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Dwarf Stars 2010 Poem by Poem

A lot of times editors don't explain why they picked what they picked. Sometimes it's pretty obvious, and sometimes readers are left wondering if the editor is sleeping with the authors or something similar because no way in hell would this crap get picked up by anyone with any decent sense of literature. Well, that's just not my style. Part of making decisions is backing them up, so with that, some basic thoughts that went into making the Dwarf Stars 2010 anthology

-Because so many of the poems nominated were formal poems, I wanted forms to work as forms. If a poem was a haiku, I wanted it to work as a haiku. If it was a triolet, I wanted it to work as such. If words or lines were repeated because of the form, I wanted them to work within that, for the repetition to add something new to poem beyond mere adherence to the form. If an author chooses a form, it should work with the subject matter of the poem, and shouldn't seem forced.

-If a poem was nominated for the Rhysling and it was under ten lines, it was automatically in the anthology. The Dwarf Stars are an extension of the Rhyslings with a focus on short poems that often go over looked against the longer pieces in that contest, so they deserved a second shot in this one.

-I don't believe in prose poetry, especially when it comes to line counts, which essentially are variable based on the margins. Technically, a prose poem, by definition has no lines, so it has no line count. Due to this, prose poems were automatically out, even if they were already nominated for a Rhysling.

I think those, above all, were my overriding criteria. Outside of that, it had to be a well crafted poem, had to be multilayered in theme and resonance, etc.

With that, thoughts on the 2010 Dwarf Stars Anthology contents.


Cover: "The Moth Rose" by Desiree Isphording

As far as I'm concerned, Desiree Isphording is one of the most talented fantasy artists working today. What impresses me the most about her art is not the strong sense of the feminine which she brings to each piece, but also the intense research that she does for each piece. I have written at least half a dozen ekphrastic poems based on her art, and I am so thrilled that she allowed us to use this piece as the cover for Dwarf Stars. Visit her etsy shop here to support this tremendously generous artist.

"valentine's day" • Megan Arkenberg • Scifaikuest, Feb 2009

I like the juxtaposition between the disembodied beating heart with that of valentine's day. The use of the pronoun "his" also leaves the reader wondering what the poor guy did to have is heart ripped out. That sort of lingering questioning, that resonance beyond the poem, is what makes for a great horrorku.

"is anyone else …" • John Barlow • Magnapoets, July 2009

John Barlow's use of time in this one-liner just makes this poem. I love the shift from present to past tense, and the shift that the last two words create in the reader's perception of the opening image I found deeply resonating.

Endings • Elizabeth W. Bennefeld • Star*Line 32.4, July/August 2009

This was nominated for the 2010 Rhysling Awards, and certainly deserves a shot for a Dwarf Stars award as well.

"cats worship" • Carolyn Clink • Gusts: Contemporary Tanka, Spring/Summer 2009

First off, I want to champion Clink and her non-United States use of "u" in honour, which gets me into trouble all the time at school when typing assignments. Ask me about my issues with foetus when discussing abortion as a topic for argumentative papers sometime and the giggling ridicule I receive. Yeah...not fun.

I love the mythic elements in this piece, and the implied connection between Bast and Artemis. There is something inherently mythic about certain animals, cats especially, and the idea that they would continue to worship a fallen goddess of the hunt by hunting at her temple really added layer upon layer to each myth. Also, like any good tanka, this piece builds line by line, each line adding a new layer of meaning and thus new layer of depth to the poem. This is really a solid piece.

"sitting" • Linda Galloway • Ribbons, Winter 2009

In some sense, this is a very surreal piece, and I was hesitant to accept it because of that. However, the tone created by the last three lines tells me that this is more a mythic piece, and that Galloway is using a legend (implied by "they say") as the vehicle for a metaphor, and that the last line while possibly literal, which would certainly make it speculative, is also in some way metaphorical. This dual interpretation obviously adds layers to the poem, but the build up to the last line, and the line itself, created such a yearning in me as a reader to know what happens next, to know whether or not the wings were real or metaphorical, that I just had to include it.

