Finding Speculative Poetry

SFPA logoEvery year since 1978, members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) have nominated speculative poetry published the prior year for the Rhysling Award. These poems are collected in the annual Rhysling Anthology. Once the membership receives their copies of the anthology, they cast votes for their three favorite poems in each of two categories: “Best Short Poem” (1-49 lines) and “Best Long Poem” (50 or more lines). The 2014 anthology came out a little late this year, but it was well worth waiting to lose myself in the astounding imagery offered by poets from around the world.

The 2014 Rhysling Anthology isn’t yet available for public sale, however, I’d like to use this opportunity to share a few links to speculative poetry publications.


Goblin Fruit

Quarterly poetry zine with a focus on the mythic and fantastical.


A new quarterly speculative poetry zine with poems “that touch the heart as much as the head.”

Note: Read Diane Severson’s review of Luminality’s first issue which includes four audio versions of the peoms here.

Strange Horizons

Weekly poem, story, article, review, etc., all with a speculative bent.


 Dreams and Nightmares Magazine

 Science Fiction and Fantasy poetry, often with a touch of horror.


The Journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Speculative poetry of all types.

Tales of the Talisman

Quarterly magazine packed with speculative fiction and imaginative poetry.




Planetary Nebula NGC 2818, Hubble Space TelescopeOne of the reasons I write speculative poetry is to escape the everyday world. Sure, there are plenty of things to write about in this world, but I’d rather write about other worlds with methane seas and chlorine atmospheres. Instead of reaching for metaphors about the apple tree in my backyard, I’d prefer to reach a blind hand into a bronze cauldron churning with cloying horrors. And why ruminate on what’s in my neighbor’s head when I can peer inside the mind of a wizard who controls kings with a lantern made of jade?

Anything is possible in these worlds. Including collaboration.

Collaboration, for me, is having someone to make your own words read better. It’s having someone to say, “Hey, that’s pretty cool, but what if—?” It’s the liberty to tinker with someone else’s thoughts, the chance to use that opening stanza you wrote three months ago yet haven’t figured out what comes next. And, if nothing else, it is an opportunity to learn more about the writing process.

I’ve collaborated with several poets, and I’ve learned something while working with each one. It’s not easy to identify exactly what that “something” is, but I know that I write better poems today because I shared in the process of writing with others. And I recommend that all poets, regardless of skill, try collaborating on a minimum of three poems. (Few of us get it right the first time.)

The following poem is written with Rick Yennik.. It’s the first success of our many collaborations (we’ve written a few short stories together too). I learned from it, and I’m sure he did too.

by Kurt MacPhearson and Rick Yennik

we went there
with preconceived notions
cargo holds bulging

useless baggage
of peacefulness

digital treaties
fill in the blanks
and supply what’s demanded

breaking the rules
building the conflict
entertainment in red

sugar-packed newsreels
of feel-good features

humanity’s message
shipped in our actions
to those faraway worlds

Originally appeared in The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Autumn 2005

Reading and Regret

I’ve never been much for telling people that I’m a poet, and I’ve never made an effort to read my poems in front of anyone. I’ve explained the former in my original blog post, and as far as the latter goes, I’ve never thought my poems as the “out loud” sort. Then there is my voice to consider. I cringe every time I hear a recording of it, so I’d be surprised if people didn’t clap hands to their ears by the time I finished the first line.

This past week I was invited to read a few of my poems at a local coffee shop. Immediately, I felt a seed of reluctance germinating in my belly. I wanted no more to read my poems in public than I did to run through the mall naked. I was about to decline when that little voice in the back of my mind told me that I was a coward if I didn’t do it. If I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it, and I might as well stop writing now because apparently my poems weren’t good enough to share.

ReadingShotThis past Saturday I stood up in front of twenty people at Bigby Coffee and read four of my poems. I read with a steady voice, and received polite applause after each one. It was a pleasant experience, and I would do it again, however, next time I won’t hold back.

I held back a poem. I brought the following poem because I thought that I could read it as part of the whole Halloween season. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to read it because I was suddenly afraid that my audience wouldn’t like it. No one else was reading anything of the sort. So I held it back, thanked the audience, and sat down, regretting it ever since.

