What Constitutes Speculative Poetry?

Recently, the nominations for the Rhysling Awards (for the best horror/fantasy/sci-fi poems published in the previous year) came out.  Members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) can nominate poems, which are then voted on by all members, collectively.

This year, one poem has been removed from the nominations.  Those who run the SFPA have deemed it "not speculative enough".  They already left it up as a candidate for days before saying anything.  Why put up pieces they're going to research afterward, why not research all nominated poems first?  The poem appeared in Strange Horizons, a well-respected, speculative webzine, so...

I can't imagine being the poet rejoicing over a nomination for (perhaps) the highest award given for speculative poetry.  One day you're telling everyone who'll listen about your inclusion, the next... bewildered or worse.
I'd feel chastised and slighted as the person who nominated the poem (their opinion isn't valid) or as the editor whose judgement is being called into question because, as an editor of a damn fine speculative publication, they chose something the SFPA thinks doesn't cut it.

When did speculative poetry, something fluid and strange, twisty and pliable become something so regimented and easily identifiable?  Are surreal poems not good enough anymore?  Does each poem need a dragon, spaceship, or demon crammed down readers' throats with a plunger?  Must a poet raise you two dead gods and a mermaid?

I understand there have to be lines drawn between "literary" and "speculative" poetry, but those lines are always (by necessity) a fuzzy grouping.  In fact, a fair amount of poems fit into both categories, which is amazing to me... the balance the poet possesses.  If we start drawing the lines thicker and wider, we take away the wonder and openness of the genre.

I feel the SFPA should have let the nomination stand and let the members decide on it, like every other poem.  Maybe five people would see it as too literary, twenty as finely speculative, and ten as both.   It might not even be the best poem in the category this year, but it should be allowed to stay nominated out of fairness, open-mindedness, and plausibility.

Want to judge for yourself?  Read the contested poem.


  1. I feel so badly for the poet! And I agree that the offer then take away is, at the very least, unprofessional. Thanks for posting. I'm glad it gave me the chance to read the poem. @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    1. It's a good piece. It's a bit more ambiguous, whether or not it's speculative. I think it's both.