"way out there" • LeRoy Gorman • Streetlights: Poetry of Urban Life in Modern English Tanka (Modern English Tanka Press, 2009).

Poetry means nothing if it does not speak in some way to the human condition, and while Gorman may do it with a sledgehammer with the last line, I will argue that there are times when we need that sort of sentiment in poetry. I love the combination of the speculative and the political, and thought that it was a very cool sentiment to bring to poetry. There needs to be more of that in speculative poetry, and it's something that I hope people work towards in 2011.

"abandoned planet" • John Grey • Scifaikuest, November 2009

What intrigues me about this poem is the use of the preposition "in." The tears are frozen in ice, not to ice or as ice. In other words, the man may not even be there, may have been the one to abandon the planet, and all that remains of him, even after he's gone in more than one sense, are his tears that no one will know about. The loneliness implied by that preposition choice really struck a chord with me.

"the winking" • Michele L. Harvey • Ribbons, Winter 2009

A good tanka builds line by line, each line implying something fresh and new to shift the readers perceptions. I love what Harvey does with the third and fourth lines of this poem, setting up a slightly technological tone in the first two lines, then hitting the reader with a "flattened spots/in the cornfield." My mind went straight to crop circles. I was there, Juaquin Phoenix swinging his baseball bat and everything. Then Harvey de-speculates it with the last line, but still the reader is left with that speculative taste in the back of their throat. The juxtaposition between the distant satellites and the very real and present deer is also another layer that's working in this piece. It's a very resonant tanka, and really well written.

Bumbershoot • Howard V. Hendrix • Abyss & Apex, First Quarter 2009

I love metaphors, and love deeply explored metaphors, so a poem like "Bumbershoot" just makes me drool. The opening metaphor is cool, but Hendrix just builds on it, line after line, until there are shifts in perception and time. The last image just kills me, too. Line three clearly implies that the extended metaphor is happening internally, but Hendrix makes them external as well with the last image, showing the connection between perception and its affect on reality in a way that only a poem could convey. The build up and richness of imagery in this piece really works, but that last line, with its final resonant image takes the poem to a whole different level.

"parental pride" • Carolyn M. Hinderliter • Scifaikuest, Nov 2009

As a regular tanka should build with every line, so too should a scifi tanka. Hinderliter does so with her tanka, each line building from a nice comfy poem, to a really creepy multimouthed alien spawn poem. That build up alone was enough for inclusion. This poem may not have the layers of resonance that others do, but I thought the build up and creepy "punch line" of the last line made up for that.

"alien atmosphere" • C. William Hinderliter • Scifaikuest, Feb 2009

I know a lot of readers will have issues with line three more or less restating line one in this poem, and I agree. Line one could have been stronger. However, Hinderliter seemed to be playing off the idea of "alien atmosphere" and "love" in this poem, and I thought that might have been the idea behind the choice--the alien atmosphere might not have just been that of the planet, but that of the other person as well. Taking those multiple interpretations into consideration, I thought this poem deserved a shot.

"by my side" • Elizabeth Howard • Ribbons, Spring 2009

I don't know about you, but "hall of mirrors" says carnival fun house to me, and that's already creepy. Add to it the last line of "dead sister," and I'm really haunted. This was just a creepy poem all the way around, but oddly sentimental, too. I loved the dual tone that this piece evoked, as well as the slow build up. Of course, the multiple interpretations of the last line, whether it's a ghost or the speaker sees the resemblance of their sister in their own reflection, adds a layer to this piece, and neither option is more or less haunting. It's a great horror tanka.

Headstones • Major Jackson • New Orleans Review, Vol 35 No 1, 2009

Jackson, I think, hit every one of my drool buttons in one poem. Brilliant metaphors with wildly original vehicles, synaesthesia, elements of those metaphors as medieval riddle poems, shocking and offsetting juxtapositions, this poem has everything that makes me go goopy when I read poetry. I love the metaphors in this piece, and the set up as a riddle poem. I love that the lack of names on graves becomes sound. I love that this, in some sense, is a love poem, using of all things, headstones as a launch point. This poem has so many layers and levels that I can't begin to extract it, but only stand in jealous awe.

"this house" • Joyce Sandeen Johnson • Ribbons, Summer 2009

I love that this starts with what is more or less a cliche, then twists it slightly with L3, slightly further with L4, then completely with L5. There is a slow build up to the final line that carries this poem from the casual and ordinary to the dark and bizarre. The idea that shadows will come and leave of their own volition is haunting to several levels, for me, and it was that build up and echoing release that made me choose this poem.

Losing Weight • Tim Jones • Astropoetica 7.2, Summer, 2009

The first thing that caught me about this poem was the literalism of the first stanza (losing weight as opposed to merely losing pounds) combined with the carefully worded metaphor of stanza two. There is delicateness in both of these stanzas, connoted by the words "plate of bone" combined with the gentle image of "lose your tether to the ground".  It was this tone that caught me and held me through the final stanza.

"needing to sleep" • M. Kei • Mariposa 21, Autumn/Winter 2009

This, for me, reads like a children's fairy tale. There is a gentleness here, as though the moon is a persistent toddler, begging for one more story and refusing to let their parents rest, or perhaps an eager pet not ready to retire for the evening.  I just found this to be a nice, cozy personification the fit within the larger speculative framework.

The Selkie's Children • Deborah P Kolodji • Goblin Fruit, Winter 2009

Kolodji's retelling of the tale doesn't really add anything to the story, plot wise. Her characters find the hide in a truck, whereas others find it in a shed, or in the rafters, but that's really it. What Kolodji does add, poetically, is an element of suspense and a point of view that, though explored before, certainly develops a darker tone to the traditional selkie story. Kolodji's line breaks add so much tension and build up to this piece, exploiting the cinquain form for all its worth, and it is that tension that propels this poem forward to the inevitable end that every reader knows is coming, yet still touches us emotionally when it does.

"blue sunset" • Deborah P Kolodji • Scifaikuest, Aug 2009

Eight words. That's all Kolodji needs to touch a reader--eight frickin' words. Obviously, the first outstanding aspect of this piece is its minimalism because, you know, EIGHT WORDS. After that, Kolodji actually manages to incorporate a true kigo, or season word, into the first line of her scifaiku, which is a feat in and of itself. Finally, I love that the last line focuses not on the rover, but on the rover's tracks. The rover is actually nowhere in this scene, and the reader is left viewing a fairly desolate and lonely picture with on the briefest hints of humanity--the remnants of the rover and the distant echo of the planet earth. This condensed tone, almost to the point of overwhelming the reader, in such a minimal use of language really epitomizes scifaiku.

The Surface of Venus • Geoffrey Landis • Astropoetica 7.2, Summer, 2009; Iron Angels (Van Zeno Press, 2009)

Geoffrey Landis is, by all accounts, a cheater when it comes to speculative writing, poetry and fiction alike, because as an employee of NASA, he's actually been closer to some of the planets which he discusses in his work than others. That being said, I love his description of Venus, which is minimal, and possibly could be developed more (volcanoes are implied, but not explicitly stated), juxtaposed against the mythological. I'm a sucker for a good juxtaposition, but the colloquial phrasing in the last line against the slightly more scientific language of the first three lines works so well in this piece that I find myself grinning wryly at every reread. It's a simple, cynical joke, perhaps, but a damn good one, and one that makes me grin every time I read it.

Burns at Both Ends • Rose Lemberg • Star*Line 32.1, Jan/Feb 2009

Lemberg might win the anthology's award for best vehicle with "feeling like gruel," which alone is enough to buy her way between these covers. That being said, the theme of this poem really works for me, especially considering that this is a poetry anthology and poetry, even as an art form, is considered by many to be frivolous when held up against things like opera, symphonies, novels, etc. Lemberg's poem caught me as almost a manifesto, and that energy also helped solidify its place in this anthology.

