The Octopus and Other Poems

The Octopus and Other Poems



About the book

The central metaphor in The Octopus is the search for new life in the universe—to find something beyond ourselves and simultaneously be found. The tension between wanting to understand and giving in to the mysteries of the universe culminates in the long poem “The Octopus.” In the end, it’s the hope of the search that matters, not finding or being found, but looking.

About the author

Harper, Jennica

Jennica Harper was born in North Bay, Ontario, grew up in Brampton, and currently lives in BC where she teaches screenwriting at the Vancouver Film School.

Her poetry has been published in such literary journals as The Antigonish Review, Grain, The Fiddlehead, Descant, The Malahat Review, and Prairie Fire. Her work also appeared in Larger than Life: An Anthology of Celebrity.

The long poem “The Octopus” was a finalist in the National Magazine Awards.


Right now, the Voyager shuttles 1 and 2 are pushing deeper
into known space. They will, like so many great American
home runs, go far beyond the fence, across the street
and through a window. They will never be recovered.

In a laboratory in Pasadena, at tables cluttered
with cold cups of coffee and dot-matrix printouts,
men interpret what Voyager sees: the spotty volcanic
surface of Io, the irregular shape of Amalthea.

Voyager carries greetings
from Earth. Simple diagrams
of how our genes
spool. Of the body of a man. Of where
we can be found,
like the map in the mall:
We Are Here (note how
the third dot in line is given
more emphasis, stationed slightly above
the other eight).

Also presented are rows of numbers,
the elements of us:

hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
and phosphorus

the modest recipe of our shared life.

I wish the world’s memories well.
I have my own secrets—shoeboxes
and albums full of scribblings,
tokens from misplaced
friends and lovers.
Everything I keep is paper,
already disintegrating.

But while I’m here
I’ll think of you, imagine
you with your newest love
who looks so much like you.

The two of you get steamed up like clamshells—
half-moon arcs on the seabed.
When you are both concave
you come together, disappear from view;
when one is concave, one convex,
you form a perfect circle.


It is amazing what thoughts
we let slip in and out like mosquitoes
through the window.


Along with the math of us, Voyager lugs
gold-plated albums etched with our essences:
photographs, sounds heard on earth—in nature
and on highways and in the womb. Greetings
in fifty-four languages, and enough music
for some all-night cosmic dance-a-thon.

Our lives orbit discretely these days, seldom intersect.

Now we trade thoughts on paper—
long distance chess,
one move at a time.

You tell me you can’t condone the reckless hope
of finding some other life out there.
Can’t fathom the waste.


Although Jennica Harper's first book is entitled The Octopus and Other Poems, The cover of the collection somewhat misleadingly shows the tenacles of an octopus, the most prevalent motif in the poems concerns space travel. In fact, The Octopus opens… >>

— Robert Attridge Event

Fascination with and the examination of the "science of everyday life" are the subjects of The Octopus and Other Poems by BC poet, Jennica Harper. Harper's speakers are innocent, questioning explorers, desirous not only of the uncharted terrain but also… >>

— Darlene Shatford Canadian Literature

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