PETER PAYACK, Conceptual Anarchist, Science Fiction Poet, Sky Artist, Inventor of The Stonehenge Watch

Rhysling Award Winning (Best in Science Fiction) Poem, The Migration of Darkness, followed by Review

Observing Solar Eclipses-1 Resources (Pasachoff American Journal of Physics, June '17)
Overall Review of Payack's Work
The Stonehenge Watch
Selected poems from No Free Will In Tomatoes
Review of Payack's Rhysling Award Winning Poem
Micro Poems
Spankin New Poems!
Sex Tip For Poets!
Scavenger Hunt For Truth
Science Fiction Poems
Excert from Dark Comic Novel on Suicide
Community Involvement
Contact Info

The Migration of Darkness

By Peter Payack

12 June 2006

[Editor's Note: Many thanks to Peter Payack for giving us permission to reprint his work for a limited time in conjunction with Greg Beatty's "Reading the Rhysling."]


Each evening, shortly after sunset,

darkness covers the land.

     Having mystified thinkers for millennia,

     the mechanism for this occurrence

     has now been identified: migration.

Darkness, it has been found, is composed

of an almost infinite number of particles,

which roost and reproduce up north

where they have fewer natural enemies:

     Forest fires, lampposts, lasers, blazing sunlight,

     torches, candles, lighthouses, limelight, and electricity

     are relatively rare in the polar regions.

These lightweight bits of darkness

flock together and fly south each evening

to more fertile land in a never-ending search

for an abundant food supply.

With the coming of the rising sun,

they return to their northern nesting grounds.

However, not all specks of darkness migrate.

Some that are less adventurous

     or downright lazy

choose to stay behind.

These covey together, in varying numbers,

seeking shelter from the strong sunlight

     by gathering under leafy trees, behind

     large rocks, and underneath umbrellas;

     hiding in alleys, between parked cars,

     in caves, and inside empty pockets.

These clusters are perceived by us as shadows.

They have a somewhat shorter life span

than those which migrate.

Copyright © 1979 Peter Payack

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Peter Payack is the widely acclaimed poet, writer, inventor and sky artist. He has published more than 1,500 poems, with multiple appearances in The Paris Review, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Amazing Science Fiction Stories, and Asimov's Science Fiction. Payack is the inventor of the world-renowned Stonehenge Watch, an infinitesimal replica of the megaliths at Stonehenge inside of an old-fashioned pocket watch. The Stonehenge Watch has been featured at The International Sky Art Conference at MIT, on BBC-TV, and in Astronomy, and it has been for sale at the Stonehenge site itself. As a Sky Artist, Payack has been commissioned to create environmental poetry projects for The New York Avant Garde Festival, The International Sky Art Conference, The Harvard 350 Celebration and Boston's First Night. His latest major book Blanket Knowledge, from Zoland Books, is available autographed from the author, for $10, at Payack won the 1980 Short Poem Rhysling Award for "The Migration of Darkness," which, along with all other Rhysling winners from 1978 through 2004, can be found in The Alchemy of Stars.



Strange Horizons

Reading the Rhysling: 1980

By Greg Beatty

12 June 2006

[Editor's note: The poets whose work is discussed in this article agreed to allow their work to be reprinted here for a limited time in conjunction with this essay. Strange Horizons would like to thank these poets for their generosity. The winners of the 1980 Rhysling awards were:


You may also read Greg's introduction to this series of essays here and the previous essay in the series here.]

Earlier essays in this series noted the fact that science fiction poetry operates at the intersection of several different traditions (science fiction, science and fiction, poetry), each of which is itself fraught and conflicted. However, one thing that makes an award useful is that it canonizes certain works and writers and, in the process, raises their work up for closer examination. One thing this examination begins to show in 1980 is a few independent patterns among the Rhysling winners; one might then reflect outward into science fiction poetry in general and see if these patterns dominate there as well, becoming both poetic patterns and thematic traditions.

One of two poems that won in the short poem category that year, Peter Payack's "The Migration of Darkness," shares approaches with Duane Ackerson's "Fatalities," which had won in the same category the previous year. Like "Fatalities," "The Migration of Darkness" is a single extended metaphor, and both poems are immediately accessible. They are poems that are science fictional in their themes and ideas, but which "lower the bar" for reader entry.

This is not meant as a dismissal; it takes both skill and heart to create a poem as genuinely charming as "The Migration of Darkness." In it Payack provides a single "What if" idea: what if darkness were not simply the absence of light, but a thing in itself? Darkness has often been given spiritual qualities or charged with emotions; it is the site of much disturbance. Payack taps this frequent association by giving darkness physical qualities; it is not a gap or an absence, but "is composed / of an almost infinite number of particles." This image is at once useful, startling, and informed. It matches the sense of night and shadow creeping, almost spilling in around corners, that comes with sad and scary evenings, and it also presents dark as the mirror image of light, which has been described as both wave and particle. Once presented, the image seems so logical that it poses its own rhetorical question: why can't there be particles of darkness? From there, it is but a small step to dividing and classifying these particles; one can almost imagine David Langford's wonderful story "Different Kinds of Darkness" springing from the poem.


But Payack does not stop there; he also gives darkness biological qualities. He posits darkness flies south "to a more fertile land in a never-ending search / for an abundant food supply" and describes its movement across the land as a "migration." Images of these particles swarming, gathering, and "seeking shelter from the strong sunlight" abound. In a series of simple lines, often lightly indented as if delivering asides or marking a learned speaker's cadence, Payack evokes a naturalist's approach to the actions of an entire new species. He does not stop there, however. By closing with a discussion of shadows as members of this species that "have a somewhat shorter lifespan / than those who migrate" Payack manages a startling reversal: in less than a page readers are brought first to wonder at, and then to pity, a heretofore unnoticed passing of a natural object. Here too Payack's poem functions like "Fatalities," in which minutes were killed.

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