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Issue 34 • October 2019
edited by Brittany Hause

Introduction to Issue 34 • Tricksters

For this issue of Eye to the Telescope, poets were asked to submit work examining the exploits and motivations of trickster figures of myth, work reinterpreting old tales of fantastical scammery and subterfuge, or work bringing brand-new double-dealing characters to life in SFF settings.

Submitters really came through.

The huge diversity of approaches poets took to the theme of trickery made reading for this project an overall delightful undertaking. Among the pieces selected for publication, you’ll find work ranging in tone from the bitingly wry to the affectingly nostalgic to the stridently, contagiously upbeat. You’ll find a little formalism and a lot of free verse—but within these categories, you’ll encounter as many different structures as there are poems. And you can expect to come across some old, familiar names and faces as well as characters (and poets!) you’ll be meeting here for the very first time.

Rebecca Buchanan kicks things off with “Sycophantam astrum,” a gently ethereal piece that encourages us to settle in, get comfortable, and ready ourselves to meet the crafty beings of every shape and disposition that populate the poems to follow. We’re reminded that tricksters have always been with us in one way or another, and that they always will be—and right on cue, Karyn De Freitas steps in with a specific example underscoring this idea in the form of “Anansi Talk.” In a voice inspired by the engaging stylings of the Midnight Robber—a character long popular with performers and audiences at carnivals in Trinidad and Tobago—De Freitas channels one of folklore’s most famous trickster figures to discuss her home country and its people. Anansi becomes our guide, walking us with spidering grace through humanity’s earliest days right up to the present moment, in sure-footed demonstration of the fact that history is a living thing… and that we’re a part of it.

There are echoes of Anansi’s unflagging resilience—and some of his charismatic insolence, too—in the dragonflies of R. Mac Jones’ “Obelisk Posture”: tiny, fragile creatures who dare to take on a big, powerful god. And David C. Kopaska-Merkel furthers this mortal-vs.-deity theme in “Soul Feather,” lifting the curtain on the hereafter just long enough to treat us to another tale of underdog audacity and cunning richly rewarded, before Mary Soon Lee pulls us back into the realm of the living—and up into outer space—with some expedient, if barbed, advice on how to outfox even the wiliest of adversaries in “How to Trick a Trickster.”

Outfoxing one’s opponent is next taken to literal extremes in “The Vixen’s Spouse”—though, as Avra Margariti’s poem quietly demonstrates—it’s not always easy to tell who’s the enemy.

Not everyone concerns themselves with such questions, of course. In “The Fairest,” Dawn Vogel hands the mic over to a truly ancient trickster, someone who understands better than most that blurred lines and shifting alliances come with the territory. Eris, goddess of discord, doesn’t merely accept her ambivalent position—she exults in it.

“Beaver’s Tail” brings another trickster who clearly delights in their own prowess into the mix, with Brigit Truex providing some truly show-stopper storytelling as she pours forth a rollicking tale of wit and misdirection, informed by oral traditions on her mother’s Abenaki side of the family.

At this point, Lisa Timpf reintroduces a modicum of caution to our tour of high chicanery with “Magic Touch,” offering a glimpse at how the tricked are at times willing participants in their own inveiglement. And O. S. S. Ifere sounds an even harsher note of warning with “The Tortoise and the Hunter,” a succinctly pointed tale centering on a shell-backed trickster figure familiar to the poet from a story-filled childhood in Nigeria.

Despite the clear evidence we’ve been handed that tricksters spell real trouble for the unwary, Beth Cato and Lachlan R. manage to give us, in “Old Coyote” “The Devil and the Cashier,” a pair of plain ol’ humans refreshingly unintimidated (and unimpressed) by two supernatural trickster figures that loom large in myth and folklore. These amusing takes on the subject stand in stark contrast to the bleak stoicism of Gerri Leen’s “To Love a Trickster,” which explores how, if you allow it, the course of your whole existence can be defined by someone you’ve chosen to adhere to, even once you’ve realized they’re harmful. Even once you’ve seen through all their tricks.

We could end our journey here—there’s a thud of finality audible in Sigyn’s words to Angrboda—but it would be a fairly grim place to wind things up. Fortunately, Brishti Guha is around to provide a lively retelling of an ancient Sanskrit text featuring two of Hinduism’s most prominent deities that proves more than capable of bringing the issue to an equally decisive—and not quite so gloomy—close. With the last line of “A Tricky Dance,” our tour concludes on a satisfyingly solid note.

Narrowing down the 250+ submissions received for this installment of Eye to the Telescope to these 14 poems alone was at times more challenging than I anticipated. Amusing yarns of tricksters out-tricked, spine-tingling tales of diabolical deals, and clever critical assessments of smooth-talking swindlers of yore were turned away in their dozens. It was hard to let many of them go.

Still, I for one am more than happy with the end result of this long and sometimes difficult winnowing process. I hope, dear reader, you’ll agree with me that the pieces that made the final cut have more than earned their place in the Telescope’s field of view, and earned it fair and square—no trickery required.

—Brittany Hause