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Having finished a review of the Rhysling nominated poems, I figured I should attempt to tackle the Dwarf Star nominees as well; however, having been offhandedly blamed for affecting the outcome of the Rhyslings, I wanted to wait until after the votes were tallied and the winners announced before I posted.  Also, instead of having readers wade through twenty some odd small posts, I figured one big post might do the trick, but LJ wont let me do that. :::BIG POUT::: So I'll break it into three. As always, readers are begged to comment and defend their favorites.

To explain the color coding, this means it's not at all a consideration; this means it might work for someone, but not for me; and this means it's a finalist in my opinion. So, here then, is my poem by poem critique of the 2009 Dwarf Star Anthology

Dark Flow” - Francis W. Alexander

I’m not sure I understand what’s happening here. The Big Bang and the Bullet Cluster I get, but “a wand”? Some sort of attempt to impose magic on science for a slipstream entry? I’m just a bit confused by the images here, so I can’t participate in this piece. Any help is disambiguating this poem would be greatly appreciated. That being begged, the last image, though striking, seems a bit cliché considering common terms like “the Milky Way.” Granted, this may not be the Milky Way, but the use of “milk” with space draws that connection, intentional or otherwise.

"the will-o-the-wisp..." - Francis W. Alexander

Yes, and…? This one liner seems to want to imply a horrific scene, but there just isn’t enough given to take me, as the reader, there. Furthermore, the use of the emdash doesn’t work for me, and leaves me wondering why the author didn’t use either long spaces to indicate the pauses, or simply revert to a three line format.

“Return of the Zombie Teen Angst” - Mike Allen

I didn’t like this piece when it was a Rhysling, and though I could see it working as a Dwarf Stars. Rereading it, I’m not sure it works, because the iambic pentameter of the first line is so off that the heroic couplet fails, on a technical level. Beyond that, I’m not sure I see the resonance or depth that I would want to represent the SFPA, but that could be a personal thing, as David Kopaska-Merkl has pointed out.

 "time machine rust" - Megan Arkenberg

I get it, but there’s just not enough here for me to connect with. Any poem directed at a specific “you,” unless it’s referring to the reader, can alienate a reader. I think that’s what’s happening in this case. I don’t know who the speaker is, or why I would want to avoid them, and “time machine rust” doesn’t give me enough to go on, so I don’t see the juxtaposition working here.

“The Ghoul” - Megan Arkenberg

I don’t consider haibun to be poetry, but a mix of prose and poetry. Though some argue the prose to be a “prose poem,” (again, a term that I have serious craft issues with), I don’t see it. That being said, I don’t see haibun as eligible for a Dwarf Stars.

With that in mind, I’m not sure this haibun works as well as it could. The way it reads, the ghoul is a little girl who follows a trail of petals to the grave of the deceased for late night munchies. Okay, sure. But taking the haiku on its own, without the accompanying prose, the little girl is the one being consumed, which presents a much darker story for me. Having read the haiku, this is where I would want the piece to go, and because it doesn’t, I’m a little disappointed.

“the leaf whisperer” - Elizabeth Barrette

I like the use of the form, but I’m not sure the content of the poem delivers. I’m not given enough details, as a reader, to envision this fairy nor the details of the “secrets” given out, so I come away with a vague knowledge of the poem and its topic, and nothing to ground this piece in my head. There is something to be said for mystery, but if an author is going that route, enough details need to be provided to intrigue the reader further, and for me, that’s not happening here.

"stars against the night..." - Bruce Boston

The pun in this piece just doesn’t do it for me. Also, the idea of stars dancing against the night seems so cliché that the last part of the poem needs a LOT more to twist it into something original. The pun that Boston comes up with certainly isn’t enough.

Three Things - Lisa M. Bradley

I see this working, but the line breaks need more tension for me. This is a very dark poem, but the phrasing of the lines and their completeness almost slows that tension down to a point of unevenness. That unevenness shuffles this piece into the “maybe” category.

“Godmother” - Anna Marie Catoir

The form here is one that I don’t see working because it compacts too many specific images on specific lines and leaves tenuous connections for others; furthermore, following the last words of lines, readers will note an emphasis on some odd word choices, or more importantly, a deemphasis on some fairly striking and strong language, which unbalances the poem for me. Also, the last stanza seems to summarize too much, especially the last line, and doesn’t add too much to the poem as a whole. Overall, this is a no for me.

