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Next Big Thing: The Face of Devastation


  • TL;DR: Giant robots and poetry together at last for the first time the way you demanded it.
  • Keywords: Giant robots, Transformers, poetry, John Warwicker
  • Word count: 1,293 words

Just before Christmas I got contacted by David Prater about participating in a little blog meme thing called Next Big Thing, whereby you do a short self-interview about the next big project that you plan on unleashing on the world. I was supposed to get it done by Boxing Day, but that didn’t happen.

Anyway, here’s the interview, in which I reveal more than I ever have before about a sekrit projekt I’ve been noodling away on for the last couple years.

What is the title of your book?

Working title is The Devastator Poems, or possibly The Face of Devastation.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A multi-author suite of poems about giant transforming robots, the poems in which also literally transform and merge together to form a giant robot.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Experimental design as well, I guess. Science fiction too, given the subject matter.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Back in 2010 I was part of “Before Elapsing”, a collaborative poem for Overland‘s 200th issue. Derek Motion contacted 20 poets and asked them each to write a 10-line poem that he would then disassemble and use as the basis of a 200-line poem.

I got to thinking about the disassembly/reassembly aspect of this collaborative poem, and started thinking about its similarity to Transformers toys, especially one particular one called Devastator that I remembered from my childhood, which was six robots that could either turn into six individual robots, six individual vehicles, or one-sixth of a giant robot that you made by turning the individual robots into various limbs and body parts, then clipping them together.

I got to wondering if it was possible to write a poem that could in some way transform from a robot to a vehicle to a body part that fit together with other similar poems to create one huge, coherent poem in the shape of a robot. As you do.

I contacted six of my favourite poets, who are all friends of mine in one way or another, and asked them if they’d be interested in giving this odd idea a go. To my great delight they all said yes, and each went away to create a part of the whole.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About two years from conception to the point where I now, in February 2013, have each component poem in hand, edited and ready to hand over to the designer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hoo-boy. If I say “I can’t think of one” there’s a chance that I’m falling for one of the oldest traps, where you end up reinventing the wheel or an entire school of poetry without any of the benefit of seeing what other people in the same position tried to do with the same ideas so that you can build on what’s gone before, but to be honest I can’t really think of any poets whose work easily resembles what we’re doing here with all the remixing and the pop culture referencing and the sticking of poems together and the running and the exploding and the crying when the monkeys stole the glasses right off my head (mwahey).

That’s not to say there aren’t poets out there doing this, just that I’m not aware of them – but if anyone else reading this is seeing some similarities between this thing and other things out there I’d love to hear about it.

Although, come to think of it, I guess the simplest comparison would be to the work of the poets who’ve written this giant robot gestalt poem, i.e.:

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It’s the enthusiasm and interest that my fellow collaborators have approached this project with that has been the most inspiration to me.  That’s not to say that they inspired me to write the book, but they have certainly inspired me not to abandon it before it’s completed.

Along the way I’ve been haunted by the notion that this is a completely idiotic idea that will never work, and even if it does, will mean nothing to anyone except myself. But ever since I started working with the other poets in this project, I’ve continually been inspired by them in the way that they’ve taken this idea and run with it, doing it justice in a way I never expected.  So Kudos to David, Derek, alicia, Grant, Tricia and Klare for making me feel not so crazy for trying this thing.

I was also inspired to persist in this project by the good graces of John Warwicker, graphic designer extraordinaire, founder of UK design studio Tomato, former member of Underworld and professor of design at Monash University. I contacted John late last year, at the behest of Anna and Klare, asking if he would be interested in turning the poems into some kind of robot shape, and to my delight he said yes.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this stage I have no idea. John is just beginning his part of the project, and the layout that he eventually comes up with – whatever that may be (it may not even actually end up being a book) – will largely determine the way that it will need to be published to justify the work everyone’s put in. Once we know what form the final printed work needs to take, only then will it be time to start shopping it around to publishers, agents, galleries, &c.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Realistically this would have to be an animated feature – giant robots and all that – so we’re looking for voice actors. In which case here is my dream cast:

to play the robots (I don’t mind who plays who) and

  • Shigesato Itoi (the guy who did the father’s voice from My Neighbour Totoro)

for the giant robot.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Giant robots and poetry together at last for the first time the way you demanded it.

Finally, I’m supposed to tag some more writers to do this thing, but I note that Anna simply referred her readers on to a few good writers when she did this thing a couple of weeks back. So then, allow me to make you aware of the existence of:

  • Kevin Fanning, internet raconteur and author of the beguiling Magical Neon Sexuality and Jennifer Love Hewett Times Infinity
  • Bob Hicok, my current most favourite kooky, honest, self-effacing, angry, passionate, smart and funny poet
  • George Saunders, whose stories reveal the cruelty and indifference of the world in a fun and playful way that offers the hope and possibility of redemption
  • Tracy Ryan, whose poems have an insight, confidence and strength that I can only dream of
  • Mo Willems, the man who gave the world The Pigeon Wants to Drive the Bus and Leonardo the Terrible Monster

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