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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 09:42 am:   

Long overdue thread--what poetry do you like to read? How does it inform your reading and writing? What function does speculative poetry as a genre serve (as opposed to individual poems)? As some of you probably know, my own tastes run towards the weird and experimental--anything here is fair game, though, as it's a big tent. I just taught a 4-week class at the Loft called "Introduction to Experimental Poetry" and it went fantabulously well. We did some good work with postmodern limericks. But anyway.
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 12:39 pm:   

Hmmm, I don't think I know a lot of speculative poetry, despite the fact that I publish it in my zine. I like Christina Sng's obviously, and the occasional Mark Rich poem is very nice. I've liked what I've read from Bruce Boston and Keith Allan Daniels.

To that end, I've heard Joe Haldeman read some of his poetry and it was quite good. I don't think I've seen it published anywhere, although it must be.

I really like Seamus Heaney (even before his BEOWULF translation) and Gregory Orr, but they aren't necessarily speculative. Just good poetry. Gregory Orr (I have his NEW AND SELECTED POEMS from 1988) wrote a poem about a young man who accidently killed someone with a hunting rifle. I read the poem less than a week after a good friend of mine related the story of how he accidently killed his younger brother with his police officer father's gun. The poem was in a book we were using in a Creative Writing class I was taking in college at the time, and I went out and bought the entire book it came from. I was not disappointed. Being at work, I can't get the title of the poem, but I'll post it later.

JK
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

Haldeman publishes in Asimov's fairly often, and he is rather good.

I edit a speculative poetry 'zine, Alan, and I have no idea what the function of it is. Personally I read all kinds of poetry, and tend to give myself a fair bit of leeway in deciding if something is speculative enough for Star*Line (within what the readership will tolerate, of course). In Flytrap I plan to publish all sorts of poetry, speculative and otherwise.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 12:58 pm:   

Kind of like the tag that F&SF uses (paraphrasing): "Fiction of interest to a science fiction and fantasy readership." It's been fun in Say... to mix n' match different styles and even audiences.

Yeah, maybe you're right that poetry doesn't have to have a function at all. Maybe that's the point of it. How it relates to the genre aspects, however, fascinates me. E.g., why is there speculative poetry and not "detective poetry"? (Cowboy poetry seems to be coming from an earlier, oral tradition).

John, Greg Orr was one of my instructors at Virginia. Good guy.

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Laird Barron
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

Hi Alan.

I'm fond of Strand and Simic--Simic in particular. I think my interest in his work has encouraged tendencies toward leaner, more economical prose.

I appreciate the fact that much wonderful poetry is, or should be "of interest" to fans of various genres without succumbing to genre categorization. Melic, for instance, published numerous pieces that could've easily fit the mold of a speculative poetry market.

The primary function of labeling it as speculative is to serve as a guide for consumption rather than one of particular literary merit.

Just my ruminations in response to a good thread idea.

Best,
Laird
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 01:57 pm:   

"[W]hat poetry do you like to read?"

The usual suspects: Eliot, WCW, Heaney, Stevens, Larkin. Lately I've been getting into H.D. and Hart Crane.

"How does it inform your reading and writing?"

It means I have a lot less tolerance for bland, abstract prose.

"What function does speculative poetry as a genre serve (as opposed to individual poems)?"

Its primary function is to allow lazy poets to publish crap which would never be published anywhere else save Poetry.com. Its secondary function is to allow some few good poets to be big fishes in a small pond.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 07:31 pm:   

I think that the term 'speculative poetry' is perhaps even more problematic than 'speculative fiction.' Billy Collins, who is about as mainstream as poetry can get plays with sfnal themes all the time. He has a great poem where he is on his way to the doctor's office but stops in the driveway and goes back inside the house to get the book he's reading to have it with him in the waiting room. And then he chases his alternate self--the one who didn't go back and who is therefore five minutes ahead of him, through the rest of his day. Alternate history.

Right now I'm reading a collection by Len Roberts called The Trouble-making Finch and re-reading a translation of Gypsy Ballads of Garcia Lorca.
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Thomas R
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 08:24 pm:   

Umm do you have to be one of the RB's to post?

Anyway in speculative poetry I like William John Watkins, Bruce Boston, Joe Haldeman, and Disch sometimes. There are also several poems by various authors I like.

In general I like Yeats, Blake, Coleridge, Kipling(well a few), and a few others. It seems like there are some non-Western poets I liked too. I had a copy of Gitanjali by Tagore somewhere, but I lost it. I don't remember liking it that much, but I didn't get to read that much of it. There's some Li Bai I like, and a few of the Japanese poets. Then there are several Latin American poets I like, but their names are escaping me at the moment.

I hope to make a poetry sale myself someday, but I don't see that much chance of it.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 12:52 am:   

Maureen: "I think that the term 'speculative poetry' is perhaps even more problematic than 'speculative fiction.' Billy Collins, who is about as mainstream as poetry can get plays with sfnal themes all the time."

While we're at it, it's worth pointing out that Eliot's "The Hollow Men" and "The Wasteland" could well be construed as speculative, too! Never mind whatshisname's "A Martian Writes a Postcard Home". . . .

All told, I think "speculative poetry" is a pointless categorisation, as just plain ol' poetry is broad enough to encompass any poem anyone could possibly write. All the term does is create a ghetto, and unlike the speculative fiction ghetto, it really does, by and large, deserve the label (of ghetto, that is).

"Right now I'm reading a collection by Len Roberts called The Trouble-making Finch and re-reading a translation of Gypsy Ballads of Garcia Lorca."

I've been trying to get into Lorca myself. Just picked up one of his Selecteds today.
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Trent Walters
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 05:45 pm:   

Funny you ask. Mark Rich has an article titled "Speculative Poetry: Notes on Function" in FUHU #1.

As a name in theory, speculative poetry sets up two hurdles for itself: poetry and speculation. Most people, however, who sit down to write in the genre or subgenre, are little aware of where poetry has been and what it has done, scrabbling at meager straws for bedding that have been bypassed centuries before for spring, water bed, and air mattresses. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I've always felt, gave the necessary breadth for a clear direction (although the editors have better hindsight than foresight--as we all do).

In practice, I think it's mostly a misnomer--or at least a deceptive title. It is usually not "poetry that speculates" but "poetry about speculations" or "poetry of speculations" although the difference between "that speculates" and "of speculations" becomes less significant as the "of speculation" approaches asymptotically a poetry that actually presents a new speculation.

Both Robert Bly and Albert Goldbarth had beautiful speculative poems in Poetry this year that I've been meaning to draw Gavin Grant & Kelly Link's attention for their half of Year's Best.

I'm a huge fan of the unconventional Albert Goldbarth and was surprised not to find a fan site, so I drew up a page with relevant info and a little commentary from myself:

http://www.geocities.com/storeez1/AlbertGoldbarth.html

(interestingly, it is found by 42.30% typing "albert goldbarth as a poet")

But I am rather picky, which I felt terrible about until I read that most poets think that the lightning of greatness strikes 5-7 times in a life.

Like Nick, I like WCW, but Wallace Stevens and A. R. Ammons write terrific abstract verse, which requires the ability to render the abstract concrete--a rare ability without some knowledge of Stevens. And then there's Merwin and Bishop, Szymborska and Shapiro.

I recently read some Ashberry and presently am on Kinnell's BOOK OF NIGHTMARES that a friend just sent. Kinnell's "The Bear," incidentally, is also a great speculative poem.

As a genre, any literature worth its salt tries to get you to look through new eyes at the life we live. Poetry, in general, is more cognizant of this than fiction, in general (that's why speculative fiction is inherently experimental although, until rather recently, it has given up experiment). This may be what Maureen McHugh was referring to when she wrote of it as problematic. Poetry has been trying on new and different eyes. It never lost its experimental edge. Billy Collins can write about shoveling snow with Buddha or dogs singing symphonies. What speculative poetry has over its mother genre is that the readers are more aware of new speculations and speculations that are retreads and can, therefore, push the old speculations into different realms. At least, this is the potential and mostly yet unrealized edge.

For example, in Klima's latest EV (please excuse my borrowing for demonstration both Johns--consider it a positive for both of your works), John Rubins' haiku

human DNA
found on beta auriga
inside coprolite

could be considered cutesy, yet if you don't rush too quickly, it has more to say to the reader than har-de-har. Our role in the universe is not always what we immediately suppose it is.

Most of the interesting genre work is not at the poem level anyway, sadly, but at the collection level where the poet begins to gather momentum in thought, turning the idea to another facet for another perspective.

Hmmm. I may have to appropriate some of this material for my article of speculative poetry whenever I get around to revising it.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 06:33 pm:   

Trent,

Great post. More later...but I have read Goldbarth's Marriage and Other Science Fiction and remember really writing it. Granted, he cranks out a book every--what?--2 weeks, so the work could be a little polished, but very wild and wooly.

Has anyone read Miroslav Holub? Not only a great poet (from the Czech republic) but also a world-renowned immunologist, which he often drew on to provide coded critiques of Iron Curtain Czechoslovakia.

I'm seeing fertile ground in this matrix of experimental --> speculative --> scientific experiments. That is, treating language itself as a hypothesis. Which doesn't mean that it has to be dry, in fact the exact opposite.

In no other linguistic art (and this is the kicker, at least for our purposes) is realism more precarious. Line breaks will do that, and concentrations of images will do that.

Stuff I've been reading--John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Alexander Pope (I love the Augustans!), Clark Coolidge. OK, more later, seriously. I have to finish my taxes. Yes that's as sad as it sounds.
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Alan
Posted on Thursday, August 14, 2003 - 06:34 pm:   

I meant in my second sentence-- "...I remember really loving it." Er, can't say that I ever remember writing it. :/
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Trent Walters
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 07:04 am:   

I thought Holub sounded familiar. About 10 years ago I studied him along with other Eastern European poets at U of Iowa. I was also particularly fond of Celan and Popa--potent stuff.

Any poems in particular? I have a selection of Holub THE POETRY OF SURVIVAL (the professor's book that he assigned for the course).

Some links of interest in searching (a few only have poems you can refer to)...

http://www.complete-review.com/authors/holubm.htm
http://www2.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Holub.htm
http://www.hypertxt.com/sh/no3/interview.html
http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/800.html
http://www.radio.cz/en/current/books
http://festival.zero.cz/holub.htm
http://www.hypertxt.com/sh/no3/sorcerer.html
http://www.hypertxt.com/sh/no3/anatomy.html
http://www.hypertxt.com/sh/no3/reality.html
http://www.geocities.com/diwakerr/holubtale.html
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 09:15 am:   

Trent: "What speculative poetry has over its mother genre is that the readers are more aware of new speculations and speculations that are retreads and can, therefore, push the old speculations into different realms. At least, this is the potential and mostly yet unrealized edge."

Unrealised is right! That may be its potential, but that is not the actual as of now: instead, speculative poetry is the most hackneyed, cliched verse imaginable. The Rubins haiku you use as an example is a horrendous poem. It is cutesy, it has no poetic beauty (images? what images?), and its sole redeeming point is an idea that's been around since the dawn of the space age, if not before!

I really don't see what is gained by this ghettoisation. "Speculative" poets ought to get out into the mainstream, where they'll actually face some competition.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 09:20 am:   

Clarification: "speculative poetry, by and large, is the most hackneyed, cliched verse imaginable."
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Trent Walters
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:11 am:   

Nicholas,

You may need to try Wallace Stevens or A.R. Ammons on, so that you get a broader perspective of what poetry can do. Maybe you have and they're not to your taste. That's fine. A lot of poets are not to my taste, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate what those poets are trying to do.

Re: Rubins' haiku, 1) Everything's been done before. This is what I would call "poetry of speculations." 2) There is an image. Coprolite is a strong and unusual image. Thank God it's not flowers or trees or some damn boredom or another. Other images are implied in my mind: laboratory workers and microscopes. 3) You did what I suggested not to do: dismiss it due to cutesiness (not everyone has the same humor--you might dismiss Goldbarth as cutesy, which he sometimes is, but dismal of possibly the greatest innovator of the latter 20th century would be a crime in my mind). No, it's not a great poem but few are. It is a decent poem in that it gets you to think beyond the words written.

What you are subconsciously responding to is a frustration inherent in the genre--a frustration a lot of the better genre poets feel: The poems that get published are cutesy and rarely more than that. In other words, the genre by and large publishes verse. There's nothing wrong with that: Updike publishes verse. But verse is not poetry. Most editors are not aware of what poetry is and does. I suppose the editorial inclination is to relieve the somberness of the stories in an issue with a chuckle or even a rolling of the eyes to uplift the reader in the same way that Shakespeare used humor in his tragedies. Therefore, if you want to get published, you have to write what they're buying. Slowly, the tide is turning. But you can't respond with extreme disgust. Encourage the good that you see. My object as a reviewer for SF Site is to edify, challenge and educate both readers and hopefully editors casually browsing. Like rendering good points of a perspective in politics that's unpopular with an audience, if I came off too strongly without noting any good qualities, any relevant criticism I suggested would be dismissed as a rant.

