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June, 2008 : Essay:

Appreciating Speculative Poetry

When most people hear "science fiction," they think of fiction and not poetry. Fantasy and horror have a less exclusive phrasing, but still, genre readers are more inclined to forget about poetry. It remains, however, a vital part of speculative literature. A genre is defined more by focus than by form. The speculative field—in all its myriad subdivisions—bases itself on the prime question, "What if?" Speculative poetry is simply exploration of "What if?" in verse.

Although poetry has enjoyed tremendous respect in some cultures and time periods, today many people ignore or disdain it. Part of the reason lies in the sad fact that poetry just does not get taught, published, or shared as much as fiction. Yet to those who know and love it, speculative poetry becomes a passion. This article explores some examples of science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry with attention to what makes them special.

Poetry vs. Fiction

Poetry and fiction have a real love-hate relationship. They're like a couple who constantly fight and then have great makeup sex. In the end, neither is better than the other; both types of literature have their own pros and cons. You may find them together or apart—sometimes the poetry stands alone, and other times it embeds itself in a book or a movie. Sometimes a story is about a poem; sometimes a poem is about a story. In a few cases, poetry and prose form the warp and weft of a book. They are related through genre similarities, yet poetry and fiction display quite different characteristics. Consider the following comparison.

  1. Poetry is more concise than fiction. A poem is usually shorter than a story, and every word must count. Poetry, being denser, tends to have greater immediate impact and requires less of a time commitment on the reader's part. Fiction generally enjoys greater freedom to cover topics in depth, at length.
  2. Poetry is more memorable than prose. Rhymed, metered verse tends to stick in the mind because the human brain reacts more strongly to discernible patterns. (Note that this is an effect of structure rather than quality.) This supports the tradition of didactic and mnemonic poems. Even free verse tends to display more deliberate patterns of rhythm and sound repetition than ordinary prose.
  3. Poetry is bound by different rules than fiction. Poetry has far more forms than fiction, and each form has its own rules regarding rhyme, rhythm, and other uses of language.1 Poets are more free than storytellers to create new words or bend grammar into alien shapes. In some ways, poetry is much more rigid than fiction, but in others, it is more flexible.
  4. Poetry is intended to call attention to language. In fiction, the writing should be transparent or nearly so, allowing the reader to concentrate on the story instead of the words used to convey it. Fiction that calls attention to the writing is distracting—what's sometimes called "the bug spot problem." Poetry uses conspicuous words and phrases to give it substance and to emphasize its main ideas.
  5. Poetry is more suited to describing the indescribable. Poetic devices use patterns and comparisons to help us grasp ephemeral and universal concepts by comparing them to things we already understand. Fiction is expected to make sense. Poetry doesn't necessarily have to do that—it is allowed to transcend logic, especially when describing the illogical.

Poetry for Its Own Sake

Poetry can exist alongside fiction and interweave with it. However, poetry also stands on its own. People who love poetry may venture into speculative poetry even if they don't care for speculative fiction. The features of poetry lend themselves to certain exploits.

First, poetry can tell a tale as well as fiction can. Epic poetry reaches far back into our history. Even today it touches our lives; consider the recent success of Beowulf in movie form.2 In shorter forms, the structure of the poem itself may lend support to the plot. In the sonnet The Cyburbs by Constance Cooper, the first quatrain presents the parents' reasons for moving; the second quatrain presents the advantages for the children; and the concluding sestet describes the cyburbs themselves.3 Like science fiction, poetry can explore the stories we're living today…scooted forward in time so we can look at them anew. For instance, Too Human by Half by Suzette Haden Elgin narrates the introduction of elder-robots to care for senior citizens.4

Unlike fiction, poetry can do without a plot. Many poems excel not because of gripping action but because of their imagery, as another purpose for poetry is to paint a picture in words. In "Corruption of Metals," Sonya Dorman juxtaposes images from Earth and space.5 Deborah P. Kolodji anthropomorphizes a common tool in The Office Stapler, a poem that relies on the visual and tactile descriptions of people who use the stapler.6

Then there is the sheer joy of sound—poems made for fun. What carries them is how they play with language, how they feel in the mouth, how they make the reader want to say them out loud, and how they stroke the ears upon entering. Some of these poems tell a story, as in "Vampire Villanelle" by David Lunde, which uses repetition and long vowels to echo subtly the vampire's antiquity.7 Others are a ramble of concepts connected by sounds, structures, or the pattern of an underlying metaphor as in "Spacer's Compass" by Bruce Boston with its scrolling description of galactic directions.8

Poetry as Worldbuilding

Many authors have used poetry to distinguish a certain setting. The literature of a culture reveals much about its people, their practices, and their beliefs. It also tells us how they feel about the land where they live. In speculative fiction, it's important to set the scene early and make readers feel like they're really in another world. So the concise, punchy imagery of poetry is an asset.

