Yesterday a really smart lady I know argued that the “for a cost of a cup of coffee” phrase in fundraising is a guilt-based trope—it’s better, she says, to focus on all the good things your cause has done already, and how much more you could accomplish with monetary support.  So, for the last day of the Riddled with Arrows “Feed the Writers 2018” crowdfund campaign, that’s what we’ll do!

The Good We’ve Done So Far:

Riddled with Arrows Journal was launched this year in order to fulfill a unique niche in the literary landscape: we exclusively publish writing about writing.  That is to say, our interest is in metafiction, metapoetry and writing that celebrates the process and product of writing as art. No other literary magazine on the scene today serves this genre—in fact, many markets actively discourage writing about writing.  With Riddles with Arrows, we aim to provide a safe haven for poetry about poetry and prose about prose. More than this, we seek to compile a body of literature that flies in the face of this arbitrary prohibition against Writing writing.

Thanks in part to the generous support of our friends and fans, we were able to produce three gorgeous issues in 2017 (plus one forthcoming), featuring award-winning authors and never-before published wordsmiths, genre writers rubbing elbows with literary literati, weird fiction romancing ars poetica, inspirational illustrations, and interactive hypertext—everything we’d set out to do and more.  We nominated for the Pushcart and other prizes, and earned recognition as one of Duotrope’s fastest-responding literary markets.

Riddled with Arrows was also designed  to be a writer-friendly market, and we remain committed to that goal.  As such, we:

  • never charge for submissions
  • offer at least a token payment to all contributors
  • encourage simultaneous submissions and reprint submissions
  • require no period of exclusivity after publication

How your contribution could help:

In 2018 we hope to produce at least three more issues of Riddles with Arrows, including both themed and open issues as well as a summer contest with cash prizes. We want to expand our non-fiction offerings with lyrical essays, weird scholarship, and other I-don’t-know-what-to-call-this artifacts.  We have plans for a virtual library, a blog, and more hypertext hijincks—goals which can be made all the more meta-tastic with contributions from our literary friends and family.

If you’re a fan of writers and the work we do, we’d be thrilled if you’d consider sharing a few dollars to help us reach our goals.  To find out more, click this link now!

I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo, once again–although I cleared the metaphorical space to work on a novel this month, my muse has, as yet, declined the invitation to show up.  This is not unusual; my muse is not one to perform on demand.  He/she is fickle with his/her attentions and requires much romancing and pining from me to return to the writing table after an absence.

Because I am bereft for things to write about, I started carrying my journal in my car.  So far, the only in-transit idea that’s occurred to me is regarding the journal itself–so I guess I’ll write about that.

World, journal…journal, world.

I’ve been using this same journal for almost six years now. My writer ex-bestie gave me it to me, but that’s not why I keep it–girlie gave me a journal for pretty much every Xmas and birthday that we were friends (like, we’re writers, I get it. Clever.)  It’s that I’ve got a very mild OCD-ish need to finish things that I start, and this one still has empty pages.  Also it’s a Moleskin, and Moleskin makes damn good notebooks.

At least I think it’s a Moleskin: the cover page with the logo and “return to” inscription has gone missing.   Also the inside spine is broken.  The thing is showing its age.  Still, it’s holding together pretty well (Moleskin!)–unlike that friendship.

The computer is king these days, but journals are good for scribbling ideas at traffic lights, taking cartoon-littered notes at workshops, jotting down titles to read, etc.  This journal comes with me to most critique group sessions and to the occasional coffee shop getaway.  Once I left it at the dive bar where they hold one of northern Delaware’s only open mics.  One of the other attendees picked it up and held onto it for me (the “return to” page was still intact then).  That’s how I got to meet former Delaware poet laureate E. Jean Lanyon (we hung out in her kitchen!).

The earliest entry in this journal is me rambling about not knowing what to write (seems familiar).  After that is a scene from a story that’s gone on to be published twice *and* produced by a notable SF podcast, so I guess I should take heart from that.  These dry periods don’t last.  My muse always comes around.

