This time around I’m doing something different and reviewing a single poetry journal. But this isn’t just any magazine. This is Mythic Delirium edited by Mike and Anita Allen, a print magazine, which has been published for 15 years – a good long time – and which will cease to be a print journal and transition fully to an online ‘Zine, with this, its 30th issue.
They have put together a retrospective celebration of sorts. Mike says in his editorial that Anita did the choosing and it couldn’t be a “best of” sort of issue – there were just too many poems to choose from – and too many good ones – but rather, her choices are meant to show the breadth and depth of poetry that has been presented in its pages since the beginning. The table of contents is impressive:
Editorial: Myths and Delusions
- The Library, After by Shira Lipkin – Rhysling Winner 2012
- Mythic Delirium by Kendall Evans and David C. Kopaska-Merkel
- The Wedding Party by Lucien E.G. Spelman
- Next Time Write It Down by Charles M. Saplak – Rhysling nom. 2008
- The true poem by Serena Fusek
- Co-authoring the Delirium by Charlee Jacob
- Song for an Ancient City by Amal El-Mohtar – Rhysling winner 2009
- Other Fires by Constance Cooper
- Lost Over East Texas by Ann K. Schwader
- Azurite Mine by Gary Every – Rhysling nomination 2005
- Sedna by Sonya Taaffe
- October Witches by Wendy Rathbone & Jack Fisher – Rhysling nomination 2001
- Back to October by Jack Fisher and Wendy Rathbone – Rhysling nomination 2001
- Kaddish for a Dybbuk by Sonya Taaffe
- Song of the Bogs by S. Brackett Robertson
- Bal Macabre by Theodora Goss
- Vinland’s Lost Shores by Ann K. Schwader
- Saint Neil by K.S. Hardy
- If Only by Kendall Evans
- We Took Our Gods by Jennifer Crow – Rhysling nomination 2011
- The Wine of Mercury by Joshua Gage
- The Next Station by David T. Manning
- Three Observations Upon the Discovery that Water Once Existed on Mars by Bud Webster – Rhysling nomination 2005
- Stardust by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff
- Reflections in a Fading Mir by Ann K. Schwader – 2nd place Rhysling 2001
Even if it’s not meant to be the best of the best, I’ve read many of these poems outside of the magazine, which means that they were reprinted, won or were nominated for the Rhysling Award or some such. I’ve recorded a couple of them for your listening pleasure, and included some other recordings and videos I found – just click on the title of the poem in the Table of Contents. Shira Lipkin’s brilliant prose poem “The Library, After”, which won the Rhysling Award in the short category appears on my 2012 Rhysling Showcase edition of Poetry Planet, which you can listen to as part of StarShipSofa No. 256.
Mythic Delirium has already been running an eZine in tandem to the print version since July 2013. Mike and Anita ran a Kickstarter for their Clockwork Phoenix series of books and one of the stretch goals was to fund a year’s worth of an eZine version of Mythic Delirium and in its new incarnation would showcase fiction as well as verse.
I don’t know about you, but I stand in a very conflicted place as regards the slow disappearance of print magazines dedicated to poetry. It wasn’t too long ago when I started reading poetry in earnest and I already owned a Kindle. Since I live in France, it is very costly to subscribe to print journals and so I’m always grateful when I can read great poetry online or as ebooks. But I hate it. I really do. I prefer poetry on a page. Of paper. It’s better now since I lost my Kindle and can still read what’s there in my Kindle Cloud with the Kindle app on my iPad. It does much better with PDFs and the larger screen can accommodate the varying lines and formatting much better than the actual Kindle device can. Nevertheless, I still mourn every loss of poetry on paper.
With these thoughts in mind I asked the poets I have had direct contact with, i.e. whose email addresses I had to write something about their poem, which appears in Mythic Delirium No. 30 and what it has meant to them as a poet to appear in the magazine’s pages and if they have any feelings about this being the last print edition. I heard back from a few and here are their thoughts:
David C. Kopaska-Merkel – “Mythic Delirium” with Kendall Evans
Editor, Dreams and Nightmares
Mythic Delirium, the magazine. I have known Mike Allen for many years. I’ve published some of his poems and he has published some of mine. We have even collaborated a couple of times. He lives in the state I grew up in, but we have never met. A totally modern sort of connection. As for the magazine, it has a place in the history of speculative poetry, a place made noteworthy by its beautiful covers, its longevity, and the numerous well-known and accomplished poets who have appeared in its pages. And I will be really sorry to see the end of it as a print publication. Mostly because I don’t like reading on the screen. Maybe someday I will become reconciled to that.