"with a cheap beach towel" • paul m. • Frogpond 32.3, Fall 2009

paul m's piece takes the "butterfly effect" to such a speculative extreme that I couldn't help but include it in this anthology. It's a very straight forward poem, but the buildup between each line is so well crafted that readers can't help but be caught off guard, and that energy and shift in perspective also propelled this piece.

"her hand in mine" • paul m. • Mariposa 20, Spring/Summer 2009

:::GUSH::: The juxtaposition in this piece creates such a romantic tone that I'm jealous of paul m. for writing it. The opening image sets up a tone, but the second image in the last two lines, especially with the line break that creates a yearning in the reader to know "enough...of what?" is so poignant that I couldn't help but include this piece in the anthology.

"Jedi mind trick—" • Tanya McDonald • Modern Haiku 40.1, Winter/Spring 2009

What can I say? "The poem is strong with this one." It's a great senryu, very cleverly written, and it mentions Jedis, which allows McDonald to roll a D20 for geek points to the point that she might be able to buy her own lightsaber.

"telling fortunes …" • Vasile Moldovan • Magnapoets, January 2009

Is this mythic or horror? I don't know, but I love the dark implications of the last line. I know it's been done before, but Moldovan's twist on the familiar cliche leaves the reader with what I feel might actually be a more depressing tone than the lifeline simply running out. It's a lonely poem, taking a cliche into a more desolate place, dragging the reader along with it.

"meteor shower" • Joanne Morcom • Scifaikuest, Feb 2009

There are many readers and editors who don't like the "a-ha" of a piece to be the simple fact that the reader is on a different world/planet/reality/etc. However, in a short form like scifaiku, that sort of "a-ha" can be intensified in a short space with minimal language, and resonate more fully with the reader. That's exactly what Morcom does in this piece. Starting of ordinary (meteor showers are certainly a noteworthy occurrence, but not too exceptional) then building towards the extreme speculative, with possible undertones of world/civilization destruction, Morcom shifts the reader to an extreme in ten words, leaving them with a lingering wonder or curiosity.

"falling on your face" • Scott Nicolay • Scifaikuest, Aug 2009

This is another poem which, like Morcom's, creates an "a-ha" by shifting the reader from the ordinary to the speculative in such a short period of time that the moment works. It's not a multilayered poem, though it does leave the reader wondering what, exactly, has four wings and whether or not they should be concerned as they trudge through the pampas. These sorts of lingering feelings and questions are always useful in poetry, and work well in this piece.

Alien Invasion • Peter Payack • Conceptual Anarchy (2009)

The twist on the title, and the fact that for many readers, this poem is insanely easy to memorize and remember, even if they don't want to, makes this a rousing success. It's incredibly hard, having read this poem, to forget it, even if as a reader you didn't like it or enjoy it, which is the whole point of the piece. I love that idea. Payack really nailed it with this one.

"snow light–" • Ann K. Schwader • Daily Haiku, Jan 22, 2009

The first thing that caught my attention was the ambiguity of the title. I'm not sure if it's a lightly falling snow, or something illuminating the snow that makes it appear to be lit, or possibly the weight of the snow on the speaker's shoulders is minimal. Any of these work to juxtapose against the second image, which if one takes it as completely separate, i.e., if Schwader is really forcing two incongruent images against each other to resonate, works on all sorts of speculative plains, whether the speaker is observing these reflections in a telescope or computer screen, or seeing them somewhere else. The sense of austerity in this piece, the loneliness and alienation created by the language works really well, and this is a multilayered, multi-interpretation poem that keeps pulling the reader back.

Top Five Reasons Not to Rebel Against Your Alien Overlord • Jennifer Schwabach • Illumen, Issue 10

It was a funny poem, enough to make me chuckle. I'm not sure the jokes are deep here, and while I see a slight resounding metaphor implied in some of these lines, I firmly believe the Schwabach is aiming for humor and not socio-political metaphor. I could be wrong, but either way, it makes me chuckle. Any poem that can produce a physical reaction from me gets in.