Threshold of Sleep
by Kurt MacPhearson

In the space between your slippers
and that fuzzy patch
the vacuum can’t quite reach
a monster awaits

Claws clicking, stomachs smoldering,
tentacles toying with the corner of the sheet
as your shuffle begins with outstretched arms,
as if to embrace a prodigal dream:

No shield, sword,
nor white-knuckled charm shall protect you
as you pass through the veil
between consciousness and sleep

When stars wink out like nightstand lamps
and the universe unfolds
in non-Euclidean angles
with a membranous stir

The beat is not your heart in ears
but tom-toms on hilltops,
and the frission across your neck
is the fetid breath of a forgotten god
at the threshold of sleep

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares 93

Inner Space

About a year after I started writing speculative poetry I submitted a batch of poems to Star*Line, the Journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). I was particularly proud of one called “Red Blinky Thing,” which focused on a dead planet that had been fitted with a blinking red beacon. I had a few poems published already, but nothing I’d written before could compare to the stunning imagery and profound message I’d stuffed into that poem. In less than a week, however, then editor Marge Simon responded with what was the most effective rejection I’d ever received.

 “…overkill. See too much of this. Try me with the ‘inner space’ in your head.”

At first, I struggled with her statement. Why would I be searching inside my head, when I’m trying to write about outer space? The only thing that sort of searching would accomplish would be to dredge up all the crap in my life that I didn’t want to think about. I didn’t want self-examination. That’s what therapy is for!

What I wanted out of speculative poetry was freedom. I wanted to explore places I’d never been, and perhaps make up a few things along the way like a 16th Century cartographer who scrawls “Here there be dragons!” on an uncharted region just to toy with the minds of his peers. Inner space? Please. Marge Simon obviously didn’t have a clue about speculative poetry.

Click here if you’d like to see how wrong I was.

So I bit my tongue, closed my eyes, and proceeded to try it her way. But ever so cautious. I could bump into strange things in the dank recesses of my mind. Hell, I might not even find my way back. It may sound a bit facetious, but that was how I felt stepping into that inner space. And those dark thoughts led me to black holes.

Event Horizon STRLNJLGST2010
by Kurt MacPhearson 

a pin-prick point
of everything
and nothing
lodged in the heart

 a cosmic eraser
leaving empty
theoretic explanations
as the soul rides

 originally appeared in Star*Line 28.3

I challenge all who read this entry to take Marge Simon’s advice. Search that inner space in your head and explore places you’ve never been, see things you thought you’d never see, and, in the speculative spirt, make up a few things along the way.

Where Astronomy and Mythology Meet

Solar-SystemOne of my favorite things about speculative poetry is the interplay between astronomy and mythology. We see it throughout the cosmos: moons, planets, stars, galaxies… even the asteroids that have caused us such worry over the last few decades have names derived from mythology. With these names, it’s natural (for me, at least) to imagine these celestial bodies with the background and personality of their namesakes.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology recognize the names of the major players—Jupiter (Zeus), Mars, (Ares), Neptune (Poseidon), Venus (Aphrodite)—but most would raise the proverbial questioning eyebrow at the mention of lesser characters such as Ganymede, Deimos, and Charon, let alone the significance they, as moons, hold to the planets they orbit. I too had this lack of knowledge, but as I began to research the astronomical bodies and the mythological characters after which they’re named, the imagery unfurled like a tapestry depicting the Trojan War as if fought in space.



Similar to “Io’s Reality Check,” the following poem tells the story of how I imagined Callisto may have ended up orbiting Jupiter as one of the Galilean moons. Callisto was a minor character, best known for being turned into a bear by Juno for having an affair with Jupiter.

by Kurt MacPhearson

Your story began the moment
the Great Pretender lured you
from Diana’s train; bore him Arcus,
a strapping Greek lad, but with him
came Juno’s ire, which regardless
of her husband’s charms, got you
just what you deserved: transformation
into a bear, and a son dead-set
on spearing you

Your tragedy would have ended
at the point of a thrust
if Jupiter hadn’t stepped in
and flung you both to hang
like dippers in our northern sky,
so forgive us if your tale seems murky,
finding you the outmost Galilean —
a pitted bronze shell of your former self
with an icy-tear patina suggesting
your troubled history — yet no sign
of your wayward son

Some dare say you earned this fate
for lack of discerning core, yet few
resist godly charms; take solace
that your aren’t alone: Europa
knows how to handle stress,
Ganymede’s scarred shoulders
remain strong, and with stealthy plumes
of SO2, Io lags to warn
of a scornful wife’s attack

Though it may appear we’re onlyDreams and Nightmares #96
concerned with crater formation
and how your hidden seas
generate a magnetosphere,
the truth is that we have many eyes:
the heavens may be a forest in which
even legends get lost, but if
we ever develop tools with which
to penetrate myth, we’ll certainly do
all that we’re able to reunite you
with your long-lost cub

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #96