I mentioned Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness, edited by Lester Smith (popcorn press) in a previous post, promising to review in full here in the future. The future has arrived.
First let me give you a little history. Cthulhu Haiku was a Kickstarter project, the first that I backed as a matter of fact. It was mentioned on SF Signal in their Crowdfunding Roundup column. The publisher, Popcorn Press is in Wisconsin and I like to support things from my home State. The theme also immediately made me think of one of my favorite poets alive, Ann K. Schwader, who is a celebrated Lovecraftian poet (see her collection of weird poetry Twisted in Dream), so I wrote her an email to make sure she was aware of the project. She wrote back thanking me for the heads-up (she hadn’t been aware, after all) and that she’d submitted a couple of weird poems and they’d been accepted for the volume! That was that, I jumped in and backed the project. In addition to “Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness” I also received e-book copies of the 3 previous volumes in the “series” (a Halloween publication): “Hungry Dead”, 2010; “Vampyr Verse”, 2011; and “Halloween Haiku”, 2011. PLUS a wonderful full color ebook of “The Very Hungry Cthulhupillar” by Ben Mund and Signal Fire Press. It is not intended for young children!
Now, I have read precious little of H.P. Lovecraft’s actual fiction. I’ve probably read more Lovecraftian poetry and fiction by other people than by the man himself. The problem with doing it this way, is that most of it assumes that you’ve read Lovecraft widely and know to whom and what the various terms apply. Not having done that might leave you a little puzzled, with plenty flying over your head unaware of the significance. That said, it’s been kind of fun, piecing bits of the Mythos together over time and now when I read or listen to a Lovecraft story it feels like coming home.
Cthulhu Haiku is a collection of mostly haiku but also of somewhat longer poetry and a bit of flash fiction. All of it is suitably Lovecraftian and as such often creepy and full of dread and mystery. Some of it is very irreverent, which I think goes along with the territory as well. It’s nice to read some of this and know they aren’t taking themselves too seriously! Especially the poetry and/or fiction David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Stan!, Robert Borski, Sandra Lindow, James S. Dorr and well, so many of them, it seems to me.
A word about “scifaiku” (or Science Fiction Haiku) is perhaps in order. I first encountered this form consciously when, as a new member of the SFPA I received the Dwarf Stars Anthology from which I was to choose the best ultra-short poems from among the short-listed poems therein. Not all poems in the Dwarf Stars Anthology are haiku, but many are. Naturally, we had a look at Japanese haiku in school, but I can’t say it really grabbed me, or that I kept reading once we were finished. I’ve never sung a song that set haiku to music, so my experience is very limited. I could probably come up with an explanation of Scifaiku if at gunpoint, but let’s see what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
Scifaiku (science fiction haiku) is a form of science fiction poetry first announced by Tom Brinck with his 1995 Scifaiku Manifesto. It is inspired by Japanese haiku, but explores science, science fiction (SF), and other speculative fiction themes, such as fantasy and horror. They are based on the principles and form of haiku but can deviate from its structure.
Scifaiku follow three major principles – minimalism, immediacy and human insight:
Scifaiku follows the haiku model, including its spirit of minimalism. While traditional Japanese haiku usually has 3 phrases of 5, 7, and 5 on (“sound symbols”), haiku in English usually has seventeen (or fewer) syllables. Scifaiku is even more flexible and may be shorter or longer (allowing for longer technical terms, e.g. anisomorphism), although most often still written, as English language haiku, in three lines.
Immediacy is the use of direct sensory perceptions to give a sense of being in the moment. Concrete, rather than abstract terms are used. Metaphor and allegory are rarely explicit though sometimes implied.
Human insight comes from the idea that the purpose of much science fiction is to understand ourselves better through exploring possible futures or speculative realities.
The poems of Cthulhu Haiku clearly belong in the horror or “weird fiction” camp of scifaiku and so I’m not sure how much “human insight” applies here. Perhaps “mythos insight” would be better?
If you are interested in reading more of and about Lovecraftian fiction and poetry here are a couple of links you can follow:
- Lovecraft eZine
- Innsmouth Free Press
- An Archive of Lovecraft’s Poetry some of which you can read online
Be sure to check out the books section of Innsmouth Free Press’s website where you can find their Lovecraftian publications, including Fungi, their most recent publication.
I’ve recorded a number of poems and Lester Smith was kind enough to provide a recording his own poem appearing in the volume. Click on the link below the list of contents. Thanks also go to him for helping me choose which poems to record for you.
- Prehistoric sea, Winifred Lewis (scifaiku)
- H. P. Lovecraft, Michael Kriesel (A lipogram, after Mark Zimmermann). A Lipogram is a poem using only words that begin with the letters found in the poem’s title.
- Moon floats in darkness, Geoffrey Landis (scifaiku)
- Gone Fishing, Lester Smith, is an alphabetic morph-rhyme. The vowels sounding in the last words of his poem (bait, beat, bite, boat, boot) morph from one to the next alphabetically speaking (A, E, I, O, U). Lester Smith gives a good explanation of the form, you can read it here.
- Pouty-lipped & gilled, Robert Borski (scifaiku)
- Profane Inspiration, Marsheila Rockwell (a haiku sequence)
- I peeled back the page, J. King (scifaiku)
- When Even Death May Die, Sarah Terry
- My Secret, Scott Nickell
- Phone Guy from Yuggoth, James P. Roberts
- Lovecraft is ridiculous, J. King
- Hallowmas moonlight, Ann K. Schwader (scifaiku)
- If Ancient Texts Are Anything to Go By, David Kopaska-Merkel