Severna Park uses a single verse in Hand of Prophecy to depict the relationship between masters and slaves in her novel:

See there, the wayward prince in white,
Bare of foot and bare of head.
Threw off the hunting dogs tonight,
But run to ground where demons tread.9

"Wayward" suggests a minor and futile infraction. His lack of suitable clothes indicates that the escape was unplanned. The hunting dogs imply a culture that considers slavery normal, an image that echoes American history. We might render the resolution as "out of the frying pan, into the fire."

In Speaking Stones, Stephen Leigh shares some of the poems and songs of the human colonists and the alien Miccail. "Lullaby for a Sa Child" speaks of the third sex, who traditionally traveled from family to family keeping the gene pool healthy.10 Another example, "Blue Night," describes the human custom of using colored stone necklaces during gathers to ensure an appropriate genetic mix.11 The tragic history of the planet Mictlan, and its mutagenic quality, shape the course of both species.

M.C.A. Hogarth adds to the classic tradition of mournful lullabies in Alysha's Fall. Early in the book, the main character translates "Came Out to Play" from its original Meridan into Universal.12 It belongs to a collection of "exodus lullabies" about the heritage of her people, the genetically engineered Pelted, who left Earth to settle freer worlds. That immigrant background and species diversity characterizes the Alliance in which humans play but a tiny role.

Poetry as Plot

In any story, something has to light a fire under the protagonists to make them leap into action. In speculative fiction, authors often choose prophecy for this purpose—and prophets tend to speak in riddles and rhymes. Characters may also discover helpful (or ominous) verses while trying to figure out what's happening. Other poems arise from the culture to memorialize or comment on the epic events underway.

One of the greatest speculative poets was J.R.R. Tolkien. He used poetry to capture the iconographic conflict of The Fellowship of the Rings:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. 13

Other poems spoke of the hobbits' travels, Boromir's death, and ancient glories or perils. Tolkien's heroes stood out not just for their bravery but for their eloquence: man, elf, dwarf, or hobbit, they could all recite or compose appropriate poetry for every occasion from taking a bath to presiding over a funeral. The rolling grandeur and jolly charm of Tolkien's verse made Middle Earth come alive.

In Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey uses short poems as chapter headers, introducing the culture of Pern. Also appearing, though late in the novel, is "The Question Song," which begins:

Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes away, gone unansweréd.
Empty, open, dusty, dead,
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled? 14

With the deadly Thread returning and only one of the six Weyrs populated by dragons and their riders, everyone searches desperately for a solution. The clue lies in those verses, sending Lessa back in time to retrieve the lost Weyrs.

The fantasy movie The Dark Crystal depicted a magical world troubled by an ancient legacy: the energies of the flawed crystal and the disjunction of Skeksis and Mystics. The hope of healing and reunion appeared in this prophecy:

When single shines the triple sun,
What was sundered and undone
Shall be whole, the two made one,
By Gelfling hand, or else by none.15

The evil Skeksis, who preferred the status quo, responded with genocidal attacks against the Gelflings. The protagonists, Jen and Kira—the surviving Gelflings—thus have a strong motive to work against the Skeksis.

Poetry as Characterization

For some people, poetry is a frill—nice to have, but optional. For others, poetry (and music, because song lyrics are a type of poetry) is essential to their happiness. So a character's regard of poetry can distinguish him or her from others in a story. Poetic skill may also influence a character's choice of career or response to plot twists.

