The Conversations with Speculative Poets Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry. For the ninth post in this series, I spoke with poet Wendy Van Camp about her 2019 collection, The Planets.
Wendy Van Camp writes science fiction, regency romance, and poetry. Her writing blog “No Wasted Ink” features essays about the craft of writing, poetry, flash fiction, and author interviews. Wendy’s short stories and poems have appeared in science fiction magazines such as “Quantum Visions”, “Altered Reality Magazine”, “Scifaikuest”, and “Far Horizons”. Her first poetry book is “The Planets: a scifaiku poetry collection” and her Regency Historical is “The Curate’s Brother”, both can be found on all major online book outlets as either an ebook or a paperback. Find her at http://nowastedink.com.
T.D. Walker: In your collection, The Planets, you explore the major bodies in our solar system using the scifaiku form, and you include a discussion of the form in your introduction. What was it about planets in particular that you wanted to explore in short form poetry? Did your writing process involve researching each planet as you wrote the poems?
Wendy Van Camp: I included a description of what scifaiku is because the poetry form is not well known. While it follows similar rules to traditional haiku poetry, there is leniency in the structure to allow for science fiction or scientific concepts. The concept for “The Planets” started as a struggle to find subjects to write about. Originally, I wanted to write the poems and draw simple line illustrations to highlight them. This was in order to have a short subject to post on my blog, “No Wasted Ink.” Since I have always had a fascination with the planets and follow their ongoing discoveries via NASA, writing about the planets was a natural subject for me.
I always intended to put together a poetry collection of my planetary poems, but at the rate I was going, I would not have finished for another ten years. In the summer of 2019, I decided to put my poetry as a priority and spent my summer months at the local coffeehouse with my notebook and fountain pen. I composed the majority of “The Planets” at this time, although around 10% of the poems in the book have been previously published in various magazines. I also illustrated the book with line drawings of each planet for the chapter heads. I used articles from NASA and other science journals to gain details about each of the planets. I wrote not only about their physical properties but some of the historical events that each planet caused among humans. Scattered in are also science fiction tropes or wry questions I have about our exploration of the solar system.
TDW: A number of poems give voice and emotion to the planets and other objects in the book, such as the first poem, “Layers,” in which Mercury observes, “I am the most dense.” Later Venus speaks of “my gently rolling plains” in “Volcanic Venus,” the “Rover” in the Mars section has “lonely wheels,” the eponymous character speaks of “my surface” in “Europa,” “Neptune’s Moons” notes “we circle Neptune,” and in “Pluto’s Five,” the moons tell us “we dance together.” Why use anthropomorphism in these poems? How did you want your readers to relate to the planets, moons, and spacecraft, given their distance from Earth?
WVC: Anthropomorphism is common enough in poetry. I use it in order to give resonance to the time and places in the poem. Touching on our feelings and allowing the reader to be emotionally present in the poem is key to making it more memorable. Several of the poems have humor too. Creating laughter combined with emotion makes these objects more understandable to us as humans. I wanted the readers to learn more about the solar system as they read the poems, but in a way that might make them smile. One day, these distant places may become future homes to humanity. Poetry allows us to visit and wonder as our machine scouts continue to explore.
TDW: There has been much debate about whether Pluto meets the criteria for classification as a planet. Do you side with one position or another in this argument? And why include a Pluto section in the book given the controversy?
WVC: Considering that I created a section of Pluto-related poems, you can conclude that I consider it to be a planet. I’m of an age where we were taught that there were nine planets in our solar system and that is how I tend to view the heavens even though I know that Eris is almost as large as Pluto and that Charon could be considered a planet in its own right. There has been much debate over what is a “planet” or not. In my mind, Pluto meets those criteria and there are those in the astronomical community who agree with this idea.
TDW: Are there collections that share the same themes as The Planets that you’d like to recommend to readers of Luna Station Quarterly?
WVC: There are not a great many scifaiku poets on the planet so you need to look for us. My recommendation to readers of LSQ is to read magazines connected with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Most scifaiku and astropoets can be found as members of the SFPA. The publications are Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, and Scifaikuest. I have recently read a collection of scifaiku that is based on the elements of the periodic table by Mary Soon Lee. It is called Elemental Haiku. I met Mary at World Fantasy Con in 2019 and we were both tickled to discover a fellow scifaiku author. I thought her reading and her book were excellent.