But in the meantime… since I still haven’t thought of anything to write about (where are you muse, you finicky bitch), I took an inventory–not of what’s written in my journal, but what else is stored in there.  To wit:

  • two Traditional Medicinal Tea box inserts featuring quotes: one by Rita Mae Brown and one by Roald Dahl
  • an article on former Delaware poet laureate JoAnn Baligit with an unfinished crossword puzzle on the back
  • a 2013 Holiday letter from E. Jean Lanyon
  • a micro chapbook by Singapore poet Christina Sng
  • business cards for Delaware writing tribe members including: Maria Massington (writer/performer/Event officiant), Ramona DeFelice Long (writer/editor), Patrick Derrickson (SF writer), Terry Griffin (Delaware Literary Events coordinator), Justynn Tyme (Creative Director, All-Out Monster Revolt), Maria Keane (writer/artist) and E. Jean Lanyon (plus one for the Delaware PKD Foundation Coordinator Carol Soha)
  • a post-it note with the Kinglet’s DPBH case manager’s info
  • a promo card for Undoing Winter
  • a raffle ticket stub (?)
  • a promo card/ bookmark for last year’s Hockessin indie Art & Book Fair
  • a loose leaf paper with the  email address of the guy who recruited me to play Anna Akhmatova at a poetry/performance event (the evening my daughter was conceived)

Nothing earth-shattering here, no pearls of wisdom (I’m in the midst of a creative dry spell after all).  I just find it interesting how a journal can be not just a thing to write in but an actual creative space, as personal as the person who writes in it.  Because a journal stays with me so long, it becomes more than just a notebook–it’s also an archive, a scrapbook… a time capsule.  Flipping through it, one could probably learn a lot about me by what I have pressed between the scribbled pages–or at least, one could learn about the writing world I move through.

What does your journal say about you?

I have aspirations to write more blog posts – regular content, platform, and all that.  There are a lot of things going on right now that could use the added energy: Riddled with Arrows recently launched its second issue.  I’ve got new stories and poems floating around in the world or forthcoming.  Voting for the 2017 SFPA Rhysling Award just wrapped up (with two of my poems in the running),  the Dwarf Stars voting is now open (also with one of mine), as are the Elgins, plus we have a Contest and a bag of holding full of administrative happenings, well, happening.  In short, I done been busy.

But behind the scenes, life takes precedence.  We just wrapped up one of the longest and most difficult chapters of our family story, hopefully never to be revisited.  I’m still recovering, physically and spiritually, but mostly doing okay.  I’ve been enjoying a period of creative abundance–not just the desperate, defiant manic phase that I’m used to, but a purposeful, measured and meaningful stretch of good, old-fashioned work.  I’m hoping to keep up momentum over the summer to re-stock my story and poetry stables for submission, then maybe step into something bigger-picture come the fall, once both kids are safely ensconced in school (and not climbing on Mom’s head, literally, as she tries to write).

In the meantime, I’m prepping for a somewhat-surprise trip to northern California to visit my grandmother, who is turning ninety-six-years-young this Saturday.  I haven’t seen her in person in three or four years (or my hip uncle Bruce in more than I can remember), and I’ve never been to the West Coast before.  Although the hyper-focused, rarely leaves the house without her children mom in me is freaking out a little at the thought of switching planes in a strange city all by myself, the rest of me–the part that USED to have a life, and love adventure–is starting to get psyched.  I’m looking forward to a few days in new environs to work, write, and think without little voices overriding everything.  Plus, I get to spend a few more days (and, let’s be honest, the last ever) with a very special lady–the only grandmother I’ve ever known.

 


So that’s why I’m not publishing as much content as I’d like–I know, excuses, excuses.  This is just to say, hi, I love you, hope you’re having a nice summer! And also, stay tuned.  More words to come.  Eventually.

Actually, there are more than thirteen ways to get nominated for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry’s Association’s Rhysling Award.  In fact this year there are 154 individual and unique poems up for consideration (which, if I’m not mistaken, is a record high).  Here are two, which happen to be mine, which I am posting so you can read them, as they are featured today on SpecPo, the SFPA’s official blog.

“Terran Mythology” first appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact (October 2016).  It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Short Poem Category.

Terran Mythology

This talk of Old Earth is conflated,
it is—always was—a death garden
trash planet—
tree spines, titan turtle backs
native gutter talk.

No buried forests there, no vaulted mansions
tiered roadway arpeggios
beneath the dump-yards
no fish in those oceans
no thirteen stars in the sky.

It’s all folklore
piquant escape
from the firefields, factories
the appeal
of more than fortified water rations
in these populated ovens.

(As if deserts ever
birthed rivers
sustained “agrow-cultures”.
as if life evolved from mothers
from monkeys, was ever
anything
but science spew.)

