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Dwarf Star 2009, Part 3 of 3

And here's part 3...start here for part one, and here for part two.

"in spite of your absence..." - Deborah P Kolodji

I have somewhat of an issue with editors nominating their own work for a prize. I realize that there are two editors, and that Wilson could have chosen this piece on his own, but there still is a fear or sense of jury rigging with situations like this. That being said, the piece really doesn’t deliver. There is an emotional directness in the first image, but I’m not sure why the “you” is silent, so I can’t tell if this is a happy silence, a sad silence, an angry silence, etc. Therefore, while the juxtaposition could work, I’m not sure of the emotion that I’m supposed to resonate with, and am left wanting just a bit more to connect with.

“Fireflies” - Geoffrey A. Landis

The way this poem is presented, the lines are really off. I’m assuming this because the opening line makes more sense if it ends not on “sparkle,” but on “flashes.” However, as that’s not the way the poem is presented, I can only work with what’s here. So the line breaks are awful, and end on some really weak word choices. Furthermore, the repetition of the word “flashes”—three times in ten lines, four if one includes “flashing”—is a bit much, and while repetition can be used for artistic purposes, the odd placements of this word seem to indicate that that’s not the case here; a quick run through the thesaurus could have opened this poem up a bit more. Some of the images, however, are quite striking, such as “constellations blinking on and off,” and some of the language works well, as in the phrase “their silent mating calls a/symphony of light.” Also, the metaphor at the end, while a bit cliché, works somewhat, but overall the piece as it’s presented suffers from too many obvious flaws to be considered a Dwarf Stars finalist.

 "thin alpine air" - paul m

I see the speculative in this piece, but I just don’t get any resonance from it for it to be successful. I’m stuck puzzling over the idea of the last line too much, trying to figure out how and why the ghost climbed, and get lost in the ambiguity of the statement.  I get a sense that there’s some sort of déjà vu implied here, but it’s just not coming through the imagery clearly for me, and I’m left wanting a bit more information.

"winter plum branches" - paul m

I read this as a science poem at best, and even then, not really, so it’s not completely speculative. That being said, this is a really solid haiku. The sense of wabi-sabi is rich in this piece, and the implied movement of the comet against the stillness of winter and the branches is quite striking. It’s a really great poem, but not speculative enough for me to consider it a finalist.

Werepenguin - Joanne Merriam

This poem seems at odds with itself. The title is very silly and goofy, especially considering the lack of teeth in a penguin, but the body of the poem is very romantic. I don’t like the abstraction in the last line, but the rest of the poem is rich enough with imagery that I would understand how someone could like it. Getting past the technical aspects of the title, possibly digging a bit deeper into werelore, there is a lot working in this piece. The abstraction in the last line dulls the poem’s effectiveness for me, though, to the point that I wouldn’t put this on my final list.

 "on the footpath" - Linda Papanicolaou

I love the implications of the final image of this poem, though I’m curious to know how the speaker is able to see the starlight pouring down the mouse hole. That being said, considering the non-speculative context of the original publication, I don’t read this as a speculative poem, but more a science poem. There is a sense of yugen in this piece, so I see it working on one level; however, the topic just isn’t speculative enough for me to consider it a Dwarf Stars finalist.

"falling stars" - Claudia Coutu Radmore

I love the last image in this poem, and though this whole piece is a simile, it works well, conveying a sense of impermanence, or aware. The use of L3 as a pivot line is also extremely effective in this poem, conveying two distinct images, but working them into each other seamlessly. This is a great tanka, and a really solid potential Dwarf Stars winner.

"There, where the universe begins" - Terrie Leigh Relf

The first thing that catches me are the uneven line breaks. Relf seems to be teetering towards Creeley-esque lines, forcing extra tension on the poem through clipped breath. However, over half of her lines are completed thoughts or phrases, and thus the effect is ruined. The imagery of this poem works well, and what few abstractions are here are carefully embedded in enough of that imagery so as to not detract from the poem. However, the irregular line breaks call too much attention to themselves and too uneven a piece to consider it a finalist.

 "one foot on Mars" - Karen A. Romanko

The first two lines aren’t really images, or possibly not rich enough images to carry a scifaiku. However, my biggest issue with this poem is that the third line ultimately summarizes or explains the juxtaposition of the first two lines, which effectively kills the emotion of the poem. It’s a clever idea, but I’m not sure the compact requirements of the haiku form or aesthetics is the right choice for it.

"in the mouth" - Ann K. Schwader

What I enjoy about this piece is the fact that, upon first reading, I skipped over the missing preposition, and saw the frost in the prophet’s mouth, which was really striking. Upon a second reading, I realize that the “mouth” was not that of the prophet, but that the prophet had fallen in the mouth of something, be it cave or beast, which was a much more striking image, and one of austere loneliness and possible failure. These emotions, carried forth by the transient idea of “frost blossoms,” really resonated in this piece, and kept me coming back to it.

