November 3 is International Speculative Poetry Day. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) deemed it so as a way to shout out this poetry genre to the world. You can find the proclamation on their blog called SPECPO. To celebrate this year, crack open one of the four collections that won the 2020 Elgin Awards for Best Full-Length Poetry Collection. Usually, there are only three top winners, but this year brought about a tie for third place. That’s a sign that SpecPo is a genre that’s gaining attention and popularity.
Here are this year’s full-length poetry collection winners.
Soft Science by Franny Choi
The Turing Test, AKA the imitation game, tests the ability of a computer to show intelligence in the way a human’s brain would work in a way that is indistinguishable between the two. Soft Science (first place) offers poems inspired by the Turing Test along with poems about cyborgs. These poems dive into themes of self-discovery concerning gender identity, cultural identity, and social identity. The poems show how technology intertwines with aspects of being human. Here are some lines from “Turing Test” that offer a tiny piece of how the language grabs at you: “do you understand what I am saying… / I learned to speak / from puppets & smoke / orange worms twisted / into the army’s alphabet / I caught the letters / as they fell from my mother’s lips.”
Elemental Haiku: Poems to honor the periodic table three lines at a time by Mary Soon Lee
Elemental Haiku (second place) looks at a very organized aspect of science and creates poetry in the way a scientist would conduct an experiment. Each poem shows intricate step-by-step craft. The haiku appears with drawings and then with a prose explanation at the bottom of each page. Here’s a bit about oxygen: “Most of me is you / I strive for independence, / fail with every breath.” Then we learn the mass of oxygen and its proportion in the human body. The accompanying sketch is a pair of lungs. You’ll never look at elements the same. Every time you see the periodic table, you’ll think of poetry. This makes a SpecPo poet happy.
The Comfort of Screams by G.O. Clark
The cover alone of The Comfort of Screams (tied for third place) disturbs me, and that’s a good thing. Poetry is supposed to make emotions happen. This collection may make you want to scream with its dark encounters and ominous themes. The book jacket itself describes the writing as “Bizarre humor and sinister vision,” which echoes that kind of cackle you hear when ghoulish creatures get the upper hand. Chilling. I suppose the title is ironic then, depending on if you’re the screamer or the thing causing the scream.
The Demeter Diaries by Marge Simon and Bryan D. Dietrich
Collaborative collections always excite me. Cross-genre works always excite me. The Demeter Diaries (tied for third place) has both a collaboration of writers and crosses poetry and prose. That’s a score! Demeter is the ship Vlad Dracula sails on from Transylvania to England. The collection is a love story about the connection between Dracula and Mina Harker. Here’s a line of wooing from Vlad to Mina: “I know nothing about you but your blood, the porcelain prices you neck pays to be so fragile.” Creepy McGee, but apparently, Mina Harker is into it, and this kind of intense language continues through the dialogue.
Once you’re finished with this year’s award winners, check out more speculative poetry here.