The central metaphor of the collection The Octopus and Other Poems is the search for new life in the universe—to find something beyond ourselves, and simultaneously to be “found.”
The tension between wanting to understand, and giving in to the mysteries of the universe, culminates in the long poem “The Octopus,” in which former lovers debate the merits of searching for extraterrestrial life.
He considers it a futile and wasteful endeavour, particularly since there are “alien” life forms we don’t understand right here on earth, like the octopus.
She, on the other hand, comes to realize her enjoyment of the search isn’t about aliens at all, but about the pleasure of simply hoping for something new, something spectacular.
In the end, she believes that it’s the hope of the search that matters, not finding or being found, but looking.
About the author
Jennica Harper was born in North Bay, Ontario and grew up in Brampton. She came to Vancouver in 2000 to earn her MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Her long poem “The Octopus” was shortlisted for a National Magazine Award, and her first collection of poetry, The Octopus and Other Poems, was published by Signature Editions in 2006. In 2007, her poem “Autumn Detail” was selected for the Poetry in Transit project. Jennica also works as a screenwriter, story editor, and instructor/writer at Vancouver Film School. She lives in the coolest building in Vancouver with her partner-in-all-things, Jeff.
Excerpt: Octopus and Other Poems, The (by (author) Jennica Harper)
Right now, the Voyager shuttles 1 and 2 are pushing deeper into known space. They will, like so many great American home runs, go far beyond the fence, across the street and through a window. They will never be recovered.
In a laboratory in Pasadena, at tables cluttered with cold cups of coffee and dot-matrix printouts, men interpret what Voyager sees: the spotty volcanic surface of Io, the irregular shape of Amalthea.
Voyager carries greetings from Earth. Simple diagrams of how our genes spool. Of the body of a man. Of where we can be found, like the map in the mall: We Are Here (note how the third dot in line is given more emphasis, stationed slightly above the other eight).
Also presented are rows of numbers, the elements of us:
hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus
the modest recipe of our shared life.
I wish the world’s memories well. I have my own secrets—shoeboxes and albums full of scribblings, tokens from misplaced friends and lovers. Everything I keep is paper, already disintegrating.
But while I’m here I’ll think of you, imagine you with your newest love who looks so much like you.
The two of you get steamed up like clamshells— half-moon arcs on the seabed. When you are both concave you come together, disappear from view; when one is concave, one convex, you form a perfect circle.
It is amazing what thoughts we let slip in and out like mosquitoes through the window.
Along with the math of us, Voyager lugs gold-plated albums etched with our essences: photographs, sounds heard on earth—in nature and on highways and in the womb. Greetings in fifty-four languages, and enough music for some all-night cosmic dance-a-thon.
Our lives orbit discretely these days, seldom intersect.
Now we trade thoughts on paper— long distance chess, one move at a time.
You tell me you can’t condone the reckless hope of finding some other life out there. Can’t fathom the waste.