Poetry – Elgin Award Nominee Showcase

In honor of Robin Williams, who played English teacher Jack Keating in the movie Dead Poet’s Society: “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are Robin Williams crouch2all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. but poetry, beauty, romance, love. These are what we stay alive for. To quote Walt Whitman: ‘…That the powerful play goes on, and that you may contribute a verse.’ What will your verse be?” Yes, this is what I live for, and I’m still writing my verse. Sadly, Williams’ verse is written, strangely truncated for those of us for whom he was a fixture throughout our lives and expected many more years of laughter and drama from him.

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Today, I’m doing something different. Generally, I review chapbooks, collections and anthologies of genre poetry and do the occasional interview of a genre poet, but this time I’d like to spend some time with the nominees for the 2nd annual Elgin Award for best genre poetry chapbook and best genre poetry collection. The voting period ends on August 15 and the announcement of the winner should be announced in short order after that.

If you are interested in the rules or the nomination and voting process you can go to the SFPA website and look at the Elgin Award Page.

There are 10 nominees for best chapbook (including 2 that were nominated last year as well, but didn’t win) and 20 nominees for best collection (including at least 2 from last year) of 2012/13. A PDF of the book is generally made available to members of the SFPA for voting purposes. I’ll say a few words about each, if I can, and link to reviews I written here on Amazing Stories in addition to the snippets included from them. Of the volumes I’ve not already reviewed many are in the queue to be reviewed in the future.

But just so you know, this is really for me, so that when I’ve finished reading (or skimming and getting an impression of) all these collections, I will be reminded of them and be able to choose which ones I feel deserve the awards.

Chapbooks:

Darling Hands, Darling Tongue • Sally Rosen Kindred (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). I really enjoyed this brief book of poetry based on the story of Peter Pan. It includes the Rhysling Award nominated poem “Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams”. These beautiful poems give depth to characters, which are familiar but lacking and open up a world we all know in new ways.

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The Edible Zoo • David C. Kopaska-Merkel (Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2012) – and

Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse • Joshua Gage (The Poet’s Haven, 2013)- The Edible Zoo was nominated for the 2013 Elgin Award and took 3rd place. It’s an entertaining collection of animal poems written for children.

In each poem Kopaska-Merkel describes how the animal might taste, what dishes it would go well in and how best to cook them, if you can manage. Despite the somewhat unconventional fare, the poet never fails to put a smile on faces – yours, for your adult sensibilities of the absurdity and the child’s for the silliness and the rhymes.

I reviewed both it and Inhuman, by Joshua Gage under the uninspired title of “Reviews: Inhuman/Edible Zoo”.

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The Liquid of Her Skin, the Suns of Her Eyes • dan smith (NightBallet Press, 2013). Most of the poems in this chapbook are very brief – haiku and tanka. They grow on you. I reviewed this together with another title (see below) on Amazing Stories: “Poetry Reviews: Cleveland Poets Stanley and Smith.” http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/01/poetry-reviews-cleveland-poets-stanley-smith/

I really wanted to like this collection more than I did. There are a few poems that really caught me, but I was left wanting or simply puzzled after many of them. I’m pretty sure that what left me cold was not necessarily Dan Smith’s fault. It’s just the super-short poetry is not really my thing unless it is just, well, super.

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The Moon & Other Inventions • Kristina Marie Darling (BlazeVOX, 2012) It’s an interesting conceit – a book of only footnotes. Or rather the poems are in the form of footnotes. It makes you wonder what the book itself (which doesn’t exist) is actually about.

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noise of our origin • Dietmar Tauchner (Red Moon Press, 2013) These are all haiku and similar very short poem. Delightful to me because I’m fluent in German and I get nuances out of both the English and the German vesion of each poem. With feet on the Earth Tauchner seems to always have his face turned upwards.

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Selected Regions of the Moon • J. E. Stanley (NightBallet Press, 2013) I reviewed this most excellent chapbook together with dan smith’s chapbook. http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/01/poetry-reviews-cleveland-poets-stanley-smith/

…there’s something about Stanley’s poems, which touched me in a way different from most. They say so much more than they say, if you know what I mean. I sense a longing in this poetry, which speaks volumes in few words, so eloquently, like good poetry should. And they say accountants are soul-less. The last line of his biography sums it up nicely, I think. Stanley’s feet are planted firmly on the Earth, but his eyes are gazing ever heavenward, literally and figuratively.

