time_shark (time_shark) wrote,

Horror, Fantasy and the Rhysling Award

As part of an intriguing entry about the latest issue of Star*Line, seajules makes this statement: I feel this ties into some longstanding issues I've had with the Science Fiction Poetry Association and its officially reluctant inclusion of fantasy and horror poets (though the results of this year's Rhyslings give me hope that the tide is turning on this front)...

Others without my background as a) a former SFPA President; b) the co-editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase; c) the creator of SFPA's online Rhysling archive; d) the official (as dkolodji tells me, and she would know) liaison to SFWA for handling inclusion of the Rhysling winners in the Nebula Awards Showcase series; e) the official MC of ReaderCon's Rhysling Award presentation; might well read that without thinking twice about it. But it makes me cringe, because it's based on a misconception — an understandable one — but one that is demonstrably wrong. There is no official reluctance on the part of the SFPA to include fantasy and horror; certainly not if you judge by the poems the voting members give awards to. To demonstrate, I use the Rhysling Award results. (To make it simple, I'm going to stick with this decade's winners.) Watch:

Long: Geoffrey A. Landis, "Christmas (after we all get time machines)" (comic SF)
Short: Rebecca Marjesdatter, "Grimoire" (fantasy/horror)

Long: Joe Haldeman, "January Fires" (SF-themed, but a memoir)
Short: Bruce Boston, "My Wife Returns as She Would Have It" (fantasy-themed, but a memoir)

Long: Lawrence Schimel, "How to Make a Human" (fantasy/myth)
Short: William John Watkins, "We Die as Angels" (fantasy)

Long: Charles Saplak and Mike Allen, "Epochs in Exile: A Fantasy Trilogy" (Charlie and I blended genres here: I'd call this one science fantasy)
(tie) Sonya Taaffe, "Matlacihuatl's Gift" (horror/fantasy/myth)
Short: Ruth Berman, "Potherb Gardening" (comic fantasy)

Long: Theodora Goss, "Octavia Is Lost in the Hall of Masks" (fantasy/horror)
Short: Roger Dutcher, "Just Distance" (a confessional poem with science-themed imagery)

Long: Tim Pratt, "Soul Searching" (fantasy)
Short: Greg Beatty, "No Ruined Lunar City" (SF)

Long: Kendall Evans & David C. Kopaska-Merkel, "The Tin Men" (SF, but too surreal to be seen as "hard sf," for sure)
Short: Mike Allen, "The Strip Search" (Heh. I'd call this one fantasy.)

Long: Mike Allen, "The Journey to Kailash" (fantasy)
Short: Rich Ristow, "The Graven Idol's Godheart" (horror)

Long: Catherynne M. Valente, "The Seven Devils of Central California" (fantasy/myth)
Short: F.J. Bergmann, "Eating Light" (this one's hard to classify. Its premise of a person who can taste light could be fantasy or sf. I lean toward fantasy.)

Long: Geoffrey A. Landis, "Search" (SF)
Short: Amal El-Mohtar, "Song for an Ancient City" (we'll call this one fantasy, though I read it as more of a confessional poem with magical imagery.)

So, ten years, 21 winning poems, only seven of which I think can be labeled "science fiction" to any conclusive degree, only four of them straightforward SF in the "rocketships, time travel and aliens" sense. I'd say there's no sign of a "pro-SF" bias in terms of the membership's poetry preferences.

Addressing just a little of some of the other things seajules talks about — well, when I was Prez, I supported a motion to rename the organization the "Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association" — attempting to address this same misconception — and was handed my first major defeat by the membership. (The voting result was about 2-to-1 against, as I recall.) It is hard to tell how much of that majority was members self-identifying as sf writers vs. members who felt "science fiction" adequately covered the other genres too vs. members just wanting the name left alone.

ETA: post amended to reflect admonishments and corrections from official SFPA officials.

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