"I felt your presence" - Margaret Chula

In her introduction, Deborah Kolodji discusses the term “moongate” as a specific architectural structure in gardens as well as a speculative idea of “an actual gate to the moon,” and argues that it is “up to the reader to determine which it is.” One determining factor, of course, would be the context of the piece, specifically the journal in which the piece was found. If it’s not a speculatively themed journal, I would argue that the reader has to consider the non-speculative meaning before the speculative meaning for fear of reading too much into the piece. For me, this is what’s happening in Chula’s tanka. “I felt your presence” could imply a ghost or the literal presence of a person.“you had crossed over/to the other side” could imply a death, but it could also imply someone crossing the aisle away from the speaker. Considering the non-speculative nature of ribbons, I’m not sure I see Chula’s piece as speculative, and thus not a finalist for the Dwarf Stars.

“Special ears” - Toi Dericotte

I understand the use of speculative vehicles in this piece, but question a lot of the line breaks. “&” seems an odd place to break a line, as does the phrase “as if he”. Already the piece seems to be missing something. Furthermore, I’m not sure I can connect with this piece because I’m not able to fully visualize the fish in question, and though that’s not the immediate point, feel alienated from the piece for its lack of specifics.

Evolution - Peg Duthie

What I like about this piece is that there’s enough for me to grasp and hold on to in each line, even if I’m not sure of the journey the poem is taking overall. I get the theme of rebirth, regeneration and recycled organics, but it’s the heavy imagery that captures and excites me in this piece. The tension between the lines, also, creates a nice progression, even with the one iffy line: “above its ancestors’ traces, no matter how”. Even with this one minor weakness, the rest of the poem is strong enough to carry it.

"time lapse" - Margarita Engle

I’m not sure I get this piece. Time lapse videography is a method for speeding things up, but the image of the falling tree leaning seems to be slowed down. This oxymoronic juxtaposition needs, for me, something more to explain the connection. I just don’t see what’s happening here, and thus cannot participate in the poem.

“Songs were washing up” - Francesca Forrest

This is a case where one bad line break throws the whole poem off. “Like shells” is so short and creates such a gap that it unbalances the whole poem, which is unfortunate because this piece contains a lot of solid imagery and a unique idea that Forrest carries through to the end.

Mistress (1) - Todd Fredson

I’m a bit taken with the surrealism of this poem, and the implied narrative. However, the vehicles of the metaphors, though each one unique and revealing in its own way, seem too disparate, especially moving from the Spring of “a till/behind white horses” immediately to the winter of “the snow drifts/the moon has rejected.” In addition, the lines are extremely long, and seem to drag out and defuse the underlying tension of the piece. While the imagery is striking, I’m left unsatisfied by this poem.


So there it is, the 2009 Dwarf Star anthology. I must say that I'm a bit upset with the selection this year: 10 potential winners, and 6 maybes...that's not a lot for a finalist anthology.


( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
I didn't see the discussion blaming you for affecting the Rhysling outcome (pointer, if you're comfortable? or maybe it wasn't public), but that strikes me as absurd. Should nothing be reviewed, therefore, until all possible prizes are awarded, for fear of undue influence?*

*Snark not directed at you.

Feb. 9th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
I agree with Sam. You should not be concerned with "affecting" votes by discussing the poems before the voting is complete. Some of your points are objective, but many are subjective. Everyone approaches poems in their own way, after all, and just because your views on poems are available doesn't mean that a reader will agree with your views. (Then again, if your views do change others' views, so what? People aren't sheep; they're sentient creatures with free will and changeable opinions. If you can convince people that your views are correct, good for you.)