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The Sex Lives of Monsters • Helen Marshall (Kelp Queen Press, 2013) These poems are more about love than sex. They are about how monsters, in their myriad incarnations, love, which is more about longing than anything else. And love for monsters, which is surprisingly beautiful. Marshall’s voice is soothing, aching and sympathetic to the monsters she gives voice to.

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Sonata Vampirica • Samuel Peralta (Windrift Books, 2012) These are poems which alternate between the Vampire and his victim. They are a dance of desire and need and attraction and repugnance.

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Spaces of Their Own • Russell Jones (Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2013) I reviewed this brief chapbook as a tag-along to a much longer review of an anthology which Jones edited: Poetry Reviews: An Antho & chapbook by R. Jones. http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/03/poetry-reviews-antho-chapbook-r-jones/

For such a brief collection, there is astonishing variety in Spaces of Their Own. … I didn’t love all the poems within, but they were all worth reading….

There is also a visually pleasing element to the poems and how they are presented, not just in the shape poem but the formatting of several of them is an important element, which I found heightened the impact and yet was never cheesy.

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Full length collections:

Dangerous Dreams • Marge Simon and Sandy DeLuca (Elektrik Milk Bath Press, 2013) – This collaborative collection is about the Dark Side. The side that we all have and how there is always more lurking beneath, which is not discernable to the eye or a casual acquaintance. The occult, self-mutilation, sacrifices, vampires and werewolves and dark magic abound. I will be reviewing this collection here when I get to it.

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Dark Roads • Bruce Boston (Dark Renaissance Books, 2013) This rich collection of long poems drawn from the whole of Bruce Boston’s career is a rewarding read. He captures the reader in these very varied poems and their length has given Boston a bit more room to develop ideas and create moods, which he does with keen intellect and delicious language. 

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Demonstra • Bryan Thao Worra (Innsmouth Free Press, 2013). This collection is very strong. The poems are all excellent. However, I find them a little difficult to get into, because I haven’t the first clue about Laos culture and mythology. I do appreciate Bryan’s humorous mixing of his Laotian and American cultural heritage.

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The First Bite of the Apple • Jennifer Crow (Elektrik Milk Bath Press, 2013). I love this collection. Each poem is a vignette into an alternate fairy-tale world, with layers of nuance that keep your mind working long after consumption. Crow’s writing is elegant and polished.I’m looking forward to reviewing this one in full.

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The Gorelets Omnibus: Collected Poems 2001-2011 • Michael Arnzen (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2012). Humorous Horror?!? Is it possible? Why yes, it is! Arnzen achieves it and it’s clear he has fun doing it. This collection of weird and gruesome mini-poems is pretty entertaining.

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Grim Series • Kristine Ong Muslim (Popcorn Press, 2012) To me Muslim’s poetry is like David Lynch’s films: Bizarre and horrific, surreal and crazy yet vividly real. It’s full of cruelty endured and inflicted, full of corpses and various severed bits and bobs. The sentences are so beautifully wrought that the images evoked will either slide past you or lodge themselves in your inner eye, depending on how much you’ve been paying attention.

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Hysteria: A Collection of Madness • Stephanie Wytovich • (Raw Dog Screaming Press 2013)

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Letting out the Demons • Terrie Leigh Relf • (Elektrik Milk Bath Press, 2013). These poems are all snippets of story. They leave you wanting more, in the best sort of way. You are given just enough to spark your imagination and if you follow it, it becomes a rich catalyst to spinning more of the story for yourself.

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Luminous Worlds • David C. Kopaska-Merkel (Dark Regions Press, 2013). I reviewed this excellent collection by the SFPA’s most recent former president here: Poetry Review: Luminous Worlds, by David C. Kopaska-Merkel http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/05/poetry-review-luminous-worlds-david-c-kopaska-merkel/

Many of these poems have a dream-like quality, which encourages you to slow down and take the time to absorb them, and hope understanding dawns, just a little bit. The environment or the world in which the narrative takes place is so weird and seemingly disconnected from ours, just beyond our grasp. But then, in one line, it is all pulled into focus and it suddenly makes sense, but it is sometimes fleetingly, because it is so often dependent on our understanding of tropes, and is that what he really means?

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The Monstrance • Bryan D. Dietrich (Needfire Poetry, 2012). Anyone who loves (ok, is obsessed by Frankenstein in all its iterations will love this collection. But anyone who likes beautiful, yet down to earth writing, replete with introspection, longing, sadness and many other human attributes will be engrossed by this collection all about the Monster. Even though the author hasn’t requested it, I think I might just have to review this in full.

