Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick Thoughts - SFF Poetry Venues (that also do fiction)

Every now and again, I just have to talk about poetry. It's something that's always been rather central to me. I started out writing poetry, way back in the day, and I still find that poetry can do things that other forms just cannot. But often I feel that poetry, and especially SFF poetry, is left out of conversations when thinking and talking about SFF as a whole. People think of stories and novels, but not chapbooks, not individual poems. Which is a shame. I love poetry and though I am primarily a short _fiction_ reviewer I make sure to look at the poetry at the publications that I check out. And today I want to highlight those SFF fiction and poetry venues that I read. I apologize that I won't be looking at poetry specific publications here. For those eager for SFF poetry more exclusively, there are certainly publications. But for those who already read SFF short fiction and might want to start transitioning over to poetry as well, I have a few recommendations.

1. Strange Horizons
Strange Horizons does a lot of things. Publishes some outstanding SFF short fiction, yes. Provides a wide range of SFF nonfiction, including scholarly articles and more personal columns, reviews, and opinions, yes. Commissions some world-class SFF art, yes. And this year, as part of their funding for 2017, they hope to add SFF fiction in translation and more SFF interactive fiction. But poetry is still what I know them best for. And Strange Horizons publishes SFF poetry across the board. Science fiction and fantasy and contemporary poetry. Inspiring pieces and devastating pieces and works that range all the way between. Pretty much every week there is a new poem to enjoy, and the podcasts capturing the month's poetry are probably my favorite the publication puts out. They have released some truly beautiful work, including "Long Shadow" by R.B. Lemberg, which was probably my favorite poem of 2015. From epics to very short and razor sharp poems, Strange Horizons has a long history of being one of the best sources of SFF poetry around. If you were going to start somewhere, my personal bias is towards Strange Horizons, if only because to me it puts out the widest range of poems and styles. And if you like what they do and want to help them expand further, consider chipping in to their annual fund drive.

2. Apex Magazine
Apex definitely rivals Strange Horizons for sheer number of poems published, normally putting out four a month, though occasionally a little less. These poems are also solidly SFF and cover a wide range of genres, but they narrow the focus a bit more to follow the magazine's push toward darkness. The poems typically waste no time in going right for the eyes and the feels, hitting readers where they are most vulnerable. For dark and horror poetry, there is no better source than Apex, and there are some downright chilling poems that they have put out. I've also been impressed with how they've taken chances on some formal poetry, and overall the quality and the number of poems they publish is incredible. And, as luck would have it, Apex is running their annual subscription drive starting on the 24th, so any interested in getting a great deal on dark SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, should get ready for that. Until then, you can support them here.

3. Mithila Review
This is the newest publication on this list but it's one that's just blown me away in terms of what they've managed to put out in that amount of time. The publication as a whole aims to put out work from the borders and from the margins. It's rare enough to see a publication organized outside of the US or UK or similarly West-centric location, so seeing Mithila Review focus on works and writers coming from outside those places seems vital. It has certainly produced a lot of phenomenal work in a very short amount of time. The publication started off as monthly (and mostly unpaid) but has recently committed to paying writers and to focusing specifically on various underrepresented areas in SFF. The "Asian SF" double issue is FULL of poetry and is definitely worth reading and enjoying. Next will be an issue devoted to Central and South American SF and I'm very, very excited to read it. It's undergoing some organizational changes at the moment, and could definitely use some support. Consider contributing to their Patreon here.

4. Uncanny Magazine
Uncanny has certainly made a name for itself in the relatively short amount of time it's been in operation, and that's largely deserved thanks to a strong array of SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. As far as poetry goes, it publishes widely and with an eye for those pieces that fit into its larger ethos of strange, beautifully written works. The main drawback is that the overall output of poetry is pretty small compared to most of the above publications. Normally publishing just three poems every two months, it makes up for what it lacks in quantity with a stunning quality. It also pushes work of some bigger names in SFF poetry, which might give people unfamiliar and wary of getting started in reading poetry a bit extra incentive. Whereas the previous publications tend to run more poems than fiction works, Uncanny is solidly fiction first, so those hungry for just a taste of poetry might be best served starting here and then, if so moved, seeking out more robust offerings. It's certainly a great source of SFF poetry and you can support them on Patreon as well.

5. Heroic Fantasy Quarterly
I have the least familiarity with Heroic Fantasy Quarterly's poetry offerings but from what I've seen so far it's the place to go for people looking for more classic fantasy takes on the form. Wanting some dragons, knights, and wizards in your poetry? Then look no further than here. The publication is, as the name implies, quarterly, so there's a bit of a wait between issues, but it typically publishes at least four poems an issue and, in the case of the most recent offerings, the first half of an epic poem that's probably going to end up being novella-length. So if you're serious about poetry, have at it. And because of the editorial direction to focus on heroic fantasy, this publication might suit anyone looking more for the works that sometimes pop up in "classic" fantasy novels, though that's not to say there aren't some delightfully innovative pieces on display. For those wanting a more carefully curated collection of solely fantasy poetry, find out more about them here.

And there you have it! As I said, there's a lot of publications that publish solely poetry, but I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few that cross streams and offer up both SFF fiction and poetry. For me, it makes for a great combination, contrasting styles and forms while highlighting the strengths of SFF—the imagination, the language, and the flow of ideas. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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