One character with a life driven by poetry and music is Menolly of Pern, first introduced in the novel Dragonsong. Here again, Anne McCaffrey uses short verses as chapter headers—but mixed with the traditional ones are some composed by Menolly herself. This one tells of Menolly's famous dash for safety ahead of falling Thread:

Then my feet took off and my legs went, too,
So my body was obliged to follow
Me with my hands and my mouth full of cress
And my throat too dry to swallow.16

Despite the serious topic, the meter is light and the description humorous: key traits of Menolly as a person and of her compositional style. Her verse memorializes a moment fraught with both fear and courage, as she faces the thing that all Pernese dread: being trapped in the open during Threadfall. The clear-headed determination and athleticism that allow her to survive the ordeal are further hallmarks of her power as a protagonist. Why was she out there in the first place? She ran away from home because, among other reasons, her family forbade her to compose anything.

A similar situation arises in Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. Vanyel Ashkevron prefers literature and music to the rough-and-tumble rustic pursuits demanded by his father.17 No matter how badly people treat him, at least he always has the refuge of lyrics and history, things that can take him away from his miserable life. But when Vanyel finds out that he lacks the coveted Bardic Gift, the loss of his dream very nearly destroys him. That intense yearning for song, story, and music is one of the core features of his personality. Mercedes Lackey has also written lyrics to several songs about Vanyel and his later exploits as "The Last Herald-Mage," lyrics that stand out for their touching poetry as well as the tales they tell.

In the science fiction film Contact, Jodie Foster plays a scientist (Dr. Ellie Arroway) who's chosen as an astronaut for a solo trip to an alien world far from our solar system. As she careens through a staggering array of sublime celestial phenomena, she muses aloud to herself, half crying, "It's so beautiful… so beautiful… They should have sent a poet." 18

Conclusions

Poetry serves many functions in the speculative field. It can stand alone, appear in stories, or accompany music as song lyrics. It allows us to dive into unfamiliar situations and understand them almost instantly; it describes the bizarre in ways we can easily grasp. It reveals important features about characters and settings; it can push the plot forward. There are doubtless more uses beyond those covered here.

Although poetry does not currently enjoy much favor in the mainstream, it's doing a bit better here. Speculative poetry has an award of its own, the Rhysling Award, presented annually by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. The SFPA also publishes the magazine Star*Line and an annual anthology of Rhysling nominees. Other magazines, both print and online, also accept speculative poetry. See the list of recommended resources, below for more about appreciating or writing speculative poetry.

Then if you ever experience something inexpressible…you'll be ready respond with poetry in motion.

Works Referenced

1. Lewis Turco, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Third Edition (Lebanon, New Hampshire: UPNE, 2000).

2. Robert Zemeckis, director, Beowulf, 2007. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0442933/

3. Constance Cooper, "The Cyburbs," Science Fiction Poetry Association Poetry Contest 2007, Third Place Winner. http://www.sfpoetry.com/poetrycontest.html

4. Suzette Haden Elgin, "Too Human By Half," Twenty-One Novel Poems (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Sam's Dot Publishing, 2007) 8. See also online discussion of rough drafts: http://ozarque.livejournal.com/298186.html

5. Sonya Dorman, "Corruption of Metals," Roger Dutcher and Mike Allen, editors, The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase (Ocala, Florida: Science Fiction Poetry Association, 2005) 28.

6. Deborah P. Kolodji, "The Office Stapler," First Annual Poetry Sleepover. (La Verne, California: University of La Verne, 2008). http://clubs.ulv.edu/~pmag/pso2008/pso13.html

7. David Lunde, "Vampire Villanelle," Nightfishing in Great Sky River: Poems of Inner and Outer Space (Palo Alto, California: Anamnesis Press, 1999) 56.

8. Bruce Boston, "Spacer's Compass," The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase (Ocala, Florida: Science Fiction Poetry Association, 2005) 111.

9. Severna Park, "The Song of Rexidi," Hand of Prophecy (New York, New York: Avon Books, 1998) 65.

10. Stephen Leigh, "Lullaby for a Sa Child," Speaking Stones (New York, New York: Eos, 1999) 10.

11. Leigh, "Blue Night," Speaking Stones 45.

12. M.C.A. Hogarth, "Came Out to Play," Alysha's Fall (DeKalb, Illinois: Cornwuff Press, 2000) 5.

13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (London, England: Allen & Unwin, 1954).

14. Anne McCaffrey, "The Question Song," Dragonflight (New York, New York: Del Rey, 1968).

15. Jim Henson and Frank Oz, directors, The Dark Crystal, 1982. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083791/

16. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong (New York, New York: Atheneum, 1976).

