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January, 2007 : Essay:

Lament of a Sci-Fi Poet

Born in Frye's Mill, Arkansas, an old logging camp, my daddy once stepped on a rusty spike near his stepfather Cody Philyaw's repair shop on their farm in Poinsett County. The spike gouged a gory hole in Daddy's foot. Sonny—owing to his blue eyes and flashing grin, everybody called him Sonny—knew about tetanus, but hated doctors, so he filled a bucket with kerosene and, in a secluded corncrib, gritted his teeth and soaked his foot. The next day he went about his business, disguising his limp and saving the family a doctor's bill that it didn't really need.

Jump ahead a few years. Sonny and my uncle Mike, who drove huge yellow machines all over the Rockies carving out highways, have taken me deer poaching on the scrubby high plains near Gardner, Colorado. I huddle between them in the pickup as wimpy and scared as, say, Woody Allen (whose milquetoast demeanor once allegedly provoked a gang of Quakers to beat him up). Sonny and Uncle Mike spotlight a young buck, halt the pickup, and blow that animal off the silhouetted ridge with a single shot from Uncle Mike's 30.06 rifle. (Twenty years ago, I fictionalized this scene in a chapter of No Enemy but Time.) Then we bump across the countryside to find our kill, and down behind the ridge Sonny dips two fingers into the buck's blood and wipes it, viscous and scalding, across my forehead and down my cheeks. He has blooded me: I am now not just a piratical poacher, but a man.

"There," says Sonny. "That'd shake up your pals back in Mulvane, wouldn't it?" (Through most of the year, I live with my mother in Mulvane, Kansas, south of Wichita, but I visit Sonny every summer. My parents divorced when I was five.) Sonny stares at me, hard. "So, knothead, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

On that high slope, I count my options: soldier, bulldozer jockey, boozehound, serial adulterer, big-game poacher, roadhouse rowdy. I want to cry. What did this poor buck, whose legs Uncle Mike hacks away with a saw, do to warrant its out-of-season slaughter? Sonny squeezes my shoulder and glances sidelong at my uncle with expectant paternal pride.

"I want to be a poet," I tell my camouflage-clad father.

"A poet?" Sonny's face undergoes a slump. All his features swag, like those of a bloodhound, woebegone in a rainstorm.

"Yessir," I say. "A science-fiction poet."

Uncle Mike stops sawing. He and Sonny exchange a look. The buck's mutilated carcass gives a peculiar lurch.

"Yessir," I say, "the Shakespeare of the spaceways, the Keats of anthropological speculation, the T. S. Eliot of path-finding alternate history."

Uncle Mike leans back on his boot heels. "Michael, any fella who'd set off on that path will step on some really sharp rocks. Except for jingles in the Reader's Digest, nobody reads poetry nowadays. You'll have to beg, borrow, or steal to keep your feet in socks. How bout it, Sonny—what do you think?"

Like Tar Baby, Sonny he don't say nuffin.

Uncle Mike gives me two big thumbs up. "Go for it, squirt. If anybody's got the balls to take rejection, it's probably a mollycoddled mama's boy like you. And, mark my words, you'll see a ton of rejection."

Uncle Mike hit the spike dead-on. My decision to write drove a spike through Sonny's heart. Every book of mine he ever read, he read with the bemused duty-driven grimness of a World War II vet changing a mephitic diaper.

But, as Uncle Mike had implied, my mom lent support, always encouraging my efforts to forge literature in, as James Joyce wrote, "the uncreated smithy of my soul." Thank God—for, as John Ciardi wrote somewhere else, "You don't have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone."

With the help of my writing instructor Marion Montgomery, at age twenty-one I made my first professional sale (as a sci-fi poet, you could say) to The Georgia Review. An alternate-history poem called An Echo Through the Timepiece, it deluded editor James Colvert into believing it a harmless homage to poets John Keats and James Tate, with a stanza form cribbed from Ode to a Nightingale. It begins: "Tier hourglassing to tier in slow avalanche / Of suspended stone imprecise as water, / The theatron soaks in its own dust, inch by inch / Ticking off collapse in sequent falls of powder. " Oh, it gets better as it goes along, concluding with a flourish, "One loss, amplified, is ours when through the hourglass / Where sands drop down, we too succumb and granulate, / Sifting by necessity to stageless laws, / Our common dust divesting at one spate / A thousand thousand curt soliloquies of men."

