Amal El-Mohtar said such fine things about Najwan Darwish’s Nothing More to Lose that I resolved upon the instant to get a copy.

I don’t normally read poetry collections cover-to-cover. I own a handful only, that I dip into from time to time: Cavafy, Odysseus Elytis, Osip Mandelshtan, Yeats, Heaney, Eliot, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, some of the ancient poets (I keep meaning to get my hands on some of the twentieth century’s famous women poets’ collections, like St. Vincent Millay and Plath – some day soon!) but not many.

Nothing More to Lose, I read every page. These are gorgeous, glorious poems: the translator has done a brilliant job.

Powerful poems; some funny, some touching, some filled with pain and a kind of elegaic anger – like the last five lines of “Sleeping in Gaza”:

The earth is three nails
and mercy a hammer:
Strike, Lord
Strike with the planes

Are there any more to come?

or the three brief lines that comprise the entirety of “In Praise of the Family”:

There is but a single sentence fit to praise you:
You are the deep quarry
of my nightmares.

Some of his poems are available online, here. Read them. Especially “Jerusalem.”

When I leave you I turn to stone
and when I come back I turn to stone

I name you Medusa
I name you the older sister of Sodom and Gomorrah
you baptismal basin that burned Rome.

Strange Horizons has a poetry issue

I can’t agree that the Odyssey is speculative, because what reads to us as an exercise in the fantastic was religion and tradition to its original audience, but I can’t agree either that the strategic reworking of those source myths automatically makes for modernism, because the Alexandrian poets were remix artists par excellence and none of them were, thank God, Ezra Pound. If speculative poetry is to be a real genre and not just a tautology (a poem is speculative when published in a market that publishes speculative poetry), I need it to mean something in its own right, not just as reaction or perpetuation. Otherwise we’re all still at the Danish Pastry House in Medford, 2012, wondering if we edit a thing that actually exists.

-Sonya Taaffe, in Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos.

In this week’s Strange Horizons, I’m reviewing Mythic Delirium #30. I only liked four poems.

Linky moves in surprising ways

The World SF Blog with Editorial: The Hugo Awards:

And the thing is this – this is perhaps the first year in the award’s history (and the Campbell, a “Not a Hugo” award) where we see such a strong representation of international voices. I’m not sure I can highlight this enough. Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon, for instance, is the first novel by a Muslim writer ever to be nominated for a Hugo. The first by an Arab-American, for that matter. (And this is when being Muslim in SF is still cause for a lot of nasty sniping, to put it mildly). Ken Liu, a Chinese-American author doing amazing work, amongst others, in translating Chinese science fiction into English, is nominated for Best Short Story. Aliette de Bodard, a French author of Vietnamese ancestry, is nominated for both Best Novella and Best Short Story, while Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a surprise nominee with a translated story in the Best Novelette category.

Even more exciting, the Campbell Award, recognising emerging writers, has author Zen Cho as a nominee – the first time a Malaysian author is so recognised.

The Hugos are changing, I think. Or SF as a whole is changing. The surprise is not that popular American writers are nominated for a Hugo – but that diversity is increasingly represented on the ballots.

Sam Sykes, who surprised me with his thoughtful contribution to the “grimdark” swings and roundabouts, talks about the weight of violence in the new Tomb Raider:

The violence was horrifying. Like, I say this as an unapologetic fanboy of God of War. It was more shocking than personally gouging out the eyes of someone (whose eyes you happen to be looking through) because the tone was different. This violence was presented as unexpected, horrible, out of the norm. God of War’s violence is…trivial isn’t the right word I’m looking for, but it’s close. It’s more like it’s procedural, it’s how you get from point A to point B, which is fine for the kind of story that God of War is telling. But Tomb Raider’s violence is telling a different story, something about the price of blood, the cost of violence, the measure of a human life and human suffering. Tomb Raider’s violence was different.

It had weight.

…When I talk about the weight of violence, I mean the impact it has on the story, the way it affects the characters, the way it shapes the world and the way it makes the outcomes of each conflict mean something.

(The more I hear from people who’ve played the new Tomb Raider, the move I want to give it a shot myself.)