—Shannon Connor Winward

“Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost” won second place the SFPA’s 2016 Poetry Contest in the Long Poem catgory.  It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Long Poem Category.

Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost

1.
As a young woman, your mother finds a dead uncle watching her sleep. The chair is no longer wedged against the door.

2.
Neighbors tell her the couple who owned this house first lost a child. Your mother found him. The crayon marks in her closet could have come from her own, but she sees him, not much taller than the mattress, circumnavigating the bed, as children do, while your father and the boys are sleeping.

3.
You make a joke of it, but he bit her once, left marks, and how would you explain that?

4.
There’s a closet under the basement stairs, a perfect Bat Cave and hiding place. Not-it once, your brother hears, distinctly, Hi. He forfeits the game.

5.
You never found him, but you’ve lost enough in that closet.

6.
Your mother cleans the Hazard house, a squat yellow colonial leftover spitting distance from the old capitol with roots under the New Castle cobblestone. It reeks of piss and centuries. The basement stairs are narrow, dank. She prefers to leave it to the cats until one she’s never seen before climbs out and growls, Get out. After that, she makes the owner leave the Mop-n-Glo upstairs.

7.
“I’m supposed to be here,” she spits back. “You get out.”

8.
You do the Garrett mansion by the Pennsylvania border, too, when it’s still a school. Your job is to flip chairs for the boys, collect bits too big for the vacuum mouth. You visit the animals, nose to their cedar-lined cages, and the human skull, and play outside on the hill alone. You don’t remember the house, just the trees and open sky, the town of Yorklyn sleepy and rustling below, but Mom says those basements go deeper than any should. There are three, one under the next, and no one is allowed to go past the first. Slaves slept down there. It’s darker than dark, and what breathes out at you is not about freedom.

9.
Your grandfather slept in the basement until your mother kicked him out for whoring, and then he died. You don’t remember him, either.

10.
In second grade you start a ghost club. You hold hands over the drainage grates at recess (because the dead prefer damp, dark places) and tell lost souls to move on. The other girls swear they can see them too.

11.
In the basement of your parents’ house, your bags are packed. You are used to things sitting on the mattress, tugging the sheets, but that is no Casper-friendly child. That is man-sized. It is an absence of light, still there when you click on the lamp, but not after you scream. It doesn’t want you to go.

12.
You worked nights at the old school below where the Garrett house burned down. A caretaker haunts it, walking the halls, rustling papers, shutting doors—but this story is not about you.

13.
When they escort your parents to the room where your brother’s body lies waiting, your mother stammers, “I’ve never met anyone who died,” which, by any definition, just isn’t true.

—Shannon Connor Winward

Writers and Poets Workshop Day

Saturday, April 1st
1PM – 4PM


Are you a poet, a writer or would like to be one? Successful authors and poets share their experiences through stories, techniques and tips for crafting, marketing and problem solving along our creative paths.

Featuring

William L Hahn

Chronicler of Epic Fantasy
Reading It: That OTHER Thing You Can Do with a Book

 

 

Shannon Connor Winward

Award-Winning Poet , Editor of Devilfish Review &
Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal
Poetry Hacks: Simple Ways to Boost Your Poetic Prowess

 


  Liz DeJesus

Author of The First Frost Series, Morgan, Girl, The Jackets and Zombie Ever After
Social Media and Technology for Writers

                     

Registration is FREE! To register call
302-838-3300

Bear Library – 101 Governors Plaza – Bear, Delaware 19701

“Ghosts, edited by Shannon Connor Winward, is a moving and wide-ranging collection of spectral verses that largely succeed in channeling the ghostly in singularly imaginative and even untrodden ways… The poems included in “Ghosts”have an admirable potency and synergy when read together… That these poems skirt the Scylla and Charybdis of over-reliance on genre tropes is their greatest strength.”

Many thanks to Michael J. Abolafia for his fabulous review (Spectral Realms 6) of the October 2016 issue of Eye to the Telescope—the “Ghosts” issue—which I guest-edited for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.  Abolafia gives special shout-outs to poets L.W. Salinas, Holly Walrath, Suzan Pickford, Daniel R. Jones, Joe Nazare, Christina Sng, Andrea Bylthe, Jessica Horowitz, Lauren McBride, Ann K. Schwader, John W. Sexton, Rebecca Buchanan, Jane Yolen, James Edward O’Brien & Alex Harper.