The best genre poetry may be in Strange Horizons or Full Unit Hookup. But style or images are not enough (my apologies to WCW). A Sears catalog uses imagery powerful enough to sell its products, so does that make it poetry? To succeed, the poem has to transport the reader away from the image into the rightness within the reader's self. This is why the lightning of greatness rarely strikes.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Plug: check out Daphne Gottlieb's Final Girl when it comes out at the end of next month. She's a fairly well-known performance poet who also writes very well for the page. A lot of the FG poems will be interesting to genre readers; some previously appeared in gothic.net, others in mainstream and queer poetry magazines.

The theme of FG is the "final girl" who usually survives the slasher flick, and all the socio-sexual implications of that phenomenon. Oh, and Roger Corman blurbed it!

I tend to find the notion of genre poetry fairly dubious as well, and agree that most of the material in genre magazines is just verse, rather than poetry. Looks like we once again have to look outside the genre for better genre writers.

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Haddayr Copley-Woods
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 11:03 am:   

Alan:
I am mortified to admit this, especially to you, but I can't be the only one: I don't read poetry. In school, because I had to, I read and enjoyed Whitman, June Jordan, and Ginsberg. I read and loathed many others. As a mom I love Shel Silverstein, but that's it.

I've tried. I have. I feel hopelessly lowbrow and -worse- disloyal, but when I pick up a book of poetry, or read it in a magazine (I continue to force myself to read poetry I come across in magazines to try to get something out of it), I find my mind wandering and I eventually remember that I haven't cleaned the bathroom in a while.

I am going to check out the poetry in Strange Horizons since it's been recommended. Any other suggestions would be welcome.

Am I the only one? If not (and I don't think I am), why would a writer of fiction, especially one like me for whom the language is at least as important as the story, have trouble with this? Are we so trained to remain in our own genres that we have calcified certain parts of our brains? My intellect and gut tells me that speculative poetry cannot help but influence speculative fiction, but . . .

An unrelated note: I think that we can all live without the phrase "[the genre I do not personally like] by and large, is the most hackneyed, cliched verse imaginable." Honestly, where does that get us? Nowhere.
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 11:25 am:   

I think the idea of "speculative" or "genre" poetry is kind of antithetical to the whole idea of poetry, myself. It's, as Nicholas and Nick (conjoined, fighting twins?) have said, "dubious".

I say this as a Rhysling Award winner and finalist--both times I thought to myself, "It's dubious as to whether this means anything. My poetry is okay, but not great."

After you read someone like Patiann Rogers, who injects a stunning amount of science into her poetry, why would you need "speculative poetry"?

Poetry is a moment in time transformed or laid bare, for me. It exists in a kind of timeless state usually. It doesn't matter if it's "about" anything, because...well, it can be about anything and still be profound or ribald or whatever.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 11:28 am:   

I really suggest checking out Patiann Rogers' work. She's simply amazing.

When I think of great poets, not a single "genre" poet comes to mind.

Simac, Heaney, Rogers.

Enid Shomer is excellent. Don't know if she's still writing. Lola Haskins can be amazing. Carol Muske I like sometimes.

There tends to be a vein of strangeness in really good poetry that has something akin to the fantastical in it.

JeffV
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 12:01 pm:   

I say this as a Rhysling Award winner and finalist--both times I thought to myself, "It's dubious as to whether this means anything. My poetry is okay, but not great."

That would have been a good acceptance speech!

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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 12:06 pm:   

Trent: "You may need to try Wallace Stevens or A.R. Ammons on, so that you get a broader perspective of what poetry can do. Maybe you have and they're not to your taste."

Actually, I have, and they are. You will notice that I list Stevens as one of my favourite poets in my first post on this thread; Ammons is good too, but not a great IMHO.

"Re: Rubins' haiku, 1) Everything's been done before. This is what I would call "poetry of speculations.""

Come again?

"2) There is an image. Coprolite is a strong and unusual image. Thank God it's not flowers or trees or some damn boredom or another. Other images are implied in my mind: laboratory workers and microscopes."

Coprolite is certainly an unusual image, but I have no idea how it can, in isolation, be described as "strong".

"3) You did what I suggested not to do: dismiss it due to cutesiness (not everyone has the same humor--you might dismiss Goldbarth as cutesy, which he sometimes is, but dismal of possibly the greatest innovator of the latter 20th century would be a crime in my mind)."

Yes, I have done what you sugegsted not to do. This is because I disagree with you as to whether or not it should be done.

"No, it's not a great poem but few are. It is a decent poem in that it gets you to think beyond the words written."

I can think of few poems that don't get the reader to think beyond the words written! This is not a sufficient criterion to meet to make a poem good.

"What you are subconsciously responding to is a frustration inherent in the genre--a frustration a lot of the better genre poets feel: The poems that get published are cutesy and rarely more than that."

I am not the least bit frustrated with the state of speculative poetry, because I am not a speculative poet: there is no need for me to be, because there is really no such thing as non-speculative poetry, and anything you could possibly want to write could just as easily be published in a mainstream outlet if it's actually good.

"In other words, the genre by and large publishes verse. There's nothing wrong with that: Updike publishes verse. But verse is not poetry. Most editors are not aware of what poetry is and does. I suppose the editorial inclination is to relieve the somberness of the stories in an issue with a chuckle or even a rolling of the eyes to uplift the reader in the same way that Shakespeare used humor in his tragedies. Therefore, if you want to get published, you have to write what they're buying."

"[W]hat they're buying" in the genre is by and large nothing like what they're buying out of it.

"Slowly, the tide is turning. But you can't respond with extreme disgust. Encourage the good that you see."

I would encourage the good I see to get out of the ghetto and play with the big boys.

"The best genre poetry may be in Strange Horizons or Full Unit Hookup."

I would agree with you about Strange Horizons, though I am not acquainted with Full-Unit Hookup. Sidereality, too, has some very good stuff. As I said, it is not that all speculative poets are worthless, just that most are, and those that aren't really have no reason to apply that label in the first place.

"But style or images are not enough (my apologies to WCW). A Sears catalog uses imagery powerful enough to sell its products, so does that make it poetry?"

This is an unfair analogy. You later say that "To succeed, the poem has to transport the reader away from the image into the rightness within the reader's self"; Scientologist propaganda seems to do this for a large enough number of people to be profitable, so does that make it poetry? Such analogies are useless and serve only to further polarise the discussion.

To return to the topic of images and style, I would say that the effect of images and style can be enough to make a great poem. I would cite "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" as an example of this.

Lastly, I find the phrase "the rightness within the reader's self" extremely questionable. Could you elaborate on what you mean?

Haddayr: "I think that we can all live without the phrase "[the genre I do not personally like] by and large, is the most hackneyed, cliched verse imaginable." Honestly, where does that get us? Nowhere."

Sometimes it gets us Dangerous Visions.

Jeff: You raise a lot of good points. I think "There tends to be a vein of strangeness in really good poetry that has something akin to the fantastical in it" is particularly pertinent. Yes, I have noticed that too: look at Heaney's bog poems, for example (my favourite being "The Grauballe Man"). They're more "speculative" than almost any Speculative Poem I can think of. Same with Eliot's "The Hollow Men", while Neruda's imagery has a distinctly strange and fantasical sensibility to it, though the narrative itself (where it exists) is quotidian.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 12:19 pm:   

Here's those bad-ass postmodern limericks (by Anne Tardos) I was talking about:

http://home.pipeline.com/%7Etarmac/poems/from-considerations.htm

I love these. And the "annotations" are crucial to the poems, I think.
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 02:57 pm:   

Obviously I'm a bit biased, but I think Star*Line publishes great speculative poetry (what's speculative poetry? It's what I point at when I say "Look! Speculative poetry!"). It helps that I have broad tastes. I'm publishing work by Sonya Taffe as often as possible, because she's brilliant. Tracina Jackson-Adams is excellent too, and Erin Donahoe does outstanding poems about folkore and mythology. I publish Andy Miller whenever he sends me something I can get away with printing -- he does short, surreal poems, mostly.

I think there's no "detective poetry" as a sub-genre because it's a much more narrow category than "speculative" poetry is. In Star*Line I can publish poems about space, mythology, quantum physics, astrology, Tarot, monsters, nightmares, etc. -- a vast array of possibilities. Even poems that simply use the fantastic or the scientific or the speculative as metaphor are fair game. Margaret Atwood (who's a better poet than fiction writer, IMO) writes loads of poems that use mythic imagery, and if she ever sent one such to Star*Line (ha!), I'd snap it up.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 03:34 pm:   

Hmm, how come there is no crime poetry then (much broader than "detective") or "category romance" (different than romantic or Romantic) poetry?

Of course the answer to this question is also the answe to the question, "Why does Erin Donahoe write speculative poetry while a poet writing poetry about folklore and mythology for The Paris Review probably never heard the term?"

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Tim Pratt
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 03:51 pm:   

Nick's right, of course. There is crime poetry -- it's just not called that, and there aren't 'zines devoted to it specifically (as far as I know).
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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 06:51 pm:   

(Let me kick off by saying to Tim that I think he and I will have to fight over Sonya Taaffe's poetry. She has consistently amazed me.)

I feel the same bias toward the quality of the poetry in MYTHIC DELIRIUM that Tim does for STAR*LINE, and for the same reason. Since this debate has drawn a distinction between "poetry" and "verse," let me say that I happily publish both. Though a wide variety of subject matter appears in MYTHIC DELIRIUM, I would say I publish speculative poetry, because my tastes run toward the types of tropes that appear in science fiction, fantasy and horror. Some on this board might argue I should just say I publish poetry. Well, that's true, I do. But MYTHIC DELIRIUM is marketed to readers interested in speculative themes. Why hide what it's about as if it's something shameful?

This debate about whether there really is such a thing as "speculative" poetry when "mainstream" poetry sometimes incorporates the same themes reminds me of a story one of the editors of the long-defunct academic zine THE FRACTAL once told me. This editor, a college student, was having a debate with his professor about the worth of science fiction. The professor, true to stereotype, argued sf was worthless. The editor brought up William Gibson's NEUROMANCER, which he knew the professor liked. The professor's response: "That's not science fiction."

I see an argument being made here that the really good speculative poets should take it on themselves to grow up and move from the small obscure pond of the speculative poetry ghetto into the large obscure pond of such publications as POETRY and PARIS REVIEW. I know guys like Tom Disch and Darrell Schweitzer have occassionally made such forays, and I love it when it happens. It's fun when it works the other way, too -- I published some poetry by R.H.W. Dillard in an anthology a few years back, and Fred Chappell appeared not too long ago in WEIRD TALES. (What he contributed would, I suppose, be called "verse.")

I think that as a writer you tend to aim for the audience that reads what you read.

I confess I'm astonished by the arrogance of such broad yet unsupported statements as "it is not that all speculative poets are worthless, just that most are." I suppose the same could be said about any type of poetry, or genre, or writing, and you'd certainly be able to find a host of folks who will readily agree, because, if said type of writing is not to their taste, it can't possibly be any good.

I can see some merit to the small pond label. It could be that speculative poetry editors, who are often very active in the sf poetry community and very accesible, are mollycoddlers when compared to the six-month to two-year-long wait for form rejection letters dished out by such college-library royalty as PRAIRIE SCHOONER and PLOUGHSHARES. It might be very comforting to some to hang out where everybody knows your name (even if few do outside the bar).

But does that really mean that the poetry in KENYON REVIEW or PLEIADES is better quality than what appears in STAR*LINE or DREAMS & NIGHTMARES or ASIMOV'S? Printed on better quality paper, maybe, but not necessarily superior.

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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 07:20 pm:   

I can't resist adding to this mix a couple of analogies about speculative poetry and poetry in general, but I can't take credit for them.

My buddy Charlie Saplak tells me of an experiment he conducted on his students while teaching community college. Give some students a set of poems, tell them these are examples of bad poetry, and watch them proceed to snicker and start dissing. Give another set the same poems, tell them these are examples of good poetry, and watch them read and nod appreciatively.

The point is there is no objective poetic yardstick for what's good and what's not (which is why scam operations like The National Library of Poetry continue to thrive. The sad fact is, your average basic literate joe these days would probably say the poetry on Poetry.com is pretty good.)

All those of us with more refined tastes can do is try to recognize good writing when and where we see it.

