Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review of The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook by Suzette Haden Elgin


The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook by Suzette Haden Elgin consists of nine chapters and is just under 100 pages in length if one leave out an additional twenty-six pages at the end that include a brief history of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) (chapter nine), references, and an outdated list of Rhysling Award winners.

Chapter one describes useful ways of recognizing what a poem is (and is not) and specifically what a speculative fiction poem is (and is not).  Chapters two through six are a kind of cookbook for composing speculative poetry regardless of whether one has an ear for it or not.  I was surprised to find out that the author admits to having no ear for it; the example poems used throughout the text are her own, and some of them are quite good.

I have been writing poetry for decades, speculative poetry for two years.  I gleaned some good pointers from chapters two through six that will help me become a better (and hopefully more marketable) poet and believe that anyone, no matter how experienced, could do the same.

Chapters seven and eight describe several good schemes for marketing speculative poetry.  These ideas could be applied to marketing poetry or any other art form in general and so were well worth reading.  I was happy to find out that I am already doing many of the things suggested.

Overall, I would say that the Handbook was worth reading once.  Ms. Elgin writes with a certain flare that held my attention even during the tedious parts (such as how to perform scanning).  The complete novice might benefit from actually purchasing the book (which I understand may be available from the SFPA for about $15.00) and keeping it handy as a reference.  More experienced poets would probably be better off taking it out of the library (as I did).

Biographical Notes:


The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook by Suzette Haden Elgin was published in 2005 by Sam's Dot Publishing in cooperation with the SFPA.  A previous edition of the book was published in 1986.

Suzette Haden Elgin (b. 1936) was the founder of the SFPA and for a long time was the editor of Star*Line, its quarterly journal.  A linguistics expert, she is the author of numerous books, among them her Coyote Jones series of novels, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense non-fiction series.

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