The summer after my poem's publication, I recited it to my fun-loving twenty-year-old cousin Sharon Maxwell, Uncle Mike's daughter, at a keg party on somebody's rangeland. When I'd finished, she said, "That's pretty, Michael, but you really should write stuff people want to read." After its appearance in 1968 in the Georgia Review, An Echo Through the Timepiece elicited not one response that I know of, made no more money (I spent all fifteen bucks on off-prints), and launched no schools of Hip New Wave Quasi-Keatsean Sci-Fi Versifying. From my disappointment grew a troublesome hunch that Sharon knew whereof she spoke. I probably could not make a living, or even a small reputation, turning Tennyson's Ulysses, say, into a dramatic monologue spoken by an Ahab-like starship captain urging his crew to point their vessel into the vacuuming death spiral of a black hole.

And so, negativity spiraling in my heart, I turned from writing poetry to crafting prose. If you wish to make a living, the egregious 1960s-1970s example of Rod (Listen to the Warm) McKuen aside, you adjust. You write prose. So my day job immerses me in prose—from reviews, criticism, essays, introductions, and articles to fiction of all lengths, short-shorts to novels, and finally even to convention talks. But my first fiction sale, a story entitled Piñon Fall in a 1970 issue of Galaxy magazine, now long defunct, owes most of whatever panache it possesses to the prose lyricism of my first SF role model, Ray Bradbury.

Piñon Fall centers on three Chicano boys' discovery of a winged hominid lying in the snow. Here's a paragraph from the story:

In the failing sunlight the creature Papilio began very slowly to manipulate his wings, moving them back and forth, back and forth, covering and uncovering his naked, manlike body. As he moved them, the wings shimmered beneath the emblazoned weight of red and orange peacock eyes. Royal blue hieroglyphics also shimmered with the movement of his wings and the movement was rhythmic. Jamie decided that those hieroglyphics easily could have been the characters of an alien tongue, but he watched the man and said nothing.

Later, an old woman named Mrs. Zowodny comes upon the cocoon of another alien in her back yard:

At last she brought the axe to her shoulder and let it drop into the soft integument of the thing. The cocoonlike shell ruptured. Mrs. Zowodny's eyes blazed up. Again and again she chopped the thing, the rusted axe head making clumsy arcs in the failing light. Membranous colors gushed out of the shell and spilled onto the snow, diaphanous capes of orange and scarlet and blue. The plank to which the thing had been attached lay broken in countless splinters.

The story concludes, "Somewhere, miles and miles beyond the Sangre de Cristo range, camels were standing in the snow."

I waited for reader response, even if an outraged old English teacher chose to spank me for overusing the word thing. Eventually, a letter appeared in Galaxy's sister magazine If, also edited by Ejler Jakobsson:

Dear Sir:
In spite of doing a lot of reading, I rarely take the time to write about what I have read. I feel compelled to make an exception, however, and comment on 'Piñon Fall' by Michael Bishop in the Oct-Nov. Galaxy. The delicately haunting theme of this story remained with me long after I had finished reading it—not a commonplace occurrence.
The writer shows a sensitivity of expression and a talent for original description not frequently encountered. I can still see 'camels standing in the snow.' I look forward to reading more by Mr. Bishop.
           Mrs. Charles E. Willis
           Albany, Georgia 31705

Elation should have filled me like helium. I should have floated off into the Colorado sky like a weather balloon. Unfortunately, I knew Mrs. Charles E. Willis of Albany, Georgia, as my mother—not as an unbiased reader ecstatic to have come across the work of a promising new sci-fi poet. Mom, I thought, thanks for the kudos, but If usually publishes only one letter of comment per story per issue. Owing to your maternal encomium, I will never read the praises of a person not consanguineously connected. I was twenty-five, but please recall Ciardi's epigram about the sufficiency of adolescent suffering for any poet. Twenty-five or no, I felt even younger than the nineteen-year-old Samuel R. Delany writing The Jewels of Aptor back in the early 1960s probably had. In short, I felt again like a dependent teenager.