Looking at your discussion of two poems in this post, I had no issue with the line you had issues with in Francesca Forrest's poem, nor did I feel that the lines in Lisa Bradley's poem lacked sufficient tension. (Both garnered votes from me.) If I had read your post before voting, it, although interesting, wouldn't have affected my opinion of the poems whatsoever. :-)
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ericmarin - Feb. 10th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 9th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
"having been offhandedly blamed for affecting the outcome of the Rhyslings"

If that's actually a true statement (*eyes*) — then you should be proud your opinion holds that much sway. :-D
Feb. 9th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
having been offhandedly blamed for affecting the outcome of the Rhyslings

Theoretically, the Rhyslings are meant to represent what members of the speculative poetry community consider to be "the best" of the field in a given year. This doesn't hold up in practice, not least because both nomination and voting are reserved to members of a specific organization within the community, but it's only logical that pieces which would review well would be strong contenders for the award. Thus, one would hope the efforts of critics might have an impact on the outcome. No part of what we do here takes place in a vacuum, nor should it.

I will note, too, that the Anthology only represents those pieces that were nominated, and the poet then accepted the nomination. That affects the make-up, and may be one reason the selection would appear less than satisfactory.
Feb. 9th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Someone who would offhandedly blame you for affecting the outcome of the Rhyslings by reviewing the contents of the anthology is someone with whom I would very much like to Have a Conversation.
Feb. 9th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
As to your review -- funnily enough, I disagree with your assessment of some of the poems, but Peg Duthie's is one of the ones I voted for. That said...

Mike's poem: I like that the lines are slightly uneven, that the iambic pentameter in the second line jingles just right. It's the punctuating one, the look-at-this-and-pay-attention one. The comma in the first line is all but a caesura, and has this kind of shuffling toe-in-dirt lilt to it that conveys the effect of the whole.

I mean, it's a joke. It's got a setup and a punchline. I think it's perfectly successful as what it is, though it's admittedly the frosted undead cereal where I was looking for an amuse-bouche of more complexity.

But something perplexes me. You say you don't think haibun should be eligible for a Dwarf Star? So -- operating on the premise that the poetry requires the prose in order to function, would you simply not consider the whole, or consider the poem?

Feb. 9th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
Here's what I'll say is fair about Josh's critique: I write in my voice. I know how a line I write is supposed to sound. Someone who isn't familiar with my voice and only has the words on the page to go on may not "hear" them the way I hear them. It's a risk one takes.

Where Josh is off-base: he assumes the poem is supposed to be a formal heroic couplet. It ain't. If it "fails" to be a heroic couplet, it's a completely deliberate failure.

Edited at 2010-02-09 10:31 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - time_shark - Feb. 10th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ravenelectrick - Feb. 10th, 2010 07:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ravenelectrick - Feb. 11th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 11th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ravenelectrick - Feb. 12th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Dwarf Stars vs. Dwarf Star - hooks_and_books - Feb. 12th, 2010 01:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dwarf Stars vs. Dwarf Star - time_shark - Feb. 13th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dwarf Stars vs. Dwarf Star - hooks_and_books - Feb. 13th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dwarf Stars vs. Dwarf Star - hooks_and_books - Feb. 18th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Haibun - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - time_shark - Feb. 10th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 02:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 9th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
I think Josh is going to have to explain the origin of that statement (in at least general terms: i.e., did someone shoot him a whiny email?) because that's certainly not a restriction the SFPA puts on anyone.

Edited at 2010-02-09 07:46 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 9th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 9th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - time_shark - Feb. 9th, 2010 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hooks_and_books - Feb. 10th, 2010 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - time_shark - Feb. 10th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - samhenderson - Feb. 10th, 2010 03:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 10th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
I came to see how you were going to handle reviewing several of the same poems you had done for the Rhyslings (like mine!) and was interested to see that you did have different things to say (not contradictory at all, just different).

I appreciate your explanations of what it is you find to be a strength or a weakness about a poem. As some of the conversations upstream in the comments show, how people value those same items varies, and sometimes what's a strength to one person can be a weakness to someone else and vice versa--but it's interesting even to be considering those things.
Feb. 11th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
Hi Josh,

As half of the editorial team for Dwarf Stars, I feel the need to respond to this because I'm pretty sure that Debbie will not do so in a public forum. Some people may think that it's bad form for an editor to respond to a critique, and normally I wouldn't, but the Dwarf Stars Award anthology is not a typical anthology because it belongs to the SFPA membership. I neither have a problem with the review itself, even if I disagree with much of it, nor do I take anything you've said personally--poetry is such a subjective art form and each reader has the potential to view the poems completely differently--so I will avoid mentioning anything about 'quality'. I do want to touch on some of the more technical aspects of your review, though.

First I would like to respond to the critique that editors should not include their own work in something that they are editing. Although I understand where this comes from, especially with an award involved, you hit the nail on the head when you stated that '[I] could have chosen this piece on [my] own'--I did choose this piece. The initial reason that I approached Debbie three years ago and offered to co edit this with her was specifically because I felt that, as someone who is prolific in the short form, her poems should be just as eligible for a Dwarf Stars Award as anyone else's--the point is to offer the best stuff published in the previous year regardless of the author and as sole editor of the first two Dwarf Stars anthologies, Debbie did not feel comfortable including her own work. Even with me along, she was still uncomfortable having her poetry included for fear of appearing in any way biased and I had to coax her pretty hard each year to allow me to include any of her work. In fact, this year I wanted to include two of her poems and she flat out refused. And I should mention, just in case anyone wonders, there is no agreement between us that we would automatically include something from each of other in Dwarf Stars each year. To demonstrate this point, I had a poem included in the first Dwarf Stars Award anthology, before I was co editor, and did not have one in the second one when I was co editor. Although there is an award involved, Dwarf Stars is also an anthology/chapbook that is meant to showcase the diversity of quality short poetry being published in our particular 'genres'. If someone has a prolific output, it stands to reason that the chances are increased that something of theirs might standout. This is the reason that sometimes there are two poems by the same poet, including you, in an issue of Dwarf Stars. It is simple statistics. In your critique, you stated that only six out of the 50 poems were truly worthy of inclusion in Dwarf Stars and one of those was one of your own poems. It would be unfortunate that if you were co editor of Dwarf Stars that this poem would be excluded to avoid being seemingly biased. And, although many people might agree with you on this subject, it could be argued that it's just as inappropriate to review/critique something that includes your own work as it is to include your own work in something that you've edited (I don't think this, myself, but others might). Dwarf Stars is a collaboration, not only between the two editors, but also the membership of the SFPA, whose votes ultimately choose the winning poems therefore negating the possibility of 'jury rigging'.

Feb. 11th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)

Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!! I realize that there is a stigma against editors defending their choices, but I am of the group that would actually rather see editors defend their choices against critique, as you soundly have with Debbie's piece.
Feb. 11th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
Next, I would like to voice my opinion on haibuns. Once again, I understand where you are coming from, I just happen to disagree. Even though the haibun is a prose/poem hybrid, with the exception of haibun only markets, it is published primarily, if not exclusively, as poetry in poetry journals just as other prose poems are. This is true with both the mainstream (Simply Haiku, Modern Haiku) and SF (Scifaikuest) versions. And when appearing in markets that include both fiction and poetry, it is usually listed as a poem as was Geoffrey Landis's First-place winner this year which was originally published in Asimov's SF as a poem. I'm not an expert on traditional Japanese forms, but I'm pretty sure that the haibun dates back to the poet Basho and has long been considered a traditional poetic form.

On another subject, you mention that some poems were science or surreal, therefore not speculative and unqualified for consideration for DS inclusion. It is my understanding (someone can correct me if I'm wrong) that we often include both science poetry and surreal poetry under the SFPA umbrella along with SF/F/H. This has been included in past guidelines for both The Rhysling Award and more recently for the SFPA contests as well as every issue of Dwarf Stars to date.

Lastly, you mentioned several pieces that you felt were not speculative due to the original markets where they were published. Not sure where this comes from because, as a group, the SFPA has strived very hard not to be pigeon-holed by which markets publish their work. In fact, our official newsletter/journal, Star*Line, publishes a column titled Stealth SF: Finding Speculative Poetry in Non-genre Magazines. I would like to mention a few of the current DS poems as specific examples to counter your critique. The first is M. Kei's "the dead rise". Whether that first line refers to zombies, ghosts or is more spiritual/religious in nature (which would still be speculative to an atheist), it is speculative and sets the mood for the other four lines. And although the title of his collection from which it came, Slow Motion: The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Shipjack, may sound mainstream or even mundane, I read the whole collection and many of the poems have ghostly themes and imagery as well as literal ghosts. If we didn't have a limit of two poems for any particular poet, we could have easily included 20 poems from this collection alone in Dwarf Stars (something that Debbie and I even mentioned to each other at some point). The other example is Jane Yolen's poem. You felt that 'allusions to speculative tropes do not a speculative poem make'. If poems cannot be considered speculative because of the original market, then that same criteria should apply here--"Goodbye Billy Goat Gruff" appeared in Asimov's SF, a specifically science fiction market and therefore it has to be SF. The power of a well-written poem lies in the fact that if can be interpreted in more than one way. Debbie said it both eloquently and succinctly in her DS intro: 'It is up to the reader to determine ...'. You also have to take into account each poet's opinion. We write every poet and ask permission to reprint. We make it very clear that this is a speculative market/award and if a poet does not feel that their piece is meant to be read in a speculative or scientific context, they would not grant permission. Believe me, this has happened.