Science Fiction Poetry Association

“What Is Speculative Poetry” 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 ongoing debate within the forums (and indeed, in the literary world) is the exact definition of speculative.  In its constitution, the SFPA defines itself as an organization dedicated “the genres of science fiction, science, fantasy, horror, speculative, and all other areas of poetry and related thematic interest which current practitioners and readers commonly accept as inclusive within the broadest reasonable limits of the term.”  Nevertheless, members of our community consistently disagree on what constitutes “the broadest reasonable limits”.

While this may seem like a philosophical or semantic question, it’s also a practical one.  Each year the SFPA publishes two award anthologies (the Rhysling Award and the Dwarf Stars) of speculative poetry, bestows the Elgin Award for chapbook and book-length speculative poetry manuscripts, and hosts a speculative poetry contest with cash prizes, with the express purpose of highlighting the very best speculative poetry being written today. The need for a definition of speculative poetry as it pertains to eligibility for these awards, as well as our quarterly publications—namely Star*Line (the official SFPA newsletter) and Eye to the Telescope (the SFPA online magazine)—is a concern frequently raised by SFPA members, and has at times left the community vulnerable to controversy.

In response to these concerns, the SFPA officers published an informal online survey entitled “What Is Speculative Poetry” in November 2016. The main purpose of this survey was to determine whether there is an overall consensus among the membership regarding what genres or sub-genres of poetry belong under the heading “speculative”, assuming no other genre elements are present.  Little to no definitions of each suggested genre were provided, by design; the intention was to leave it up to survey participants to decide, based on their own understandings, which categories should be included.

As of January 25th, 2017, 89 people participated in this survey.  A detailed report of the results appears below, along with select comments from participants.

 *Correction: “SFF Tropes used only as metaphor appears twice.  This is an error.  The second appearance (at 37%) should read “Science used only as metaphor”.  See below for results table.

Survey Results

As indicated in the graph and table below, the results of the “What Is Speculative Poetry” survey represent a wide spectrum of opinion regarding what counts as “speculative”.  On the upper end of consensus, we find categories that are understood across the literary landscape as falling within the speculative umbrella, including Science Fiction, Space science & exploration, Fantasy, Magic, Supernatural Horror, Myth and Folklore, Fairy Tales, Alternative History, SF&F pop culture, Superheroes, Surrealism, Slipstream, Fabulism, and Weird and “What If”.

Genres that fell more towards the middle of the spectrum—that is, those receiving support by 40-65%  of responders, included Science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc), Domestic Fabulism, Dinosaurs, “Interstitial” works, biographies of speculative poets, and poems in which traditional SF&F tropes as literary device (analogy, simile).

On the lower end of the spectrum—those genres that are most controversial, according to responders—we find Bizzaro, SF&F tropes as metaphor (bit of inconsistency there), biographies of scientists and (non-speculative) poets, Mundane Horror, Nature, Religion, Gender, Real history, Cowboy & Western, and Romance.

Genre

# of Votes % of Votes

Science fiction

88 99%
Fantasy 86 97%
Horror with supernatural elements 80 90%
Mythological 80 90%
Alternate history 80 90%
Weird poetry (ala Lovecraft) 79 89%
Magical realism 79 89%
Fairy Tales 77 87%
Urban fantasy 76 85%
Cosmic horror 73 82%
Riffs on pop SFFH culture 72 81%
Folklore 70 79%
Astrology, magic, occult 64 72%
Space (astronomy, real-world space exploration) 63 71%
Fabulism 63 71%
surrealism 62 70%
slipstream 62 70%
superheroes 62 70%
“What if” poetry 61 69%
science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc) 56 63%
SFF tropes used only as metaphor 50 56%
Domestic fabulism 47 53%
Interstitial 44 49%
Dinosaurs 42 47%
SFF tropes used only as analogy 41 46%
SFF tropes used only as simile 41 46%
Speculative poets (biographical) 40 45%
Bizzaro 33 37%
Science used only as metaphor 33 37%
Scientists (biographical) 28 31%
Mundane (real-world) horror 21 24%
Nature 17 19%
Current religions 9 10%
Cowboy & Western 5 6%
Real-world human history 5 6%
Poets (biographical) 5 6%
Gender topics 5 6%
Romance 2 2%

 

Additionally, participants were given an opportunity to suggest categories overlooked by this survey.  Responses were as varied one might expect.  Selected responses include “oniric or dream content”, “time travel”, “post-apocalyptic”, “steampunk”, “experimental”, “robots”,  “mysticism”, “fanfic poetry”, and what is, to many, the ultimate yardstick—”I know it when I see it.”

