The Clarion Writer’s Craft #39 – What makes a poem SF/Fantasy?
Karen A. Romanko is editor of four speculative fiction and poetry anthologies, SPORTY SPEC: GAMES OF THE FANTASTIC (2007), CINEMA SPEC: TALES OF HOLLYWOOD AND FANTASY (2009), RETRO SPEC: TALES OF FANTASY AND NOSTALGIA (2010), and JACK-O’-SPEC: TALES OF HALLOWEEN AND FANTASY (coming September 2011), all from Raven Electrick Ink. She has seen over 100 of her poems and short stories published in venues such as Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and The Pedestal Magazine.
Every time the question of defining SF/Fantasy poetry arises, I’m reminded of the comment Justice Potter Stewart made about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Yes, a lot is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to definitions of SF poetry, but perhaps we can try to clarify our vision at least.
Many practitioners believe that there must be some element of SPECULATION to make a poem SF/Fantasy. In that view it’s not enough to use speculative elements simply as metaphors–time travel, dragons, ghosts, etc.–the SF/Fantasy elements must be LITERAL.
In my poem, “They Threw Their Daughters into the Sea” (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2007), the ghosts of drowned women are quite real:
Now on moonless nights
while their intended ones sleep,
the sea’s daughters board men’s ships,
filling the vessels with silt,
pulling their husbands down, down
to meet their new father
And yet, in my upcoming anthology Jack-o’-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy (September 13, 2011), as editor, I selected a poem about metaphorical ghosts. In “All Soul’s Day” by Shannon Connor Winward the ghosts are merely memories of the selves left behind:
If I close my eyes, I can feel them
drawn like spirits to light
a fairy-ring of once-was girls
a circle of the ghosts of me
Of course, this poem could be about alternate realities–poetry has that funny way of hinting at more than one meaning–and that “funniness” (or fuzziness) makes this definition business even harder.
So, what makes an SF/Fantasy poem for you? Are genre tropes enough even if they’re only metaphorical?