In the end, it's the votes of the membership that matter. This year, all three winning poems would not have even been included in Dwarf Stars if you had been the editor, including the First-place winner which was not only a haibun but, as I infer from your critique, one of the most technically flawed pieces in the collection.

I hope you take this response in the spirit that it is offered, which is as an opposing opinion with no animosity intended. Although I disagree with much of what you said, I do appreciate the fact that you took the time to be thorough in your critique (and you did say that readers were begged to comment).

Feb. 11th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
Next, I would like to voice my opinion on haibuns.

Two things: First off, the HSA agrees with you, according to their definitions, so I absolutely understand and recognize this as an overriding opinion; however, I have seen haibun published under the guise of flash-fiction or fiction, so I really think it's up to each reader to determine. For me, as someone who doesn't believe in the idea of prose poetry in general, the idea that haibun can be considered as a poem as a whole instead of the hybrid form just doesn't fly. For others, it works as such.

It is my understanding (someone can correct me if I'm wrong) that we often include both science poetry and surreal poetry under the SFPA umbrella along with SF/F/H. This has been included in past guidelines for both The Rhysling Award and more recently for the SFPA contests as well as every issue of Dwarf Stars to date.

Yes. I realize that this is considered acceptable. However, and I tried to make this clear in my response to the anthology so if it didn't come across, let me state it here, I don't see them as speculative, or possibly as speculative as poems that contain more obvious speculative tropes. Others may and do disagree, and that works.

Not sure where this comes from because, as a group, the SFPA has strived very hard not to be pigeon-holed by which markets publish their work. In fact, our official newsletter/journal, Star*Line, publishes a column titled Stealth SF: Finding Speculative Poetry in Non-genre Magazines.

I think the issue here is whether or not the editors and the poets themselves considered the work originally speculative. For example, having read Kei's "the dead rise," I could see how one could interpret the first line as speculative, until one actually delved further and realize that "the dead" in this specific instance refers to an "old boat," The Lantern Queen, and not some speculative "dead".

As far as Yolen, I would like to point out that I clearly understood this as a speculative practice, and said that I could see this working as a successful winner for others. I also admitted that it was a fairly successful piece overall. However, that being said, I think that there are a lot of poems published in speculative magazines that are not necessarily speculative, so just because Asimov's published it doesn't necessarily make it speculative, and certainly not SF.

The power of a well-written poem lies in the fact that if can be interpreted in more than one way.

Yes, a poem can be interpreted in more than one way, but that interpretation has to reflect the words, the content of the poem itself, and it's original context.

I could argue, for instance, that Landis's "Fireflies" was about a cocaine trip, and the "flashing" was a metaphor for the signals in the brain exploding or whatever. However, because the textual and contextual indicators simply aren't there, it would be a false interpretation. So to, then, is considering a poem that originally was not considered speculative as speculative. Whether or not the poet accepted the invitation to the anthology does not, for me, matter too much because I know many poets who will take the opportunity to promote their work in almost any venue, whether or not that venue represents the original intentions of the piece.
response continued - hooks_and_books - Feb. 11th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
the dead rise - speceditor666 - Feb. 13th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: the dead rise - hooks_and_books - Feb. 13th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Yolen's poem - speceditor666 - Feb. 13th, 2010 04:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Yolen's poem - hooks_and_books - Feb. 13th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
Ironic --
At last, a reason to be glad I wasn't in the Dwarf Stars collection!

Feb. 22nd, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Ironic --
I'll probably do a review of Goblin Fruit sooner or later, and you've got a piece in there. ;-) I'll getcha' one way or another.
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )


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