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Stepping Up To the Plate, Part 13

Finally the whole Rhysling Anthology is available for public consumption. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the rest of the anthology. Go here to see what I'm doing and why. All readers are invited, encouraged, and begged to respond. The purpose of this experiment is to engage in discussion.

"The Deceptive Truth" by Brian Aldiss:

Aldiss uses rhyme decently, much to his credit. He is able to keep his rhymes fresh, mostly through the speculative theme of the poem. However, understanding that rhyme draws a connection between certain words, it's interesting to see Aldiss rhyme "skies," "enterprise" and "flies" in his second stanza, as well as "thunderstorm," "norm," "warm" and somehow, "algorythms". The connections drawn between these rhymes, and thus these lines, is interesting, and furthers the ominous tone that Aldiss builds towards. However, in the final stanza, he ceases being a poet and becomes a preacher of sorts--"Friends, forget the riddle Truth,/Tell the Ultimate to go away. Perhaps the one great verity that matters/Is miraculous old Everyday". This dip away from the speculative topic of the poem into moralizing or consulting is an archaic trope, and one that doesn't belong in modern poetry, nor does it belong in a winning Rhysling poem.

"Don't Get Too Close to the Baby" by Francis W. Alexander

This is a dark humor piece, in that the tone and presentation of the image and action are treated so minimally and lightly that the reader cannot find them horrorific. With that in mind, the reader must ask if this is a successful piece, and if this is the sort of piece that should represent the SFPA. If Alexander meant for this to be humorous, and I believe he did, then it works. The last lines, "There she sits,/Aunt Gertie, dry as a prune." use the cliche to elicit half a chuckle from the reader, especially considering she was just used as alien food. However, as successfully humorous as this poem is, I don't know if I'd want it winning the Rhysling, if only because it is humorous. I'd want something that works on more than one level, and I'm not sure this does. In and of itself, it works, but not as a best of the year.

"Return of Zombie Teen Angst" by Mike Allen

As with Alexander's piece, Allen has a humorous piece. This two line quickie is a really solid heroic couplet with a wry twist. However, that's really all there is to this piece. It's a great poem, really humorous and an excellent play off stereotypical teen angst, but it doesn't go beyond that. I simply want more from a Rhysling winner.

"Piece of Mind" by Anthony Bernstein

This poem is based entirely on a pun which, unfortunately, is fairly cliche and really doesn't work. Bernstein has mistaken "mind" in this poem for "brain," or is attempting to use them synonymously, and it's simply not coming together: "Instead she stores them in Tupperware till needed--/says they have many practical uses around the kitchen./She adds the tastiest pieces to favorite recipes//as a meat substitute with no calories or fatty acids." On top of that, the line breaks and stanza breaks are simply odd, and don't seem to serve a purpose or aid the poem in any way.

"Four Haiku Poems on Artificial Intelligence" by Christopher M. Cevasco

Anyone who read this post probably can already guess what I'm going to write. However, let's throw more rant into the flames and warm our hands for the evening. 5-7-5 is NOT haiku in English, and hasn't been since William J Higginson's 1985 publication of The Haiku Handbook. The argument is fairly simple: the sound units of Japanese are not equivalent to syllables in English, and are much more uniform in sound length, which creates a shorter poem. Too call these "haiku poems" really misses the mark entirely. Even to call them scifaiku would irk me, but to call them "haiku" or "haiku poems" misses the mark entirely.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 30th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)
Piece of Mind: insightful, if unflattering, are your comments on this poem
I agree with most of your insights into Piece of Mind, even if you miss the mark (and the point) by stating "Bernstein has mistaken "mind" in this poem for "brain," or is attempting to use them synonymously..."; no mistake, poetic license. Still, I have no idea how that poem got nominated out of all the stronger poems I had published in `08. It is kinda` funny, but its not close to my best (thank god). Also, the disjointed stanza breaks here are actually typos by the zine who 1st ran it. I opted to keep it that way for Rhysling because: a) I like the "manic" effect it gives the piece. b) That is how it first appeared in the zine.

Thanks for your insights!
Anthony Bernstein*
Dec. 30th, 2009 03:26 am (UTC)
Re: Piece of Mind: insightful, if unflattering, are your comments on this poem
For me, I'm not sure that, in science fiction, one can take such liberal poetic license with fairly set scientific topics. I'm sure there are countless examples that I'm not aware of, but this poem just seems to compound two distinct terms into one idea to make it's humor work. However, the brain is an organ, and the mind is a set of unconscious cognitive processes. One is tangible, one is not. I just don't see them working as synonymous terms, and thus the guiding image of the poem fails, for me, from the first few lines. Again, this is simply my opinion, so feel free to disagree.
Jan. 28th, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
Brain, mind; I think equating these CAN work in humor, but it would take a poet cleverer than I to make it happen.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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