Krakens: Poetry Friday

I’m reading Kraken by China Mieville (speculative fiction, New Wierd, apocalyptic) this week. In Kraken a pickled giant squid specimen is stolen from London’s Natural History Museum. Warring underground factions of thugs, cultists, thieves and mages attempt to recover the missing squid. The various groups are trying to either trigger or prevent a London-destroying apocalypse. Billy Harrow (a scientist) and Dane (a doomsday squid-cultist) are trying to keep the pickled squid from being a pawn in this game. Kraken is stranger than a quick summary could possibly convey.

The novel is peppered with an odd amalgam of obscure literary and pop cultural references. Among them is the full text of Hugh Cook’s The Kraken Awakes, a poetic response to Tennyson’s The Kraken. I didn’t know Tennyson’s The Kraken, so I had to look it up:

The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Australian Poet Hugh Cook‘s The Kraken Awakes is more raw, like Mieville’s story:

excerpt from The Kraken Wakes by Hugh Cook

The little silver fish
Scatter like shrapnel
As I plunge upward
From the black underworld.
The green waves break from my sides
As I roll up, forced by my season,
And before the tenth second
I can feel my own heat –
The wind can never cool as oceans do.

You can read the whole poem at Hugh Cook’s website.

Having read most of Kraken (79%), I can see how the two poems sparked aspects of Mieville’s book: the squid-triggered fiery apocalypse, the play on’secret cell’, the role of ‘man and angel’. The book is fascinating and dark (caution: if you don’t have a strong stomach for fictional violence, some of the murders in this book are grizzly and disturbing). I’m still not sure I love Mieville as an author but Kraken is definitely dense and fascinating reading.

For more Poetry Friday, visit our wonderful host, Tara, at A Teaching Life.

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7 Responses to Krakens: Poetry Friday

  1. Irene Latham says:

    Wow, I’d not heard of Kraken before. I’m fascinated in a distant-sort of way — and I appreciate your warning about the grisly nature of the text. I think your post is enough for me for now. I love learning about things that inspire art… thank you.

  2. Tabatha says:

    Thank you for sharing these with us, Katya! “Doomsday squid”? Now those are two words I hadn’t imagined putting together :-) Sounds like an interesting book.

  3. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing the mysterious dark side today. (Of course, now I can’t hear about “Kraken” without thinking of Johnny Depp on the deck of a ship….) ;0)

  4. Sounds like a mighty interesting read. We just finished Season 2 of the Game of Thrones (and I’ve seen a few films with the Kraken), so I’m no stranger to fiction or TV violence. I haven’t started with George RR Martin’s novels though, I have a feeling that the books may even be more gruesome than the tv series. :) Thank you for sharing these lovely poems.

  5. Tara says:

    I’ve heard about the book but had no idea about the poetry connections…so interesting, Katya!

  6. I’ve never seen that Tennyson poem — interesting. I’m with Tabatha … had the exact same thought about the doomsday squid. :)

  7. kczaja says:

    I loved the idea of a doomsday squid cult — it was why I picked up the book. Such an impossibly incongruous concept.