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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Marsheila Rockwell on Writing Speculative Poetry

Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell was born an indeterminate number of years ago in America’s Last, Best Place. A descendant of kings, pilgrims, Ojibwe hunters and possibly a witch or two, she spent the first few years of her life frolicking gleefully in a large backyard that is now part of one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites. Perhaps that explains her early penchant for fantasy and horror – the first book she ever read (at the tender age of three) was Frank L. Baum’s Ozma of Oz.

Fast forward two decades. Marcy graduated from Last, Best Place State University with a degree, not in Creative Writing, as may have been expected, but in Civil Engineering – because even then, she knew writing alone would never pay the bills (her mistake, of course, was in thinking that engineering would). But while she worked as a registered Professional Engineer for several years, she never forgot her true passion, sparked by that early love of books, and in 2005, after more than ten years of writing and submitting short stories and poems, she finally landed her first book contract.

Marcy now lives in the desert in the shadow of an improbably green mountain where she writes dark fiction and poetry, often with her partner, Jeffrey J. Mariotte. In odd moments stolen from her children and her writing, she can be found browsing eBay for unusual Wonder Woman/Girl figures to add to her burgeoning collection.

Carl Slaughter gets to the nitty gritty of writing speculative poetry with  Marsheila Rockwell.

Carl Slaughter: What is a speculative poem? Does it tell a story or is it just an expression about a topic?

Marsheila Rockwell: There aren’t necessarily any hard and fast rules – while most speculative poems (i.e., poetry that would generally fall in the SF/F/H genres) tell a story, some are just brief images or thoughts. This is especially true of scifaiku, which is very short poetry that follows Japanese poetic conventions but uses speculative subjects and imagery.

CS: Who writes speculative poetry? Strictly poets, author/poets, strictly speculative poets, literary poets who cross over?

MR: All of the above. I’m an author/poet myself, and most of the people I know who write speculative poetry are, too, but being an author certainly isn’t a requirement, and neither is sticking to a specific genre.

CS: Do most speculative poets write for pay or do a lot of them do it for the fun and fellowship?

MR: There’s very little money to be made writing poetry of any kind, but most of the people I know write poetry for the same reason they write prose – to be read.

CS: How long is a typical speculative poem in terms of lines and word count?

MR: I’ve seen poems of one line, and poems of hundreds of lines. Again, there really are no set rules.

CS: Any style restrictions or common practices? Rhyming? Stanzas?

MR: Nope. Though I’d recommend staying away from formal verse until you know what you’re doing. Rhyming poetry is very hard to do well, and when you add things like meter into the picture, it gets even harder.

CS: What’s the difference between a poem and a prose poem?

MR: Depends on who’s doing the defining. For me, a prose poem is one that you read as you would a normal paragraph, whereas a non-prose poem has distinct line breaks that don’t necessarily align with the beginning or end of a sentence/thought.

CS: Does anyone use speculative poetry to respond to speculative stories (or nonfiction) or is mostly speculative poetry about original topics?

MR: People use speculative poetry to do everything they use speculative fiction to do. Most of it is probably original, but many poems piggyback off ancient myths or new scientific advances, just like their prose counterparts.

CS: Is there such a thing as speculative fan poetry?

MR: I haven’t heard of it, but it could certainly exist.

CS: Are there markets that buy and publish exclusively speculative poetry?

MR: Yes. Including The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. Check out the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA)’s website for a fairly up-to-date list.

CS: Which magazines include speculative poetry?

MR: Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, and many others. See above.

CS: How many of these magazines restrict poetry to their own poet columnist and how many accept submissions?

MR: If they’re listed on the SFPA website, it’s because they’re open to submissions to people other than those on the masthead. Just be sure and check out their guidelines before submitting – some do have reading periods.

CS: Are there speculative poetry workshops? Contests? Conventions? Market listings?

MR: All of the above. I’ve participated in poetry workshops and panels at many SF/F conventions. As for contests and market listings, the SFPA website is the best resource for that sort of information.

CS: What about merchandising, such as t-shirts with a popular/award winning poem on them?

MR: I’ve seen this done, but it’s pretty rare.

CS: What are the qualifications for membership in the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association?

MR: Paying the membership fee. Loving poetry helps, too.

CS: What’s the difference between the Rhysling Award. the Dwarf Stars Award, and the Elgin Award?

MR: The Rhysling has been around the longest and recognizes both long and short-form poetry. It’s the speculative poetry world’s equivalent of the Nebula Award. The Dwarf Stars Award is for very short poetry (under 10 lines), which often has different conventions than longer work does. The Elgin Award is for chapbooks/books of poetry, as opposed to just a single poem.

CS: Where do the names Rhysling and Elgin come from?

MR: Rhysling comes form the blind poet in Heinlen’s “The Green Hills of Earth.” Elgin is for Suzette Haden Elgin, the founder of the SFPA.

CS: Do the Hugo or Nebula have categories for poetry?

MR: Neither.

CS: How long have you been writing speculative poetry?

MR: Since third grade at least; probably earlier. I still have a few poems from around that time, though they’re not very good.

CS: Do you also write and publish in other poetry genres?

MR: Not really – I’m a speculative girl through and through.

CS: How many poems have you written?

MR: I have no idea how many I’ve written, but there’s a fairly complete list of how many have been published up at my website:

CS: How much of your writing life if devoted to poetry in relation to novels and short stories?

MR: Novels and short stories take up most of my time now, partly because they take longer to write and partly because most of them have been solicited and come with guaranteed paychecks. Poetry is more of a hobby for me these days.

CS: Do you collaborate with Jeff Mariotte on poetry?

MR: Not yet (though you can definitely see poetic influences in our collaborative writing, and not just from my side). We mainly focus on fiction, both short stories and novels. Our latest novel, 7 SYKOS, a SF/H/thriller set entirely in Phoenix, AZ, is out as an ebook now and comes out as a paperback March 1. It doesn’t have any poetry in it (though most of my solo novels do), but it does have cutting edge science and scary pyschopaths, so it hits the speculative part square on.

CS: Do you do readings? Signings? Panels?

MR: Yes! Generally at conventions, though Jeff and I are setting up a few signings for 7 SYKOS around AZ. Of course, I’m happy to sign anything that has my poetry in it, too.

CS: Any advice to aspiring speculative poets?

MR: Read! Know what’s been done so your work isn’t cliche. Write! That’s the only way your ideas will ever have an audience other than the voices in your head. And, above all, have fun! Life’s too short to spend it doing something you don’t love.

Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Click here to read Carl’s interviews on Diabolical Plots. Click here to read Carl’s interviews on SF Signal. Click here to see Facebook photos of Carl with his students of all ages from around the world. Click here  to watch a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.

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