But I now understood that you write prose for money, poetry for love. In fact, poetry may not even garner you praise, much less money. You must love it to write it. The equation goes like this: prose for material, physical survival; poetry for psychological, emotional, spiritual survival. Sometimes, if you are very smart or very lucky, you can write prose poems that combine the narrative ceremony of prose storytelling with the immemorial poetry rituals of mystery and innuendo. These last qualities—mystery and innuendo—arise via inspiration, defined variously as "the drawing in of breath," "the divine influence by which the sacred writers were instructed," and so as "an inhalation of the spirit of deity."

Whoa, you may protest. Bishop has gone evangelically gaga on us here—totally, fallaciously Falwellian. Well, maybe. Because I believe that every poem has a spiritual dimension—more so, I'm afraid, than do short stories, many of which derive from crasser motives than the transfiguration of spirit into a work of art. Even a bad poem has a spiritual dimension, even a poem about such prosaic or repellent subjects as washing dishes or picking through garbage—even a poem about such a seemingly irreverent topic as, say, the Pope's penis.

I'm not kidding. Sharon Olds has written a poem about the papal organ that goes, "It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate / clapper at the center of a bell. / It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a / halo of silver seaweed, the hair / swaying in the dark and the heat—and at night, / while his eyes sleep, it stands up / in praise of God." (1) Please don't regard Ms. Olds' poem as crude, blasphemous, smart-alecky, or simply funny. It frames a serious, even a soulful, inquiry: "In the life of the religiously celibate, what purpose do the reproductive apparatus play?" You could say that she asks her question sarcastically, but I would argue that she does so from a skeptical and moving compassion for a fellow human being who has voluntarily renounced the one act that says yes to life louder than any other. For many of us, only one motive justifies such a renunciation: the love of God. If you don't believe, the self-emasculated Pope looks like an idiot, but if you do, he embodies the very fool for Christ that Paul eulogizes in the Epistles.

Let me repeat: Every poem has a spiritual dimension. In poetry, even more than in prose, the writer struggles to make some experience, internal or external, immediate, intense, and alive. Unlike the newspaper reporter, the poet tries to recreate not only a specific experience but also the emotion that accompanied it. The reporter tells us something, and if the recounted event is an extraordinary or a powerful one, we will in fact feel something—amusement, regret, outrage. The poet, on the other hand, deploys language so that the resulting artifact mediates not only the "event" of the experience but also the precise feeling that it evoked in the poet. In short, the poet mediates wonder, and wonder, the human capacity for awe, connects us willy-nilly to the sacred.

In Al Zolynas' poem, The Zen of Housework, the narrator washes dishes at a kitchen window facing a sunset (as I myself often used to do), and the glass that he raises to the light distills "the grey wine / of domesticity." The speaker has discovered wonder, the sacred, in an act that most of us consider either obligatory or soul deadening, the exact opposite of the sacred. In other words, the speaker has transformed even washing dishes into a sacrament, which he salutes in his final set-apart line, "Ah, grey sacrament of the mundane."

Similarly, Jonathan Swift—given Gulliver's Travels, my favorite sci-fi poet, bar none—has a poem entitled A Description of a City Shower about London during what seems a calamitous rainstorm. Swift describes everything, from the stink of the sewer to the mud-splashed women in the shops to the Tories and Whigs crouching in doorways to spare their powdered tresses. The poem ends by cataloguing the flotsam flowing through the streets' gutters:

Filths of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. 'Pulchre's shape their course,
And in huge confluence join at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the Conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweeping from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.

Sprats, by the way, are small fish. In any event, the poem details all sorts of ordinary or repulsive items, but Swift brings the street to life. He recreates before the eye of the mind that which we cannot physically see, and he midwives this din and bustle through language both satirical and hieratic (i.e., priestly). We almost cover our heads and pinch our noses at the sight and stench of it. We may even laugh. Through a close recitation of the physical, Swift tickles our souls.

But what does Jonathan Swift have to do with science fiction? Outside of his authorship of Gulliver's Travels, a classic of satirical speculation shaped on the model of the popular ship-voyage-cum-travelogue, maybe not much. But I made my second sale to the original anthology series Orbit, edited by Damon Knight, with In the Lilliputian Asylum: A Story in Eight Poems and an Interrogation. In his acceptance letter, Knight confessed that despite a dislike of most poetry he wanted this poem, presumably because it had a narrative thread and a clear tie to the Travels. Certainly, I could not have sold In the Lilliputian Asylum to many other markets then available, except maybe Robert Silverberg's New Dimensions, Delany and Hacker's Quark, or the New Wave British magazine New Worlds. Ejler Jakobsson at Galaxy and If would have blinked bemusedly; John W. Campbell at Analog would have sent a hit man.

