Lament of a Sci-Fi Poet

Jan 9, 11:53 by IROSF
A thread to discuss Michael Bishop's ruminations on this challenging career.

The essay can be found here.
Jan 9, 13:42 by Suzette Haden Elgin
One of these days we'll figure it out, the way Cowboy Poetry has figured it out. And then it will be possible to make a [modest] living writing science fiction poetry. It will even be possible to write it as Science Fiction Poetry.

You were one very brave child....

Suzette Haden Elgin
Jan 9, 17:25 by Michael Bishop
Dear Suzette, I wasn't brave at all, but thanks for thinking so. The dialogue I present as issuing from my mouth was in fact entirely mental and hardly as well formulated as I offer it here. I was terrified on this late-night poaching mission and then horrified by its conclusion, a dead white-tailed deer. But let's hope that somebody does indeed one day figure it all out for poets who would write within what we still conceive as genre contexts.

Jan 10, 05:51 by Tom Disch
What Michael Bishop knows about poetry could be writen in his signature.
Jan 10, 09:08 by Michael Bishop
Far less than tdisch, whose work I recommend.
Jan 10, 12:56 by Julie Runolfson
Well, the title is certainly accurate. It's a lament, all right. However, it's a lament that is missing some crucial information about the current state of the speculative poetry field. I think this sums up pretty well what I feel is the major failing of this piece:

I won't even pretend to grasp latter-day poetry markets in the little magazines, the dark-fantasy and horror fields, or all the e-publications spritzing ions into cyberspace.

Given that sentence describes the arenas in which speculative poetry seems to be most vital and flourishing, not grasping them while writing about the material they showcase strikes me as problematic and likely to weaken the resultant essay. As, indeed, it does.

Still an interesting retrospective on a slice of specpoetry's modern history, though.
Jan 10, 14:37 by Mike Allen
Believe me, those of us among the relatively unsung (certainly this particular unsung poet) welcome Michael's contributions the strange little field of speculative poetry, whether they be poem or essay.

I have to agree with Jules, though, that the markets Michael pleads ignorance about are exactly the places where science fiction poetry is most alive.

This isn't a fault-finding with Bishop in particular, but sometime I'd love to see an essay about what's happening within the poetry field rather than how hard it is to make a living at it, something true of most all writing these days. Of course, I guess that means someone has to step up to the plate and write that essay....
Jan 10, 15:52 by Bluejack
And if they do: please submit it to IROSF. But bear in mind, that a proliferation of fringe markets with minute readerships is not necessarily an indicator of health in a field.

IROSF would be interested in learning about where artistically important work is being done, hopefully to bring that work to a larger audience and give it the popular and critical attention it deserves.
Jan 10, 17:57 by Lois Tilton
I tend to suppose that the markets on the fringe do not pay the poet any money.
Jan 10, 18:15 by Karen Romanko
I compile a list of paying poetry markets for the Science Fiction Poetry Association:

Currently there are 61 markets on the list which pay something for speculative poetry. The average is probably $5 per poem. There's no way to make a living at that rate. Most of us are probably pulling down something in the low three figures a year.

As to "non-fringe" markets, where artistically important work is being done, I would recommend Strange Horizons:

Karen A. Romanko
Poet and SFPA Website Director
Jan 10, 18:53 by Lois Tilton
Does Lone Star Stories pay for its poetry?
Jan 10, 19:05 by Karen Romanko
Yes, Lone Star Stories currently pays $10 per poem. I've had two poems published there at earlier rates, one for $2 and one for $5. The $10-rate is a recent increase.
Jan 10, 19:41 by Bob Frazier
Actually, anyone who can trod the spike and state boldface that "wonder, the human capacity for awe, connects us willy-nilly to the sacred" knows something about poetry. Tdisch's callous sharpshooter's bullet seems wide of the target.
And living on Nantucket, I think (I know) I'm far from the heartbeat of most everything, say nothing about how speculative poetry is flourishing today, but I can see that MB is writing about something that doesn't need that market-savvy talk. He's certainly not lamenting about how hard it is to make a living at verse. Poetry as a calling, perhaps? With lament as a framing device? And a titch of gaga as leavening? Take mine straight up.
But it's Al (Algirdas) Žolynas who wrote The Zen of Housework. Sorry, Mike.
Jan 10, 19:50 by Julie Runolfson
But bear in mind, that a proliferation of fringe markets with minute readerships is not necessarily an indicator of health in a field.

I'd say that depends on the make up of the field. Poetry as a form is pretty marginalized in modern Western society (consider the size of the Poetry section in your local bookstore as compared to all the prose sections), so you can't really use the same yardstick for measuring success. For example, you may be classifying as a "fringe market" what may be one of the better-known and regarded markets for speculative poetry in the field today. And those are indeed the places where "artistically important" work is taking place. They're where things like the growing mythpunk movement started.

Have you considered adding regular poetry reviews to your format? That might help you track the trends in the field, and which publications are the most vital.
Jan 10, 20:35 by Bluejack
Thus 'necessarily.' I have not sought out poetry reviews, and nor have we received any, at least in the past year or so.