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The Offspring of the Moon • John W. Sexton (Salmon Poetry, 2013) This collection remains one of my favorites reviewed on Amazing Stories: Poetry Review – Offspring of the Moon, by John W. Sexton http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/12/poetry-review-offspring-moon-john-w-sexton/

Wikipedia states that his poetry falls mostly within the realms of Magical Realism, Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I would venture to say none of these here are science fictional in the strictest sense, nor are they pure fantasy. Magical Realism comes closer, but they are like nothing else I’ve ever read before. Sexton has a very original voice. Nevertheless, I was drawn in by the vividness of the imagery and found a kinship with the weird. I think that describes them best. They are simply weird, not in the lovecraftian sense, mind you, but strange and delightful in their flights of fancy, combinations of metaphor or analogy which struck me as something quite fresh.

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Our Rarer Monsters • Noel Sloboda (Sunnyoutside, 2013) Sloboda gives us an astonishingly wide variety of poetic forms to delve into the psyche’s of some of the more unfamiliar “monsters” (it’s all in the eyes of the beholder) and those around them. His language is always clear, yet multi-layered and twisting so as to surprise and delight the intellect.

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Paranormal RomanceDenise Dumars (Sam’s Dot [now Alban Lake Publishing], 2012). I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to the paranormal, so I was skeptical when I started reading this one, whether I would get into it or not. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read the whole thing yet, I’ve just been picking poems at random, and I have to say I really enjoy it. It’s not as “out there” as it could be. There are many poems about cultures different to mine, which have strong ties to the occult and so it’s been a fascinating read. This title is in my queue for review.

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Phantom Navigation • Robert Frazier (Dark Regions Press, 2012) One of the SFPA’s SF Poetry Grandmasters’ new collection is chock full of wonderful poetry on Science Fiction themes – one of the few recent SF collections. Frazier is an artist as well, which is apparent in the pictures he paints with words.

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The Receptionist and other Tales • Lesley Wheeler (Aqueduct Press, 2012) The Receptionist, itself, is a very long sequential narrative poem, accounting for about half of the book. An accounting by the unassuming receptionist/secretary at a College. The “other Tales” are also narrative and quite long. But oh, so fun!

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Scenes Along the Zombie Highway • G. O. Clark (Dark Regions Press, 2013) I also reviewed this entertaining collection of Zombie poems on Amazing: Poetry Review: Scenes Along the Zombie Highway, Clark http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/05/poetry-review-scenes-zombie-highway-clark/

You might think that a collection of poetry featuring only zombies might be a bit monochrome. Sure, this is a quick read, mostly entertaining if you like this sort of thing, but it is definitely not boring! The juxtaposition of humorous with chilling keeps your brain engaged throughout, but it won’t keep you awake at night.

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Special Powers and Abilities • Raymond McDaniel (Coffee House Press, 2013). I wasn’t able to get a review copy, so I can’t say anything about it.

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SuiPsalms • John Edward Lawson (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2012) The poems within are mostly about suicide or killing himself even if metaphorically. They are angry, disdainful, brave and uncompromising in depicting the myriad ways in which the intent could manifest. Good poetry, but oh, so dark.

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Unexplained Fevers • Jeannine Hall Gailey (New Binary Press, 2013) Another favorite that I’ve reviewed in the past year: Review: Unexplained Fevers, by Jeannine Hall Gailey http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/10/review-unexplained-fevers-by-jeannine-hall-gailey/

Unexplained Fevers brings Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and others into the present day and/or the real world, making them get MRI’s, buy cars, and putting their images in glossy magazines. And it’s usually not happy or pleasant. The poems in this collection are often disturbing and dark. They help us consider how much of the darker side of life we are responsible for creating and then ignoring. Or merely paying no heed. This is our fate—is there anything we can do about it? So we go along for the ride. Jeannine Hall Gailey’s characters feel real, like they could be us or someone we know. They speak with my (North American) voice. The emotional content is brought home by this combination of the real and the make-believe.

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What If What’s Imagined Were All True • Roz Kaveny (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2012) A rare find: A collection full of SF sonnets. Yes, sonnets! Wonderful stuff, some hommages to various luminaries of the genre.

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So that does it for the Elgin Award nominees. They are all enjoyable and deserve the nominations, Which ones will you read?

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