Charlie also likes to say that the difference between speculative poetry and mainstream poetry is that a good speculative poem is also a good mainstream poem, whereas the reverse is not necessarily true. I offer this analogy for the board's consideration and dissection.

I tend to think that one role speculative poetry plays that's unique to its genre is filling the gap left when the short-short story went out of fashion. (Not that poetry or speculative fiction are particularly fashionable either, but I think you get my drift).
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 07:23 pm:   

Hmm, I don't think the major thrust of this thread was to suggest that speculative poetry was worse than other poetry, but to suggest that running a ring around some poetry and calling it speculative doesn't do much for the poetry.

However, as far as the poetry printed in mainstream journals, it is less likely to be used as filler, and a lot of the spec fic rags that do publish poetry DO see it as filler. Part of the issue is that many of the spec poets aren't in any sort of dialogue with the mainstream of poetry.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 07:32 pm:   

My buddy Charlie Saplak tells me of an experiment he conducted on his students while teaching community college. Give some students a set of poems, tell them these are examples of bad poetry, and watch them proceed to snicker and start dissing. Give another set the same poems, tell them these are examples of good poetry, and watch them read and nod appreciatively.

Eh, so? Are these poetry readers or people who are in a class because they have to take it, thought it was easy, and because four-year colleges are hard? It's a cheap trick.

Charlie also likes to say that the difference between speculative poetry and mainstream poetry is that a good speculative poem is also a good mainstream poem, whereas the reverse is not necessarily true.

A poem about the harvest can be good poem, but a good poem about love that doesn't mention the harvest isn't a good "harvest poem." What does this illuminate?
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 09:10 pm:   

No disrespect intended, but I read Kenyon Review and a lot of other mainstream poetry journals, and I get my fix for strange, beautiful, fantastical images and moments exclusively from them. I just don't like hardly anything I've ever read in Star*Line or any other "genre" poetry journal. It just seems crude by comparison for the most part. Paris Review publishes AMAZING work. So does Poetry.

I used to edit a poetry journal. We published National Book Award winners like Richard Eberhart and Donald Justice, among others. And, again, even the most "realistic" of poets at that level would inevitably treat the world as such a transformative place, a place in which moments can become epiphanies, that I never would have thought to start a "speculative poetry magazine". I'm with Nick--it doesn't do much good for poetry. You can't even make a commercial argument for it, since making a distinction between "speculative poetry" and "mainstream poetry" doesn't help sales.

If you define yourself as a speculative poet and you publish exclusively in Asimov's, etc., and you can't get published in mainstream journals, you may...well, fill in the blank with the appropriate word.

JeffV

JeffV
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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 09:17 pm:   

"I don't think the major thrust of this thread was to suggest that speculative poetry was worse than other poetry"

Nonetheless, some posts have suggested it, and as someone who writes, reads and publishes speculative poetry I reacted and responded.

"running a ring around some poetry and calling it speculative doesn't do much for the poetry."

I agree, but does resisting the label accomplish anything? In an ideal publishing world, I suppose, everything would be touted as mainstream and given equal weight by all readers.

"a lot of the spec fic rags that do publish poetry DO see it as filler."

All too true. No argument there. My sense is that's at least as much a space and budget issue as it is an appreciation issue. If the field as a whole were richer, you might see more pages devoted to the proper presentation of poems.

It's worth noting that there are zines (admittedly small) completely given over to spec poems, including STAR*LINE, DREAMS & NIGHTMARES, THE MAGAZINE OF SPECULATIVE POETRY and my own MYTHIC DELIRIUM. STRANGE HORIZONS has done an admirable job of making poetry a very prominent part of its site. FULL UNIT HOOKUP was mentioned earlier on this board; I'm not familiar with them but will check them out soon.

"Part of the issue is that many of the spec poets aren't in any sort of dialogue with the mainstream of poetry."

What's your case for why this matters?

"It's a cheap trick."

Absolutely, but an interesting one nonetheless. I'm not claiming scientific proof of the subjectiveness of poetry appreciation, but I think it's worth noting as an example of the dangers of broad branding. (See, there I go again.)

"What does this illuminate?"

It's one way of showing that at least some speculative poems are distinctive enough that, if you wanted, you could probably draw a ring around them.

In the spirit of this thread: some poets I like include (in no particular order or reason) Sonya Taaffe, Christina Sng, T.S. Eliot, Billy Collins, Laurel Winter, Ian Watson, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Gary Every, Michael Bishop, Edgar Allan Poe.


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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 09:30 pm:   

Hi Mike... you said:

the point is there is no objective poetic yardstick for what's good and what's not

And yet you take the time--in more than one instance--to do the old "anti-snobbery" snobbery routine against literary magazines, straight out of "everybody hates us" central casting. Like, yawn!

You're right, there is no objective poetic yardstick. There are, however, generally agreed-upon consensual literary traditions which a writer ignores (which is not the same as working against the grain of) at his or her peril. In terms of writing vivid and necessary work at least.

And actually, I really don't like the Kenyon Review very much. But hey, it's a big tent. Whatever. I just think it's disingenuous when you make a plea for tolerance (more like absolute relativism--"it's all a matter of taste!") when you posit:

...the difference between speculative poetry and mainstream poetry is that a good speculative poem is also a good mainstream poem, whereas the reverse is not necessarily true...

Granted, you're proposing this as a hypothesis, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But this, I think, is the crux of what you've been driving at--that genre work is actually better than boring old mainstream poetry! That genre work somehow has the secret decoder ring for the "Everything you can do I can do better" routine. (I strongly disagree with that statement anyways, from what I've seen. But maybe it's just me.)

The thing is, I think you're talking about genre speculative poetry here, when most of the people here, like Nick just said, have been talking about the broad panoply of speculative and fantastic poetry that pops up willy nilly all over the place.

Btw, there's no such thing as a poetry mainstream. And speculative vs. mainstream is a meaningless dichotomy. Can we please put this to rest? Thanks.

Respectfully,
Alan
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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:07 pm:   

"... and you can't get published in mainstream journals"

Haven't been interested is closer to the truth, Jeff. To be frank I haven't been published in Asimov's either, though in THAT case it's not for lack of trying. ;=) I have appeared in Weird Tales and Strange Horizons, very thrilling that.

"I get my fix for strange, beautiful, fantastical images and moments exclusively from them."

No doubt they are there to be found. I have a sense that your "amazing" may be my "obtuse,"
though I certainly could be wrong.

You can probably take my case as one example of why speculative poets are "crude," "out of touch," what have you. I starting trying to write sf poems after discovering them in Asimov's. I have never made any extensive studies of poetry. But I have sold poems. I have never heard of Richard Eberhart and Donald Justice, but I've published Joe Haldeman and Jane Yolen, and that's who matters to me. Heck, I might even consider publishing a Jeff VanderMeer poem, but only if it was crude enough. ;-p

"You can't even make a commercial argument for it, since making a distinction between "speculative poetry" and "mainstream poetry" doesn't help sales."

No argument there, really.

But, a tangent comes to mind: I think you can argue that there's no commercial argument for writing poetry at all; it's just not something you do for the money, whether it's speculative or not. I believe in April or thereabouts a columnist in Newsweek declared that poetry is dead and nobody cares. Who really reads poetry other than scholars and other poets? Yet poets bad and good keep churning away. Maybe we all hope we'll get included in English class textbooks somewhere down the road.

So if we're to shirk the speculative label, how exactly do we go about it?
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:20 pm:   

Some odd suggestions. Many to most of the good poets to appear in SF markets I'm reasonably sure are just poets. Some started as mainstream poets or they just get poetry published both places. A few are SF writers who, as poets, can go both ways. So saying they aren't as good is a little confusing. However I don't think Rubins haiku is a good example of SF poetry either. I'm not just that into haikus though, although I've heard a few good ones.

(A good deal of poetry is also better spoken. I tend to read it out loud in several cases. I wonder is there any "poetry on tape" out there?)
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:33 pm:   

What's your case for why this matters?

Mainly that speculative poetry (by which I mean nothing more than poems that appear in SF magazines) is running about fifty years behind modern poetry. What SF poetry achieves has already been done. It's the rough equivalent of publishing "Post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve" stories in the prose section of those same magazines.

Essentially, you're denying that poets should read poems if you feel I need to make a particular case for it.

On the cheap trick, the sample is what makes it cheap. I taught community college, and at one point had my students write an essay about their favorite book. fully half came back with the theme "I have never read a book." Another 20% of the students had only read one book. A bunch of others chose the Bible because it saved their souls. Only three students read with any regularity.

Using a sample of the very worst students and very worst readers (community college students), who also tend to be 17 or 18 years old and thus very eager to ape any model of sophistication or knowledge doesn't tell anybody anything, except about the sample itself.
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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 10:45 pm:   

"that genre work is actually better than boring old mainstream poetry"

Alan,

No, no, no. Not only do I not think that, but I would argue otherwise. It's the assertion I've seen several times on this board that most speculative poetry -- or rather, poetry published in genre magazines -- is worthless that grabbed my attention. Obviously, I don't agree. Please forgive my stridency in asserting this.

Therefore: "you're talking about genre speculative poetry here, when most of the people here, like Nick just said, have been talking about the broad panoply of speculative and fantastic poetry"

Exactly. That is true.

(One wonderful example I can think of the above is the Billy Collins poem (alas, don't know the name, I borrowed the book) that describes a fish-eye view of the soles of a man's feet as he walks on water.)

Some things, like Charlie's analogies, I'm simply offering for the sake of debate. I'm just curious to see what gets said in response.

"there's no such thing as a poetry mainstream."

How could there be? Perhaps I should have said "poetry published in genre publications" and "poetry published in non-genre publications."

"And speculative vs. mainstream is a meaningless dichotomy."

I would debate that, but I won't. :-)
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Mike Allen
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 11:08 pm:   

"you're denying that poets should read poems if you feel I need to make a particular case for it."

Not at all. It's a matter of which poets you think the ones in the sf zines should be paying attention to, and why it would be of benefit, if at all.

"speculative poetry (by which I mean nothing more than poems that appear in SF magazines) is running about fifty years behind modern poetry."

This assertion interests me very much, and I would like to know more about the specific things that you would say define this gap. (I am not an avid student of modern poetry (no doubt I don't have to tell anyone here that ;-) but I'd like to know what it's achieved that's lacking in my ghetto.)

If you want, Nick, you're certainly welcome to continue this with me via e-mail. (Whatever you think is appropriate, I'll roll with it, but I would indeed like more details.)
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 12:56 am:   

Far too much has been said for me to reply to individual points, so here's a more general response.

It's been pointed out that generalisations like "most speculative poetry is bad" are unfair and unhelpful. This is true; mea culpa. Let me then focus on what I feel is at the heart of my general dislike of speculative poetry, as a term and as a field.

To put it simply, speculative fiction has a reason to be in a separate classification: a good story will often need to find a genre-specific venue because it is different For poetry, however, the only reason why a poem could possibly need to find a genre-specific venue to be published in is that it is bad. By your own admission, "a good speculative poem is also a good mainstream poem", and the truth of the matter is that unlike fiction magazines, no poetry magazine is going to reject a good poem due to genre content! Poetry really is an even playing field; if anything, it is, I would say (based purely on anecdotal evidence), slightly weighted towards the strange at this point. Given that this is the case, what possible reason is there for speculative poetry exist in its own little niche, and how can the fact that it does be anything but harmful? It's a stupid and unnecessary case of self-induced literary apartheid.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 12:56 am:   

Mainly that speculative poetry is running about fifty years behind modern poetry.

Thomas R: Wow, good for it then. Fifty years ago many of the people named were either writing their best stuff or had already finished their careers. Lorca, Wallace Stevens, Eliot, Pope, etc. Perhaps all things considered seventy or a hundred years behind modern poetry would be better, but what can you do? In any event high praise indeed. In fact I'm not even sure I'd go that far in praising speculative poets. I don't think any of them are quite on the level of winning the Pullitzer or anything.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 01:05 am:   

I am not sure what your post is meant to achieve.
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Trent Walters
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 01:16 am:   

Alan,

I thought the Tardos poems were cleverly executed: the surreal words and images without seeming connection apart from the voice-over at the end like a television nature commentator who tells us the matter of fact mating rituals of these unusual words. What do you love about them? What else do you find?

Mike,

I'm with you on some points--like the difference between most regular poetry (usu. speculative in appearance only) and speculative (decaf). That is, regular uses speculation usually as metaphor so you can't legally call it speculative. For instance, although I mention "The Bear" as speculative, the last line throws in the question as to whether this is really a speculative poem.