17. Mercedes Lackey, Magic's Pawn (New York, New York: DAW, 1989).

18. Robert Zemeckis, director, Contact, 1997. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118884/

Recommended Resources

NONFICTION

John Drury, Creating Poetry (Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 1991). The best book I've found on composing poetry, which covers both the technical and sublime aspects. It features splendid exercises and some examples. Readers who want to peek under the hood to see how poetry works should read this.

Suzette Haden Elgin, The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Sam's Dot Publishing, 2005). Here is the quintessential guide to speculative poetry appreciation and construction, by the founder of the SFPA. Elgin explains what a science fiction poem is, how the sound and appearance of poems work, how poets choose words and use grammar rules to best advantage, how to suspend disbelief securely, ways of promoting poetry, and a brief history of the SFPA.

D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, editors, The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse. (New York, New York: New York Review of Books, 2003). A favorite professor hooked me on this odd bird back in my college days. It offers hilarious examples of painfully wretched poetry by poets famed for their better material. Learn to appreciate good poetry by observing what bad poetry REALLY looks like.



PERIODICALS

David C. Kopaska-Merkel, editor, Dreams & Nightmares. Magazine of dark fantasy and horror, mostly poetry with some short-short fiction.

Roger Dutcher, editor, The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. Publishes science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry; includes review section in back.

Mike Allen, editor, Mythic Delirium. Prints science fiction, fantasy, horror, surreal and cross-genre poetry; particularly fond of rhymed, metered poems and traditional forms.

Marge Simon, editor, Star*Line: The Magazine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Features science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry; occasional articles and critical essays; plus reviews and market news in the back.



POETRY ANTHOLOGIES & COLLECTIONS

Bruce Boston, Etiquette with Your Robot Wife and Thirty More SF/F/H Lists (Santa Barbara, California: Talisman, 2005). An entertaining single-author chapbook, mostly but not entirely satirical list poems.

Keith Allen Daniels, Satan Is A Mathematician: Poems of the Weird, Surreal, and Fantastic (Palo Alto, California: Anamnesis Press, 1998). A hefty single-author collection full of dark, twisted, often funny poems in assorted forms.

Roger Dutcher and Mike Allen, editors, The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase (Ocala, Florida: Science Fiction Poetry Association, 2005). If you only buy one book of speculative poetry, buy this one; it collects Rhysling winners from 1978-2004. Excellent short and long poems, plus several essays on the field.

Marianne J. Dyson, Mindsparks Science Fiction Poetry Anthology (Laurel, Maryland: Molecudyne Research, 1996). Chapters feature: Science Past, Scientists, Science Today, Space Exploration, Future Science, and Science Fiction. Includes "A Steed of Steel and Silver" by Elizabeth Barrette.

Suzette Haden Elgin, Twenty-One Novel Poems. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Sam's Dot Publishing, 2007). Primarily science fiction poems in narrative style, many dealing with dilemmas facing the world today, such as the scarcity of water or the need to care for an aging population. Each poem has an analysis and study questions in the back of the book, making it ideal for workshop or classroom use.

Steven M. Hewitt, Fantasies, Dreams, and Realities (Sausalito, California: Paradigm Press, 1997). A single-author chapbook of mythic and magical poetry, mostly rhymed.

D.A. Feinfeld, Bestiary of the Heart. (Santa Barbara, California: Fithian Press, 2000). Not a speculative collection per se, but leans in that direction; covers Arts & Sciences, Bestiary, and Time Travel.

Angela Kessler, editor, The Best of Dreams of Decadence: Vampire Stories and Poems to Keep You Up Till Dawn (New York, New York: Roc, 2003). Contains a generous section of vampire poetry in the middle of the book.

David Lunde, Nightfishing in Great Sky River: Poems of Inner and Outer Space (Palo Alto, California: Anamnesis Press, 1999). Visionary SF and introspective poetry chapbook.

Drew Morse, editor, The 2005 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2004 (Rockfield, Maryland: Prime Books, 2005). Each year the SFPA prints an anthology of Rhysling nominees as a judging aid; an excellent selection of short and long poems on many topics. This volume includes "The Poltergeist of Polaris" by Elizabeth Barrette.



POETRY IN FICTION

M.C.A. Hogarth, Alysha's Fall (DeKalb, Illinois: Cornwuff Press, 2000).

