The Sneaky Lathe of Poetry *

Lathe: n. A machine in which work is rotated about a horizontal axis and shaped by a fixed tool.

(This essay originally appeared at Apex Magazine on April 3, 2013)

If you are not the sort who enjoys poetry, you might think April (being National Poetry Month) is the season for eye-rolling over enforced rhyme schemes and cringing at public displays of meter.

But even if you skip town for the month, poetic voice still shapes your experience in sneaky ways. The results will catch you unawares.

Take some of your favorite titles, as one example.

Don’t look at the stories (or poems), yet. Just the titles. The ones that carve meaning and sound into the smallest of spaces. Swirsky’s “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” (Apex Magazine), and Valentine’s “A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones” (Clarkesworld). Go back further: Ellison’s ”I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream.”

Now look deeper. Look at structure. Poetic forms are reshaping fiction, from the brevity of flash to the use of sectioned prose.

Poetry broke from its restraints a long time ago.

In the most capable of hands, poetry has become a crafter’s tool that reshapes voice and perception along an axis of words. And it’s not that scary, except when it means to be.

Editor Lynne M. Thomas says, “Stories and poems that have distinct poetic voices appeal to me very much as the Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine. I’m a firm believer that the best speculative fiction and poetry has a distinctive voice that enhances the science fictional and fantastical elements, characters, and plots that they spin, producing the exceptional work that our readers seek out.”

Dig a little further, beyond fiction, and you might find a poem or two that speaks to you.

Maurice Broaddus, editor of Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations, says, “I’ve always envied poets.  It’s a writing form that is so difficult to do well (all of my attempts end up resembling sheep droppings).  So when I run across a  Linda Addison (pause to genuflect) or a Rain Graves or a LaShawn Wanak and their ability to weave image and language, you can’t question their skill as writers.  Especially when dealing with a topic like faith, where image and mystery become intimate bedfellows, it adds to the overall feel of the collections.”

Excellent discussions about poetry’s role in genre are happening all over this month. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Science Fiction Poetry: Words of Potential” in Apex Magazine #47 is a great place to start. Another long-time favorite is the Strange Horizons Speculative Poetry Symposium (2005).

So here’s my challenge to you this month: don’t let poetry sneak up on you. Find it in unexpected places, and watch it spin.

A good place to start is right here at Apex.  I’ll leave you some links to a few of my favorites herehere,here, and here. Here are more, from different corners of the Internet. (Yes, one of those isn’t technically a poem. Sneaky, no?)

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