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The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry

Highly Commended, 2015 ACT Publishing Awards, Best Poetry

Following up on our award-winning Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, IP has released an anthology of even wider scope showcasing the best in Australian speculative poetry from early times to the present.

Co-edited by renowned editors Tim Jones and P.S. Cottier, it features a virtual Who's Who of Australian poets including Judith Beveridge, Les Murray, Paul Hetherington, John Tranter, Diane Fahey, joanne burns, Caroline Caddy, David P Reiter, Peter Boyle, Alan Gould, Luke Davies, S.K. Kelen, Peter Minter, Jan Owen, Dorothy Porter, Philip Salom, Samuel Wagan Watson, Rod Usher, Jo Mills ... and many more!

Travel to the stars and beyond in this anthology by Australia's leading poets. Witness the end of the world, time travel to the future near or far, or teleport with a fairy or witch.  

Ghosts, dreams and strange creatures breed and mingle in these pages.  

Poetry has never been so mind-bending, or so entertaining.



Tim Jones

Tim Jones is a poet, short story writer and novelist. His most recent books are Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009), the short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), which was longlisted for the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; the poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens (HeadworX, 2007); and the fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007).

Penelope Cottier

PS Cottier, aka P.S. Cottier, aka Penelope Susan Cottier, is a poet who occasionally stoops to prose. She has worked as a lawyer, a university tutor, a union organiser and a tea lady. She wrote a PhD on animals in the works of Charles Dickens at the Australian National University.

Her books are Triptych Poets , The Cancellation of Clouds, A Quiet Day and Other Stories , and The Glass Violin .





ISBN 9781922120786 (PB, 196 pp);
140mm x 216mm
(release date 1 June 2014)

AU $26 US $18 NZ $27 GB £12 EUR €14
ISBN 9781922120793  (ePub) AU $13 US $9 NZ $14 GB £6 EUR €7

P S Cottier and her New Zealand co-editor Tim Jones have assembled an ebullient landmark anthology that attempts to embrace a very broad church indeed. An impressive matrix of 'big names' in Australian poetry allows plenty of space nevertheless for the minor poets, who contribute some of the best pieces in the diffuse speculative genre. The poems surprise and delight, lending the anthology a broad appeal.

– Judges' Report, ACT Publishing Awards, 2015

I can’t argue with this collection; there is a lot to like about it. The editors put out an open submission call for Australian spec poetry writers and mined Australian poetic luminaries for a semblance of the fantastical, reaching back to Banjo Patterson. What we get is a collection of highly readable poetry, although there are two aspects: the purely spec, and the literary with a dash of spec. The latter is always the stronger.

For example, Boyle’s The Museum of Space (2004) is more about that big empty stuff that holds our lives than it is about the backdrop for rockets. However, we get this: “Why are water and sand always used to / measure time passing? They must then be the one substance— / what never gets dry, what never gets wet, the absolute embrace / that says, Wade into me.” For me, lines like that take my breath away.

Oh, there’s plenty of pure, unambiguous spec work in here, make no mistake. As a collection of purely spec poetry, it’s like any good spec magazine, one that is having a particularly fine issue, full of poems that close the hatch, at least, even if they don’t take off. However, what makes this book sing are the poems that don’t even get on board Serenity.

While I don’t love this collection, I do like it very much. I’m not sensitive enough to tell you what cultural issues mark out the Australian mind, but if you’re an American, I think you will sense a slight difference, and that by itself might be enough to entice you to buy it. All in all, if you’re reading Star*Line, you will like this book, and if you collect these things, then it should go on the respectable shelf, near Holding Your Eight Hands.

—John Philip Johnson, Star*Line issue 37.4


One of the most enterprising, unusual and rewarding anthologies of the last year is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, edited by New Zealand writer Tim Jones and Australian poet PS (Penelope) Cottier. The key word in the sub-title is defined with an appropriate generality: "the speculative is the area in which we attempt to write what we can't possibly know".

The poets included range from the 19th century to the present, a much narrower temporal span than their poems, which travel millennia into the future and across galaxies. Bearing the latter point in mind, the editors note that theirs is a book "with a wide geography and an interesting fauna". They continue: "Here be dragons, true, but also zombies (traditional and vegetarian), werewolves, swagmen, poets small enough to fit into pockets, aliens of various sorts, angels, people made mostly of spare parts, or preserved wholly in DNA, and intergalactic tradies."

Though the book covers so much territory (and given the list above, unsurprisingly has several poems set in museums and zoos), it is tightly and wittily organised into five thematic sections, each taking its name from a notable nineteenth-century poem. The first, dealing with "space travels and related pursuits", is "We don't know where he's at" (from Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"); the second, "Howsoe'er anomalous", concerned with "aliens, weird creatures, surrealism and magic realism", comes from a poem as strange as any that is to be found here: Barron Field's "Kangaroo". Next – with its title from Henry Lawson – is "On the Wallaby (temporal)", whose subject is "time travel and visions of the end of the world". It is followed by "The fifth part of the earth" (Field again): "Australia in various lights".  Last is "His ghost may be heard" (Paterson – in a version of Waltzing Matilda – and the ballad is here in its entirety too), whose business is "ghosts, fairies, myths and legends".