So Now What?

As mentioned above, the purpose of the “What Is Speculative Poetry” survey was to determine informally whether there is an overall consensus among the membership regarding what genres or sub-genres of poetry belong under the heading “speculative”.

Based on the results, the answer to that question is clear as mud–yes, there is consensus, and no, there really isn’t.  Are we surprised? Not really!

Nevertheless, it is the consensus of the SFPA executive committee that this survey was, at least, an interesting experiment.  We feel that you, our members and colleagues, will also find it interesting, and that, in regards to eligibility for our awards and publications, this survey can also be a useful tool to future SFPA editors and award Chairs, who are tasked with answering the practical question, “What is speculative poetry?

As of the writing of this summary, the SFPA’s implicit policy is that the determination of eligibility of poems (and poetry collections) as speculative is subject to the discretion of our appointed editors and chairs, with oversight by the SFPA executive committee.  This policy may change, and/or be made more explicit in our official guidelines, pursuant to ongoing (and future) review.  As ever, we encourage discussion and feedback on this and other topics of interest to our community.  In the meantime, we want to express our sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this survey—as well as the members of our discussion forums—for your investment in the SFPA and the speculative poetry community.

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.

*

Survey Results

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.

 

In Case You’re Just Tuning In

Earlier this week a controversy developed over poems that were nominated by members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association for the 2017 Rhysling Award anthology, posted to the SFPA’s website, and then later removed because they’d been deemed ineligible by the Rhysling Chair on the grounds that they were not sufficiently speculative to qualify.  The removal of a poem by Tlotlo Tsamaase, “I Will Be Your Grave”, which first appeared in Strange Horizons, was met with particular dismay, with concerns that the exclusion of the poem demonstrates, at best, cultural insensitivity on the part of the Rhysling Chair and executive committee.

After further review, two of the disqualified poems, including “I Will Be Your Grave”, have since be reinstated (though it appears not to have made it back to the website at the time of this writing).  This was done not only as a gesture of good faith in answer to the grave concerns of the speculative poetry community, but also because the decision to disqualify the poems had not been unanimous in the first place.  Even among so small a group (six volunteers), the definition of “speculative” is highly variable—and problematic.

SFPA President Bryan Thao Worra has made a public statement regarding this issue which touches on the overarching goals of the organization; goals that include “inclusion, imagination, innovation, and community”, as well as active dialog among disparate points of view, even on sensitive and uncomfortable matters.  I encourage anyone following this issue to read it, if you haven’t already.

As an officer of the SFPA, I have held back on commenting on the matter – even as online discussions became heated, and colleagues and friends on all sides suffered personal attacks—because to me, the heart of the problem stems from a breakdown in communication, particularly among the SFPA officers.  In addition to the very serious and distressing political situation here in the states (and globally!), many of us are also facing personal hardships which make it challenging to conduct business in real time at the best of times, let alone when controversy hits with the lightning speed of social media.  It has taken some effort for all of us, in completely different time zones, to connect, review our notes, reiterate our positions, and reach a meaningful consensus.

Now that the matter is, hopefully, behind us, I would first like to apologize to anyone who has felt aggrieved by these events.  I am confident that was not the intent of the Chair or the officers, even if that was the result.   I personally feel that there was much we, as an executive body, could have done earlier to prevent this, for reasons I will touch on in a moment.  My heart is heavy over the fallout from this situation, but I am hoping we can learn from it and use its momentum to improve our policies and process in the future.

Secondly, I’d like to share my thoughts, as both a writer and fan of speculative poetry as well as an SFPA officer with firsthand knowledge of the events that transpired.  I believe that, although it may be at times uncomfortable, this is one of those difficult conversations that needs to be had.

WHAT IS SPECULATIVE POETRY?

One of the first issues to appear on my radar as an elected officer of the SFPA was the fact that, even within an organization dedicated to speculative poetry, not everyone agrees on what “speculative” means.  While this may seem like a philosophical or semantic question, it’s also a practical one.  The SFPA exists to foster community among people who read and write speculative poetry.  Each year the SFPA publishes two award anthologies (the Rhysling and the Dwarf Stars) of speculative poetry, bestows the Elgin Award for chapbook and book-length speculative poetry manuscripts, and hosts a speculative poetry contest with cash prizes, with the express purpose of highlighting the very best speculative poetry being written today.  Without a clear, working consensus of what speculative poetry is, what’s the fucking point?