But fifty years behind modern poetry seems awfully generous to me. I am thinking especially of line breaks and the general shape of poems. First, the shape is almost always symmetrical, and second almost every poem appears (although they rarely have rhythm--not a criticism, btw) as though they had standardized two to five feet throughout. Conventionality is okay if you do it for a reason, but nothing unexpected comes out. I try to let the lines dictate to me how they break--even breaking up the words themselves if the poem calls for it. I had an editor like a poem but wanted the lines cut differently. Always open to suggestions, I asked to see what the editor was thinking. All the line breaks became conventional and uninspiring.

The genre may be willing to take a chance on content but where are the chance-takers of craft? The poems read as if WCW (or, hell, even Whitman) hadn't broken down all these boundaries of pre-modern poetry. This is why I like Mark Rudolph among the new genre poets. He is obviously informed about craft because he uses it--toward an end even! Tim Pratt (sorry, for the earlier slight, Tim--it was unintentional) can probably capture emotion better, but I have yet to see a new poet as aware of the craft. When he started FUHU I knew that was the man to send the really wild stuff to. (This theory didn't always pan out since no two persons will have the same idea of "wild," but it's still one of the most intriguing magazines where unconventional craft and content are concerned.)

Take Gavin Grant's "Grand Uncle Egbert" in issue one:

Sometimes we'd visit Grand Uncle Egbert,
Who we used to compare to Aunt Emilia's piano,
But favorably.

Can you feel the appropriate change-up in rhythm? (It works best at the beginning of the poem.)

I say all this but I haven't read your magazine, which may satisfy all my wants and desires in the poetry realm.

JV,

I, too, like Poetry--although they can disappoint me, too. Your mention of publishing a National Book Award winner reminds me that that is a good practice for new magazines. William Stafford and Charles Bukowski were so prolific that if that was the sort of tone you wanted to set, you asked them for a poem. And they sent it. I once asked Albert Goldbarth for a poem and he asked to see the magazine, but alas, the magazine crashed and burned before this came to fruition. Someone with literary ambitions for their magazine needs to solicit writers like him, depending on the tone you want to cast. Tim, if you want Margaret Atwood to send you a poem, ask! With a best-selling name like hers, however, you'll probably have to pay very well. Lyn Lifshin, I think, is the popular loose poet (like Bukowski) in vogue now. Or was. Open up Writer's Digest market catalog and see whom the markets mention publishing. If someone's name shows up frequently, you could probably ask for and receive a poem. Enough editorial advice! I'm not sure how many people reading have literary magazine aspirations. (Of course, soliciting is also dangerous in that you tend to get the writer's lesser work. So do you publish it, anyway, potentially compromising your standards?)

Nicholas, when you get what "rightness" is, you will understand what makes a poem great. I wonder how people can read without a sense of rightness that says, "Yes, that's right! That's exactly how it is!" Or "That's exactly how it's done!" Grant's rhythm at the beginning of the poem has that sense of rightness (and surprise). (Grant claims not to have noticed this. If so, Grant has an artistic subconscious hammering to bust a move.) I don't think I coined the term--I'm surprised you haven't heard of it.

You might want to give examples to support your claims. Since you like the concrete (i.e. images), I would think you would be interested in demonstrating your meaning.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 02:03 am:   

I am not sure what your post is meant to achieve.

TR: Oh not alot, I had just come home from a party just recently.

On the other hand it had some point. Poetry isn't computer research or rocket science. I'm not sure what the idea of being "fifty years behind" in it is even supposed to mean. I suppose it means that the poets are unaware of the movements in poetry of the last fifty years. Which kind of sounds like a big so what to me. If a poet in the 50s wrote in the Pre-Raphaelite style or something I'm not sure that'd mean much of anything regarding the quality of his/her work. Granted I'm something of a novice in my poetry interest, but that's kind of how I feel.

The only way I could see "fifty years behind" as meaningful is if the person means SF poets are writing about issues of fifty years ago. Like they were writing about Segregation, Stalinism, and so forth. The closest I can think of to that is poems about nuclear annihilation, which maybe still happen in SF markets.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 03:17 am:   

Trent: "That is, regular uses speculation usually as metaphor so you can't legally call it speculative. For instance, although I mention "The Bear" as speculative, the last line throws in the question as to whether this is really a speculative poem."

I'm not so sure that this is really a valid distinction when it comes to poetry. The speculative element in "The Hollow Men" is metaphor, but then again, there's nothing else in the poem but metaphor, in that there isn't anything literally happening! I'd go so far as to say that there's no such thing as the purely literal or purely metaphorical in poetry, rendering such dichotomies useless.

"I wonder how people can read without a sense of rightness that says, "Yes, that's right! That's exactly how it is!" Or "That's exactly how it's done!""

So that's what you mean! From the way you phrased it earlier, I was under the worrying impression that you were talking about some touchy-feely New Age self-affirmation shit. Now that I understand what you meant, yes, it goes without saying that that is the prime--if not only--qualifying factor for poetry to be great.

I'm still not sure how that rebuts my point, though, which was that style and imagery are often sufficient to make a great poem because of the effect they produce. I am talking about the method; you are talking about the end result. I am not too sure where our disagreement lies.

Thomas: Hasn't Trent addressed this point?
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 08:46 am:   

Nicholas,

"no poetry magazine is going to reject a good poem due to genre content!"

That's wonderful, if it's true; I imagine it's all up to what degree of genre content an editor allows in his/her definition of a good poem.

"why a poem could possibly need to find a genre-specific venue to be published in is that it is bad."

This appears to assume a lot of things: that a poet would never write with a specific market in mind; that he or she would never send a poem first to the markets that reflect his/her tastes; that poets, like other writers, aren't influenced first and foremost by their own taste in reading; that sf poets wait until they've been rejected from all the "lit mags" before trying out Asimov's or Strange Horizons.

Maybe Bruce Boston's "My Wife Returns as She Would Have It," a Rhysling-winner from Asimov's that knocked me on my a**, could probably have found a home in a non-genre mag. But I don't think W. Gregory Stewart's "the button and what you know," another knockout, could ever have found a home in a non-genre journal. Not just because it had genre elements, but it addresses genre-specific themes, something your average lit mag editor may not relate to.


Trent,

Thank you for explaining what in many other posts has been treated as an unassailable axiom.

"First, the shape is almost always symmetrical, and second almost every poem appears (although they rarely have rhythm--not a criticism, btw) as though they had standardized two to five feet throughout."

I think what you're seeing in play here is art/verse/whathaveyou influenced by the nostalgic/archaic editorial/reader tastes that guide many genre zines. A couple years ago an sf critic who scanned an issue of Mythic Delirium sniffed to me that no one writes like Robert W. Service anymore (!)

"The genre may be willing to take a chance on content but where are the chance-takers of craft?"

Well, they're certainly not being purchased for the fiction magazines. I'm with you there. Quite frankly, as broad a tent as poetry is, I'm not sure what would be considered chance-taking now. Bruce Boston seems to me to do the full range, from light verse that pops up in Asimov's to experimental pieces like "She Was There for Him the Last Time."

You have me very interested in Full Unit Hookup now. :-)

I'm going to guess you'd find Mythic Delirium to be squarely middle-of-the-road, but I'd certainly welcome your evaluation. I read of review of yours a while ago of a Rhysling anthology that had reprinted two poems from Mythic. You showered praise on one of the poems and mercilessly skewered the other. In both cases, they were poems that I enjoyed and felt sure my readers would as well.

"Lyn Lifshin, I think, is the popular loose poet (like Bukowski) in vogue now."

Very cool. I remember seeing her work in zines like Malevolence and Pirate Writings.
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:03 am:   

Thomas,

"I suppose it means that the poets are unaware of the movements in poetry of the last fifty years. Which kind of sounds like a big so what to me."

Well, the sad fact is, most folks in this era will live their lives unaware that any advances/changes have been made in poetry and not particularly caring. This is no doubt true of most genre readers, too. I don't consider this a good thing, just a true thing.

But to the people to whom these things do matter, though, it clearly matters a lot.

If I'm not mistaken, Thomas, you were posting on the Asimov's discussion board on a topic very similar to this. I think it's ironic that some folks there were lamenting that the genre mags don't publish light verse anymore, where here folks have said they rarely publish anything else.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:10 am:   

I think Trent handled the 50 year assertion rather well, and yes, I was being a bit generous. In my lifetime alone, two important changes to poetry, Language poetry and the genre of competitive slam/performance poetry have emerged. As far as the poetry published in genre magazines is concerned, these things never happened. It doesn't matter whether you like Language poetry or slam, they have to be tangled with nonetheless. It would be like writing a far-future SF in the old giant slide-rules on the walls of the spaceship model.

Of course, there are some, as in previous comments here, who fume at the idea of any poetry since the 1950s, but that's just the proof of the pudding, isn't it?

I do wonder about the idea that genre poetry is *really* about the stuff it describes, while non-genre poetry just uses the stuff as a metaphor. Frankly, I don't believe a reader can tell the difference. They can guess, but that isn't the same. More often they don't even guess, they just assume.

Evidence? M. Himel's poem in a 2002 issue of Star*Line isn't about the little Tinkerbell like fairy it describes, but about a giant Hawaiian fellow of the poet's acquaintance. I've met him too. Nice guy.

Did editor and personal acquaintance of M. Himel, Tim Pratt, stop and say "Wait a minute, something fishy is going on with this poem?" Nope. Did Star*Line's readers, who are steeped in genre poetry almost by definition, single that poem out for being metaphorical rather than literal? Nope. At least not any time during the six months M. Himel lived with me. So the very best readers of genre poetry can't tell the difference even when it is paraded right under their noses.

Exhibit B: mentioned above, Daphne Gottlieb's poems. How did Daphne end up in gothic.net? Well, she met Rain Graves at a fundraiser and they hit it off, becoming fast friends. Daphne showed Rain some poems that she had already written -- these poems were a cross between academic and performance poetry, and on the subject of feminist film theory -- and Rain liked them and published them, suddenly making them "horror" poems about serial killers and slashers, rather than about recent writing about the deconstruction of the male gaze in slaher films.

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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:11 am:   

Mike> I understand where you're coming from. Thanks for clearing it up. One poet who I really like who crosses into both fields is John Reczmerski (I know I'm spelling his name wrong). He's able to find something in speculative poetry in order to nurture his craft and I honor that.

Trent> Regarding the limericks--the sheer wordplay, first and foremost. The goofiness. But also how (through the annotations) she's able to provide a pointed, albeit playful criticism of the need to take everything Too Literally, to search for hidden meanings. Well, she'll just cook up some meanings and make them look slightly ridiculous. For me it was an interesting way to provide a "message" in a series of poems without being too didactic about it.

Thomas> There are so many good poets that have been out there in the last 50 years that it's just a matter of finding them out. Think of all the bad verse written 50 years ago, too, which no one remembers because it was, well, bad. If it's formalism you want, there are plenty of writers working in formal structure these days--more, I would argue, than even 10 or 20 years ago.

You can't pretend that history (poetic or otherwise) doesn't exist. It's perfectly fine, even encouraged, to have a reaction AGAINST that history in some way. But Baudelaire wrote that "poetry is the impact that the times have on our senses." Not time, the times. So if a body of poetry is to have some kind of effect on an audience, it has to grapple, in some way, with the now-ness of contemporary poetry; or at least pay attention to what has been happening with the multiple, chaotic strands of poetry of recent years. Otherwise you're risking obsolescence before you begin.

So why does obsolescence matter? (This is a serious question). If it's just playing around with words, then why does poetry have to have any "use"?

That's the thing...all of this matters because poetry, for me, has the most potential to . Because of its brevity and concentration of language; the fact it can be transported and placed anywhere (from tombstones to subways!) and memorized easily; because of its subversion of norms--all of these things point to the transformative nature of this ancient art. It's necessary to be engaged with society, the people perhaps more than ever now. (Think about Blake, and how even his most surreal pieces were rooted in the political with a lowercase p.)

In America, I think, poetry is always a tug of war between the Whitman and Dickinson models. Both are valuable but in different ways--the former with an openness and expansiveness, a gushing of words; the latter with searing hermeticism and mapping out the contours of thought. In many writers, it's the tension between the two that creates interesting results--the need to write about an interior emotional landscape as well as the jostle and bustle, as Marvin Gaye said, of what's going on. This is vital stuff to our contemporary culture, and to really grapple with these ideas subliminally or subconsciously through writing can only be a good thing.

And that's why I wonder--if there is some (not all of course) speculative poetry that willfully ignores the cauldron of the here and now, then what use does it have for me? Why should readers engage with it at all then?
(Writing about contemporary science or thought in old, tired forms isn't good enough for me, either. Poetry always subverts and trandescends pure subject matter, esp. like Nicholas says, since it always seems to veer towards metaphors piled on metaphors).