“Sunset, Monument Valley, Utah” - J.E. Stanley

Two things have always bugged me about this piece. First, according to a scientist friend of mine, Mars dust and rocks aren’t actually red, but more a yellow or butterscotch color. Okay, so that’s a big nitpick, and many others would argue that the dust is red, or at least a dark pink. However, Stanley uses three shades of red in this cinquain—red, rust and russet—which, though it describes the layers in Monument Valley, doesn’t describe the pictures I’ve seen of Mars. These, of course, are MAJOR nitpicks, and the poem is really effective. I like that it builds, and that the fifth line effectively turns what was a normal speculative piece into something a lot more lonely and filled with longing. This is a solid poem, and despite my personal grumbles, I could easily see this as a Dwarf Stars finalist.

"dark moon" - Maria Steyn

This is a really solid tanka, and one of romantic secrecy. What I love is the absolute impossibility of the act, not only the idea of netting the stars, which presumably would slip through the netting, but the idea that one can gather the stars from a lake. This is such a wonderful image. The speaker then sharing said stars secretly is equally as stunning, and leaves the reader wondering how the tea would taste when sweetened with said star. The build of this tanka is really effective, each line adding just enough to pull the reader forward, but not too much to give everything away. It’s a really wonderful poem with a lot of potential.

"from outer space" - George Swede

Eh…my issue is that not only is this not a speculative poem, but simply a science poem, but also that the science seems odd. If one inhales the molecules of the lilac, there’s no real sensation. Furthermore, the idea of neutrinos passing through someone, though scientifically correct, isn’t really a potent enough image for something like a tanka, which requires more immediate sensation. Overall, while I understand the juxtaposition of this piece, the imagery just isn’t rich enough for me to participate fully.

"strange voices" - Dietmar Tauchner

This is another poem that, based on its original context, I can only read as non-speculative. There is nothing here truly speculative unless the reader really wanted it to be. The speaker could hear strange voices, either inside or outside the house/apartment, and open the door of said residence to a starry sky. It’s a great juxtaposition, and one that leaves a lot of wonder in the reader, but it s speculative nature simply isn’t apparent unless the reader really pushes it in that direction. Considering the original context of the poem, I can only assume that the author meant this to be non-speculative, and so I don’t see this as a Dwarf Stars finalist.

“Refugee” - Paul Kareem Tayyer

I like the imagery here, but I’m struggling with the content a little, trying to figure out what war is happening, and what this speaker is a refugee from. There is a hint in the last line, the “ghosts of evening’s armies” a vehicle for the “immodest starlight,” but I’m not sure how that metaphor is working in the overall socio-political realm of this poem. Without that understanding, I’m a bit lost, and don’t see this as a successful piece.

"closer to the moongate" - Linda Jeannette Ward

Here is another piece that works, but doesn’t read as speculative unless the reader takes it there. For me, the word “moongate” refers to the circular entrance in a wall around a garden. The third line’s reference to “each petal” furthers this idea. I’m a little vague on the use of “Then” in the last line, but get a sense that Ward’s speaker wants to go back to a better, possibly romantic, time. The capitalization of “then” certain puts emphasis on it, and works a little to take the term out of the abstract, at least for the speaker, and lets the reader know that it’s a specific point in time. Still, there’s nothing speculative here unless the reader wants it to be, and I’m not sure that, in its original context, I would’ve seen this as speculative at all. This is yet another example of a really solid poem that just doesn’t work for a Dwarf Stars nomination.

 "wet sand" - Michael Dylan Welch

What I see as the juxtaposition in this piece is the sense of loneliness or solitude, or sabi. The robot, by its very nature, cannot feel the wet sand between its toes, and thus cannot appreciate it as a human would, yet it’s trying hard to participate in that act of appreciation. The setting suns puts this on a planet in a separate solar system, so the sense of distance from Earth or “home” for the reader is there, too. Placed against each other, the austerity and distance from humanity, yet that hint of longing for humanity, is really effective. My only issue that that, perhaps, Welch has done his job too well. In distancing the robot so much from humanity, I almost could not connect at all with the emotion in this poem. Still, the craft of the piece is all but perfect, and this really shows the potential of scifaiku.

In the Beginning or the End - N.C. Whitehead

The dark fantasy of this piece is really haunting, and Whitehead uses a lot of vibrant imagery in the piece. Each sentence of the prose, though occasionally cliché, was rich and layered with clear and tangible images for the reader to grasp. While the haiku at the end of the prose didn’t really twist the piece any or change its direction, it did leave a strong lingering image for the reader. However, being a haibun and thus not strictly poetry, but a combination of prose and poetry, I don’t see this as a finalist for the Dwarf Stars. It’s a great piece, though, and one which draws the reader back again and again.

“2062” - Stephen M. Wilson

If an editor is going to include their work in an anthology as a nominee for a prize, it should at least be something worthwhile. This piece, for me, doesn’t make sense at all. I have no problem assuming that, by 2062, we’ll have the technology to catch and ride comets. Not a problem there. It’s just that, once one landed on the comet, it wouldn’t actually seem like a fast ride. So, unless it’s just for that sake of saying one did something, I don’t see this idea catching on as a craze, and the whole cleverness of the poem is lost. This just doesn’t work on a scientific level for me, and I’m not sure you can get away with “artistic license” on this one.

