The Universe and All That: Published September, 2023!
Wide-ranging, yet anchored in strong emotions, the poems in The Universe and All That are sometimes comic, occasionally surreal, and always attentive to the larger expanses of the universe and time through which words, and we, pass. They offer an ambitious exploration of how our experiences mediate between comedy and tragedy, often at the same time.
Initial Reactions from Readers:
"After reading up to p. 28, I found it a delight even beyond my hopeful expectations. Your Preface was a joy to read too. I think your dad had a good influence on you. As a retired physical chemist, I appreciated the scientific orientation of the first few poems I read, and will esp. call attention to “Traffic of Form” to my neighbor who is a math professor who also enjoys poetry."
WH, Philadelphia suburban area, USA
"I just finished your book, 'The Universe and All That', and really enjoyed it. You strike a wonderful balance between humour and gravity, with language that is bold and replete with muscle and shiver. Beginning with the great metaphor in the opening poem, 'Architectural', then the empathy in 'How Normal Life Becomes Heaven', followed by the subtle existentialism of 'Rock/Star', the wit of 'Overdue Notice' and the poignancy in 'Sea Turtles'. Two of my favourite lines were 'We the / shadow-makers' (from 'Light Weave') and 'monkeys flinging their dung at / Darwin & destiny', (from 'Sea Turtles')".
Mike Madill, author of The Better Part of Some Time
Review by Catharine Owen (link below)
Excerpt: "Oughton offers an array of poems drawn from later-mid life concerns: queries on what parents once taught us, the plight of the bees (which should terrify us at any age of course!), lost lovers, shifts in existence, the shrinking universe. Some of my favorites include Jack, where he recalls his dad’s lectures on maple leaves (“The colours are always there”), the lyrics on buzzing and singing beings, the funny (and Oughton is often a tad tongue-in-cheek or deigning to be playful with potentially serious subject matter) Uncouplets or Fifty Ways to Love your Leaver (“She dumped him because he couldn’t see her grief, or angels….He dumped her because she narrowed his creativity,/which he proved by never writing another poem”), Epiphany, about the smiling girl who leads him to “change [his] locked mind,” Arise, whose auralities enchant (“Waking, I trail a skin of dreams/like a caul, contrail….Rainbow-scaled…become small waves in a cup of coffee”), and several of the ekphrastic pieces at the end..."
Review by Catherine Marcotte: Existentialism Meets Environmentalism: The Wisdom of John Oughton's The Universe and All That (link below)
"Richly adorned with the author’s magnified photograph of a leaf, the hundred-or-so-page book is compact yet punchy as it attends to the mystical, magical, and supremely material aspects of our world.
The book attends to the foremost concerns of our time, including climate change, gun legislation, agriculture, and activism. While the author aptly includes the concerns of love and relationships in this collection’s broader portrait of universality, the book’s strength, to me, is in its nuanced attention to humans’ consumptive, yet deeply indebted relationship to the Earth. “Air Lines,” for example, beautifully questions the cost of air travel, describing planes as generating “white line[s] of erasure.” ... Ultimately, The Universe and All That speaks to the imaginative possibilities of poetry. It is an ideal read for anyone wishing to escape the boundaries of their mind and contemplate the rich and full beauty of the universe and its creatures. As the collection’s preface stipulates, “Poetry can leapfrog us across time, into the head and life of someone who is long dead” (10). Oughton’s poems do exactly that, allowing us to see beyond the boundaries of human-centric visions of the Earth and appreciate the intricacies of the universe in which we are mere specks."
How to get the book:
1. Order from your local bookseller; direct from Ekstasis Editions; or from their distributor CanadaBooks.
2. If you live in Canada, but are broke, or your bookshelves are full, ask your local library to order a copy. This is especially helpful to writers as it can add to our annual payment from the Public Lending Rights program.
3. Order from me directly. Send me an email via the contact page on this site, and I will mail you a copy.
Book details: ISBN 978-1-77171-524-9. Price: $23.95 (CAN). 108 pages. Paperback.
From the Preface:
My point about poetry and time is that humans deal with the here and now, always keeping a weather eye for danger or advantage.
We can change the here, travelling around the world and, for a very few, to the moon.
How do we change the when other than by journeying back through our own memories?
Was the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus right to say, ‘You could not step twice into the same river’?
If we understand time to be a relentless onward flow, then the answer is yes.
We can bond with things from the past, or re-creations of them in movies, but we cannot easily move back to fully
experience them — although quantum physicists say this may be possible.
The title poem of my previous collection, Time Slip, explores this possibility. The past can suddenly recur in the midst of the present. Time is more variable than it seems in our everyday perceptions.
Science, whose vision continues to extend with new technologies, tells us that our existence is a point in a vast sea of space and time. The universe is larger than we can understand. More precisely, according to relativity, the universe is finite but curved. The further we can see with radio telescopes and equations, the further there is to see.