OK, I'm done now.
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:17 am:   

I wrote this line:

That's the thing...all of this matters because poetry, for me, has the most potential to .

Uh, feel free to fill this in any way you please. "kick ass", for example. :-)


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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:28 am:   

Mike: "That's wonderful, if it's true; I imagine it's all up to what degree of genre content an editor allows in his/her definition of a good poem."

True. I am, of course, using my own definition of what makes a good poem--I can't very well use anyone else's--so it is a given that you will like some poems which I will think are shit (and vice versa, though that is not relevant to the current topic of discussion). I am not sure how this point can be resolved; it is a problem inherent in any merit-based discussion of art.

"This appears to assume a lot of things: that a poet would never write with a specific market in mind; that he or she would never send a poem first to the markets that reflect his/her tastes; that poets, like other writers, aren't influenced first and foremost by their own taste in reading; that sf poets wait until they've been rejected from all the "lit mags" before trying out Asimov's or Strange Horizons."

It doesn't assume any of that, actually; all I said was that I don't see any reason why a good "speculative" poem would NEED to find a speculative venue. In other words, I don't see why the poet should perpetuate this harmful ghettoisation when he or she could just as easily place the poem elsewhere.

"Maybe Bruce Boston's "My Wife Returns as She Would Have It," a Rhysling-winner from Asimov's that knocked me on my a**, could probably have found a home in a non-genre mag. But I don't think W. Gregory Stewart's "the button and what you know," another knockout, could ever have found a home in a non-genre journal. Not just because it had genre elements, but it addresses genre-specific themes, something your average lit mag editor may not relate to."

What themes would these be? I am not familiar with the poem.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:34 am:   

Further to the idea that genre poetry is really about that it is about, while non-genre poetry is "just" (just?) metaphorical, is this a genre poem? (yes yes, permissions and all that):

"I AM THAT NERD" by shappy

I am that nerd
I am that eternal nerd of spoken word
What can I say?
Spent all my rent money buying action figures on Ebay!
I didn't come over to chit-chat
I came here to role-play!
I will smite thee with my 12-sided die
You better watch out
Cuz I'm coming atcha with my nerd eye!
I'm rocking you like Geddy Lee
I'd talk to more girls if they didn't make me
want to pee
myself
I'm a magical elf
Keep your hands off my Star Wars shelf
That's right bitch -- that's a Jawa with its
original plastic cape
Don't that flip your switch?
Like the switch Han Solo hit
on Boba Fett that caused him to fall into the
Sarlac pit?
Lest we forget!
I'm coming at you in 3-D
Keepin' it reel with two EE's, y'see?
And there's nothing you can do
Cuz I'm so much nerdier and smarter than you!
I had Stephen Hawking -- gawking and gasping
for air
Blew his mind with my knowledge and he fell
out of his chair!
I beat Matthew Broderick at war games with my Atari
I dug up Einstein's bones and made them say I'm sorry
for that weak-ass theory of relativity
Cuz MC Squared=Me, see?
I'm the plastic baby Jesus in your mind's nativity
I'll deprogram your mind with my Commodore 64
I'm so rich with nerd power
I make Bill Gates feel poor!
I will kidnap George Lucas from Skywalker ranch
and lock him in my basement until he removes
Jar-Jar Binks from every frame of Phantom Menace
and Attack of the Clones and replaces him with me!
For I am an ancient Jedi Knight; only Yoda could be older
I knocked Mork's space egg out of orbit and made it crash in Boulder
I'm the one who gave Darth Vader asthma
I liquefied Alf and E.T. and drank their plasma
Only I can unravel the mystery of the Sith
Cuz I knocked over the Black Monolith
with my boner!
Bet you didn't see that one cumming!
I'm a mystical nerd shaman who never stops
drumming on your stupid, stupid mind!
I'm the Original Star Trek and you are
Deep Space Nine!
I spin webs round your soul like Spidey on acid
Because my nerd rocket is taking off
And your shit be flaccid -- OHM!
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:37 am:   

Alan,

Here in the South we say "whoop ass." ;-p

Your points are well made and well taken.
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:57 am:   

Nick:

I would say no, it isn't.

But what an awesome poem.

Nicholas:

There's no easy way for me to dig up a copy of the poem. My description from memory won't do it justice, but here's my attempt at conveying the content. The second person narrator is confronted with a button floating in mid-air. There is speculation as to its purpose (which I seem to recall involves spider-aliens) that culminates in the possibility that pressing the button will essentially undo and restart the universe. The poems ends with the "you" in the poem confronting the decision as to whether or not to press the button. You're going to have take my word for it that it's a tongue-in-cheek yet powerful and thought-provoking piece until you can nab a copy yourself and pass judgement. It won the Rhysling and was also a finalist for the Nebula Award (the only poem so far to achieve that), which illustrates I think that whether or not you considered it a good poem, it was considered to be good science fiction.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 10:12 am:   

In that case, Mike, I can't really think why that wouldn't have been able to get into a non-genre publication! It deals with a particular fetish of sf, but it is not exclusively of interest to genre readers.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 10:17 am:   

On another note, "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home": speculative or not? It was published in Agni way back when.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 12:25 pm:   

Nichalas Liu:Thomas: Hasn't Trent addressed this point?

TR: Possibly, I maybe didn't read the thread closely enough. It got rather more active than I expected.

Alan:Thomas> There are so many good poets that have been out there in the last 50 years that it's just a matter of finding them out.

TR: Quite likely. I may have sounded too dismissive of modern poetry. That's not really what I meant.

Alan:So if a body of poetry is to have some kind of effect on an audience, it has to grapple, in some way, with the now-ness of contemporary poetry; or at least pay attention to what has been happening with the multiple, chaotic strands of poetry of recent years.

TR: For you maybe, it doesn't for me. In fact I think I'd just have to disagree with this. Most people, let's face it, are not that conversant with the last 50 years of poetry. So I don't think you need to do this at all to affect an audience. To an extent I think that's true in music or painting too. I know some musicians with a cult following that'd fit fine in the folk music of the sixties or even in the Swing music of the thirties. I think if a person did paintings in the older realistic styles they'd have a fairly large audience. Which in fact I think there are some that do. So although what you're saying makes very much sense, I think it's ultimately more what you wish were true than what is true.

I'd agree though the work has to be relevant to the times and society its written. If you could point to how Speculative poetry is written as if the last fifty years of, social not poetic, history have not happened I'd be interested.
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 02:19 pm:   

Nicholas,

Regarding the poem you've linked to: it definitely falls within the range. I enjoyed it.

"I don't see why the poet should perpetuate this harmful ghettoisation when he or she could just as easily place the poem elsewhere."

I guess what's baffling me is that I don't see why there's an urgent need to place the poems in non-genre publications. It seems as if you're arguing that spec poets are reviled pariahs who can only deliver themselves by boycotting Asimov's and Star*line. I just don't see any evidence supporting that. Not that long ago, The Pedestal Magazine did an extensive profile of Bruce Boston, accompanied by several poems, and I haven't seen any evidence that he had to cut himself off from the sf markets to earn that recognition.

If you're really just arguing that spec poets should send stuff to non-genre markets too, well sure, I'd agree with that. There's no reason not to.
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Mike Allen
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 02:29 pm:   

Amusing addendum:

I just took a peek at the catalogue, and was delighted to discover that we're having this discussion of modern poetry on a website that sells "The Complete Poetical Works of H.P. Lovecraft."
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Trent Walters
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 03:23 pm:   

Mike,

"I'm going to guess you'd find Mythic Delirium to be squarely middle-of-the-road, but I'd certainly welcome your evaluation. I read of review of yours a while ago of a Rhysling anthology that had reprinted two poems from Mythic. You showered praise on one of the poems and mercilessly skewered the other. In both cases, they were poems that I enjoyed and felt sure my readers would as well."

If you'd like me to review an issue for SF Site, I'd be glad to. As you can tell, I am biased against verse and towards artsy-fartsy; so if you're interested, you may want to pick an issue with that in mind. I apologize to both the poet and you for the skewering, but I do try to find every positive possible, even wording criticisms in a positive light. Occasionally, I am at a loss for positives. I was far crueler to the "Best of the Web" which obviously suffered from stuffed-ballot-box syndrome and needed to be identified so that the web's credibility isn't totally scoured by meaningless awards. Still, that is one review I feel some guilt about. I'm not sure of a better way of righting the wrong, however. I hear the structure of voting has changed, so maybe the award has more meaning (ironically, next year, someone voted for the very same review that damned the voting).

Nicholas mentioned the poor quality of poetry.com (yes, I've read the "winners"), but of the hundreds of best web poems I found one that succeeded from that website. A diamond in the rough, no doubt.

Re: Bruce Boston, I think his Accused Wives collection stands as a seminal volume in the genre. He's written better individual poems, but these synthesize the genre well and build on one another as a collection.

I agree with Alan that the history of poetry is important--at least for those who hope to be taken seriously. Without it, people would write second rate Edgar Allan Poe (and they do). If you're going to practice medicine or science or almost any field, you should be aware of some history and the current trends.

As it happens, Larry Dennis at EOTU just published a fiction? poetry? fictry? poetion? of mine on the issue of poetry in the genre (although I just emailed him a revision that brings an obscured aspect to the fore):

http://www.clamcity.com/august2003/pg3imagination.html

FYI, anyway. If anyone's curious.
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 06:26 pm:   

I started a post here, but it got long-winded and tended toward the personal, so I just made it into an entry at my online journal instead. If anyone cares, it's here:

http://www.sff.net/people/timpratt/08-16-03.html

but it's not exactly important reading for this conversation.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 07:00 pm:   

Poetry that doesn't address the last fifty years of poetry has the same problems and issues that sf that doesn't address the last fifty years of sf has--that is, it tends to rediscover as new and exciting concepts that are, for even a fairly cursuroy reader of poetry--like me--pretty banal. That isn't to say that there aren't people who won't like the poem. There are lots of people who will read a story that ends with the discovery that the last man and woman on the planet are named Adam and Eve as entertaining and clever.

And science fiction that is written like sf of 50 years ago is going to feel, well, naive. Even if its written to the best standards of 1953 it's still going to feel dated the way Heinlein is coming to feel dated. That doesn't mean that someone can't write really astonishing poetry that is outside the sort of lyric development of the last century. There are always people who are so extraordinarily themselves that their writing resembles no one elses'. I'm thinking of people like Kafka. But I haven't seen that in sf poetry.

I know that I can publish poetry within the genre but not outside. And I suspect there is something about my poetry which aomeone like Alan would read and think, "Maureen's a nice person and a good writer of fiction." It's the feeling I have when I read a lot of the poetry published in Asimov's.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, August 16, 2003 - 09:42 pm:   

That's fair, except I admit it still feels not quite right to me. I'll just accept though that my opinion is wrong. Or in least too weird to be acceptable.

Still writing "fifty years behind" in SF I don't think is analogous to being so in poetry. As "wrong" as that opinion is it'll be hard for me to let go of it. Scientific knowledge has changed in fifty years. Social mores of the SF world have changed, drastically. Fifty years ago genre SF was still somewhat new. Indeed HG Wells was alive until the 1940s. The people who wrote in the original Argosy were largely still writing in 1953. It'd be very hard to argue that fifty years ago the first people to intentionally write poetry were still alive. Poetry, to me, exists in a much longer time frame. Maybe the evolution in the last fifty years of it has somehow made 3000 years of history before it cliche, but I just find that very difficult to fathom. I accept that the societal change of the last fifty years has had a tremendous impact. If SF poets were writing as if the world was the one of fifty years ago I'd agree that's being behind the times. However no one would seriously argue that.

Further many mainstream writers write for an audience not conversant with the last fifty years of SF. They've often managed to write SF for that audience just fine. So even if the analogy is apt, I don't see why what works for one side of the pond is wrong for the other. Since many of the SF poets are able to crossover into the mainstream, or always appeared both places, the analogy doesn't quite work. SF poets are apparently better in relative terms to that side.

Still I do want to write poetry, and as I like SF I'll probably continue to send my stuff more there, so I should probably read more contemporary poets. They aren't that easy to find, in least not where I'm living. Still I have in fact tried some, and thus far I've either
A: Disliked it.
B: Liked it, but not found it much different than the other poetry I like.

And yes, as mentioned, I know I am wrong. How about this then. SF poetry is irrelevant to the stream of poetry because of what you are saying. Being irrelevant has less of a value judgement involved or in least it does to me. Blake was in many ways irrelevant to the stream of poetry in his age as he really didn't fit any of the styles of the period. (He disliked Romantics, realists, and Rationalists all it seems) So being irrelevant seems a bit less hostile, yet I hope acceptable to what you mean.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 12:18 am:   

Mike: "Regarding the poem you've linked to: it definitely falls within the range. I enjoyed it."

