#38 – Winter 2012




Tribute to Speculative Poetry

Conversations with
Rhina P. Espaillat & Timothy Steele


Rattle #38

So much of contemporary poetry is self-oriented, pseudo-biographical, and set in something like the present reality that it’s easy to forget that poetry doesn’t have to be so grounded—and that the current dominance of psychological realism is far from the historical norm. In fact, the oldest poems we still have—the ancient epics of Gilgamesh, the Mahabarata, the Iliad, and so on—might all be described by an impartial observer as  “speculative.” King Gilgamesh himself may have been a historical figure, but the gods and goddess, the wild man Enkidu, and the monstrous Humbaba are all pure imagination. Think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Faerie Queen.

This is what we mean by “speculative,” a term often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein as a broader alternative to science fiction. Whether poetry or prose, speculative writing always creates a new world. Suzette Haden Elgin, founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, defines speculative poetry succinctly as writing “about a reality that is in some way different from the existing reality.” This includes science fiction (whether hard or soft), fantasy, horror, supernatural, superhero, utopian, dystopian, apocalyptic, alternate history, and anything else along those lines that’s yet to be defined.

But why speculate on what might be speculative? As always, we put out a call for submissions, this time for “otherworldly” subjects, and let the community of writers dictate where the boundaries might be. The result is the 50-page feature section—35 poems culled from some 10,000 offerings. A Viking party, broken up by police. A slime mold’s singularity. Alien frat boys. A garden of words that give weeds a whole new meaning. Androids, asteroids, X-Men. In one poem, never-ending stairs appear in a hole outside of town. In another, Rocket J. Squirrel goes (alone) to couples therapy.

Clearly this is a journey somewhere strange, which raises the question: Why embark at all? Isn’t speculative writing just a form of escapist genre fiction—daydreams of another world that help us avoid addressing this one? Quite often that does seem to be the case. Countless submissions constructed vast and bizarre universes with the deftest of verse, but left us wondering, what for? Other poems, though—those that follow, and more—managed the transformative magic that makes real poetry. They say what cannot be said another way; they construct new worlds in response to the confines of this one. They make what’s strange, and leave you feeling changed. And unlike the real world, it’s never a dull ride.

Issue #38 also includes a large selection of open poetry, interviews with formalists Rhina P. Espaillat and Timothy Steele, and the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize winners. In addition to the $5,000 winner, Heidi Shuler’s “Trials of a Teenage Transvestite’s Single Mother,” subscribers are invited to vote for the first annual $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award from among the finalists.


Audio Available = audio available

Speculative Poetry

Burt Beckmann Howie Night Dróttkvaett
Audio Available Kristin Berkey-Abbott Currencies
Ash Bowen The Astronaut Explains Divorce to Me
Audio Available Rachael Briggs Singularity
Chris Bullard How We Knew Them
Audio Available Jeannine Hall Gailey Elemental
Audio Available Rhonda Ganz Cryogenesis
Audio Available Conrad Geller The Destination
Kim Goldberg Green Thumb
Audio Available Benjamin S. Grossberg The Space Traveler’s Moon
Audio Available Penny Harter Blue Sky
Audio Available Rebecca Hazelton Elise as Android …
John Philip Johnson Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town
Audio Available Deborah P Kolodji Bashō After Cinderella
David Kutz-Marks Seraph
John Laue The Poetic States of America
Michael Lee The Taking of Lead
Ben McClendon In Case of Unrest
Ken Meisel Reminiscences
Dave Nielsen Police Report
Aimee Parkison The Creature
Audio Available Ken Poyner The Robotics Problem
Audio Available Richard Prins The God Zoo
Marilee Richards One Possibility
Howard Rosenberg Unprepared for the Afterlife
Noel Sloboda Self-Portrait as a Raccoon
Audio Available Laurence Snydal Eye in the Sky
Claire Wahmanholm Rooms, Atoms
BJ Ward Wolverine the X-Man Kisses
Audio Available Charles Harper Webb Blackdoog
Audio Available Lesley Wheeler Science Fiction
Corrie Williamson Xanthus, Achilles’ Immortal Warhorse …
Shangrila Willy What to Say When Your Baby Sister …
Audio Available Natalie Young Discussing Earth Insects


Audio Available Ruth Bavetta Elegy for My 1958 Volkswagen
Audio Available Patricia Callan Clerking at the Ideal Laundry
Audio Available Sage Cohen What’s Wrong With
Audio Available Rhina P. Espaillat Familiar Faces
Audio Available Robert Fanning Watching My Daughter…
Audio Available Doris Ferleger Lookists
Audio Available Megan Fernandes The Flight to Sacramento
Alan Fox Together
Audio Available Ted Gilley The People Across the Street
Beth Gylys Second Marriage
Eloise Klein Healy Spitball
Audio Available Edison Jennings Blue Plate Special
Audio Available Glenn Kletke Sledding
Joanne Koong Clockwork Conjectures
Richard Krohn Pancakes
Audio Available Danusha Laméris Arabic
Daniel J. Langton Bosnia
Audio Available Bob Lucky Wouldn’t You Confess?
Audio Available Michael Meyerhofer Pasteurization
Audio Available Loretta Obstfeld My Life with Jeff Goldblum …
Christopher Presfield Morning Riff
David Rosenthal Pretty Pair
Anele Rubin A Man on the Subway
Justin Runge History
Audio Available Barbara Schmitz Pretty Sure
Mather Schneider The Mermaid of South Mark Road
Phil Shils Patient Encounter
Audio Available Martha Silano La Gioconda
M. Jeanne Skvarla Some Degree of Shameful Relief
Sarah Pemberton Strong Another Thing That Amazes Me
Audio Available Emma Törzs Watching Fireworks Alone
Audio Available Jessica Young Instructions Included with Telescope

Poetry Prize Winner

Audio Available Heidi Shuler Trials of a Teenage Transvestite’s Single Mother


Audio Available Lytton Bell Jane’s Heartbreak Yard Sale
John Brehm Time Out
Norma Chapman My 1930 Model A Ford
Audio Available Kim Dower “How Was Your Weekend,”
Anna Evans Zeitgeber
Audio Available Catherine Freeling The Robbery
David Hernandez Dear Proofreader
Audio Available Krista Lukas Patio Tomatoes
M For Those Who Never Know …
Kenny Williams The Return


Rhina P. Espaillat
Timothy Steele