Daily Archives: February 26, 2009

Writing: The Sad State of Poetry in Speculative Fiction

Waaay back, when I first started to get serious about writing, I wrote poetry. Okay I started writing poetry at the angst-ridden edge of twelve, and shelved much of it until my twenties. Eventually though, my poetry grew up and ventured into the world.

My first professional sale was for a whole $1.45 and yes it was a science fiction poem to Star*line. I continued to sell a poem here and there for usually five bucks and a copy of the magazine/book. Then I hit it big and sold a poem to Amazing Stories; $36 USD. Wow! And from that, I was invited (they actually contacted me) to join the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), THE professional organization for science fiction writers throughout North America. (I  don’t think I’d ever heard of SF Canada way back then.)

Thirty-six dollars and SFWA membership. SFWA works on a third of the pie idea. Three pro sales makes you a real writer. One or two-thirds makes you an Associate. You still pay the same amount but you get fewer privileges and can’t vote for the board or the Nebulas. What does it get you? That may be a different post but there is a wee bit of prestige, a very wee bit if you stay Associate forever.

I’ve sold more poems and stories since then, but everything must be speculative obviously for SFWA’s requirements. The publication that your piece appears in must meet the demands of a high production number, be a long running publication, pay pro rates, be American (and a few, very few Canadian magazines), etc. for membership qualification. Oh and poetry, well SFWA decided to drop it like a hot potato. No longer can you become a member on poetry alone. Not even if you’re the best poet in the world. Bruce Boston is probably the best Speculative poet out there. Certainly the most well-known. Canada’s own Sandra Kasturi is no pale shadow either. And there are numerous more.

But here’ is thesad state of the beleaguered poem. Someone got it in their head that because a poem is a hundred words or a hundred lines then why, it’s gotta be easy and fast to write. I’ve spent days, even months writing a poem (in some cases, years, but not constantly). I doubt it was any poet who said, scrap the poems from SFWA. And if three measly poems were just too few for a full membership, then why not make it six or nine or a dozen? Nope, SFWA allows stories, novellas, novelettes, books, even flash fiction in the right circumstances (though I hear that’s iffy) but poetry. Ick. That stuff is for intellectuals pontificating down their noses. Who reads it?

And really, that is part of the problem, isn’t it? Who reads poetry? There is a small point here that I believe poetry is part of the old bardic tradition and really is meant to be heard and seen. Look at poetry slams (a discussion for another day). Many people read it…sometimes, for it to still be bought in some places. But enough? And poetry, well it’s unfathomable, bizarre, esoteric. And spec poetry has just gotta be worse. Doesn’t it? I mean aliens in a story gives you time to paint an elaborate picture, but a vignette? Well, we don’t have time to look at that.

Sigh, there was an era where everyone was taught to read poetry. And what is “The Cremation of Sam McGee” if not speculative poetry? Poetry doesn’t have to be unfathomable or above people’s heads though I’ve had the most straightforward poems rejected by editors who said their audience wouldn’t understand them. Say the poem is confusing but don’t lower the intelligence of your readers, please.

Oh and did I mention that speculative fiction is the worst paid genre out there (except, would you believe, erotic fiction)? Yes, I can write a poem and receive $100 for it from Descant, or a story for a lit mag and get anywhere from $100-$1000, or I can write an article for anywhere from thirty cents a word to a dollar and more. Sure ,there’s a range but if you’re writing poetry and speculative poetry, well you really are the dregs of society. Not even as good as the tentacle waving scum of speculative story writers. No sirree. You’re filler on those pages that don’t have a story long enough.

That is the sad sate of speculative poetry. Alas. And this attitude is often held by those who have never written it or tried to understand it. SFWA has some pretty old-fashioned ideas that makes me wonder on the value of continuing to be a member when I’m a small time Canadian writer.

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