And it gained widespread recognition in the poetry scene, at least the British one, and even started a school (the Martianists).

"I guess what's baffling me is that I don't see why there's an urgent need to place the poems in non-genre publications. It seems as if you're arguing that spec poets are reviled pariahs who can only deliver themselves by boycotting Asimov's and Star*line."

That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that disengaging form the mainstream like this is harming the overall quality of speculative poetry, and depriving poetry in general of a lot of potential talent (and a few actualised talents). It's segregation for no reason at all; surely you will agree with me that this is not a good thing?

"Not that long ago, The Pedestal Magazine did an extensive profile of Bruce Boston, accompanied by several poems, and I haven't seen any evidence that he had to cut himself off from the sf markets to earn that recognition.

If you're really just arguing that spec poets should send stuff to non-genre markets too, well sure, I'd agree with that. There's no reason not to."

I'm certainly not suggesting that poets divorce themselves entirely from speculative publications! I myself have had the pleasure of getting rejection letters from sidereality, The Pedestal (semi-spec) and Strange Horizons.

Yes, I am really just saying that, except I don't just mean that they should send their stuff to non-genre markets, but they should be actively striving to get into them.



Trent: "If you'd like me to review an issue for SF Site, I'd be glad to."

Is the offer Mike-specific? ;)

"Nicholas mentioned the poor quality of poetry.com (yes, I've read the "winners"), but of the hundreds of best web poems I found one that succeeded from that website. A diamond in the rough, no doubt."

The thing with Poetry.com is that it literally has no standards. It's a scam, and people have been trying to shut it down for ages, to no avail.


Maureen: Good points.

(Aside #1: I just picked up your China Mountain Zhang, though I haven't started on it yet. {Aside #1.1: Do you ever get tired of people acting like that's the only thing you've ever written? For this I apologise.}

Aside #2: If you ever feel the need to submit poetry to a small, pittance-paying, non-genre e-zine. . . *ahem*.)

Thomas: "Poetry, to me, exists in a much longer time frame. Maybe the evolution in the last fifty years of it has somehow made 3000 years of history before it cliche, but I just find that very difficult to fathom."

It isn't just 50 years. Many speculative poets write as if T.S. Eliot had never published! Or hell, go back further: Walt Whitman. Maybe the past 50 years have not been all that revolutionary (unlike the other Nick, I think L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is a load of bollocks, and slam not much better), but it cannot be denied that these two poets (among others) revolutionised the poetic landscape.

"Further many mainstream writers write for an audience not conversant with the last fifty years of SF. They've often managed to write SF for that audience just fine. So even if the analogy is apt, I don't see why what works for one side of the pond is wrong for the other."

Because it isn't right for that side, either! I am not talking about what works commercially; I am talking about what is best for the artform.

"Still I do want to write poetry, and as I like SF I'll probably continue to send my stuff more there, so I should probably read more contemporary poets. They aren't that easy to find, in least not where I'm living. Still I have in fact tried some, and thus far I've either
A: Disliked it.
B: Liked it, but not found it much different than the other poetry I like."

That's unsurprising: Sturgeon's "Law", after all. I would argue, though, that while one shoudl ideally be acquainted with the poetry of one's contemporaries, knowledge of one's predecessors is often grounding enough.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 01:27 am:   

I don't just mean that they should send their stuff to non-genre markets, but they should be actively striving to get into them.

TR: Oh I have no problem with that. I've even tried to send stuff to the mainstream, and I suck by any standards. Although at the moment I seem to suck about equally inside or outside the genre.

As for McHugh I hear Nekropolis is a fairly strong novel. She's written some excellent stuff in short form. I'd say I prefer some of her short work even to China Mountain Zhang. She can probably give better recommendations though.

It isn't just 50 years. Many speculative poets write as if T.S. Eliot had never published! Or hell, go back further: Walt Whitman.

TR: My word, I guess I don't know their reading habits. I can't imagine though that many of them are that ignorant. Or in least I'd prefer not to. I'm a fairly lousy poet, but I know stuff like that. At the laziest watching Northern Exposure or listening to certain kinds of music would get you some knowledge of those two. I don't think I would've considered sending any poems out if I was that ignorant. I can't imagine liking poetry, but only reading SF poetry. That's like mind boggling to me. I guess I misunderstood the point then. Apologies.

That's unsurprising: Sturgeon's "Law", after all.

TR: I wonder about that law at times. I guess I'm a bit more charitable than him. Or maybe just have different tastes. I think more than 90% of disco music, for example, was crap. Likewise I'm not sure 90% of literature is crap. I'd guess more like 60% with 30% just being kind of ho-hum. With poetry it might be around 90% as it seems to attract wannabes of little talent. In a few cases they can even get published in some little rag or webzine. (At present that describes myself to a T, but I hope to get better someday)
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 02:02 am:   

Thomas: "Oh I have no problem with that."

All that arguing for nothing, then. <g>

"My word, I guess I don't know their reading habits. I can't imagine though that many of them are that ignorant. Or in least I'd prefer not to. I'm a fairly lousy poet, but I know stuff like that. At the laziest watching Northern Exposure or listening to certain kinds of music would get you some knowledge of those two. I don't think I would've considered sending any poems out if I was that ignorant. I can't imagine liking poetry, but only reading SF poetry. That's like mind boggling to me."

I don't mean to say that they haven't heard of Eliot or Whitman (and as I said, these are just the two examples that spring to mind). It's just that if they have, it's impossible to tell from their writing! Which isn't to say that I expect them to write like Eliot or Whitman, but they did break new ground and cast light on previous modes of poetry, and I would expect modern poets to reflect this somehow. It's hard to quantify, but I know a poem that's stuck in the past when I see it, and a lot of speculative poetry is like that in terms of technique, voice etc.

"I wonder about that law at times. I guess I'm a bit more charitable than him. Or maybe just have different tastes."

Well, all it really says is that most stuff of any type sucks. Naturally the percentage (as if it can actually be calculated!) varies from category to category; I am arguing that genre poetry is one of those with a particularly high Sturgeon Quotient.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 02:47 am:   

Oh there's a ton of really bad mainstream poetry out there. Of that I'm fairly certain. I think there are several literary journals that are basically just there so the academic can get a publishing credit. I don't think you get that much in SF poetry, but on the other hand I don't know for certain. My suspicion is the percentage of truly bad poetry is about the same both places, you're just not seeing that stuff.

However the percentage of great poetry might be higher outside of SF. I'm not really sure, but I could see that. I can see reasons a great poet would submit in an SF zine, and I think a few have. However SF poetry itself I'm not sure has produced anyone great or maybe just significant at that level. Also for a great poet it might just seem more natural not to submit to an SF zine.

I'm not sure this means it can't though. Poetry has sort of had genres over the years. Epic poetry, love poetry, lyric poetry, etc. I don't think genre poetry itself is that weird then. I just imagine it'd take a bit of time to produce a great one in this genre. Aren't Phyllis Gottlieb and Disch fairly successful as mainstream poets in Canada and England respectfully? Maybe that's separate from their SF careers though.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 03:14 am:   

Thomas: "Oh there's a ton of really bad mainstream poetry out there. Of that I'm fairly certain. I think there are several literary journals that are basically just there so the academic can get a publishing credit."

Yeah, you're right. There certainly is a fair bit of poetry by academics, for academics (if they're "for" anyone besides the poet himself, that is!) out there. It all depends on what publications you read.

"My suspicion is the percentage of truly bad poetry is about the same both places, you're just not seeing that stuff."

That's highly possible. Then again, the reason I'm not seeing the stuff is that reputable journals (even online ones) do not publish it, whereas some supposedly reputable speculative venues--especially those not dedicated to poetry--seem unable to tell the difference.

"However SF poetry itself I'm not sure has produced anyone great or maybe just significant at that level. Also for a great poet it might just seem more natural not to submit to an SF zine.

I'm not sure this means it can't though. Poetry has sort of had genres over the years. Epic poetry, love poetry, lyric poetry, etc. I don't think genre poetry itself is that weird then. I just imagine it'd take a bit of time to produce a great one in this genre."

The thing is, epic poetry, love poetry and lyric poetry did not divorce themselves from the mainstream, such as it is. Instead, they were part of it. This is not so for the bulk of speculative poetry, using the term as a commerical (ha!) categorisation rather than a literary categorisation. As a literary categorisation, I'd say there are plenty of great speculative poems: it's just that no one thinks of them as such, or their writers as speuclative poets.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 07:40 am:   

Nicholas Liu, I never get tired of anyone saying that they've bought one of my books. :-) Seriously, most of my every day life I meet people who have never read and will never read any of my fiction. So I'm always really pleased to be read.

And unfortunately, most of my poetry is non-speculative. Maybe because I do speculative fiction. But I published a poem in Full Unit Hook Up so I have a particular soft spot for small zines, and if you're non-genre, I may have a poem for you in the future. But Alan is the person you should try to get. Alan writes fine poetry.

Thomas R, it is my personal conviction that writers are the worst people to ask about their own work. So thanks for your recomendations to Nicholas.

I both agree and disagree with your point that sf is young. Science has changed a lot in the last fifty years but speculative poetry isn't particularly scientific. I'd say what spec poetry is tied to is speculative fiction. And spec fiction has a very elastic relationship with science. Space opera, time travel and a lot of the armature of sf is not scientific. But it is evolving. Cyberpunk shook sf to its core, as the New Wave did before that and as slipstream (for better or for worse) is doing now.

Still sf is also older--with it's feet firmly planted in gothic horror (think Mary Shelly's science fantasy, Frankenstein) and the philosophical novel. Thinkgs don't begin and end so neatly, I think. I say this while recognizing that there is still a sense in which you are absolutely right--there is a clear sense in which sf as we know it comes out of H.G. Welles and blossoms in the 30's.
But I also think that Paradise Lost is a work that speculates using religion (which was, in some ways, the science of its day) in sfnal ways.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 09:58 am:   

Maureen: "And unfortunately, most of my poetry is non-speculative. Maybe because I do speculative fiction. But I published a poem in Full Unit Hook Up so I have a particular soft spot for small zines, and if you're non-genre, I may have a poem for you in the future."

We're ungenred, I would say. And I hope you do.:-)

"But Alan is the person you should try to get. Alan writes fine poetry."

That he does! I tried to, but he hasn't replied. (Hint, hint, Alan.)


As for the "how much has changed in the last 50 years" thing, it's worth pointing out that someone writing as if the last 50 years of sf hadn't happened would seem boring and naive not only because of the ideas explored, but also the way they are explored, i.e. technique. A number of hard sf writers still seem to be able to get away with writing like Asimov reincarnated, but beyond that, that isn't going to cut it anymore with the well-exposed reader. Similarly, writing like the past 50 years of poetry never happened is going to make a poet's work seem laughably primitive to the well-read poetry enthusiast, unless the poet is a truly remarkable natural talent.
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Marge Simon
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 02:05 pm:   

Trent!
Your piece in the current EOTU is spectacular!
"Short Stretches of the Imagination" sums up what, to me, has become a rather tedious but interesting discourse.
Recommend everyone check out Trent's surreal magnum opus.
MS
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 02:50 pm:   

Still sf is also older--with it's feet firmly planted in gothic horror (think Mary Shelly's science fantasy, Frankenstein) and the philosophical novel.

TR: True, but I think people were knowingly writing poetry as poetry for a much longer time. The evolution and change in SF in fifty years I still think would be much more meaningful than would be true with poetry. Poetry has a much longer tradition as poetry to learn from before then. I think you could make good works just going off that. Maybe not relevant or important works true, but good ones.

Further if you take this route it leads to another problem. In least some of the classic SF works in say 1900 was by people who had little or no knowledge of the SF produced from 1850-1900. Granted in that case they had little need to.

Also in some respects I think for poetry and music being antiquated sometimes works. In fact in music I know people rather intrigued by music that seems rather "outside" the times. Loreena McKennitt has something of a following and many of her songs involve reading 19th c. poetry to Victorian style music, or humming along to modified Sufi rhythyms. I guess that's what I was thinking of with poetry, as I see the two as somewhat related.

More relevant might be the occasional person living in a less developped nation just singing from their traditions. Although I suppose they probably also know what's happened in music in the last 50 years, in some cases they may not know what's happened very well. It's rare these people get big, but I like that sort of stuff at times.