“Mythic Delirium,” the poem. This was Kendall Evans’s idea, which is why his name appears first. I thought it was a little presumptuous to name a poem after the magazine, but Mike liked it. The poem is about tropes (myths, if you will) of our genre, within the context of The Quest story. I’ll leave further explanations of the content of the poem to the reader, but I will offer a spoiler of sorts: perhaps it was all a dream. The poem was reprinted in a 2005 chapbook, _Separate Destinations_.
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Kendall Evans – “Mythic Delirium” with David C. Kopaska-Merkel
One thing I like about the poem I wrote with David, with the same title as the magazine itself, “Mythic Delirium” — I feel that it says something, beneath the playfulness, about what the mental state of a human being sometimes needs to be in order to cope with an irrational, chaotic, mysterious universe.
Of course I regret that there will no longer be a print edition of MYTHIC DELIRIUM . . . yet at the same time I celebrate the fact that Mike Allen has decided to continue in e-magazine format. We all need to adapt to the times.
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Sonya Taaffe is a poet I’ve admired almost since I discovered genre poetry. Her first published poem appeared in Mythic Delirium and she’s been a regular in its pages since then. She has two poems in this issue: “Sedna” and “Kaddish for a Dybbuk”, She herself goes into more detail on her relationship to Mythic Delirium on her blog: “Myth Happens”
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Ann K. Schwader – “Lost Over East Texas” (one of 3 poems in Mythic Delirium No. 30)
This is a Spenserian sonnet, a variation developed by Edmund Spenser (1553-1599). I don’t believe a lot of poets are using this form these days – at least not in the speculative field! – but I like the way the stanzas link into each other, giving the poem a sense of inevitable motion.
I wrote this poem in 2003, about a month after the space shuttle Columbia and its seven crew members perished while returning from its 28th mission. The overall conceit was pretty standard – the Icarus myth of flying too high – but the constraints of the sonnet form helped me put a few twists on it. I hope.
This one bounced around for a while before Mike & Anita took it for Mythic Delirium. It went on to be nominated for a Rhysling Award, and was reprinted in my dark SF poetry collection Wild Hunt of the Stars (2010 Bram Stoker Award Finalist) – so I’m especially grateful to Mythic Delirium for giving it a good home.
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Gary Every – “Azurite Mine”
My poem “Azurite Mine” which appeared in Mythic Delirium 30 will always have a special memory in my heart because it was the first time I was ever nominated for a Rhysling Award. Appearing in Mythic Delirium was always a treat because of the quality of the artwork and the other poets.
Once, I had purchased a copy of Mike Allen’s book Journey to Kailash containing his brilliant Rhysling Award winning poem of the same name. I had to make a trip to the local prison to pick up a friend. They had transferred him from one cell block to another and had somehow lost track of him. So I had a lot of time to kill. I read the book from cover to cover. On the last page of the book Mike Allen thanks many individuals for helping him with encouragement, inspiration and advice and much to my surprise discovered my name listed there. To think I never would have read that if I hadn’t been stranded on the visitor’s bench of the local prison for so long.
About the poem itself, the Azurite Mine in the poem is a real place in the Santa Rita Mountains of Arizona. The story about Lacrena Pennington is basically true as well (except for some poetic liberties). It was originally part of a two-poem set. This one remote canyon was the location of Lacrena’s capture but in a different year was also the site of an Apache woman named Francesca who was kidnapped into slavery. As she escaped back to Apache lands she was attacked by a jaguar. With scars on her face and crippled hands no Apache man would take her as a wife. So Geronimo (married her) so someone would support her. Francesca spent her life writing sacred songs for the Gaan dance ceremonies. Anyways, I found it a little fascinating to write poems about two female victims from different sides of the same war that happened in the exact same canyon.
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Jennifer Crow – “We Took Our Gods”
I’m a bit sad that Mythic Delirium will no longer be a print publication. Mike and Anita Allen and Tim Mullins always made it such a beautiful production. I knew as soon as I first heard about it that I wanted to be a part of it, and Mike suffered through a number of submissions from me before he bought ‘Swan Wings’ for one of the early issues. Fortunately the show goes on, in an online incarnation.