The problem (as our members and colleagues have consistently and eloquently pointed out in many impassioned and drawn-out debates)is that a universally accepted definition of “speculative” is the stuff of fantasy (pun intended).  If you ask ten poets to define the genre you will get eleventy-seven conflicting answers.  Each writer and reader brings to the page an understanding informed by culture, marketing trends, historical framing, personal preference and bias… I don’t believe that straight science poetry belongs in science fiction, for example, but there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree.  And that’s okay.  Because what happens when we start trying to draw lines in the moon dust to define what belongs and what doesn’t? We end up with a divided community which, in the end, defeats the fucking point. 

So while I have my own personal opinions about what constitutes “speculative”, I have taken to heart the wisdom of members who, when asked the question, caution the community to err on the side of inclusion.  If it means that a few poems squeak by that are (arguably) less representative of the field than others, so be it. The upshot of fuzzy boundaries is that it allows for diversity, and diversity is a good thing.  Diversity freshens the poetic gene pool.  It educates, opens new doors of possibility, broadens horizons and raises new speculation and isn’t that the fucking point?

And yet.  As an officer of the SFPA, it is my responsibility to help recruit, vet, and assist those people we appoint as Editors and Chairs of our organization’s endeavors.  This year’s Rhysling Chair, David Kopaska-Merkel, is a notable member of the SFPA and the wider speculative poetry community – a person with a breadth of experience and demonstrated ability.  We were thrilled to have him take the helm for this project, and to vest him with the responsibilities as well as the discretion required for the role.

I am deeply troubled by the accusations on social media that David acted irresponsibly in deeming certain poems ineligible, or that his actions were done with malice, with the intent of purposely excluding some voices.  As Rhysling Chair, it is David’s job to ensure that all nominated poems meet the criteria for eligibility, which by extension includes determining whether the poems count as speculative, even though there is not – as yet – any clear policy to guide him in this.  David’s solution was to bring  each poem that he found questionable to the attention of the executive committee, seeking our input, before making his final determination.  His was a measured, conscientious approach.  And while I did not personally agree with each decision that he made, I was willing to support them.

Members of the SFPA and in the greater community have questioned the right of one person to decide what counts as speculative – and given that as a community we’ve yet to land on a universal definition, it’s a valid question.  It has been argued that the fact the nominated poem first appeared in one of the most celebrated speculative markets in the field should automatically qualify the poem as speculative, which is also an excellent point—I even suggested as much myself at one point during one of the many discussions in our list-serv, saying that any poem published in a speculative journal had already been vetted by an editor and should get an automatic pass.

But on the other hand, a point that I haven’t seen vocalized is the fact that magazine editors, too, exercise personal discretion.  They make decisions based on the same personally or culturally defined and often arbitrary standards and preferences and biases that we, as readers, exercise—and they have the right to do so, because of the task that has been entrusted to them.  Similarly, the Rhysling Chair is tasked with interpreting the organization’s guidelines to the best of his or her ability, which also implies a degree of individual, even arbitrary discretion—and that is what happened.  Without any clear guidance in the form of official policy, and with only the less-than-unanimous opinions of the executive committee (a microcosm of the larger spec community), he made a judgment call.

Personally, I am glad that “I Will Be Your Grave” was reinstated.  I believe that surrealism has a place in the speculative genre, and that poems like this are doing interesting things with language and imagery and genre tropes that should be recognized.  But as an officer, I believe the takeaway from this issue has less to do with righting a perceived injustice, and more to do with improving the Rhysling process.

I think, as a community, we need to look at the central issue –how do we define speculative, and, more importantly, who/how do we empower to apply that definition when it comes to featuring poems in our annual award programs—including our anthologies, which we hold up to the world as the best representatives of what speculative poetry is?

To accomplish this, we need to move away from the merry-go-round of debate (and name-calling) that is endemic in our social media and forums.  We need to work together to define clear and equitable guidelines for both the nomination process and the vetting system—assuming a vetting system for “speculative” should even exist.

Rather than writing the SFPA off as an exclusive or broken community, which I see happening (and which breaks my heart) I encourage anyone who is invested in speculative poetry and the issues raised herein to participate in making us better.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

For one thing, membership equals a vote.  We need membership dollars to exist and we need member votes to make policy.  Information about membership rates and benefits can be found here.