“The Ghost of Walter Benjamin Walks at Midnight” - Charles Wright

My issue with this poem is that, not only does it not seem speculative, but also it seems to be a summary of itself. The second stanza, particularly, seems simply to repeat the ideas of the first stanza, using an example, and then a lot of vague abstraction: “That’s as close as we can come/To divinity, the language that circles the earth/and which we’ll never speak.” Now, I can read this as mysticism, and it works as such, but not as speculative. I love the metaphor of the first stanza, but then the poem simply seems to repeat itself, and it loses too much in that repetition to be considered for a Dwarf Stars finalist.

“Goodbye Billy Goat Gruff “- Jane Yolen

Yolen seems to be using a speculative trope, in this case a folktale, as a vehicle for a real life event. While this is an acceptable practice in the speculative poetry community, it’s one that I’m not sure I would want to represent that community. In the same way that allusions to speculative tropes do not a speculative poem make, I’m not sure using speculative tropes as vehicles in metaphors works either. Now, that being said, this is a really interesting poem, one focused so much on the vehicle that the tenor all but disappears. There is a hint of death or some other loss in the last two lines, “that final bridge/that toll, that green…” but no specifics. The tone of the piece is entirely up to the tenor of the metaphor, one which Yolen works well in conveying the loss and sadness. Though this poem isn’t what I would want to win, it certainly is a successful poem, and one that I could see doing quite well.

"we all met..." - Lee Clarke Zumpe

There’s no real imagery here, so I don’t see this working as a scifaiku; “it was a long night” could be a good thing, as in a long party, or a bad thing, as in a group working late to solve a problem or finish up a last minute project, and because this isn’t clear, there’s no emotional resonance from the piece. Furthermore, Zumpe’s use of the 5-7-5 “form” creates a weak line break in L1, and only proves that, when a form is misunderstood and takes precedence over content, the poem suffers. This is really a weak piece, and certainly not one which would deserve a Dwarf Star consideration.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
I find your critique of "Fireflies" interesting; as I recall, you reviewed Geoff's "Search," also a prize winner this past year, very favorably, but panned this one. My reaction is nearly opposite. I found "Fireflies" to be delightful in its imagery and masterful in its final speculative flick-of-the-tail, while "Search," a simple & earnest tribute to the quest for intelligent life, kind of left me drumming my fingers. (Geoff, if you read this, no offense!)

The things you find fault with in "Fireflies" were irrelevant to my reading experience. I suspect this provides a key to why you and I keep talking at right angles about my own line break and word rhythm choices. ;-)
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
I decided to elaborate a little further:

First, here's an extra element related to criticizing the poem for its line breaks: are the "line breaks" in Dwarf Stars actually the poem's real line breaks? Compare with its appearance at Astropoetica, where it was also reprinted.

Looks to me, based on that, that what we actually have here is a piece that starts out a prose poem and develops line breaks during its second stanza. I confess this is essentially how I read the poem, as a tweaked prose piece. I think what you took as line breaks I just read as a paragraph or a very long single line.

The relatively rapid-fire repetition of "flashes," "flashing," "fireflies," "flickering," "light," "life," to me, appears quite deliberate, an attempt to simulate in printed word the experience of ... well, oodles of lightning bugs flickering around you in a field, flashing, flashing, flashing.

It is a piece that relies on rhythm and sound and sympathetic memory. The success of the ending is not in the concept, which is nothing new, but in the presentation of it, the pull back to reveal that the swiftly built image of the firefly-illuminated field is actually the universe from beginning to end, when its entire epochal timeline is viewed at once.

Very sciency, and yet beautiful.

So, in terms of your criticism, which of course none of this invalidates, my critique would be that by bogging down in the minute detail, you've missed the big picture, which is what this poem is: one big picture, a cosmic snapshot.

Edited at 2010-02-11 01:46 am (UTC)
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
are the "line breaks" in Dwarf Stars actually the poem's real line breaks? Compare with its appearance at Astropoetica, where it was also reprinted.

This does, in fact, completely change the poem, doesn't it? At this point, while I would discount it as I don't agree with the idea of prose poetry, and I would still question the repetition, which I agree does seem a little more deliberate, I concur that reading this with the line presented as originally intended does change the reading. As for the rhythm, which of course takes slightly more prominence without the aide of the line breaks to break it up slightly, I find it stilted; too many accented syllables backed up against each other for my taste.

Now, as far as missing the big picture, I would argue that the success a poem relaying it's "big picture" is entirely dependent on the success of the minute details, things like word choice, line breaks, etc.
Feb. 11th, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure that things like the choice of where an author breaks a line or the overuse of a word CAN be irrelevant to the reading of the poem, especially if one is to read the poem out loud. Line breaks work as a form of punctuation in the poem, and must be treated as such.

That being said, I agree that there is some really delightful imagery, probably a lot more so than "Search," and while the speculative twist at the end of "Fireflies" wasn't exactly a surprise for me, it does work, but that's not all that this poem is or contains, and I feel one must look at the entirety of the piece, judging the success or failures of every aspect, to evaluate it.
Mar. 4th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
hey Josh -- congrats on being the next Dwarf Stars editor! definitely a great choice.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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