Mercedes Lackey, Magic's Pawn (New York, New York: DAW, 1989).

Stephen Leigh, Speaking Stones (New York, New York: Eos, 1999).

Anne McCaffrey, Dragonflight (New York, New York: Del Rey, 1968).

Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong (New York, New York: Atheneum, 1976).

Severna Park, Hand of Prophecy (New York, New York: Avon Books, 1998).

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (London, England: Allen & Unwin, 1954).



WEBSITES

Elizabeth Barrette, "The Wordsmith's Forge." Monthly poetry fishbowls. http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
For speculative poetry themes, see these entries: http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com/101640.html http://ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com/47407.html

Tom Brinck, "SciFaiku Manifesto," 1995. Explanation and examples of scifaiku form. http://www.scifaiku.com/what/

Seamus Cooney, "Bad Poetry." Gives examples of what NOT to do. http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/bad/

Suzette Haden Elgin, "About Science Fiction Poetry." Essay & poetry. http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/SFPoetry.html

----- "Ozarque's Journal." This LiveJournal often includes discussion of science fiction, language, and speculative poetry. http://www.livejournal.com/~ozarque/

Magic Dragon Multimedia, "The Ultimate Science Fiction Poetry Guide," 1996-1998. History and sources of speculative poetry. http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/sfpo.html

"They Should Have Sent a Poet…And Did! The First Poetry Slam on Mars," no author listed, PR Site, January 25, 2006. A simulated mission gets creative. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/1/prweb336962.htm

Tim Pratt, "Fresh Graves: An Essay on Horror Poetry," 2002. This horror editor explains how to get it right. http://www.sff.net/people/timpratt/freshgraves.html

Science Fiction Poetry Association. Publishes the magazine Star*Line, hosts the Rhysling Awards, and otherwise promotes speculative poetry. http://www.sfpoetry.com/


Copyright © 2008, Elizabeth Barrette. All Rights Reserved.

About Elizabeth Barrette

Elizabeth Barrette writes speculative fiction, related nonfiction and poetry, and often presents panels at conventions. Her other fields include gender studies and alternative spirituality. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a major in Rhetoric and a minor in Women’s Studies. Previous credits include articles "The Spirit of the Law: Exploring Sharon Shinn's 'Samaria' Novels" in The Internet Review of Science Fiction and "Words of Power: The Languages of Mithgar" in Spicy Green Iguana; stories "Breakthrough Combination" in Fortress and "Beaver Goes to a Party" in Mytholog; and poems "There and Back Again" in The Minas-Tirith Evening Star and "Tawaab and Sameh: Son of Fire, Daughter of Wind" in Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness. She enjoys suspension-of-disbelief bungee-jumping and spelunking in other people’s reality tunnels. Visit her Website at: http://www.worthlink.net/~ysabet/sitemap.html.

COMMENTS!

Jun 3, 03:55 by IROSF

What think you of speculative poetry?