Secondly, if you have not already, please visit the WHAT IS SPECULATIVE  survey and share your opinions with us.  We were planning to close the poll soon, but given the events of the last week I think it behooves us to leave it open a bit longer.  This is an informal poll, not a binding ballot, but it may help provide a measure of member consensus on this very challenging topic that guide us—or at the very least, a way to frame the question.

Third, help us improve the process.

As Secretary, it has been a priority of mine to codify the various SFPA volunteer positions, including that of the award/contest Chairs and publication editors, so that people coming into these roles have a clear understanding of what is expected of them without the added burden of having to figure out how to do everything by scratch each time.  We now have official contracts that outline the duties and timelines for each position, but clearly there are still things we need to address, such as how/when to post nominated poems, how/whether to vet nominating poems for genre eligibility and how/when to handle poems that have been disqualified.   These are all part of a conversation that has been ongoing among the officers, but needs to be taken up with renewed urgency, out of respect for the frustration and hurt that was caused by our failure to provide clearer policies in time.

In the coming weeks, I would like to see these issues addressed as clearly-worded proposals to be approved by the membership and adopted as policy, to be cited in our official documents and posted guidelines.  Hopefully, we can reach a consensus and have these policies in place in advance not just of next year’s Rhyslings, but also our other upcoming 2017 projects, such as the Dwarf Stars, where the question of “What is speculative” is also relevant.

To that aim, I invite members of the SFPA and other interested parties to contact me with your thoughts on the matter.  Please note, I am NOT interested in further finger-pointing or recriminations.  What I am interested in are your suggestions for policy reform.

I am committed to leaving this organization better than I found it.  If you would like to help me accomplish that, please feel free to reach out.  I can be reached through Facebook or via email: ladytairngire @ yahoo dot com

In Closing

I realize that, to some, this incident has raised serious concerns.  I hope that in this long rambling I’ve made it clear that these concerns are not falling on deaf ears, and that many of us who are working within the SFPA are striving for an inclusive community of poets who will continue to challenge and broaden and enrich the speculative genre(s).  If we falter (and we will) I hope that passionate people will continue to call us on it.  In particular, I want to thank those who have done so with open minds and measured words, as this, I believe, is the surest way to create positive change.

Sincerely,

Shannon Connor Winward

SFPA Secretary

In recent posts* I have been revisiting poems from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited.  The issue went live October 15th, 2016.

In this last installment, we explore the “unmeasured” – the impossible up-not-down, the then that is too far to reach but close enough to feel, the ending that is not so much a beginning but a continuation.

*In case you missed any (or should you like to revisit them), links to the previous six posts in this series are located at the end of this feature.

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undying by John C. Mannone

|| laugh some
more || slip past the door
|| put your helmet & gear
in the corner of your
shanty and unbreak your
wife’s heart ||

Any exploration of a theme like “ghosts” that does not also deal with grief would be an exercise in frivolity.  That is why in this issue of Eye to the Telescope you will find poems of lost love and sorrow interspersed with the quirky and uncanny and tales of high ghostly adventure.  Death –that most central and inevitable drama of human existence–deserves the poet’s attention.

Of all the poems that I read for this issue, none were so exquisitely sad as  John C. Mannone’s “undying”.  I do not use this phrase lightly–this poem is not maudlin, it is not gothic in its grief.  Rather, Mannone gives us in unadorned language a series of mundane images–men doing everyday things like joking in an elevator, kissing their wives, drinking coffee.  The power of the poem is in its form: the actions play out backwards, calling quiet attention to the enormity of their sadness through their finality–the last sip, the last kiss, the last ride down into the coalmine.

The strength of “undying” is also in its impossibility: the men do not know they are doing these things for the last time.  We never know.  The poem asks the dead to reverse death, which of course they can’t, so the imperatives–unchoke, unkill, unbreak, untouch her, repeated over and over, are absolutely hopeless and awful, and wonderful in their ability to articulate utter loss.

Note, too, the appearance of the poem (a long, vertical column, like an elevator shaft) and the structural || positioned throughout, wherever the narration pauses for breath.  Clever, clever.

