I joined the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) a few years ago because I wanted to learn more about speculative poetry and subscribe to Star*Line, a quarterly magazine SFPA publishes.

One of the perks of being an SFPA member is voting in the Rhysling Awards for best short and long poems of the previous year! To make the final voting process easier, SFPA aggregates all poems nominated by SFPA members for the Rhysling Awards and publishes an annual anthology. The Rhysling Anthology is sent annually to SFPA members, who review the nominees before they cast their votes, and is available for purchase via SFPA (physical copies available until the print run is sold out).

This year, the deadline to vote for Rhysling short poems is 15 June 2022, and the deadline to vote for Rhysling long poems is 1 November 2022.

Since I got my votes in early this year (gasp!), I thought I’d share which poems I voted for, and why you should read them (and, if you’re a SFPA member, consider voting for them, too!).

(If you’re a poet submitting work to The Dread Machine, this list might also help you get a better idea of my tastes.)

Short Poems

  1. “Stress Level Test” by Pankaj Khemka (originally published in Star*Line)

    Why this poem? I liked how the author took a standard medical evaluation form that asks questions like “Do you experience fatigue and/or struggle to fall or stay asleep?” or “Do you experience irritability, sadness, or anger?” and pretended to be an exasperated, overworked deity dangling from their last thread of sanity — a very relatable situation, particularly given all the stresses and trauma we’ve all experienced as a result of COVID-19. The whole piece is fraught with shared trauma, beautiful imagery, and humor. (The responses to those questions: “When I sleep, I have nightmares of worlds colliding, universes exploding, infinite loves lost. And there’s that one about piloting my starship and not being able to reach the pedals.” and “Sometimes I think I’ve created a monster, several monsters. Maybe it would be better to clap my hands, wipe away the cosmos, start fresh.”)

  2. “Cosmic Cooking” by Gretchen Tessmer (originally published in Kaleidotrope; available here)

    Why this poem? I adored the imagery in the opening stanza (“so this one time, I / put a hot star in an ice water bath / and cracked / a corner of my favorite galaxy”) as well as the combination of baking, science, and how the whole piece built toward that last stanza (“and afterwards / there was Big Bang residue / all over the place”). This poem perfectly captured that feeling of dread when you’re cooking and somehow, even though you’re trying your best and following the recipe, everything still goes completely wrong.

  3. “Futuristic Funerals” by Dante Novario (originally published in Jersey Devil Press; available here)

    Why this poem? This piece is a far-future satire of the funeral/embalming/death services industry, replete with dark humor, social commentary, and lovely imagery. Read this poem to learn more about futuristic funerary options such as the “Multi-Dimensional Package”, “Flung into the Ocean to Be Eaten by Sea Monsters Package”, the “Soul’s Gonna Burn in Hell Anyway Package”, and more!

Long Poems

  1. “they came to new mexico” by Arachelle (originally published in Eye to the Telescope; available here)

    Why this poem? With short stanzas, bursts of imagery and prose, and parenthetical asides, we learn about what happens when aliens come to New Mexico, demanding to meet with the leaders of the Diné and the Tsalagi (and any other tribal leaders that could make it) and offer to give all the Indigenous Peoples of North America a new planet to call home. The aliens are well-intentioned, wanting to make everything better, and have already divvied up the new planet and allocated land for each tribe, but “they didn’t understand that their plan / was reminiscent of the allotment period / in our history / i guess / the old western films didn’t cover that”. In response to the aliens listing off all the awful ways Indigenous Peoples have been mistreated, “the diné spokesperson just said / ‘we aren’t going to leave / where we supposed to be / just because it’s hard’.” A fierce, proud resilience underlays this poem, and it ends on a hopeful note in a future that I, a non-Indigenous person, didn’t predict—but wish I had. A person’s ability to anticipate this ending (or not) speaks volumes about the extent to which they possess (or lack) shared experiences and/or cross-cultural understanding. I want to read more poems that challenge and expand my worldview like this one did, because clearly I still need to keep growing it.

  2. “Tiny House” by Kurt Newton (originally published in Triangulation: Habitats)

    Why this poem? This poem explores life as the narrative We realize that they no longer need a big house, and how that house makes itself smaller and smaller to match their needs (“What we didn’t use, the house took / until we could no longer stand to be inside.”). The narrative We finds now joy adventuring beyond the walls of the home they had originally bought because they were so impressed by its size, though they still sometimes “take our house out of our pocket / and peek through its tiny windows, / and try to remember all the things / that happened / inside.”

  3. “The Bookstore” by Beth Cato (originally published in NewMyths.com; available here)

    Why this poem? I’m a bookstore addict, which predisposed me to like this poem, but what sold me on this poem was the way the author captured both the joy of entering a bookstore, the solace browsing the shelves can provide, and the grief of losing a beloved family member. And most importantly of all: how the best booksellers—like the best librarians—will help you find precisely the books you need for this season of your life. (Excerpt: “the bookseller shook her head / ‘no one plans to shop these shelves / this store’s here when needed most / when these books are needed most / ‘from the sound of things right now / you don’t need to dwell on regrets / that itch like a hundred mosquito stings / ‘you need indirect memories / times when comfort came in the coziness / of plush lap and hugging arms”)

My other favorites from the Rhysling Anthology 2022 (I wish I could have voted for all of them!):

Short Poems

  • “the empires of old” by Robin Wyatt Dunn
  • “Extremophile” by Lauren Scharhag
  • “Hallucinations” by Amirah Al Wassif
  • “Ode” by P. H. Low
  • “our translucent bodies” by Devin Miller
  • “Post-Massacre Psych Evaluation” by Abu Bakr Sadiq
  • “The Reality of Ghosts” by Yilin Wang
  • “Sea Gods” by Mary Soon Lee
  • “Sonnet of the South American Sphinx” by Katherine Quevedo
  • “Stratospherics 2” by Akua Lezli Hope
  • “Watchmaker” by Carolyn Clink

Long Poems

  • “Amphitrite Finds a Confidante” by Elizabeth R. McClellan
  • “Deep Diving” by Kurt Newton
  • “Dispatch from a Ruin in Milta, the Town of Souls” by Morgan L. Ventura
  • “Epilogue: Momento Mori” by Ada Hoffman
  • “Hastur Asks for Donald Glover’s Autograph” by Brandon O’Brien
  • “The House of Ill Waters” by R. B. Lemberg
  • “In the Male Utopia” by Geoffrey A. Landis
  • “Reservation Fairy Tales 101 — Final Exam” by Marsheila Rockwell
  • “When the Girls Began to Fall” by Geneve Flynn

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