighbours.

Aspects of the work may be somewhat clichéd: subtitles such as "Mars: god of War" and "Saturn: Lord of the Rings" don't shed any new light on the subject matter and might as well have been dispensed with. However, I liked the refrain: "It's all happening up there", helping to pull together the diverse characters of the planets into a coherent whole that almost constitutes a story.

From the poetic viewpoint, the words certainly spring from the pen of a writer who has put a lot of thought into what she is doing; the technique is gently skilful, with original use of metaphor and an ear for the music of verse. Read aloud, this is sure to make a great hit with audiences. On the page, it is not so easy on the eye. I found the general lack of punctuation frequently obscured the meaning:

Man probed your iron core

Beware, soon to find a way to mine that ore

Quicksilver is your name travelling at the fastest speed

The reader is left with a vague picture, which I doubt is the intention. And yet there is a mystery and an obscurity about the subject matter, which lends itself to this treatment. Paradoxically, it is clear that Pat Forster has done her homework. I don't know if astronomy is her hobby, but she has evidently read up on the topic, and knows her Mariner from her Voyager, which is more than I do. To use man's exploration of space as a strand is a clever touch in this saga of spiritual advancement: as we learn more about the make-up of the planets, they cease to fill us with awe as they did our ancestors, and we no longer imagine them to be gods.

At £3, a book like this is just cheap enough and attractive enough to make a bargain present for someone who enjoys poetry. I can even see it being used by a writers' circle or poetry group as the subject of a profitable discussion. Another splendid example of what independent publishing should be about.

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