The collection opens with the controlled whimsy of "Tea and Stars" by the always engaging John Jenkins: "The mouse travelled to the stars/in a blue teacup". John Dolce's "Job for a Hyperdrive Mechanic" works with a wry matter-of-factness: "As I recall the ambient temperature/of the angular discharge tub/airlocked the anode rod". David Adès' travel to "The Three Moons of Tenoa" ends plangently: "how unimaginable a world/with placid seas, and no capacious moons/to sing serenades by". Travel is also the affair of S.K. Kelen's brilliant parody of a tourist brochure in "Flying Toasters". This of Kursa in Beta Eridani: "booking accommodation well in advance is wise though entirely futile". This first section also contains "The Last Planet Out" by David Reiter, who is also the publisher of the admirable risk-taking Interactive Press that we can thank for this book.

As promised, aliens roam in Part Two. Diane Fahey's "Silverfish" imagines the Thysaurans, while Benjamin Dodds' "Others" muses of a possible arrival from so-called outer space and then decides "Perhaps they'll simply pass us by/indifferent in sleek behemoths/on the way to a place less/parochial than here". Emilie Zoey Baker presents "The Vegetarian Zombie – the undead salad beast" – while there is homage to a master of the weird, H.P. Lovecraft, in Jude Aquilina's "Cthulhu Calls". Jan Napier's "Poets in Pockets" shows how "they shrill and argue/like an aggravation of lorikeets", while there are poems by Philip Salom and Lisa Jacobson about Daedalus, the space traveller who flew too close to the sun. A number of the poems in The Stars Like Sand were invited. Much to the editors' pleasure, one of those who accepted was Les Murray, whose superb poem "The Future" begins: "There is nothing about it. Much science fiction is set there/but it is not about it. Prophecy is not about it … Even the man we nailed to a tree for a lookout/said little about it".

In this splendid anthology, that entertains from start to finish, we find such colonial poets as J. Brunton Stephens in "The Courtship of the Future" (AD 2876) depicts a world where – even though people coupling have been "taught to draw the whole soul though/A foot of gutta-percha tubing"– sexual misconduct has not been eradicated. Tim Sinclair's vision of the future in "Silent City" is quietly mournful: "There is no sunrise or sunset in the city,/just a uniform, sourceless glow". In "The End of the World", Lawson's contemporary Victor Daley reveals a peevish and disappointed God who brushes Man off his knees: "With all its glories ripe/The Earth passed, like a spark/Blown from a sailor's pipe/Into the hollow dark". The Stars Like Sand shows us, in the work of the more than 80 poets included, much of that illimitable dark, as well as the flights of fancy and hope that can give brief and brilliant illumination. Seek out this book – admirable, and one of a kind.

– Peter Pierce, Sydney Morning Herald





Tim Jones: Books in the Trees Blog

PS Cottier: poetry, writing, screed Blog

Previous IP titles from Tim Jones:

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand

Men Briefly Explained



Melinda Smith

The command module of the first manned mission to Mars explodes 2 weeks and 3 days after leaving Earth’s orbit

and the guy

who trained with the primary crew

for 18 months

and who was grounded

at T-minus 5 hours

for German measles

crosses himself

and starts planning

his book tour;

his movie deal.


Jude Aquilina

Cthulhu Calls

From the deep murky pulp
of long, damp recluse
emerges the yawning monster
oozing and fetid from hibernation.

It calls in huffs, puffs and low growls
in gravelly whispers of sibilant
sounds it spits its age-old tune:
Come hither
from sea, from slime
from Yoggoth to Yith –
it is time, it is time, it is time

On the swamp-lined shores
all ears cringe, as the key of memory
clicks, unlocks a gateway to fear,
as again the black lagoon
echoes the curse of its call.

It is time, it is time
Dark water bubbles like an old mirror.
A nightmare looks back
and paralyses your will
until there is nothing,
only Cthulhu calling, calling ...


Simon Petrie

At the Dark Matter Zoo

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
the beasts are caged in mystery,
tended with conjecture,
described with imprecision.

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
I’m advised photography seldom captures
the wonder (or, indeed, anything).

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
visitors thrill to catch perhaps-sight of
the stygiosaurs, shadow jackals, Schrödinger cats;
with only the souvenir stand palpable.

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
it’s possible some enclosures are completely
their charges escaped
or simply never

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
even the exits
are marked none too clearly;
refreshments are unfulfilling;
the Site Map does not serve.

At the Dark Matter Zoo,
the ghosts of the dodo,
the thylacine, the Falklands wolf, the Haast eagle,
I sought in vain.

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