A Bit of History on SF Poetry

Robert Frazier is an author, poet, and editor whose work has appeared in magazines such as Strange Horizons and Star*Line, as well as collections such as Invisible Machines.

Karen has asked me to pipe in with some historical perspective on speculative poetry. Antecedents like Blake and Poe and the Odyssey abound, but the movement didn’t gel until more recently. Take, for example, an art colony. Painters can work independently in a location for centuries, but that place doesn’t become an art colony until artists gather around a key painter or patron, and then more colonists pile on the scene and move in permanently. The nexus years for poetry in SF seem to be 1968-69.

On the other side of the pond the Penguin Modern Poets series and New Worlds magazine were using works by D.M. Thomas and Edwin Morgan, and the landmark volume (our bible) was the Edward Lucie-Smith anthology Holding Your Eight Hands. On this side of the pond, Virginia Kidd published a litmag of poetry by participants in the legendary Milford workshops like Tom Disch and Ursula le Guin, and Fantasy and Science Fiction began to augment its fiction with stuff that stepped beyond the role of page filler. Poets were consciously writing serious fantastic works, and the big and small presses began to take notice. A decade later a building wave crested and the Science Fiction Poetry Association was born (1978), and with it the Rhysling Awards.

I’ve just finished designing the 170-page trade paperback Rhysling Anthology for the 2012 voting (edited by Lyn C. A. Gardner, not printed yet), and I can tell you that this year’s nominees cover much the same spread that the early photocopy issues did 30 years ago… SF, high fantasy, pure science, dark fantasy, surreal, and beyond. There’s a strong emphasis on fantasy and dark fantasy, but that is also reflected in the prose and movie fields today. These genre poets seem empowered by the past, and many appear willing to add their voices, their visionary imagery to the future literature. That’s a fairly healthy attitude.

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