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Issue 1 • May 2011
The Long and Short of Speculative Poetry
edited by Samantha Henderson & Deborah P Kolodji

Issue 1 Short Poems

In Praise of Short Poetry

Somewhere in Ionia, probably near the end of the eighth century B.C., Homer composed the Odyssey, one of the world’s oldest speculative poems. It is an epic we all know, filled with heroes, monsters, gods, grand adventures, and love. A short poem from the same inspirational source, like a still shot from an epic movie, might be a haiku like this one by Ann K. Schwader:

another day’s weaving
a tear

—Ann K. Schwader

Schwader’s poem doesn’t tell Penelope’s story, but the reader feels her emotion through an objective look at the scene through a close lens. There is nothing in this haiku about Penelope’s suitors or missing husband. Nothing that hints about the reason for the unraveling, or even who unravels the weaving, but it doesn’t matter. The reader sees the scene through Ann’s eyes and feels some of Penelope’s pain.

A reader unfamiliar with the Odyssey might not see the reference to Penelope, but could still have an empathic reaction. Everyone, at some point in their life, has had to start over again, or repeat work. Each reader has the potential for seeing this scene as an echo of something from their own experience. If the echo doesn’t come from Homer, it might come from an ordinary experience.

Imagine that someone just tracked over a floor you recently mopped, then read Schwader’s poem.

Next, imagine that your computer crashed after you had been typing for an hour without saving your document, and then read the poem.

Then, pretend that you are in a forest and after hiking for half a day, you find yourself back where you started. Now, read Schwader’s poem again.

Finally, pretend you were served with divorce papers that you do not want to sign and read the poem again.

Each time, you might feel something different, but ultimately you would gain a different appreciation of the same poem. Even if you had picked up on the reference to the Odyssey, your own experiences will help shape your reaction. Very short poetry is often a dialog between the poet and the reader, some of the best have layers of meaning that unravel in the mind as the reader sits with the poem a while.

Short poetry has been largely unappreciated by the academic poetry world. In the speculative poetry field, to date, not a single Rhysling Award has been given to a poem of ten lines or less.

In 2004, the Poetry Foundation awarded a $50,000 “Neglected Masters Award” to Samuel Menashe, a poet who writes very very short poetry. In 2005, I published the first Dwarf Stars Anthology to spotlight high quality short poems that were being overlooked during the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling nomination season. After its publication, Mike Allen, the SFPA president at the time, decided to create a Dwarf Stars Award.

But what causes this initial neglect? It is not as if short poetry isn’t being written. Millions of people all over the world write haiku. The Haiku Society of America is more than twice the size of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Poets are also writing and publishing tanka, American cinquain, limericks, and other short poems. Twitter poetry has almost gone viral. Still, on the whole, very short poetry is an underappreciated art in the larger circles of the poetry community. Fortunately, in its own circles, it is thriving.

I hope you will enjoy the sampling of short poetry, as well as Samantha Henderson’s long poem selections, in the inaugural issue of Eye to the Telescope. Each quarterly issue of Eye to the Telescope will have a different focus, with a different guest editor. Please drop by the SFPA Forum and let us know what you think. If you have topic suggestions for future issues, we’d like to hear from you.

Circling back to Homer, when I was writing this introduction, I asked several poets to send me haiku or other short poems that would be a snapshot of a scene from the Odyssey. Every poet who sent me a poem wrote about Penelope. But I could also envision poems about the wind escaping from the bag Aeolus gave Odysseus or Circe turning the crew into swine, among many other scenes. For some reason, Penelope at her loom is one of the Velcro scenes that everyone seems to remember from the Odyssey. Yet, I think it would be interesting to really explore the landscape around these epics through a series of short snapshot poems. Hopefully, someone, someday, will write them.

—Deborah P Kolodji
    Short Poem Editor
April 19, 2011

Issue 1 Long Poems
In Praise of the Long Poem

Griots, bards, and skalds made, molded and sung them: long poems. They’re the way in which a people tells its stories, and the underpinnings of civilizations. Some, like the story-songs of the Australian Aboriginal people, ensure both physical and spiritual survival in documenting the features of both physical and sacred landscape. Long-form poetry includes national epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Mahabharata, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, and the Lianja; verse novels like Danny Boyle’s Sharp Teeth; verse plays like Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls, Kendell Evans’ Deepspace Shadows, Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. Long poems take the time to tell the story, in the heightened language of poetry; they have the luxury of defining their own syntax as they create themselves.

Good long poetry is difficult to create and sustain; in addition to this, the nature of print markets often prevents their publication. In many ways the medium determines format: many editors prefer to publish short poems rather than letting one work dominate the publication. An online publication is not limited as to number of pages: to function, the poems still needs to engage the reader but printing costs and format won’t be what make sit unheard. As well as providing a venue for the long poem the internet can also provoke a conversation that adds to it, as in responses to Albert Goldbarth’s “Library”:

Here, then, we offer Jaime Lee Moyer’s retold fairy tale, a piece of Larry Hammer’s alternate-history Greek epic, Kendall Evans’ space-age Merfolk, and Kristine Ong Muslim’s sequence of poems that, taken together, begin to paint a disturbing landscape. Take your time reading them, and return as often as you like.

—Samantha Henderson
Long Poem Editor