Barrette's article can be found here.
Jun 4, 02:43 by nancy brownlee
The reason that "speculative" poetry, or (I'm equating them, here, the poetry of SF, horror, and fantasy) is disregarded or unpopular is that it's almost never very good. It's not very good poetry. Sometimes it's pretty good verse, not too bad, but more often it's doggerel, and boring besides. It's rarely even particulary memorable as verse- not as funny or interesting or compelling as, say, "The Face On the Barroom Floor", or even the latest offerings from the "cowboy poets". I almost always get the same feeling, reading it, as I get from bad sf, fantasy or horror prose- that the writers have not bothered to read much of the best of fiction or poetry, and are therefore unable to reach for a comparable achievment. It's hard to jump the bar when you don't know where the bar IS.
Jun 4, 13:17 by Lois Tilton
Interesting that you should say so, butterdick. Some people have wondered why I don't review the poetry in the zines I do review, and the reason is that I have not studied that particular bar. I could say whether or not I LIKED a given poem, but I would hesitate to claim that it was good or bad, lacking the proper critical vocabulary to say why.
Jun 4, 20:14 by nancy brownlee
I think that whether you like a poem is the very first consideration, just as it is with a story. First I decide if I like (or have other strong feelings), then I try to figure out WHY. Maybe I was a little hard on the current stuff. Neil Gaiman has written some truly terrific poems in the genre - but then, Neil Gaiman does not seem to write bad stuff anytime, anywhere, or in any genre. He is an intelligent, careful, SUBTLE writer. But think about Lovecraft's poems- boy, were they stinkers. And for some unknowable reason, they have inspired dozens of imitators.
I think that if someone wants to write good poetry, they ought to read good poetry. Start with Shakespeare's sonnets, and go on to Keats, and to Browning. Not "speculative" enough for you? Try Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci, or Lamia, or The Pot of Basil. Read Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and Porphyria's Lover. Then, of course, there's Poe...
Jun 5, 02:57 by Eric Marin
butterdick, I found your first post overbroad and lacking in examples, although your last post remedied that a bit in terms of past poets you find worthy of note. Still, your opinion of speculative poetry is just that: an opinion. I am guessing from your two comments that you are not critically trained in analyzing poetry of any sort, not just speculative poetry. I am not critically trained either, but your comment that liking a poem is the very first consideration in determining a poem's worth does not strike me as a particularly useful method of poetic analysis. There are many poems out there in every area of poetry that you may not like (and that I might not like) that are, in fact, excellent poems. Liking is not the same as appreciating, and I think any attempt to evaluate a poem should be begun with an eye toward appreciating what the poem does and how it does it (or what it does not do and why it doesn't, if the poem fails). However, if you're reading poetry for pleasure, rather than analyzing poetry as you read it, what you enjoy is an excellent barometer for your own poetic preferences. It is not useful, though, for others unless they share your taste in poetry. If you were to comment that most speculative poetry isn't to your taste, that would be just fine. Stating that speculative poetry is "almost never very good" based solely on your own taste is not constructive.

All that said, I do agree with you that speculative poets (all sorts of poets, in fact) should read lots of strong examples of poetry. I would suggest, though, that poets not limit themselves to reading works from the 19th Century and before. Failing to read poems written in the 20th and 21st centuries would leave an enormous gap in a poet's toolkit. Important developments in poetic form took place after Poe's death and continue to take place today. I for one, need and want to read more poetry, speculative and otherwise, so I'm off to do so now.
Jun 5, 17:43 by nancy brownlee
Of course it's an opinion; everything posted on this forum is an opinion. As are all reviews and criticisms opinion, by definition. And I did say "like, or have other strong feelings" because strong feelings about a work,or a resounding lack of them, are the basis for artistic analysis- without them, what's to analyze? As for critical training, there are a round damn dozen, maybe more, methods of literary analysis available to anyone who picks up a literary textbook and they all, yes, all, begin with how the analyst "finds" the work - for finds, read feels about. If a reader thinks a poem "makes me feel creepy", or ANY OTHER WAY, that's the point at which analysis begins. Why does it make you feel creepy? Did you feel it was completely original in intent? Does it remind you of something else? Did it make you feel like something horrible or wonderful was going to happen, then poop out at the end? Etcetera. And yes, great, good, mediocre, and dreadful bad poetry has been written daily in each and every human era, and I wouldn't stop anyone reading any of it, or liking it, for that matter. But- just as a kid can eat a burger and fries and, from a lack of a decent basis for comparison, proclaim it the best meal ever made, so may a reader proclaim a mediocre work to be one of greatness, simply from never having read the best. And I've read plenty of prose works in Speculative fiction which, while I recognized the writer's ability and technique, simply left me cold. I think it's smart to seek out the best literature of ANY genre, and therefore have those works as a PART of those that form your taste. I would love to hear some specific recommendations of poetry in SF, fantasy, horror. Maybe I'm just not seeing the good stuff!
Jun 5, 22:46 by Eric Marin
butterdick, here are links to a few online venues that tend to publish, in my opinion, strong speculative poetry:

Goblin Fruit;
Ideomancer;
Lone Star Stories; and
Strange Horizons.

(I included my own webzine because it reflects my taste in speculative poetry, and a poem I published in Issue No. 19, Sonya Taaffe's "Follow Me Home," has been selected to appear in the forthcoming Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #21 edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin Grant.)

For printed speculative poetry, I can recommend off the top of my head Flytrap, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Mythic Delirium, and Not One of Us.

Happy poetry reading!
Jun 5, 23:04 by Bluejack
Ok butterdick. I have to ask.

Whence the name?