Jim C. Hines, Bigots, Bullies, and Enablers:

People complained about the Locus piece because it was hurtful. This wasn’t an example of the court jester speaking truth to power. While the author claims he was trying to write satire, what he actually wrote was another in a long line of jabs toward people who are already disproportionately targeted for a broad range of abuse in this culture.

It was bullying.

That’s what people are defending. They’re attacking Locus for not giving this person a platform with which to bully those he doesn’t like, based on an incident that happened several years ago. They’re telling the targets of ongoing bigotry that the best solution is to just ignore it.

That doesn’t work for the target of bullying. It only works for the bystanders who don’t want to deal with it. It’s a cowardly, ineffective, and downright shitty “solution.”

New Statesman: Hungary is no longer a democracy.

And some poetry, for poetry’s sake:

Drinking Alone with the Moon
Li Bo, trans. Vikram Seth

A pot of wine among the flowers.
I drink alone, no friend with me.
I raise my cup to invite the moon.
He and my shadow and I make three.

The moon does not know how to drink;
My shadow mimes my capering;
But I’ll make merry with them both —
And soon enough it will be Spring.

I sing — the moon moves to and fro.
I dance — my shadow leaps and sways.
Still sober, we exchange our joys.
Drunk — and we’ll go our separate ways.

Let’s pledge — beyond human ties — to be friends,
And meet where the Silver River ends.

Linky is dealing with the complications of depression

Amal El-Mohtar on Science Fiction Poetry:

So let me show you some science fiction poems.

A fantastic source for these that merits reading from beginning to end is Stone Telling‘s science and science fiction issue, titled Catalyst, which editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan explain came about in response to Cat Valente’s post about the “heart-breaking sameness” of science fiction poetry. The result is magnificent: twelve poems treating space exploration, science history, terraforming, aliens, and anatomy with solemnity, grace, variety, and language to steal the breath. I have re-read Sofia Samatar’s “Girl Hours,” CSE Cooney’s “Postcards from Mars,” and Tori Truslow’s “Terrunform” more times than I can count, with each reading giving me something new and precious.

While we’re on poetry, read Sonya Taaffe’s “Ψάπφοι Σελάννα”, in the same issue of Apex:

My hair darkens in the shadow of your hand,

but yours blooms silver, shining like the foam

of the morning you leap, not ageless, singing,

from that bright cliff of days.

καλῶς καὶ εὖ ἀείδει.

Geek Native, Drawing the impossible? Fully dressed superheroines.

A thought on poetry

A conversation with Amal El-Mohtar and Alex Dally MacFarlane on Twitter, which began here, with a link to Sofia Samatar’s poem “Girl Hours”, crystallised for me some of my feelings about poetry.

Samatar’s is a visceral and moving piece of poetry, weaving in and out of history, science, bodies, ways of knowing with intensity, fire, and astonishing image, juxtaposition and rhythm:

You were not the only deaf woman there.
Annie Cannon, too, was hard of hearing.
On the day of your death she wrote: Rainy day pouring at night.

Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
oh stars.

Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.

It has the same force and power for me as Seamus Heaney’s “From the Lightnings VIII,”


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

(Out of the marvellous as he had known it. I will love that poem forever for that line.)

or Pablo Neruda’s “Canto XII: From the Heights of Macchu Picchu,”

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

The thing is, I cannot see genre in poetry. Division by forms, yes. But not by genres: even narrative is a form. There is image, and there is rhythm, and there is theme, and there is world changing in an instant – but not genre.

I find it impossible – I mean, how do you say “This is” and “This isn’t”? All the poetry that works in me partakes of the fantastic and the transcendental, but if separated into its constituent elements, how do I say “This is science”? “This is magic”? “This is mimetic”? “This is not”?

This is the immanence of things that know no words, that have no spoken names. This is poetry, in all its intensity, and freight, and emotion, and fire.

Poetry is as close as I get to religious experience, anymore.

Perhaps. If it doesn’t reach the poetic/transcendental for someone, in some sense, then I can’t find it in me to call it poetry. Failed poetry, doggerel, weird prose: but not poetry. The inner light and fire, the special intensity, the power to change, the power to move: these are poetry’s characteristics.

It doesn’t have to work for me. If it only works for one person in ten thousand, then it still works – but the one thing poetry cannot be and remain poetry is universally mundane.