Speculative Poetry Spotlight

Mari Ness is a poet and a blogger at Tor.com.

Poetry, fantasy and science fiction have long been deeply intertwined. Some of the earliest myths were sung, not spoken, in resonant verse that still echoes today. Shakespeare combined poetry and fairies, as did Spenser – in highly popular entertainments.

And yet somewhere along the line, a gulf appeared and widened between poetry and prose in science fiction. As a result, when I go to conventions, and mention that I’m a poet, some people freeze. And then follow this up with quick demurs: Oh, I never read poetry. I could never get into poetry. And the most depressing: wait, people actually write poetry about robots?

Why, yes, yes, we do.

But the reaction is a lingering issue, I fear, stemming from what life was like not that long ago (really), when I was a little poet writing my first little (terrible) dragon poems. Speculative poetry, when it existed at all, appeared in the corners of some of the major zines (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov’s, but in very few other places. Finding any poets working in speculative poetry more recent than Tolkien was difficult indeed when you were a small little poet looking for dragons and robots, unable to attend conventions, even when you had access to excellent bookstores and libraries.

Now, thanks largely to the internet, we are arguably living in one of the richest eras ever for what I and some others call “speculative poetry” — poetry that, in my definition, explores worlds outside the boundaries of reality. The internet has allowed for a mini explosion in zines focusing exclusively on speculative poetry — as well as helping readers and poets find poetry zines, chapbooks and poetry presses. Quite frankly, when Locus approached me for this post, my worst issue was trying to figure out what to leave OUT; this post could easily have gone on for several pages. But here’s a small and very incomplete sampling of just some of the places where you can find marvels in speculative poetry: (Full disclosure: my poems have appeared in many of the zines below.)

1. Strange HorizonsStrange Horizons publishes a new poem every week, and its archives date all the way back to its founding in 2000. Most impressive is the range here: Strange Horizons has published hard science fiction and epic fantasy poems, with everything in between, as well as poems showcasing a variety of forms, from free verse to sonnets to villanelles to the occasional sestina.

2. Mythic Delirium – Focused largely on the power of myth, Mythic Delirium is one of the rare zines on this list available in either print or as a download through Weightless Books. You’ll see some very familiar names in here – Joe Haldeman, Jane Yolen, Ursula Le Guin and Neil Gaiman have all made appearances. Most of the poems here are short bits of wonder, but the zine also prints the occasional breathtaking epic. It also contains magical illustrations.

3. Goblin Fruit – I can’t gush about this little zine enough. Published quarterly, offering anywhere from 10 (in earlier issues) to 20 or more poems (in later issues), the poems here breathe new life into myth, fairy tale and magic. Nothing science fictiony here, but plenty of gems to keep a little magic in your life. Archives date back to 2006.

4. If these two zines didn’t give you quite enough fairy tale and folklore, Cabinet des Fees and Jabberwocky publish mythic poems as well as short fiction.

5. Stone Telling – Raw, fierce, insightful, these are among some of the most genre-breaking, experimental and courageous poems out there. This is definitely a zine to listen to, when possible (links to audio files are included with most poems.)

6. Roz Kaveney’s Livejournal In addition to the occasional essay, Roz Kaveney frequently publishes speculative poetry, some of which has later appeared in Tor.com.

7. Tor.com’s National Poetry Month – Speaking of which, every April Tor.com features outstanding speculative poetry, both reprints and originals, as part of its celebration of National Poetry Month. For an idea of the diversity here, see Paul Park’s “Ragnorok” which is not going where you initially think it’s going, and Catherynne Valente’s “Mouse Koan“.

8. Ideomancer – Along with beautifully crafted short fiction, Ideomancer usually offers three to four speculative poems every quarter.

9. The poems in Niteblade can sometimes vary in quality, but for horror fans this is one of the best places to find truly creepy poems that will curdle your spine. This is another set of poems that work very well when read out loud.

10. inkscrawl – And finally, if this list has overwhelmed you, or if you’re in a hurry, inkscrawl focuses on tiny speculative poems – ten lines or less – a nibble of beauty in each poem. A marvelous introduction to the world of speculative poetry.

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