Edited by Suzannah Evans and Tom Sastry, Everything That Can Happen contains many kinds of future: an android fills out a passport form; the local cricket pitch is lost underwater; frozen limbs thaw from cryogenic sleep; robotic shoes allow for highspeed parenting. We asked anthology poets what images inspired their future themed poems. Here’s what they said…
‘My poem, 'Everything That Can Happen', is loosely based on Hugh Everett's many worlds theory in quantum physics - but I'm no scientist so don't shoot me if my interpretation is even more 'out there' that Everett's! The basic premise is that every possible version of every possible event exists somewhere in an infinite number of parallel universes. Therefore, everything that can happen, does happen. The implications of the theory are pretty tricky to get the old grey matter around in any meaningful sense. For example, right now there's a version of you (or indeed many versions of you) reading this blog. At the same time, there's also a multitude of versions of you doing something else entirely. And several versions of you that probably wrote the blog. And the poem. And edited the book. Or something like that!’
‘I was brought up near Worcester where the county cricket ground is very near the river Severn and often used to flood. It got me thinking about global warming and the fact that in the future it might be flooded more than not! My poem ‘Flood Defences’ came out of me thinking about this and what might become of the old cricket ground and indeed other places that may end up under water.’
‘The image that sparked the poem 'Algorithmically Designed Electronic Universal Score' was from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's one of those films that has haunted me from when I first saw it, and many of its scenes still pop up in my dreams unbidden. I had just seen a production of Amadeus at the National Theatre, and that night, in my dream I saw in this space so familiar to me, what looked like a harpsichord. Everything else flowed from trying to tell the bigger story of that image and what it might portend.’
‘My poem ‘counting’ emerged from my walks along Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk as I began to count the gaps between each break wave. Thinking: how relentless they are; how to capture their movement and endless forms; how not to get my feet wet. After several walks – taking photographs, stopping to stare – it seemed that ten seconds between breaks was a regular pattern. I became curious – What else happens on this planet – and beyond – every ten seconds?’
‘Here's a photo of the photo/sculpture by the French artist Marc Gaillet, that my poem 'The Tiger' is based on. The artwork is called 'Dommage Collateral' ('Collateral Damage') and was part of a collection of work by Gaillet on exhibition in Montpellier last year. The pieces on display were about climate change and about humanity's violence towards humanity as well as to our environment. The first stanza of 'The Tiger' really was about my reaction to this artwork and to another piece, 'Voyage au Bout de l'Enfer 1' ('Journey to the End of Hell 1') which shows a tiger in a forest alongside a tiger-coated box. The second stanza opens out to include other pieces in the exhibition - miniature plastic soldiers melded together in various states of combat. It all felt very much part of a single body of work and the effect was powerful.
I've never written about climate change before and tend not to write explicitly political poems, but this one had to be written. I think because a single art-piece was the hook, it was easier to enter that world, that anger, that sense of desperation - feelings that might otherwise be too big and all-encompassing to distil on paper otherwise. And once started, of course, the pen often runs away with itself.’
‘I live with my husband Keith in Brighton, only a stone's throw from the prom, so we see this amazing sight of the sea every time we step out of our flat. My husband (who is seventeen years older than I am) has always been a supporter of Palestine, and has taught me about its history. One afternoon, when we were sitting on our favourite bench on the prom, I read him Don Paterson's powerful sonnet 'The Foot' (from his 2015 Faber collection '40 Sonnets') about Palestinian boys being killed playing football on the sand. There was something so moving about us reading before the sea, and the boys being killed before the sea, that led to my husband's statement that forms the basis of my poem, ‘Gaza’.’
‘My poem, ‘On the Last Day’, has at its heart the Resurrection pictures by Stanley Spencer. I mixed references to the pictures with more colloquial and humorous ideas. I think it's the contrast between the two styles which gives the poem its strength.’
The poems in Everything That Can Happen explore time, language, changing landscapes, future selves, uncertainty, catastrophe and civilisation. Whether imagining a distant, apocalyptic future or the moment we live in, nudged slightly beyond what we know, the poems ask what we can do to prepare ourselves for a future that edges a little closer every day.
Intrigued? Order your copy of Everything That Can Happen: Poems About The Future here.