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Steve Sneyd on K.V. Bailey

KENNETH VYE BAILEY, who died January 3 aged 90, will be remembered for many things – as an important SF critic, as a man of great intelligence, insight, and learning who used these gifts to enlighten and to inspire, never to browbeat or dominate, and who in his professional life, before a long retirement on his beloved island of Alderney, was for many years the BBC's Chief Education Officer.

He was also important for his science fiction (and other) poetry (perhaps less well-known than it should have been because his modesty forbade the relentless self-promotion so generally essential for success in poetry in these times). Of his ten collections, the majority were in whole or part devoted to science fiction themes, often alongside his other key poetic subject, Alderney and its ocean setting. As well as reflective and imaginative use of SF tropes from his own original viewpoint, he also on occasion created SFnal transformations of earlier "mainstream" poems, combining gentle humour with new insights born of the intertextuality, as in his "Waring in Space", after Browning. Love of SF, and of the roots of myth and folktale, came together to beautifully musical effect in his sequence "The Sky Giants", retelling the story of Parsifal in futuristic terms.

A particularly remarkable instance of KVB's gift for linking the everyday to the vast Out There is the lovely "Deep-Down Dove" (Terrible Work #2, 1993) – the sight of a dove flying through a London Underground tunnel brings the contemplation of its flight's purpose –

a dove which seemed to be seeking its journey's beginning,
scanning the gloom for where an incredible ark lay stranded,
knowing that far in the earth a great fossil ship is entombed
to await some sign that the world it had anciently ploughed through
is stargate to galaxies promised but only accessible
by pathways of light when the clay and the rock will subside.

An almost Buddhist empathy is another feature of his poems, as in the meditative, exteriorized yet only gently critical view of humanity – "an ass's head atop a puzzled heart" – of his "On Being Invited To Consider Accepting A Vacancy To Be Born On Planet Earth" (Cassandra Anthology #5, 1984). The experience of surviving a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in WWII had brought to his poetry, not any feeling of bitterness or cynicism, but rather a sense of some universal possibility of comprehension within, and between, all life.

As well as writing genre poetry, Kenneth Bailey, at a number of conventions, organized programme items to give it a voice: at the 1989 Contrivance Eastercon, for which he produced the Speculum mini-anthology, and at the Mexicons of 1989, 1991, and 1993, at the last compering a "Barsoom Ballads" reading of Mars-related SF poetry.

Among his many articles on aspects of SF were several specifically relating to SF poetry (he also reviewed genre poetry collections for Vector), most extensively as "Alien or Kin? SF Poetry" (Star Wine #1, 1986), later expanded and revised as the 8-page "ALIEN OR KIN? SF Poetry" (Fantasy Commentator #45-6, November 1994), in which he concluded by noting the commonality that poetry and SF share the capability to "modify, heighten, even transform consciousness within their readers."

His own work as a poet was able to demonstrate this, and it seems appropriate to end this inadequate tribute with the final lines of "The Sky Giants":

The Carbonek has golden hosts on board:
some feast, some laugh, some weep.
Circling the Earth she turns again toward
the outer deep.

Collections by K.V. Bailey
[ø partly / • wholly sf poetry]

ø Other Worlds and Alderney (Blanchard Books, 1982)
Alderney: A Hive of Glass (Blanchard, 1984)
Space Travellers – a radio verse sequence (BBC Publications, 1984)
Broomstick Drive: Space-Age Rhymes and Ballads (Triffid Books, 1985)
Guernsey My Island – trans poem by Renee Momay (VRG, 1986)
Distant Music (Triffid, 1987)
The Clarke: Opera Semi-Seria – verse meditation on Arthur C. Clarke's themes, repr. ex Foundation #41 ACC 70th birthday tribute issue (1987)
ø Time and the Island (Triffid, 1988)
The Sky Giants (Triffid, 1990)
The Vortices of Time (Triffid, 1998)