Like I said my tastes in poetry or music are odd. I love the modern world, but I like stuff that seems to come from other times or places. A poet writing like they did 50 years ago seems vaguely appealing to me although perhaps more as novelty than for significance. In SF I can sometimes even like that, although less so because I want different things from SF.
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Marge Simon
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 03:27 pm:   

Can we compare the role of significant speculative poetry to the work of innovators such as in the music of Tak Matasumoto or Cusco?
But the thread of the discussion began with "What poetry do you like to read?" It wasn't "whose poetry", necessarily.
Poetry that grabs my attention or makes me want to investigate the references or language, poetry that transends the mundane in craft, usage, challenges me to push myself into other realms which I encorporate into my own poetry, stories and art.
I've read that writers say they find poetry more difficult than prose. Any comments?
MS
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Mike Allen
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 05:13 pm:   

Nicholas, what is your zine?

"I am really just saying that, except I don't just mean that they should send their stuff to non-genre markets, but they should be actively striving to get into them."

Now if only you'd said it that way in the first place!

I can't at all speak for why the Science Fiction Poetry Association hasn't made some sort of coordinated attempt to invade the academic pubs, of course, or if any individual member has done so. (I know there are several SFPAns out there who have been lurking as the discussion has proceeded, so if anyone has any insight related to their reception in the wider poetry world, please weigh in.)

I can only cite my own reasons, which are simply that it's never occurred to me to make a sustained effort to sell poems to non-genre publications. My impression, reinforced in grad school, was that there wouldn't be much interest; and as I was an sf/fantasy person before I became a poetry person, I always think of the sf/fantasy markets first, just as I do with fiction.

That's not to say I've never tried it -- but not with my fantasy poems. About 3 years ago I wrote a set of non-genre poems that I tried out a few places. Poetry actually sent me a very nice personal rejection letter and a constructive critique of one of the poems. Two of the poems eventually appeared in a little outlet in Houston called Curbside Review. I have plans to repeat the experiment in the near future, but I don't feel like my writing career necessarily hinges on it. (Not that I have a clue what it does hinge on :-) )

I think there are some poets (Herb Kauderer and Corrine De Winter may be among them, someone please correct me if I'm wrong) who start out in the genre zines, then move over to the non-genre zines as they start having more luck selling there (disappearing largely from the genre zines in the process). But I also think their general subject matter changes in the process of making that transition.

I suspect most spec poets have read or are aware of T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman, and probably at least some of the new talent. (Heck, if I've read Billy Collins, I think that's proof the new talent is getting read.) As I've said, I think the tastes prevalent among many genre editors/readers are fairly archaic when it comes to poetry (Thomas R., whose posts I've really enjoyed, by the way, seems to me to be doing an excellent job of explaining how the genre reader sees this stuff) so somebody who was writing true cutting edge poetry isn't too likely to sell there. (This is part of why I think the approach of blaming the poets themselves may be a little misguided.)

Is that archaic preference really a fault? For artistic principle's sake, maybe, but there also many non-genre poetry publications that have a particular slant, an interest in or lack of interest in what's state of the art; it depends on what school or generation the editor is from, I imagine.

There's no question there are great poems with speculative elements out there by writers to whom it would seem illogical to join SFPA. But when we talk about no great poets having emerged from the "spec poetry ghetto," -- by "great poet" I assume meaning someone who has electrified poetry like "The Waste Land" did or, default version, won a Pulitzer or some such (not necessarily a sign of greatness, but cool if you can get one), I think it ought to be noted that, at least as I understand it, spec poetry as a self-aware entity (or a self-ostracizing ghetto, if you prefer) is very young. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't. I mean, maybe it won't, but it's just too soon to call the game.

If I'm not mistaken (but I could be), Whitman didn't really catch on until after he was dead (or at least I know he felt compelled to write laudatory reviews of his own work under psuedonyms in order to call attention to it). Maybe a hundred years from now high school students will be downloading Bruce Boston poems directly into their brains before plugging into the exam grid.


Trent,

You're on!

Unfortunately, unless you want something in your hands this week, it'll probably have to wait for the next issue, which I hope to have together next month; I don't have back issues on hand. (Actually, since DNA Publications puts out Mythic, if there were back issues, Warren Lapine would have them, but Mythic fairly consistently sells out.) If you want something sooner, I could print out a galley for you of Issues 7 and/or 8, but you'll miss out on the beautiful covers Tim Mullins does for me. (Or maybe we do both, I dunno...)

If you want, I could also send a copy of the poetry chapbook of mine that DNA's about to publish. Then you could tell me if I'm out of touch or not... :-)

Would I address it to you care of SF Site?

No need for apologies regarding the skewering; that's your perogative as a critic. (Though I did kinda hope the author of the poem didn't see it.)


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Mike Allen
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 05:21 pm:   

Marge,

"I've read that writers say they find poetry more difficult than prose. Any comments?"

Ten years ago (especially during grad school seminars) I might have said Yes.

Now, I'd say, Not more difficult, just different.

Although since I became a journalist I've noticed an odd, occasional parallel between composing a poem and composing a news story, if the news story is meant to be scenic and emotionally evocative as opposed to a straigtforward spew of information. Curious, no?
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 05:36 pm:   

Oh my thanks. I figured I was doing terrible.

I'm not sure my tastes are that archaic. I read a fair amount of twentieth century poets. It's just I think archaic can work, and in some cases is maybe appropriate for certain themes or subjects. Also, and this really is true, I don't know where I'd find modern poetry. The poets I find at the book store are pretty much all older generation. Neruda I think is probably the most recent I remember seeing. Either that or their "New Age" self help poetry. Maybe some of that's good, but it's not something that I have much interest.

I do have a Norton anthology or something I bought at a thrift store. I think it has stuff going into the seventies. Some of it's good, mostly I think the recent stuff I liked in it was from foreign language writers, but I admit much of the modern stuff did strike me as experimentalism for its own sake. I guess in that case I'm archaic as that doesn't interest me in prose or poetry.

Is there even a way to find this contemporary stuff without subscribing to a magazine? (I know that's cheap, but I subscribe to two magazines now & I can't afford that really)
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 06:29 pm:   

Thomas R

If you want to read some contemporary poetry you might start with http://www.poems.com/ which publishes a poem a day. The poems are usually from published and respected poets.

A collection I particularly like is Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland, and there are a couple of sample poems from it on Amazon. Search for the book and then look at "Jet". It begins brilliantly:

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to earth



I think that the metaphor of beer cans dropping like booster rockets is just a fine, fine image.

Poetry Magazine, the most prestigious of the venues for publishing poetry, has a website at http://www.poetrymagazine.org/ and usually features something from the current issue.

It's something to get you started.
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JV
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 06:39 pm:   

Having read all of these posts, I fear I've made a generalization re "speculative" poetry out of sheer disbelief that such a term would even be useful or used. For that, let me apologize. Let me just say that the poetry I've read in "genre" publications has been uniformly naive--i.e., the technique shows limited or non-existent knowledge of most poetic technique.

The fiction analogy would be reading fiction that is simplistic not because it wants to be Hemingway, but because the author simply hasn't learned enough technique to be interesting.

That said, I'm sure there is poetry featuring space ships and whatnot that's good...but I personally don't have any interest in reading it. I don't like poetry about extrapolations or technology in a didactic sense. I like poetry that's just *there* like a leaf or a caterpillar. It exists because it exists. It doesn't have a purpose. It doesn't feel the need to explain itself. It isn't about the future or the past but about the moment.

JeffV

PS Alan--Kenyon Review I read intermittently, buying it at Borders or wherever. It's a bit stodgy, but if you presented me with the Kenyon Review versus Starline or Asimov's as a poetry source, I'd pick up the Kenyon Review without a second thought.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 06:50 pm:   

Marge: "I've read that writers say they find poetry more difficult than prose. Any comments?"

For me, definitely not. I find poetry much easier than prose, probably because I'm more of a sprinter than a marathoner, and the average-length short story is a marathon compared to the average-length poem.

Mike: "Nicholas, what is your zine?"

The Metastatic Whatnot, a new quarterly e-zine that'll be launching some time this week. We're open to all genres and closed to none, with equal emphasis (in principle) on poetry and prose; however, our poetry line-up for the first issue is fairly limited (though good, IMHO), with only six poems by three poets. Hopefully this will change in future issues.

"I can only cite my own reasons, which are simply that it's never occurred to me to make a sustained effort to sell poems to non-genre publications. My impression, reinforced in grad school, was that there wouldn't be much interest; and as I was an sf/fantasy person before I became a poetry person, I always think of the sf/fantasy markets first, just as I do with fiction."

That's understandable, but it's one thing to view speculative magazines as markets and another to view them as a separate genre, if that makes sense.

"About 3 years ago I wrote a set of non-genre poems that I tried out a few places. Poetry actually sent me a very nice personal rejection letter and a constructive critique of one of the poems. Two of the poems eventually appeared in a little outlet in Houston called Curbside Review. I have plans to repeat the experiment in the near future, but I don't feel like my writing career necessarily hinges on it."

As I said, I don't wish that this would happen for the sake of the poets--clearly, they're quite happy with the ways things are now--but for the sake of the artform.

"As I've said, I think the tastes prevalent among many genre editors/readers are fairly archaic when it comes to poetry (Thomas R., whose posts I've really enjoyed, by the way, seems to me to be doing an excellent job of explaining how the genre reader sees this stuff) so somebody who was writing true cutting edge poetry isn't too likely to sell there. (This is part of why I think the approach of blaming the poets themselves may be a little misguided.)"

True. I think there's a bit of difficulty here in distinguishing between the genre as it is published and the genre as it is practiced.

Hm. I've got to go for classes. Will continue this post later.
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Trent Walters
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 07:12 pm:   

Marge,

Thanks for reading! I'm glad you liked it. I'm now wondering if the revision takes a step in the wrong direction, thematically--or is it changed? It's really only one sentence, but does it foil or amplify my original intent?

Re: the difficulty of poetry over prose, when it comes to writing, I agree with Mike: they're simply different skill sets acquired. But I do find reading poetry far more difficult than prose: Why did the poet do that? For a purpose? Or am I supposed to fill in that purpose? Or am I supposed to leave the purpose empty? What's with that line break? that sound? that rhythm? Are these words meshing? If not, why not? And that's just a few samples off the top of my head.

The questions for fiction are fairly regular--plot? character development? theme? symbol?--unless you're attempting something experimental, in which case you fall into the larger question set above.

Fiction requires understanding at all levels but weighs more heavily on the larger scope end of word, sentence, paragraph, scene, story.

Poetry usually weighs each word. You've got to wrap your mind around the words and the leap of meaning between and beyond them. Which is hard in the way scientists try to ascertain electron position and smaller particles: you get to the point where you can no longer break the thing down without losing the sense of the thing.

That's why I get frustrated with certain poems that act so slippery and illusive that there must be some powerful stuff beneath, but when you sweep away the pretty colored dust, there's nothing beneath. I don't react with joy that I've been tricked: see? Life has no meaning! How clever! How many ways can we use art to exploit the unexamined life? Since I'm a slow reader, I hate wasting time on meaninglessness. Chaos is eternal, life is brief. My apologies to all the adamant postmodernists out there.

Mike,

I recall reading a David Lunde poem in Poetry.

Quite impressive to sell out your magazine. I can't imagine many do.

My address is

PO Box 31266
Omaha, NE 68131

No rush. I'm a slow reviewer. Just pester me now and then.

Nicholas,

You have to have material to review before I can review it! I do like the title, however: Whatnot. I can't say the same for all small zines.

Why are you editing poetry if you have no interest in writing it? Just a fan out to purify the quality?

Thomas R,

If you're looking to see what specific literary magazines are publishing, most of them with an online presence have samples:

http://guardian.antioch.edu/review/
http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~bhreview
http://www.engl.unt.edu/alr
http://www.pshares.org/issues
http://www.missourireview.org/

etc. You can also go to any major university near you and head into the periodical section of their library. Most public libraries don't carry literary journals.

But I'm not sure that they would tell you what the contemporary scene is. I'm not sure there really is a contemporary scene.

Your analogy to Loreena McKennitt misses a very important point: she's combining her music with unusual elements to create an entirely NEW compound. You can't mimic 19th century poetry without making any Thomas R specific quirks/enhancements or you'll risk being called a would-be sentimental. In fact, you'd have probably been obscure in the 19th century. If you don't do anything new, why should anyone read you? You've got to be you and, in being you, represent us here in the dawning of the twenty-first century. That's _every_ writers job: say, "We are here! We are here! We the people of Who are here! We matter in our own small way that will be meaningful to you, o big unknown future."

If you're interested in doing something new, allow me to suggest Alan DeNiro's website of essays and exercises:

http://www.taverners-koans.com/gilded.html

It also serves a workshop.

Here are a few books on poetry:

The Poet's Companion, Addonnizio/Laux
The Discovery of Poetry, Mayes
In the Palm of your Hand, Kowit
Writing Poems, Wallace

However, at some point you have to move beyond these. Read essays of poets you admire. Usually they will spark something of a deeper craft than these basic books. Paul Valery said something like: in order to be a poet, you have to be a critic. If these books of essays are any indication, he may be correct.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 09:21 pm:   

Thanks for the sources everyone!

