Science Fiction Poetry Association
“Rhysling Maximum Length” Survey
Executive Committee Report
January 25, 2017
The Science Fiction Poetry Association maintains two forums (a yahoo list-serv and a FB group page) where members of the SFPA and the broader community discuss topics relevant to the speculative poetry field. The SFPA awards, projects, and publications are items of perennial interest; we often hear suggestions for changes to our rules and procedures, and debate their relative merits.
One such discussion pertained to the Rhysling award “Long Poem” category – specifically, what, if anything, should be done with especially long poems that are nominated for the award. Several members voiced concerns that poems above a certain length might strain the budget for the Rhysling anthology by adding in extra pages and printing costs. Others expressed the idea that particularly long poems might be better considered as a distinct genre, rather than competing against poems of a more easily-consumed length.
In response to these concerns, the SFPA officers published an online survey entitled “Rhysling Maximum Length”, in November 2016. The main purpose of this survey was to determine whether there is an overall consensus among the membership on these (and related) questions. The secondary purpose of this survey was to determine if, based on the responses, an official proposal for policy change should be considered.
The “Rhysling Maximum Length” survey included one main question: “Should there be an upper line limit to long length Rhysling nominated poems?” along with five follow-up questions.
As of January 25th, 2017, 100 people participated in this survey. A detailed report of the results appears below, along with select comments from participants both for and against the overall question of whether any upper line limit to poems eligible for the Rhysling Long Poem category.
Question #1: Should there be an upper line limit to long length Rhysling nominated poems?
While not every participant responded to all six questions; this fundamental question received exactly 100 responses, revealing a pure 50/50 split in member opinion:
No – 50 (50%)
Yes – 50 (50%)
Additionally, participants were given an opportunity to express their thoughts at the end of the survey. Comments generally were in favor or against defining limits to works eligible for the Long Poem category:
Against an upper limit:
“Would the Best of Anthologies for short stories abridge their works?”
“I believe length will be self-selecting; the longer the poem, the more it would have to blow the voting members’ minds to be selected; therefore, i support no limit to the length of poems.”
“…if it’s not published as a chapbook, I don’t think it’s fair to hold [a single poem] up against other chapbooks [that were] published first as a chap.”
“Regardless of length, the quality of the poem should be the only deciding factor, but a separate category for extra-long poems might be worth considering.”
In favor of an upper limit:
“I’m a cynic & I don’t think readers (other than the poet & their ever-loving parents) have the attention span to read over-long poetry.”
“As an editor, I understand that there has to be a balance between desire to showcase a piece of work and anthology formatting. These are useful parameters to define.”
“We have to set some reasonable limits based upon our publishing resources.”
“Rhysling should not be given for short stories in verse.”
Question #2: If yes, what should the upper limit be?
Assuming the membership voted in favor of an upper line limit for poems in the “Long Poem” Rhysling category, it would be necessary to define said limit.
The first option, “9 pages / 5K words / 500 lines” was designed to dovetail upper length limit for Rhysling “Long Poems” with the minimum length requirements for the SFPA’s Elgin Award for book-length works. Out of 51 responses, this option received a majority vote.
9 pages / 5K words / 500 lines – 30 (59%)
Other – 21 (41%)
Participants who answered “other” were invited to supply alternative length requirements. Responses ranged from 2 to 27 pages (or an equivalent word/line length), with an average of 10 pages.
Question #3: If yes, should single poems longer than the upper limit for Rhysling Long Poems (i.e. in excess of 9 pages) be eligible for the Elgin Awards, regardless of how formatted when published?
Out of 61 responses, a majority of responders voted in favor of allowing poems that are over the Rhysling Long Poem length (assuming one is defined) to compete in the Elgin Awards instead—irrespective of whether the poem was published as a book-length manuscript.
No – 28 (46%)
Yes – 33 (54%)
If the SFPA were to move forward with an upper line limit of 9 pages / 5K words / 500 lines (as preferred in Question #2), this would allow a smooth division of eligibility between the Rhysling and the Elgin, with no poems being left out of consideration and recognition due to length restrictions.
Question #4: Should single poems in the Long Poem Rhysling category be excerpted for the print anthology if over a certain length? (Extra-long poems could and would appear in their entirety in the Anthology PDF edition)
Unlike Questions 3 & 4, this question is not dependent on either a Yes or No answer to Question 1. That is, rather than addressing the issue of eligibility based on length, it asks whether members would support the idea of simply excerpting particularly long poems, in the interest of space and budgetary limitations.
Out of 99 responses, a majority of responders supported the idea of excerpting particularly long poems in the print anthology (provided the poems would be published in their entirety in PDF).
No (we should print them in their entirety) – 45 (45%)
Yes – 54 (55%)
Question #5: If yes, what should the excerpt length be?
For this question, the officers tried to offer a range of options which, while somewhat arbitrary, reflect the “9 pages / 5K words / 500 lines” upper limit that dovetails with the Elgin lower limit—though, again, responses to this question are not dependent on a Yes or No answer to the Elgin eligibility question (Question #3).
Of 50* responses, a majority of participants were in favor of excerpting long poems after 5 pages (or the equivalent word/line length)—which is roughly half of a chapbook (as defined by the Elgin guidelines).
5 pages / 2K words / 200 lines – 20 (40%)
4 pages / 1.5K words / 150 lines – 10 (20%)
3 pages / 1K words / 100 lines – 14 (28%)
Other – 6 (12%)
Participants who answered “other” were invited to supply alternative length requirements. Responses ranged from 2 to 10+ pages (or an equivalent word/line length), with an average of 8 pages.
*Some write-in responses were essentially “No” votes to other questions or duplicate answers to Question #6, and thus could not be averaged and were removed from the overall count for this particular question.
Question #6: How should the excerpt be chosen?
Out of 72 responses, a significant majority of responders voted in favor of allowing the Rhysling Anthology editor (Rhysling Chair) and the author of a nominated poem to excerpt particularly long poems by mutual agreement (assuming the membership is in favor of excerpting long poems at all)
By the anthology editor – 3 (4%)
By the poet – 18 (25%)
By the editor and the poet together – 46 (64%)
Arbitrarily at the determined lined limit – 5 (7%)
So Now What?
As mentioned above, the driving question for this survey was “Should there be an upper line limit to long length Rhysling nominated poems? Given that responses to this driving question were exactly split, it is the opinion of the SFPA executive committee that maintaining the status quo would be less divisive than imposing limitations that are only supported by half of (responding) membership.
In other words, there are no plans at this time to define an upper line limit for works nominated in the Rhysling Long Poem category.
However, the question of whether particularly long poems in this category should be excerpted in the print version of the Rhysling Anthology remains open. A majority of (responding) members voted in favor of excerpting—though not an overwhelming majority. On the other hand, a significant majority of responders (64%) indicated that excerpting long poems would be acceptable if the Rhysling Chair and nominated poet worked together to determine what portion of the poem would appear in print—which although not an explicit policy, is an option that has been exercised in the past.
Given these considerations, it is the opinion of the SFPA executive committee that excerpting works in the Rhysling Long Poem category (in the print anthology) will remain an option, to be considered on a case-by-case basis, with respect to the relative length of the poem in question, the space and budget restrictions of the particular anthology, and the concordance of both the Rhysling Chair and the nominated poet, with oversight by the executive committee. Further, in the interest of transparency and clarity, this decision will be reflected in the Rhysling’s posted nomination guidelines.
The SFPA executive committee would like to thank the survey responders—all 100 of you!—as well as the members of our discussion forums for your investment in the SFPA and the speculative poetry community.