The story, or poem, made no splash at all, even though its central conceit—that a Lilliputian who once met Gulliver now lives in a madhouse because the state has decreed Gulliver's visit to the island a mass hallucination—still strikes me as novel-worthy. And I may yet write that novel. Then, however, I could handle the conceit only in a series of poems, and I remain grateful that Knight, trumping his prejudice, bought the thing. I also must salute Steve Pasechnick, editor of Edgewood Press, who encouraged me to include In the Lilliputian Asylum in my only poetry volume to date, Time Pieces.

Who else in the field had, or has, the courage to publish poetry? Actually, some of the names may startle. Pacific Quarterly Moana, a literary journal, took a piece of mine about the ecological contributions of East African vultures. Jerry Pournelle accepted my homage to Andrew Marvell, For the Lady of a Physicist, for a volume of hard-science stories called Black Holes. (That poem later won the 1979 Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem from the Science Fiction Poetry Association.) Pat Cadigan and Arnie Fenner at the semiprofessional magazine Shayol often featured verse. T. E. D. Klein, editor of Twilight Zone, bought a poem about a remake of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and my preference for Charles Laughton in the title role. (Who the hell was this Anthony Hopkins fella, anyway?) And, in 1977, writer and editor Jack Dann solicited poems from SF writers, including Ursula Le Guin and Sonya Dorman, for a postcard series from the Bellevue Press.

More recently, Kathy Kiernan, executive editor of the Quality Paperback Book Club, bought a poem about Philip K. Dick for the club's annual literary Calendar of Days, a piece that I shamelessly titled Philip K. Dick Is Dead, A Lass... Less surprising, Edward L. Ferman and then Gordon Van Gelder at Fantasy & Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois and then Sheila Williams at Asimov's, and, more rarely, Ellen Datlow at Omni, now gone, have proved receptive to poetry; and poets as comparatively unsung as David Lunde and Terry McGarry, and as famous as Joe Haldeman and Lucius Shepard, have exploited that receptivity.

Valiantly, Roger M. Dutcher put out an irregularly appearing periodical called The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. In 1982, Steve Rasnic Tem assembled The Umbral Anthology of speculative verse, and in 1984 Robert Frazier, poet and short story writer, edited another comprehensive SF-poetry anthology, Burning with a Vision; also, for many years Frazier edited the SFPA newsletter, StarLine. 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.

No one makes a living writing this stuff, though, and, as my Uncle Mike told me near Gardner, Colorado, many years ago, "Mark my words, you'll see a ton of rejection." That prediction holds true no matter what you write, as I have learned again over the past five or six years sending contemporary stories to such mainstream markets as the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Granta, Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Harper's. Often I feel like I've trod on a spike, like I've been set upon and beaten by Quakers, like I've stepped into a spotlight so that a callous sharpshooter can pick me off with a single bullet to the forehead. All writers know this feeling. All deplore the extent to which it has become a commonplace, all the while commiserating about the disrespect, lack of understanding, intolerance, and aesthetic cluelessness typifying, at least seemingly, nearly all persons of the editorial persuasion.

For all those reasons, I'll end by reading a notice clipped to a rejected manuscript a few years ago by the editors of a Chinese economic journal:

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.

Now, that's poetry.

Copyright © 2007, Michael Bishop. All Rights Reserved.

About Michael Bishop

Michael's first fiction sale was Piñon Fall published in Galaxy for the grand sum of $100. Having his name on the same cover with Robert Heinlein probably added more to his spirit than this sum added to his pocket. He began submitting stories and within a few years had been published in all of the major genre magazines.

Since then he won Nebula awards (for best novelette, "The Quickening" and best novel, No Enemy But Time); three Locus Awards (for best anthology, Light Years and Dark, for best novella, "Her Habiline Husband," and for best fantasy novel, Brittle Innings); a Mythopoeic Fantasy award (for best adult fantasy novel, Unicorn Mountain); and a pair of Southeastern Science Fiction Awards (for the stories "The Door Gunner" and "Bears Discover Smut"); and has been nominated for numerous Hugo awards.


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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