I certainly intended to make the point that there could be interesting, important work out there, and if there is, I'd like to know about it, and cover it.

That said the vast majority of poetry I've been exposed to in any market, from literary fringe to genre mainstream, has been at best unremarkable. Of course I am familiar with Sturgeon's law, and that just reinforces my main point. Tell me where the life in the field is. I understand that nobody is making a living at it; I don't care what the pay scale is; but if there's something out there that has genuine artistic merit, relevance either within the genre, or to our culture at large, then let's surface it.

IROSF is committed to covering short fiction -- indeed, I'm hoping to supplement Lois' excellent work with some coverage of the "fringe" markets in short fiction because I know there's important work happening there.

If someone can bring me insightful, thought-provoking coverage of poetry, either reviews or criticism, I will absolutely consider covering it.
Jan 10, 21:04 by Julie Runolfson
Thus 'necessarily.' I have not sought out poetry reviews, and nor have we received any, at least in the past year or so.

I suspect a lot of those following speculative poetry don't realize you'd be interested in such pieces. Now we know different.

Poetry's no more nor less prone to Sturgeon's Law than prose. That said, there's a reason there's an award devoted to it, and an annual anthology of the nominated pieces for said award. Nor is it the slimmest volume I've ever encountered. Someone else will have to give you numbers, but you're asking about quality, not quantity. Karen mentioned Strange Horizons. For my money, Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction (and Fantasy, thank you) Poetry Association, Mythic Delerium, and Goblin Fruit are three other excellent sources of some of the finest work being done in the speculative poetry field today. Also, Lone Star Stories, the short stories in which are already regularly reviewed here.

I get that you and your stuff can't cover everything, so hopefully the response to this essay is giving you a better idea of the current state of the field. I'll see what I can do about reviews and criticism, and maybe my fellow members of SFPA will do the same.
Jan 11, 17:06 by Yoon Lee
Jules, I have at least on one occasion talked to someone about writing on speculative poetry. As someone with a toe in the field I would be interested in seeing such submissions as well.
Jan 12, 05:46 by Michael Bishop
Bob, thanks for your comments. I apologize to Al Zolynas, to L. Blunt Jackson, to you, and to IROSF's readership for getting the poet's given name wrong. I knew better. I first encountered "The Zen of Housework" in an anthology edited by Czeslaw Milosz (please supply the appropriate diacritical marks) called A Book of Luminous Things.

In fact, I'd be grateful if Blunt would change "Art" to "Al" in the text of this article, not to hide my error but to do right by the author.
Jan 12, 08:47 by Julie Runolfson
Yoon, there's been discussion of topics for articles and essays, as well as discussion of different approaches for reviews, on the SFPA mailing list of late. With luck, this means there will be several submissions forthcoming.
Jan 12, 11:14 by Bluejack
Bob, Michael,

IROSF should fact check all that sort of thing; that's what any professional publication does. However, to date we have not had the resources to do so. Fortunately, with web publication, it's never too late to correct a glitch... and I'm off to do that right now.

Jan 13, 08:05 by Yoon Lee
Jules, I've been keeping an eye on the discussion over there and am certainly keeping my fingers crossed that this will indeed mean submissions will come our way! (I lurk, what can I say?)
May 23, 16:22 by Ryder W. Miller

The 2006 Rhysling Anthology. The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2005. Edited by Drew Morse (2006) Science Fiction Poetry Association: Virginia. 146 pages. $12.95.

The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase. Edited by Roger Dutcher and Mike Allen. (2005) Science Fiction Poetry Association: Virginia. 170 pages. $15.00.

Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

Having not found a home in either the science fiction or the poetry book section, The Science Fiction Poetry Association has self published and gone to the Internet at The SFPA publishes a Journal (Star*Line), books, and an annual Rhysling Award anthology, named after Rhysling, the Blind Bard of the Spaceways, in Robert Heinlein's 1940's story "The Green Hills of Earth".

In the chorus of the famous story Rhysling would sing: "We pray for one last landing,/On the globe that gave us birth;/Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies/And the cool, green hills of Earth."

Rhysling is of the future of the past. Science fiction is now in a post disillusionment age. We once thought our problems could be solved in the future and that there would be space explorers on other planets and maybe contact with extraterrestrial civilizations. Now in the future, mispredicted in the past, we see that much of this has not happened. The future was supposed to be populated by human settlers on the Moon and Mars, clones, robots and androids. Instead we found out that these challenges were harder than realized, and technology could exacerbate our problems. Science fiction is now "wiser" and more pessimistic.

Science fiction luminary Joe Haldeman in "Old Twentieth: a century full of years" (2005) documents the pains, crimes and sorrows of the disillusioning Twentieth century, writing: "we have to abandon the old god/of murder war who kept madmen in power year/after year in the century that rage began". Echoing the optimism of the past, he hopes that some day in the future our children may not fear our own humanity.