"afternoon drive—" • Greg Schwartz • Scifaikuest, May 2009

Greg Schwartz is a creepy, creepy man. Creepy. I love this horrorku because it doesn't play on traditional horror tropes, but instead tries to honestly creep the reader out, which is much more in line with what I want from a horrorku as a reader and editor. I love that we don't know what the noise in the trunk is, but when juxtaposed against the peaceful, almost blissful, opening image, the idea of ANYTHING in the trunk making noise that requires the wind to drown it out becomes that much more disturbed. I know there are some readers who are going to shout "tire iron" and move on, but I think we all know that a tire iron doesn't make these sorts of noises.

"blue sky" • semi • Scifaikuest, Aug 2009

Sort of a personal confession here: I personally am super attracted to the smell of jasmine, so if you want me to squee over your short poem, that scent included anywhere helps. With that, the opening three lines were very sensual, and while "erotic heat" was a bit cliche for me, I let it slide because the next two lines were just depressing. The speaker isn't even interested in the eroticism of the memories being uploaded, isn't even eager to participate, but is browsing. Oh my...the socio-political metaphors and prophetic warnings abound. This is a lonely poem, and the tone of the piece caused by the shift between the two stanzas really resonates with me.

Night Phenomenon • Marge Simon • Astropoetry to the International Year of Astronomy (cosmopoetry.ro/astropoetrytoiya, 2009)

There's nothing new here in terms of imagery, as "night" has been personified since people were writing poems, but I thought the language had a slightly modern feeling to it, as though night had become a Cosmo reader and was stepping out on the town for flirtinis. That energy caught my attention, and draws me back to this poem again and again.

"tattered flesh" • Noel Sloboda • Scifaikuest, Nov 2009

Formally, this is a beautiful piece, the second line creating a shift between the two images and carrying multiple meanings. That was the first thing that attracted me to Sloboda's piece. The other was the grisliness of the imagery. This isn't a pleasant process or sexy transformation, but a raw, flesh ripping experience. That pain worked its way through the language, and the emotion accompanying it helped solidify this poem's place in the anthology.

"the network" • Dan Smith • Drops of Blood: A Horrorku Sampler (SFPA, 2009).

What the hell is "it"? I want to know. That's the best part about this poem. You don't know what happened, but you know that "it" was really bad. Really, really bad. The fact that Smith gives the reader just enough information to squirm, but then leaves the whole scenario wide open, causing the reader to imagine the worst possible things a network could do with everyone's medical data, is great. This is minimalism at some of its finest.

The Blue of Neptune • Meg Smith • Astropoetica 7.2, Summer, 2009

Line four is what catches me in this piece every time. Why is the person lying on a stone? That question, left unanswered, but with either mythic or science fictional connotations, depending on how one reads it, draws me constantly back to this piece. I also like the longing in the piece, the connection the speaker makes with the planet. This is a resonant poem with themes of spirituality that works for me.

Intraocular Implant • J. E. Stanley • Intrinsic Night (Sam's Dot Publishing, 2009)

This, possibly, is my cheater poem.  This is from a collaborative collection that I wrote with Stanley, and while our poems belong to us, they do resonate against each other in the organized sections of the book. If anyone wants to call me out on this choice, by all means, feel free. That being said, I love this poem. I love this poem so much I made a graphic for it. I love the cynical, possibly morbid, attitude of the speaker facing the possible end of his life, but also the lingering question of the last two lines with its mythic undertones. It's just a really cool, wistful piece.

"Stockholm Syndrome—" • J. E. Stanley • Scifaikuest, May 2009

Stanley gets points for using a phrase like "Stockholm Syndrome" in a scifaiku, but the poem is worth keeping because of the twist in the last line. It's clever, and a bit humorous, but I think it works as a scifaiku, or possibly scifai senryu. This piece brought a wry grin to my face, enough for me to include it.

Article of Faith • Anna Sykora • Goblin Fruit, Summer 2009

I'm not sure if this is a triumphant cheer towards observation and writers memorializing those important events of humanity, or a darker "humanity is wiped out, but someone else will be watching" doomsday prophecy. Either way, I like the idea that things are being recorded and that this recording is celebrated. I'm usually not a fan of writing about writing, poetry about writing poetry, etc. but this writing seems more connected to journalism and observation and less to the creative. I think that distinction is important, and keeps the poem from being tawdry.

