Just this past month, The Atlantic revealed that our senses— on which we rely to construct notions of reality— might not provide us any real understanding of the world around us: “we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.” The end of the world as we know it. But not the end. Reading cognitive scientist David’s Hoffman theories on perception, reality and illusion made me feel hopeful because perhaps whatever new world we are seeking, whether it’s a new planet in our solar system or potentially habitable exoplanets in distant galaxies, perhaps the new world is right here. And perhaps it’s not for us, but who or what will come from us, generations down, an inheritance we can’t yet even imagine.
Yet, as poets, writers and artists, we do. The idea for this issue on New Planets :: New Worlds was inspired by a wide range from films such as 2001, Mulholland Drive, Under the Skin, Interstellar, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Moon, Inception and Solaris (the 1972 Soviet version, not the remake.) Upon another poet’s recommendation, I even watched the horribly conceived and largely forgotten film Communion, based on novelist Whitley Strieber’s bestselling and rather lyrical account of being visited by extraterrestrials. I’m thankful I read the book first as Christopher Walken could not save the film, which upon release Strieber himself disavowed.
There was a powerful and touching moment in Communion that nearly saved the film: at the end, we see Walken’s Strieber caressing a vision in all his fear, longing and other contradictory feelings, that which sought to possess him. The vision, earlier in the film, had presented itself as possible reality, a frightening unknown, and above all, an unwelcomed threat. In that last moment, however, you see the vision react with warmth towards the novelist—it’s very subtle, a slight turn of its head into the human hand. The terrifying becomes tender, fragile, sublime.
Perhaps that last moment is akin to anthropomorphism in which we project human feelings and traits onto animals. Perhaps, after all he’d been through in the film, one wants this moment for him. Perhaps it was not in the script at all. Or maybe his whole account (and subsequent books about the visits) is nothing more than a novelist’s imagination running wild, pulling from the recesses of his mind what earthly happenings he could never understand. Perhaps it stems from the intricate hard-wiring of our species or, as Dr. Hoffman explained an “evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.”
Or perhaps they are very much out there—among us even, on this planet, experiencing a different reality but privy to ours? Why wouldn’t they make more direct contact?
It has been predicted that one day, our solar system will die and the universe itself will disappear, and the last star will be a red dwarf. And that star just might future humanity’s last refuge. We still have a long way to go before that happens—or so we think, based on what we know. We know we have to save this planet, that we must address and solve the problems of rising greenhouse emissions, fighting world hunger without further deforestation, overfishing, and water as a commodity and not a basic human right. If we ever do make it to those other potentially habitable exoplanets, will it be because we’ve ruined this one, that the future of us is preying on planet after planet, ravishing each of all its resources, destroying whatever life calls its home?
Poetry has always given me hope. I recall Nazim Hikmet’s poem “On Living” which I return to often, especially these lines:
I mean, you must take living so seriously
oo that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—
oo and not for your children, either,
oo but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
oo because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
And I kept these lines in mind when I chose the poems for this special issue. They present an array of different distant futures and futuristic presents, told in different styles and languages. Together they construct a new world found within many worlds, the arrivals and departures, the crossings and missed connection, from “A Temporary Blindness,” in which David Campos speaks of “exile in a dilapidated solar system” where “[t]he archeology of yourself has only just begun” to Cecilia Llompart’s telling us of the beginning: “Only the light which does not speak, which does not guide/ and does not know, and is not known, for it does not enter here/ nor does it follow, nor return to that place from which it did not come.”
It is a pleasure to present these poems. May you get lost in these new worlds, those of poets.
Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, and a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013), a contributor to The Conversant, and an Editorial Advisor for . Her poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, The Volta, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review. Find her , and at .