Some Science Fiction writers have since given up the utopian and egalitarian dream that came with the dream of space travel. In Patrick McKinnon's pivotal 1990 winner "dear spaceman," from the retrospective Rhysling Award Winners Showcase The Alchemy of Stars, the speaker laments:

"I want terribly to know what yr planet looks like. i/want to wander space like you do. i/want to stretch myself way out there/into some next place & stay for awhile./on coming back i'd walk among the trees/& feel the distance,/feel the time it took/& live the rest of my life amazed."

This poem marks a turning point that occurred some years earlier. There are still no such opportunities for would be space explorers. Most of the poems in the 2006 Rhysling Anthology reflect a change in interest from hard science fiction and space opera to more fantastical modes, including works in the areas of horror and fantasy poetry. There are also science fantasy poems. Such writing is hard to appreciate by those who are not grounded in the horror and fantasy motifs. One need remember, even be cosy among, Frankensteins, ghosts, and in medieval times. There are poetry tales of monsters and ghosts, but also princesses, knights and kings.

There is also science poetry included with references to astronomer Caroline Herschel and other scientific wonders. Award Winner Robert Frazier writes in "Salinity" from 1989: "He taught me that we preserved our heritage,/our only heritage really,/in the saltiness of our blood."

Almost ever present in these collections is the disappointment with The Space Age which left us all stuck on Earth and looking towards the fantastical. We have no idea how we are going to achieve light speed or cryogenics. We also now lament the reality of Mars which has been a adventure wonderland for science fantasy writers. In the 2006 Rhysling Anthology, editor Drew Morse writes in a poem called "First Cross of Mars": "I came to Mars, alone, for one reason:/To leave God on Earth to those who need it."

In some form Science Fiction poetry has been with us since 1938, and some will argue that it harkens back to Gilgamesh or at least Byron's apocalyptic "Darkness". There have been small organizations since 1938 with awards, journals and seminal science fiction poetry books. These efforts have been formalized by The Science Fiction Poetry Association and the Rhysling Award which were founded in 1978 by Suzette Haden Elgin. The SFPA's most influential work is The Alchemy of Stars which showcases the Rhysling winners from 1978 to 2004. One can say the poems are uneven, or rather there are different types of poems for different types of fans. There is much wonder and "emotional zip" here.

Melissa Marr writes in "Fighting the Tide": "And I wait in the dark, listening/trembling at their cries-joyous barks/as my beloved leads our selchie children/to a strange sea where I'll not follow."

Some poems are playful, some scary, and others profound. The science fiction and science poems more dependably profound. The poems are separated into the long form (over 50 lines), and the short form (less than 49 lines). Past Rhysling winners have included science fiction luminaries Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Jane Yolen, Joe Haldeman, Michael Bishop, Lucius Shepard and Geoffrey Landing, but most of the winners are by poets who have devoted themselves to the art of writing science fiction poetry, like multiple award winners Robert Frazier and Bruce Boston.

In "Spacer's Compass" Bruce Boston writes fantastically: "Old I grow … galactic old/the polar night now calls my name/and still I tramp the stellar routes/from burning white to burning red…."

If one likes reading science fiction, they are likely to find some poems they like included. There are also poems that will be interesting to those who like the exploration of the wonders of science. The same may be true for fans of horror and fantasy. The short poems are more immediate, but one can also sit through "tales" to be told in the long fantastic poems.

May 23, 16:42 by Ryder W. Miller
Inspired poems by Ryder W. Miller:

I Still Dream Of Mars

not with four armed soldiers
its own gods and white apes,
but still with princesses
and Bradbury's towns
and concerts, and lonely recluses.

Reading about Mars
Could make me smarter
more strategic or proactive.

But now Mars is a Red Rocked wilderness
with mountains and valleys.
Rocks that can also draw your attention
and leave you asking questions.

Mars is a wilderness reserve
waiting its Nature poets,
photographers and
landscape painters.
Waiting it's seers,
and symbiotic fossil finders.


Where have the mermaids gone?
And the Kraken?
What of Dragons?
And Unicorns?
Where are the Sirens?
And Hippogriffs?

Have they gone
the way of the dinosaurs?
The way of the Passenger Pigeon?
Or Carolina Parakeet?

Or the Martians?

So many unprepared others
are also now
sadly going elsewhere
to join them.

Human Poet

I see the space explorer
the poet
by the rocket
under the deep blue sky
of a distant world.

Pad in hand.
What would be
the constraints? What would be
the restrictions?

On the cover of the
Sci Fi book:
One would not need
to worry about
shaving or laundry
facial hair
or hygiene.

One would be able
to see more than one
moon in the bright sky.

One could dream of distant
Earth, and other worlds.

At times,
in my mind,
that poet,
by the rocket,
under the blue sky,
under the two moons,
is myself!

It could also
be you.

Intergalactic Transmissions

and sending out poems
Live from the
Intergalactic Web

Over Radio Waves,
and making other waves.

Hopefully also to reach
And hopefully
the Androids,
Computer Brains,
and Cetaceans
will also appreciate.

Apr 10, 10:26 by
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