Skanavis (Gaia: A Mystical Epic, 2012) offers a psychedelic space opera in verse.
Citing influences including Emily Dickinson, Isaac Asimov, and Terence McKenna, Skanavis tells, in metered, rhyming verse, the story of a man named Kreon. In a dystopian future Earth that’s nearly destroyed by war, he seeks to replant the world with vegetation to feed his tribe. He’s aided in his quest by the lowly mushroom, which revitalizes the soil and offers a doorway to the wider universe. What begins as a simple job of myco-remediation becomes a journey unlike any that mankind’s ever undergone. The story is told over 32 chapters, most comprised of three sonnets: rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. The result may be unlike anything the reader has ever seen—imagine Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” on mushrooms. The number of ingredients in this literary stew is staggering: Skanavis name-checks James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, filmmaker Richard Linklater, and author Daniel Pinchbeck, among many others; one epigraph comes from the arcade game “Galaxian”; and one poem is dedicated to the late heavy-metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Nothing about this book should work, and yet Skanavis manages to pull it all off with ingenuity and surprising restraint. Without irony or even a sense of pastiche, he synthesizes his influences into a cohesive vision, communicated by impressive, disciplined, and inventive poetry: “Eco-harmonious we must begin to be— / Mimetic—to each function of these bees— / & herbal allies’ pistillate release— / Of profound psychosomatic properties—.” Making ubiquitous use of Dickinson-ian dashes and Blake-an ampersands, Skanavis even plays with the visual properties of his lines on the page, slyly building to a point when a double helix of dashes rises like an optical illusion out of the poem itself. Is it idiosyncratic? Completely. Will it be every reader’s cup of tea? Certainly not. Yet it’s rare to find a book of poetry or prose that aspires to, and achieves, such a singular vision as this one. Anyone willing to follow Skanavis into this wormhole will find brilliance on the other side.
An accomplished, ambitious, and highly original long poem.