Monday, 28 November 2011

Straw Bears and Parallel Universes

The redoubtable and indefatigable Cardinal Cox (Poet Laureate of Peterborough) has sent me two more pamphlets. Both are rather spiffing, so let me try to sum up their appeal.

Firstly there's Rocket to Ruritania, which lives up to its title. It's the third in a trilogy of collections on the subject of parallel universes, offering the poetic history of a British Empire that embarked upon interplanetary conquest (thanks to Cavorite) but also had some trouble with paranormal doings.

The conclusion of the saga tackles alternate Britain's troubled relations with its rebellious colonies in North America. I particularly liked the defeat of US forces by Tecumseh, legendary chief of the Shawnee, giving the opportunity for the creation of an independent kingdom of Louisiana, 'under the house of Valois'. 'The Grand Orient Lodge of New Orleans' offers a fascinating glimpse of one aspect of this might-have-been nation.

Depths of swamps we raise pyramids of gold
Call spirits from out of abyss of time
Our gods are many and their hearts are cold
Unseen we strike down those who commit crime

If you want to know how the story plays out - with the antics of the Invincible Army and Thomas Edison's atomic bomb very much to the fore - then you can obtain this steampunk collection free by sending a SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

You can also email the Cardinal at

And the same goes for the second pamphlet, When Three Sevens Clash. This special collection produced for the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival looks at punks (hypothetical ones) in Revolutionary America. As always, I learned a lot from it, not least the story of John Baker. Born near Peterborough in 1733, the poor lad had terrible facial deformities. These came in handy when he was captured by native Americans after emigrating. His odd facial contortions let him become a white medicine man. He escaped, returned to England, and died in the workhouse. The poem about his later life is, I suspect, a tad ironic:

Would that I were with Christian folk who in
A factory would set me to toil
Instead of the fine weather of the west
Where freedom grows tall from the rich soil.

The theme of servitude, slavery and general oppression runs through the collection, notably in 'How Many Slave Owners Signed the Declaration of Independence?' As compromises go, I've always felt that rebelling against a king in the name of freedom while owning human livestock is a tad shoddy.

Perhaps I should add that, while neither of these pamphlets is, strictly speaking, supernatural in theme, they have a distinctly weird feel at times. These poems are passionate, intriguing and at times very funny. What more could you want?

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