Whether or not you believe in God, it’s difficult not to ponder the heavens when we look into the night sky. In Jean-Paul Garnier’s newest poetry collection Betelgeuse Dimming, we are taken there, traveling the timeless arc in which we are reminded of the intrinsic relationship between hard science and soft emotion — though which came first is forever debatable.
It’s generous how much we are given in these mere forty pages: the multi-layered high concept title piece after Garnier’s heartbreaking foreword, followed by three more epic sci-fi poems with the option to listen to it all on the accompanied spoken word CD, fleshed out by sparse, un-intrusive signal-scaping by Field Collapse (Dain Luscombe of the avant-orchestral Less Bells) and RedBlueBlackSilver (of the Desert Oracle podcast).
For context, Betelgeuse is the name of a star expected to go nova back in early 2020. Garnier — a writer so steeped in science fiction because he’s also versed in science fact — was naturally filled with salivating anticipation for this event. A brimming wonder turned obsession, he waited nightly, keeping vigil like one might wait for a deceased partner to return home. The swathe of emotion became a narrative in itself, as guilt followed excitement; for the death of a celestial entity whose destruction would radiate to its immediate vicinity. A paradox further confirmed with an announcement: that the star’s dimming was merely part of Betelgeuse’s cycle, which prompted a sadness in the stargazer, coloring a yearning that he himself may not live long enough to see the star’s final punctuation. And that’s the most accurate hope of life — that death is merely the graduation of phase.
The sweeping eleven-page poem is literally something for the books. Since every major scientific headline inexplicably falls on blind eyes these days, this document of phenomena recorded through a prism of fragile passion could serve as a more engaging, more permanent time capsule. The overlooked melancholy of outer space is communicated beautifully here — the humbling perspective that mankind will never get to its edges, much less everything that happens between them. “I wish my eyes were planets wide,” he writes, a tangible request impossible to fulfill unless we learn to navigate our inner space. Garnier manages to justify his once irreconcilable enthusiasm for the star’s destruction, revealing respect at its deepest undercurrent.
Please send one final burst
Archives reaching through space
Collections of knowledge
Spilling through stars
Open arms await
The histories of your achievement
The world of sci-fi poetry might be considered obscure or ultra-niche to the uninitiated, but for every bit of cultural ephemera we produce, it’s only natural there will be an authority appointed. Bryan Thao Worra, President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, wrote the foreword to Garnier’s last book Future Anthropology. Even the legendary elders approve — a testimony from British sci-fi iconoclast Michael Butterworth states:
“Garnier’s poem, in verse that is heartfelt and clear, is a plea to wonder, His yearning for the stars took me back to a time when the aching desire for the ineffable and an overwhelming sense of destiny was one and the same.”
With the three poems that follow the title piece, Garnier takes our hand to more adventurous verses in lieu of his divine philosophizing. In Flight Notes, he finds himself on another planet — a reverse perspective now glancing at “my first Earthrise.” It raises the question of not whether exploration is possible but ethical: “The very first step/the planet was a virgin/trodden from now on.” Last Contact chronicles the cacophonous fanfare of take-off where our astronaut feels something has been lost in the experience, though not without comedy: “It could have meant anything/body language meaningless/we could have shaken the wrong extremity.” In Sky Burial, Garnier takes the most speculative approach of the collection, imagining our dim future blotted out by a new funereal atmosphere. This one makes the reader explode with dread, wondering how we got here — was it our flagrant overpopulation, our over-value of real estate, or all of the above? Conceptually it reminded me of James Nulick’s 2019 dystopian proposition “Body by Drake” — but no doubt this conundrum quivers on the edge of every mind who dares to go there.
A concise, thoughtful multi-media experience with zero debris, Betelgeuse Dimming is one more close-up of Garnier’s prolific output, from an author and artist who insists on taking the long way home.