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Ken Hunt - Space Administration & Daisy Knell

(Space Administration: LUMA Foundation, 2014, and available for free here:  http://poetrywillbemadebyall.ch/library)

 
(Daisy Knell: No Press, Calgary, 2014. Paperback, 4pp, C$2)
 

Reviewed by William Garvin

 
Space Administration & Daisy Knell are companion pieces; both created through text erasures of voice transcripts from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. Readers will be reminded of crackling exchanges between astronauts & mission control on old, grainy TV footage: some of it inaudible, the rest largely inaccessible to the non-technician, yet to these ears more deserving of the name 'poetry' than much of what the literary world has to offer. However, what passes before our eyes, as already hinted, is not so much re-enactment as a deliberate plundering & re-purposing of the record. 
 
What we're left with, within Space Administration in particular, speaks of suppression & absence. For many years the voice transcripts from the Apollo 11 mission remained classified & now, through a process of erasure, the transcripts are re-censored, leaving slender threads of strange, disembodied poetry snaking down the page, the context of the work emphasising the 'space' within the spacialised. 
 
Hunt's strategies, though grounded in contemporary practice, tap into poetry's ancient functions, providing mythic context & (implicit) critique; Apollo appears in dual aspect—as both spaceship & mythological god of sun & light, 'the star that fuels us', whose name is evoked throughout the text; sometimes as a ghost within the machinery, at others in all of his radiant splendour:
 
                                                          a wide
                                         window
               would be 
                                       wise
to                                 
receive
                                                              the   
                                                             king                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
                                                      of
                                           fire   
                                                                                                                                                                                               
The mission carries with it an implicit symbolism of conquest; Apollo, Graeco-Roman sun god & his appropriation of the moon, along with the latter's ancient connection to the goddess. In Space Administration, however, the moon is nowhere to be seen. The original voice transcripts made no reference to the moon until day four of the mission so here on day one she remains, like most of the erased text, invisible & silent... 
 
As the poem unfolds, an atmosphere of foreboding & paranoia pervades ('are we supposed to/wonder what the hell/is here'; 'Burn/the damn flight plan/We/ CONTROL/The/ VEHICLE'), the latter quote bringing to mind the scene in Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Bowman disconnects HAL's processor modules, leaving the spaceship's computer in the throes of a long, drawn out cyber death, regressing to its earliest programmed memory; a rendition of Harry Dacre's 'Daisy Bell' ('A bicycle made for two'). 
 
Hal's musical demise is the subject of Daisy Knell, a poem created via text erasures from page 98 of the same NASA transcripts. On the verso a column of transcription times emphasises a link with its sister work; as well providing a visual echo of the monolith at the centre of the Clarke/Kubrick magnum opus. On the recto a sprinkling of letters, corresponding to musical notes from the chorus of Daisy Bell, cascades down the page in a dying fall. 
 
If Space Administration, framed by Graeco-Roman myth, references the 'the launch/of/our/ numbers' & the subsequent 'rise' of a human technological world, then Daisy Knell, framed by Clarke & Kubrick's contemporary myth, witnesses a melancholy moment of symbolic demise, whilst leaving us to reflect that both the creation & disabling of technology affirm human agency, so if there is such a thing as a 'message' emerging from both works, I believe it's a hopeful one. What's particularly striking to this reader is how, through a drastic narrowing of focus, Hunt has succeeded in showing us all a much bigger picture... 
6 August 2014