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[GUEST POST] Shira Lipkin and Mat Joiner on Liminality: There Is No Box!

Shira Lipkin is a writer, poet, and editor in Boston; in her spare time, she volunteers with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. She attends a lot of burlesque shows, but that’s not where the glitter comes from. Her cat is bigger than her dog. Mat Joiner lives in Birmingham, England. He loves flippancy, Pierrots, ghosts and green men. He thinks “canalpunk” should be a thing but hasn’t written the manifesto yet. Their poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, Through the Gate, and other wonderful places. Together, they fight crime! Shira and Mat are also co-editors of Liminality, a new magazine of speculative poetry.

Liminality: There Is No Box

by Shira Lipkin

The thing about poetry is that poetry is a revolutionary act.

This is not what we’re taught in schools! In the US, at least, we have our Norton guides of poetry that have the same set of poems kids have been made to study for decades, for centuries. Which quite reminds us of “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins:

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

So to hell with that. That’s not what we’re doing here. We do not read poems as dead things pinned to the page. We don’t view poetry as homework. Poetry is a live thing, snapping against its strictures like a downed electrical wire. Poetry – good poetry, the kind of poetry we’re publishing – is bold and intimate and emotionally naked.

The thing about poetry is that you can do things with it that you can’t do with a novel, or with short fiction. A poem is the idea stripped to its bones and animated. In a novel, every sentence should matter; in a poem, every word has to matter.

And poetry that does all of that just blows us away.

Hi, we’re Shira Lipkin and Mat Joiner. Should’ve said that earlier, but we get a little excited about poetry, which is why we started Liminality in the first place. We’re both poets ourselves (and short fiction writers, and novelists-in-progress; many hats!), and have been doing speculative poetry our whole professional lives (Shira has a Rhysling Award to show for it, and Mat has a Dwarf Stars Award). As much as we love poetry in general, our truest love is speculative poetry.

What is speculative poetry?

Oh, wars have been fought on listservs and in comment threads on that very topic! There are some very prescriptive definitions of SF poetry, fantasy poetry, et cetera.

We reject all of them. Which is fitting, the two of us coming from punk backgrounds and being genderfluid to boot. There are no borders. There is no box.

“How do we define speculative poetry?” was, by necessity, one of the first questions we had to ask ourselves when we started Liminality. One’s call for submissions is, of course, going to influence the work one receives. So we sat down and worked on making our remit as broad as possible. The name of the magazine helped, of course. In anthropological terms, liminality is the midpoint of a ritual: the threshold where a person is no longer quite who they were, not yet who they might become. In between masks, what face might you have? What might you be in transit? Where will you go? Everything is possible in that moment; change is its own goal. Liminality is the space between. Beyond that, we said, “We’re looking for speculative literary poems that touch the heart as much as the head; poems of the liminal, the fluid, and the fantastic. We’d love to see work that shifts shape, refuses to be to be easily pinned down or categorised. We actively welcome diversity; we want to hear new as well as established voices. Tell us tales we thought we knew, the way only you can tell them. Give us new myths.” When we created our listing on Duotrope, we didn’t list ourselves only as science fiction/fantasy; we checked off a whole lot of boxes!

Because the other thing is this: No one knows what a Liminality poem is yet. And that was a huge benefit to editors who want to leave our definitions open and our boundaries fuzzy, want to leave ourselves room to be surprised and amazed. We felt that by pre-defining ourselves, we would limit the work we received; again, we rejected that utterly. We wanted to see outside of the existing world of speculative poetry. We wanted work that was unlike anything we’d seen so far.

And we got it. The first poem we bought, the poet had thought that it was “too trans to sell”; another poet thought theirs was too angry. But that, we were drawn to that, the bold rawness of emotion in this work. The second poem we bought was from a poet neither of us had heard of, who used language in a way we’d never seen in our field; we kept looping back to that one in our heads. Unexpected lines hooked into our minds like burrs. It was nontraditional. It wasn’t anything we would have thought to ask for. But we had to take it. And that started the definition going in our head. Speculative poetry, the way we do it, is a journey. It’s unpredictable. It’s full of adventures. Liminality #1 is a path with unexpected twists and spirals and echoes. It’s a summoning and a call to arms, a lullaby, a requiem, an exploration. There are gods and monsters seen slantwise, ghosts, apocalypses, mysteries.

More than anything else, we’re bringing you poetry that matters. Poetry that sings in many voices and in many styles. Poetry that tells you essential truths in ways that will sneak into your heart and mind. Poetry that will get you excited about poetry.

Hi. We’re here to take you on an adventure. Just take our hands and step onto the path.

About John DeNardo (13014 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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