And to all: do you know that you can change your Display Name in the "My Account" section?
Jun 5, 23:22 by nancy brownlee
A single, memorable evning in 1967... when some friends and I invented the Dickens drinking game. You had to come up with a creditably Dickensian name, or be penalized by drinking a shot. If everybody agreed that the name you thought up was suitable, you were also penalized by drinking a shot. What can I say, it was the Summer of Love but we were, basically, cossacks. Okay, Okay, I'll change it.
Jun 6, 03:56 by Eric Marin
Thanks for letting me know about the username change ability, Bluejack. :-)
Jun 6, 18:34 by David Farney
I'm no student of poetry, but I find speculative poetry more pleasurable to read than contemporary "traditional". To my untrained eye, it seems spec poetry still values abstract ideas--contemp seems so concrete and prosaic. For me, speculative poetry tends to resonate--in meaning and imagery and possibility--far longer and more deeply than contemp.

So a big thumbs up, IROSF, for poetry!
Jun 11, 16:19 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
almostgone: I think that if someone wants to write good poetry, they ought to read good poetry. Start with Shakespeare's sonnets, and go on to Keats, and to Browning. Not "speculative" enough for you? Try Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci, or Lamia, or The Pot of Basil. Read Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and Porphyria's Lover. Then, of course, there's Poe...

...or Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan", or Keats "The Eve of St. Agnes" or Wordsworth's "The Thorn"...

The Romantics liked their 'horror' poetry. An argument can be made that much of the prose and poetry of the Romantic era dealt with horror themes, or at least themes we would label as horror or supernatural. Like Shelley's Frankenstein, the Romantics prefigured much of modern 'speculative' poetry.

And, of course, there is Lovecraft...
Jun 12, 22:50 by bob sale
Sorry to have to bust your bubble but Poe is not considered a very good poet. Henry James called him the jingle man. Need I say more?
Jun 13, 07:38 by Bluejack
Poe is one of the most popular poets in the history of the English language.

So, you could say more, beginning with citing your source. In fact, Emerson is usually credited with this "Jingle Man" thing. Of course, Poe was something of an asshole, and had previously pissed off Emerson (citation).

But the history of literature is rife with popular poets (and other artists) who have met with academic snobbery in their own age only to find their critical acclaim rise in later generations. (See, uh, Shakespeare.)

Poe did use rhyme. Whether he overused rhyme is a matter of opinion.

I personally think many poets overuse 'dull' -- but Poe rarely succumbed to that particular temptation.
Jun 13, 18:56 by Lois Tilton
Well, "popular" and "good" tend to have a converse relationship.

I doubt if a new poet today would be well-received by most venues if emulating Poe.
Jun 13, 22:33 by bob sale
Sorry about the misinformation. It was Emerson who called Poe the "jingle man". It does sound like something James would have said though. The problem remains. Poe is not taken seriously by modern critics. His poetry seems lightweight compared to a William Butler Yeats or a Robert Frost. There is enough truth in Emerson's tag to make one reconsider his stature. Does this matter? Perhaps not. However to make speculative poetry the best it can be one needs to read the best poetry available. By the way, Shakespeare was popular in his time as well as ours. There was no time lag such as appeared with the birth of modernism.
Jun 14, 01:19 by Lois Tilton
Here, from The Competition, is a bit of poetry criticism.

http://thefix-online.com/features/breaking-the-line/
Jun 15, 20:22 by Bluejack
And yet, Shakespeare was *not* considered a "serious" playwright in his own age, nor even the century following. It was not for some time that his works began to be thought "great" by the serious crowd. People enjoyed the plays, but Ben Jonson observed that "Shakespeare wanted art." (Hugh Grady, Shakespeare Criticism 1600-1900)

It was only in the Romantic era that Shakespeare clambered onto the throne of "all-time greatest."

Now, I'm not trying to say that Poe was deepest or greatest of all poets, but neither was his work doggerel. To say that Poe is not considered "very good" is unnecessarily dismissive, and in my view unwarranted. Poe was one of the first American poets to influence artistic trends in Europe, his work is at the very least of historical significance. But then, I am also of the opinion that if something is very popular then it is doing *something* right, and that particular *something* is worthy of contemplation.
Jun 16, 21:53 by bob sale
Fair enough. And you are right about his European reputation. Both Baudelaire and Mallarme considered him a master.
















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