On its Own • Anna Sykora • Nothing to Dread: Niteblade Anthology, December 2009

This poem was nominated for Rhysling and so automatically was included in the anthology. That understood, I do like the socio-political themes of the piece.

Apotropaism • Sonya Taaffe • Goblin Fruit, Winter 2009

Anything with a quote from the classics is already cool, but when that quote means something like "The smell of mortal blood gives me a smiling welcome," and the poem is focused on apotropaism (which, BTW, is magic to ward off evil, including amulets, charms and written symbols) I'm already drooling. Taaffee is master of rhythm and dense imagery. The compact language of this piece and the use of grammar, mechanics and sentence structure to get all of these images into these lines, shows her dedication and skill as a poet. The tone of the poem is hopeful, but wary. I'm left wondering the speaker believes in these spells or not, but the last line seems to be a defiance against the storm, which makes me all the more giddy to include this poem.

"sun spots:" • Pat Tompkins • Scifaikuest, Feb 2009

This a fun twist on scifi, especially when one considers that the "him" may actually be driven by the power he's waiting for. I liked the clear use of a science trope in this piece, and the clear vibrant moment. It's a bit too narrative for a true scifaiku, but it certainly works on the periphery of said genre.

The Men All Pause • Stephen Wilson • Poet's Espresso, May 2009

Nominated for a Rhysling, and actually received quite a few recommendations from readers based on the Rhysling, so it certainly was going to be included.

Undertaker: An Acrostic • Jane Yolen • Miss Rumphius Effect blog, July 2009

I love that the audience knows it's screwed from line one, when we're addressed as "Victim." That alone caught my interest, but some of the line breaks were really startling, adding to the tension of the poem, and I thought that worked well, too.

threading dreams • Kimberly Zajac • Ribbons, Winter 2009

As with some of the other pieces in this anthology, Zajac masterfully layers her piece by creating a new sense with each successive line, until resonance after resonance unpeel their leaves for the reader, who is simply left in serene awe. I'm so glad Zajac's last name starts with a "Z," too, as this is a really gentle image to on which to end the anthology.

As I'm typing this, the voting deadline is well past, votes have been tallied, and the final scores sent to the powers that be at the SFPA, so there's no attempt to influence votes. I'd really love to hear reader's critical feedback and thoughts on the poems and the choices made. Poetry only thrives when it is discussed, and as I haven't been able to find anyone else discussing these poems beyond more than an announcement, I feel a certain duty as editor to get folks talking.


Feb. 13th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
Josh, nobody is going to accuse you of sleeping with the authors! (I know, I know, that was a joke.) But from my experience in the small press world, I will tell you that there is again and again ONE reason I choose one piece over another: there is something here I haven't seen before. It's kind of boring to say that over and over again, and it really doesn't justify anything.

And it's easy for me, as an editor (again, I haven't done this for a long time and don't really want to do it now) to say why I rejected something: because it's boring. It's clumsy. It panders to its audience. It insults its audience. But hard to say why something swims to the top.

What some editors in the non sf, that is to say academic, world do -- and I will be generous and say this is unconscious -- is publish the editors of other zines. I do not see this so much in the genre world, which is one reasons I think the genre world publishes more authentic, surprising, and memorable work.

As a writer, I think it's my job to write, not critique. I did that for a living for some 30 odd years, and now it's somebody else's job, so go ahead and discuss if you want. It's not my job anymore. I'm not terribly sure it's an editor's job, but if you like doing it, I suppose you must.
Feb. 13th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Re: editors
I think that part of the writer's job is to read, and critique what they read, so that they are constantly learning from what they read. One cannot write in a bubble, as it were, and need to constantly be informed by why they're reading. Discussing these lessons with others can only benefit the writing community as a whole.

I think your reasons for rejecting poems are dead on, and I was just wondering if any the poems in this anthology fell into that category for readers.


thoughtful, creative, contemplative

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