August 30th, 2005

Egrets Reading

How Short Does it Have to Be to Be a Short Poem?

The Science Fiction Poetry Association announced the annual Rhysling Awards earlier this summer at Readercon. For those unfamiliar with genre poetry, the Rhysling Awards are given each year for the best science fiction, fantasy, horror poem published in the previous year. There are two awards, one for "short poem", and one for "long poem". The SFPA defines "short poem" as a poem of fifty lines or less.

My problem with this arbitrary designation is that forty lines feels like a "long poem" to a poet like me who writes primarily short poetry, let alone fifty lines! Fifty lines seems like an epic.

I personally define a short poem as a poem of ten lines or less. Anything else is simply...a poem.

Writing an effective poem in ten lines or less is a completely different art because the goal is to use the least amount of words possible to convey the image. In science fiction poetry, this is even more of a challenge than normal because the poet needs to paint the rules of his/her universe in those few lines in addition to conveying his/her image and purpose.

Scifaiku, in particular, is a fine art that seems to be under-appreciated by both the haiku and science fiction communities. It's somehow the unwanted stepchild of both communities and as a result some brilliant pieces by poets such as John Dunphy, Ann K Schwader, ushi, Teri Santitoro, Mary Margaret Serpento, gK, oino sakai, etc, etc are overlooked each year when the awards are handed out.

Scifaiku has yet to be included in the Red Moon Anthology, the anthology of the best haiku of the previous year, or in the Rhysling Anthology, the SFPA anthology of Rhysling nominated poems.

Perhaps it needs its own award. But who is there to bestow it?

The haiku community considers scifaiku to be a form of zappai, which the Haiku Society of America defines as the equivalent of haiku doggerel. As to the SFPA, I've tried to drum up some interest for a "short short poem" category, but the interest just doesn't seem to be there.

Does the scifaiku community need to form its own organization? But, who would run it? And, who wants to pay more dues to yet another org just to make a scifaiku award possible?

Personally, I'd like to eliminate the Rhysling long poem award and have a Rhysling and a Short Rhysling Award, but I doubt the SFPA will ever go for it.