30 January 2005

Rhysling Award Nominations

I've finally settled on what I will nominate for this year's Rhysling Awards for science fiction/fantasy poetry. (Yes, I know I've said that I don't like the label "SF poetry", but plenty of people do, and the SFPA is a good organization, regardless of whether I happen to believe in their central premise.)

I have decided that this year I will nominate two poems that I loved because of their freewheeling (to put it mildly) play with words. Thus, for short poem, I'm nominating "To My Readers in the Year 2099" by John Latta, from Jacket 25 and "Nets the Si'ze of Souls" by Michael Szewczyk, from Say... Why aren't We Crying?.

Of course, there were other good poems published throughout the year, and selecting only two for particular notice is a silly endeavor, but not as silly as it might seem, because all nominations get into the Rhysling Anthology, a tool used by SFPA members to vote for the award. Last October, I called for more variety in the Rhysling Anthology, and this is my little contribution toward that end.

These two poems may be a bit off-putting to some readers, and so I'll offer here a few reasons for paying attention to them. Or, rather, I'll just say what I thought about while and after I read them, with the hope that this may offer other readers ways to appreciate the poems.

There's a lot I like about "To My Readers in the Year 2099". On a first read, what I got was the marvelous mix of dictions, the archaic "gaff'd" in the same poem as "grok" (the jumble of g-sounds in the poem is great fun), and I didn't pay much attention to sense or context. Further readings brought some sense to bear, and I particularly enjoyed how hard it became to hold ideas together as clauses built off of each other, replicating, it seemed to me, the speaker's own struggle. That's not an interpretation, it's just a frame I was able to put over the poem for one reading in order to rein in some of its chaos. After that reading, I let the chaos reign again, because that's what's most fun for me about poems such as this -- their ability to be and not be. I don't feel a need with such poems to deliver 1 Absolute Interpretation, but rather to see what the poem does to me on each reading. I'm different each time I read it, so why shouldn't the poem be different, too?

For those of you who are in the sorry state of not having a copy of Say... Why aren't We Crying?, here are some of the first lines of Szewczyk's poem, a poem that is somewhat more difficult to pry denotative sense from than John Latta's poem, but one with similar pleasures:
there is a music in the roosts, from deadly war
teams of the wildlife colony tubes. Shy is the
Wildlife of conflicting del fuego's
and the orthadox Soul Nets of recent mystery.
in a worship Nations existed in dinosaur
cries of hades. Of the book of Lamps,
i march the del fuego in search of dolphins
and Mighty departures. To hours
and ears of the living in the November
well of books whining friendly with the
days of the ghosts of the sea ledges of
the '70s. a message of Azimuth and try
Not to Make Company while swimming.
Giant, how a Monster in May Stops in April
Easter days. Eighty-Eight Monsters 9 bees
and Over and Over Easter of Michael
Gold of the Sands of tierra del fuego.
I have to admit, I hated this poem when I first encountered it. But I've learned to trust that reaction -- often, it points toward something that is powerfully and oddly excellent. Many poems (and books) that I've come to love, I hated at first. (I actually, literally threw Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! across the room three times when I first read it. By the end, it had become -- and has remained -- my favorite American novel.)

I won't pretend that I understand all that Szewczyk is up to in "Nets the Si'ze of Souls", but nonetheless, I have come to appreciate the energy in his syntax, the way the words bounce against each other, the way the poem draws associations from my mind: I think of advertisements and billboards with their Giant Offers Of Stuff, I think of how American stuff makes its way to every corner of the Earth, I think of blithe vacations destroyed by sea monsters and mythic beings. I love some of the later lines -- "left in the Evening among the front Story/ book service, lost in the hunger of a/ had song" (no, I don't know what "the hunger of a had song" is, but I'm sure I've felt it). And the ending, the sad and yet sort of funny/sort of pathetic final two lines:
Giant, how a monster must feel,
the slow course of life ticking upon them.

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