“We Took Our Gods” was originally published in issue 21. That was a fun project to be a part of, because each of us was riffing on a poem written by another poet. Mike sent me Catherynne M. Valente’s “Red Engines,” which is a gorgeous long poem about lovers and distant places and inevitable change and loss. So I wrote my poem thinking of what we’d believe, if like the girl in Catherynne’s poem we went to Mars and became something other. Tricksters seem perfect for the vagaries of space, since they are both incredibly ancient and always new.
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Despite claiming that this retrospective is not a selection of the best poems they’ve published, nevertheless, many of them went on to be nominated for a Rhysling Award and several of them placed or won the award. It makes me wonder what the statistics in fact are? How many poems found in the magazine over the past 15 years have been nominated? How many have won or placed? It speaks for the Allens’ ability to choose excellent, popular poetry.
My personal thoughts on each of the poems and why I have a fondness for each one of them:
“The Library, After” – a wonderful personification of the Library, in which the post-apocalyptic library ‘goes feral’, because the library has always felt like a friend to me;
“Mythic Delirium”; is a delightful romp through first fantasy and then SF tropes, leaving you with a twist at the end.
“The Wedding Party”, which mixes Faerie and Robin Hood with historical figures and children’s stories;
“Next Time Write it Down” – a crazy-fun mash-up of biblical, mythic and fairy tales;
“the true poem”, which is chilling indeed and because of it, I’ll never read another poem without looking for its measure as a true poem;
“Co-authoring the Delirium”, which is indeed delirious and creepy and makes you look over your shoulder when it’s done;
“Song for an Ancient City” for its gorgeous, evocative language;
“Other Fires”, for the glimpse of what our world’s tricksters will do if we ever make it to other stars;
“Lost Over East Texas”, which so deftly uses form and language that, at first, might seem to obscure its meaning but in the end serve to deepen it;
“Azurite Mines” because it is a beautiful, poignant exploration of personal reflection on our relationship to history, place and nature;
“Sedna”, for introducing me in such a seductive way to an Inuit myth story I’d never heard before;
“October Witches” because they aren’t just hags with warts, but dark, complex and whimsical;
“Back to October” a longing for the secret, shivering, night-time world of October and a ride on the “midnight train” back to our real selves in that land;
“Kaddish for a Dybbuk” is another world I’m only tangentially familiar with and it is still mysterious, yet it’s called me in…;
“Song of the Bogs” is another kind of horrific one, the dead in the bogs singing to us, the living, but it’s actually quite beautiful and not creepy;
“Bal Macabre” is a formal poem (what form I don’t know, but it rhymes!). And while you would think it should be repelent, it sounds quite inviting;
“Vinland’s Lost Shores” Ann told me this is Anglo-Saxon verse, and I admitted to her that I didn’t get it at first. She told me “this was my take on mankind going out to the stars in search of new worlds to conquer & getting its collective tush handed to it on a platter! I was thinking of one of the less successful Viking voyages to the New World in search of “Vinland” (Wine-land), a newer & richer land to call home. As I recall, there was one shipload of Vikings who ran into what they called “Skraelings,” who came out in war canoes & shot storms of arrows at them. That thought took me to using Anglo-Saxon verse to describe starfaring gone wrong.” I’m enjoy finding out the background of a poem if it helps me to understand it better and when I do, I’m always in awe;
“Saint Neil” is a poignant homage to one of our most famous astronauts and makes me long to be one of those pilgrims to the Moon;
“If Only” is the only dwarf length poem and made me smile;
“We Took Our Gods” is from the same volume as “Other Fires” and also depicts the gods of “mischief, mirth and mockery” in space, which tickles my fancy;
“The Wine of Mercury” is about a substance dear to my heart and how grapes came to came to thrive on Mercury, where no other plants would;
“The Next Station” is one of those poems with a punch line. It starts out completely normally, but in just a few short verses of well-chosen words give you a whole night’s worth to dream about;
“Three Observations Upon the Discovery that Water Once Existed on Mars” which just made me laugh and wish to go to Mars;
“Stardust” – because as romantic as space travel seems, the realities will be different. This is a tragic love story;
“Reflections in a Fading Mir” is an homage to Laika the dog who perished with the Mir and the other astronauts – another poignant example of Schwader’s beautiful formal poetry.
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Thank you for sticking with me through a very long review and celebration! Next time I’ll be reviewing another work of Science Fiction – David C. Kopaska-Merkel’s collection Luminous Worlds.