Sure McKennitt has her own spin on stuff. In many instances knowledge of contemporary music maybe relevant to that. That contemporary element is sometimes absent, so I'm not sure how that relates to what I was meaning. Even the hypothetical poet ignorant of poetry passed 1953, or 1933, would likely still have their own voice. They'd also have lived with modern experiences. (Even if they're living in a village in Central Africa that'd be mostly true) Therefore I don't think such a person would just end up repeating Yeats or Eliot, but I could be mistaken.

Not that being 50 years behind is ideal for a poet. I'm just not sure how negative it is, but it might be a matter of taste. I looked for Orthodox Chants that were in the Old Church Slavonic, and bought books of poetry of the T'ang Dynasty. I'm kind of just into history, so writing in an old form doesn't really phase me.

However I might concede that maybe it'd be best if the person writing in an old form does so knowingly, not out of ignorance. I've enjoyed modern novels written in a Victorian style, but it's fairly clear they know they're doing it. They aren't writing like a Victorian because they know of no other way to write. They're doing it on purpose either because their characters are Victorians or because their doing some kind of satire. Thing is I don't know enough about Speculative poets to say it's not the same deal. They might use older styles because they prefer them or think them appropriate for the work. Indeed some of the mythological or Fanatasy poetry I've read in SF places certainly seems like that. Like they're being archaic because the subject is archaic.

However they might just be using older styles because they're ignorant of later ones. (In the case of truly archaic Medievalized/Ancient styles, I kind of doubt that) I just don't know enough to say.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 01:00 am:   

First, to finish my previous post.

Mike: "Is that archaic preference really a fault? For artistic principle's sake, maybe, but there also many non-genre poetry publications that have a particular slant, an interest in or lack of interest in what's state of the art; it depends on what school or generation the editor is from, I imagine."

True, but then, these magazines still operate within the larger context of the poetic world as a whole.

Thomas: "Is there even a way to find this contemporary stuff without subscribing to a magazine? (I know that's cheap, but I subscribe to two magazines now & I can't afford that really)"

There's also a pretty good selection of links to e-zines on the links page of Absinthe. Not all of it may be to your taste, but hey, it's free, and there's a lot of it (mixed blessing, that).

Trent: "You have to have material to review before I can review it!"

I was kidding anyway, though it would be nice if you could. The first issue, as I said, will be coming out shortly.

"Why are you editing poetry if you have no interest in writing it? Just a fan out to purify the quality?"

Maybe you misread my post, or I wasn't clear. I do write poetry. In fact, at this point, I am primarily a poet, though my publications thus far have been limited to non-paying e-zines (which doesn't phase me all that much, as editor of a barely-paying e-zine).

I half wish I could say that your postulation was right; it would add a certain purity of purpose to the venture. But no.

"If you're interested in doing something new, allow me to suggest Alan DeNiro's website of essays and exercises:

http://www.taverners-koans.com/gilded.html

It also serves a workshop."

I'd second that. It looks very good, and the only reason I never joined the workshop is my paranoid fear of the first-rights-and-public-forums issue.
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 01:23 am:   

though my publications thus far have been limited to non-paying e-zines

TR: Me too! Well no not really, I shouldn't even mention it. The non-paying e-zines your stuff has been at I imagine are far more respectable. I just had a flash fiction at Antipodean, and poetry at this place called Bewildering Stories. As a a poet, or any kind of writer, I'd really like to crack some place noteworthy. However so far I think my poems remain extremely crude. Or in least I feel like they are so far. Sometimes I feel like I'm close to getting it half right, but I can't seem to make it totally right. This could just be egotism though. I didn't even much care about poetry until I was in my twenties I think. Since I'm 26 now that's not that long.

Anyway I'd like to improve, but with poetry I feel less certain how to do that than with prose. I enjoy writing it, but part of me thinks that's maybe not a good sign. I'm probably not taking it seriously enough.

Well I really must go to bed. Sorry for posting so much. I hope this was in least coherent. Bon Soir!
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 08:38 am:   

Hmm, should a Poetry2 thread be started?

As a semi-aside, I do think that the contest-First Book system in "regular" poetry publishing is broken, and doesn't necessarily present the best books by new writers. I know poets who literally spent thousands of dollars on contest entry fees over the course of many years and many contests. I think good books do get published in this system, but it's despite the system, not because of it. It would seem more sensible to me (and others have been doing this) to form your own publishing co-ops, pooling resources together and forming your own magazines and presses outside of the main strands of poetry culture. When my new poetry manuscript Argonauta (or Argonaut A; still haven't decided yet) is ready to go, I'm going to send it to a few (very few) presses that would accept unsolicited, non-contesty manuscripts. But if that doesn't pan out, I think I'll just publish it myself. Hey, why not.

The thing is, even if you win a prize, your book is poorly distributed, and there's nothing really of a readership anyway. Unless you actively create one. This seems to be the default for speculative poetry, and that IS a good thing.

In terms of more experimental magazines, if anyone's interested--Selby's List is pretty definitive:

http://www.poetrypress.com/selby

Some of those are tied to universities, but a lot of them aren't.

I also think that blogging is changing the way--or can, at least--poets interact with readers. It's hard to post a story on a blog and ensure that a reader's eyes don't glaze over, but poems seem to fit quite naturally in blogs. There are more poets I've seen using a blog as a compositional tool, posting work in progress online and letting readers more inside into the creative process. My blog http://ptarmigan.blogspot.com has some links to excellente poetry blogs; maybe start with Ron Silliman's or Limetree and go from there.

Anyway, some random thoughts.

And Maureen, you're quite a fine poet, and I wouldn't lie to you about that. :-)

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D
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 09:06 am:   

I'd love to expand the poetry section on Whispers of Wickedness (www.ookami.co.uk), but seem to get very few submissions.....
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Mike Allen
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 10:03 am:   

Let me just stop to say that I think this is one of the most eye-opening (I-opening?) discussions of poetry, speculative or otherwise, I've ever heard/seen. Thanks to all!

Thomas R.
"As a a poet, or any
kind of writer, I'd really like to crack some place noteworthy. However so far I think my poems remain extremely crude."

Whether this is true or not (maybe you're too hard on yourself?) your awareness of it means you can improve. Be open to trying new ideas, check out things like Alan's workshop, and above all, never stop submitting places. Maybe you just haven't tried all the markets you ought to yet.

Nicholas, that's a good looking zine. I'll check it out again when your first issue's up.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, August 18, 2003 - 10:38 pm:   

Thomas: Keep at it. We're all struggling.

And by the way, here's another good poetry workshop.

Alan: Yeah, I agree that it's broken, and I'm glad we don't have it here (Singapore). Still, why focus so much on books? If you just look at the magazine front, it isn't that hard to break in if one's good.

Mike: Thanks! Now, if only I could extract that promise from another couple couple thousand people. . . . :P
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Matt Cheney
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 09:52 am:   

I'm totally new here (don't yell at me!), but wanted to offer some thoughts, since I adore both poetry and SF (speculative fiction ... I know it's a problematic term, but it beats having to define all sorts of mini-genres).

I like to read poetry which is engaged with language, which surprises me, which moves me in some way, which makes me want to read it again, again, again. I read a lot of lit mags, and find that most of the better ones have one or two poems per issue which excite me, and a lot which leave me cold. The difference between the lit mags and the SF markets is that I've hardly ever read a poem in an SF publication which made me want to reread it and savor it. The biggest "oh, yes!" for me when reading a poem in an SF publication was many years ago when Jeff VanderMeer published a Patiann Rogers poem in Jabberwocky. Here was an SF publication publishing a writer not generally associated with the SF genre, but rather with mainstream poetry, and she was (and still is) amazing.

I don't care for poems which just seem to be short-short stories with broken lines. Most SF poetry seems to be this to me, and much mainstream poetry as well. My favorite poets from the 20th century are people like Paul Celan, Dylan Thomas, Michael Palmer, Frank O'Hara, and zillions of others. Among contemporary poets, I read anything by Joel Brouwer, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Heather McHugh, Charles Simic, Bei Dao, and a handful of others.

There was an anthology published a few years back called "Verse & Universe", all poems about science, all written by mainstream writers. Great stuff.

This points out a bit of a difference, I think, between the poetry world and the fiction world. For one reason or another, fiction writers tend to ghettoize themselves more carefully into genres, with the occasional leap into imaginative realms being seen as daring or stupid (Updike, etc.). Of course, there are numerous exceptions, but the walls seem stricter to me between fictions which employ speculative/fantastic elements and poems which do.

Consider Joel Brouwer, a wonderful contemporary writer. Here's his poem "Astronomer's Detect Water in Distant Galaxy, Suggest Life May Be Present Throughout Universe". I'd think it could be published in an SF market, and would be thrilled to see such a poem there.

I have nothing against writers who identify as writers of "speculative poetry", and I've even tried writing from that assumption at times myself, but ultimately what matters is if the poem is good or not. Of course, poetic tastes differ tremendously, and one person's "good" is another person's "horse excrement". That's the real challenge when talking about poetry: defining aesthetic judgments.

[P.S. to Maureen McHugh: I just bought Nekropolis (did I spell it right?). Excited to read it. China Mountain Zhang (ugh, I feel like my spelling is atrocious today, but maybe I'm paranoid) meant a lot to me.)]
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Monday, August 25, 2003 - 06:19 pm:   

Matt, no one thoughtful and curious should ever be yelled at. I'm glad China Mountain Zhang spoke to you. And you spelled them both perfectly.

The Brouwer poem is actually at http://www.nea.gov/explore/Writers/Brouwer.html

(Matt missed the final 'l' on .html) It's a lovely poem with a fine ending.
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Matt Cheney
Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 - 12:16 am:   

Thanks for fixing that, Maureen. I got so stuck trying to figure out how to do html tags here that I guess I inadvertently sliced off a bit of the address.

I just noticed this thread has now become a second one, Poetry 2, so I'm heading over there...
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Thomas R
Posted on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 02:55 am:   

Just testing something

Bewildering Stories

Oh, the recent poetry deals I bought were Billy Collins and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
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John Rubins
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 12:54 pm:   

I appreciate the comments on my work. It is perhaps one of the greatest compliments to see that people respond to your work and take the trouble to comment on it. I would add one note of caution, however, and particularly for a young writer, that it is not very constructive to take pot shots at a piece of writing, not for a fellow writer nor for one's self. As evidenced by the thread of most of the paritcipants in this discussion the far more useful approach is to discuss what one likes and why, what is genre and what may not be etc.

As for the lack of sophistication I am accused of I may direct people to another poem of mine which appeared in the same issue of electric velocipede. Its subject is the anatomy of insects' eyes and pointillist art. "Compound Eye" at http://members.aol.com/spiltmilkpress/issue_four.html#poetry03

Since this other poem hasn't generated comments I must ask myself is this because the subject went over the readers' heads? So you can see a very common dilemma for the writer is laid out here, damned if you do and damned if you don't.

One last point and I think this goes for all poetry is that poems which employ humor are often abused as unsophisticated. This opinion is one which travels very high in the field of criticism. This is a very unfortunate train of thought and we are all made poorer for such a narrow-minded view.

You may try some Tony Hoagland to see how humor can very well begin to pick apart the miasma of life and thought in contemporary USA.

Oh, and as for genre or not genre. I just write and try to reach an audience whomever they may be. I am interested in more experimental/surrealist work which has found homes in both literary and genre venues.
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dragonfly
Posted on Thursday, May 06, 2004 - 03:10 pm:   

Hello everyone out there in cyber poetry land,

I am just visiting this site for the first time and I have a very important question for a paper I am writing. What is the opposite of "Realism" poetry? I am in process of doing a comparitive analysis on seven different poets from the Palestinian area under occupation. In my findings and comparisons, some of the seven poets I chose from the collection use "realism" about their plight under occupation. Others are more syrupy or sensitive, but what is the correct terminology. Please help if you can.

Many Regards,
A desparate student just learning about how to write about poetry.
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Trent
Posted on Thursday, May 13, 2004 - 06:23 am:   

Hi, dragonfly,

I'm not sure I have a full appreciation of your question. Realism has never been much of a concern for poetry, which is more interested in the metaphor that applies to reality. If realism becomes some poets' "thing," then it's migrated over from fiction, which probably migrated from non-fiction.

Unfortunately, I'm unfamiliar with what you mean by "realism" and the poets who might fall under such a heading. Can you be more specific? If you could tell me more about what you're driving at, I might be more helpful. Also, I'd love to see what's being written about concerning the matter.

Take care.

Best,

Trent Walters

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