John C. Mannone has over 550 works published in venues such as Gyroscope Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Inscape Literary Journal, Windhover, 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, Event Horizon Magazine and Syzygy Journal. He’s been awarded a 2016 Weymouth writing residency and has two literary poetry collections, including one on disability, Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, Dec 2015) featured at the 28th Southern Festival of Books. He edits poetry for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex, and he’s a college professor of physics in east Tennessee. Visit jcmannone.wordpress.com

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Séance at Black Horse Pike

by James Edward O’Brien

Even deaf, the pain’s just as prickly, the distance too long to mend with the legs we’ve been given, or the legs taken from us.
There hasn’t been a boot sole cobbled to suit a journey like this…

“Séance at Black Horse Pike” reads like an epigraph to “undying”, and, really, to all the poems in this collection.  It has the thumps and flickers of a séance but it is really a reflection on death, and life– the whole painful business.  I feel like Black Horse Pike could be anywhere we sense history, the comings and goings (always goings) of lives, “then” and “now” separated by a notion of time thin as a well-worn carpet, yet set apart by an impossible, impassible distance.  Perhaps what we think of as ghosts are just those who, like us, have been struck by their own mortality there–perhaps the cold drafts and distant footfalls are just echoes of our existential dread.

I find the second-to-last stanza quite interesting: the only thing uplifting, life-affirming in the whole poem, the “overripe plumb” (our youthful expectations? the long-gone fruit of Eden?) appears out of nowhere and just hangs there, mocking, out of reach.  How ghastly! But how gorgeous.

A bit of trivia: James Edward O’Brien wrote “Séance at Black Horse Pike” in traditional stanzas; it was a mysterious technical glitch that caused his submission to appear to me as a prose poem.  We only discovered the mishap in the wee hours before publication; I liked it so much this way, I convinced him to keep it.  Special props to Jim for obliging me.  What do you think-how would the poem read, if framed differently?

James Edward O’Brien lives in Far Rockaway, NY, with his wife and dogs. His poetry has appeared in Nerve Cowboy, Black Bear Review, WordWrights, and Bathtub Gin. His speculative fiction appears in Cyclopean, 87 Bedford, and Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to The Misfits. Jim’s chapbook, Broke-down Shotgun Blues, was awarded first place in Nerve Cowboy’s 2002 Chapbook Contest.

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But after by Alex Harper

and though
the shadow of the end
lengthens as the day grows old
then turns to dust
it will restart at dawn—
remember this

My choice to place Alex Harper’s “But After” at the end of this issue was largely self-indulgent: not only does it give us a much needed upswing after the dark turnings of the previous poems, it also encapsulates my own hope and faith for the afterlife.

In my submission call, I quoted these lines from Manuel Acuña‘s “Before a Corpse”: Existence is a circle, and we err/when we assign to it for measurement/the limits of the cradle and the grave.”  “But After” was the answer to that poem I was hoping for.  In many of the works we’ve seen, death is not an ending, but Harper’s is the only one in which death is just a temporary reprieve from the real business of living.

To me, “But After” takes a stab at that most essential of life’s questions: why.  Why do we do this? Why do die? Why do we live? Because

there are things to do
you left undone and seas to watch
you’ve never seen, words
you’ve never spoken and there is
always hope

Existence is a circle, and, in a way, Eye to the Telescope #22 ends where it started; the ghost given form in the body, given meaning in the poem, here to be lived, read, written, over and over again.

Alex Harper has been published in Liminality, Mirror Dance, Not One of Us, Kaleidotrope, and Cordite Poetry Review, among others. He lives in England and can be found online at palexharperwriting.wordpress.com and on Twitter as @harpertext.

 

Want to have another go? Revisit the poems from Eye to the Telescope #22, “The Ghosts Issue” here:

Part 1: Intro – featuring poems by y L.W. Salinas, Holly Walrath and Akua Lezli Hope

Part 2: From Archetype to Personal – featuring poems by Robin Husen, Dawn Cunningham, Suzan Pickford and Cathleen Allyn Conway.

Part 3: Planes, Trains, and Gooseberry Jam – featuring poems by F.J. Bergmann, Daniel R. Jones, Joe Nazare and Oliver Smith

Part 4: Ghosts Without, Ghosts Within – featuring poems by Christina Sng, Andrea Blythe, Aisha Tayo Ijadunola and Lev Mirov.

Part 5: Space Ghosts – featuring poems by Jessica J. Horowitz, Charles Christian, Lauren McBride, Ann K. Schwader and Deborah L. Davitt.

Part 6: Into the Wild – featuring poems by Wendy Rathbone, John W. Sexton, Rebecca Buchanan and Jane Yolen

Part 7: The Unmeasured – featuring poems by John C. Mannone, James Edward O’Brien and Alex Harper