Arthurian Poetry

On Saturday, I discussed some of the history and prose that helped to give rise to the King Arthur legend we know today. As it turns out, Arthur has a long poetic history as well.

It appears that one of the earliest, Welsh literary references to Arthur is in the poem “Y Gododdin,” attributed to the poet Aneirin. It’s unclear when exactly when this was written, though I’ve seen it suggested it dates back to the seventh century. The manuscript we have is from the thirteenth century. In the poem, Aneirin praises the warrior Gwawrddur of the Gododdin tribe, but appears to hold Arthur in even high esteem.

Another early poem is “Brut” by Layamon written circa the year 1200. It appears to be a poetic adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Another poetic adaptation of Geoffrey’s Arthur story is the poem “Morte Arthure” written circa 1265 by an unknown poet.

The poet Chrétien de Troyes wrote several poems about Arthur’s knights in the twelfth century including “Yvain, the Knight of the Lion”, “Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart”, and “Perceval, the Story of the Grail.” The poetry of de Troyes and the poem “Morte Arthure” likely had a strong influence on Sir Thomas Mallory when he penned “Le Morte d’Arthur” in the fifteenth century.

As with two of the early poets I’ve mentioned, I’ve been strongly inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth. As it turns out, Geoffrey wrote two books related to Arthur and Merlin. The first and most famous is History of the Kings of Britain. His other work is called The Life of Merlin. In History, Geoffrey associates Merlin with Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. However, in The Life of Merlin, Geoffrey associates Merlin with the Welsh king Gwenddoleu and the poet Taliesin who likely would have lived over a century after Uther Pendragon. Geoffrey himself hand-waves this by suggesting Merlin has lived a long time and I wonder if this is the origin of the idea of Merlin living backward in time.

Two of my poems inspired by Geoffrey’s works appear in the current issue of the webzine Eye to the Telescope published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. As it turns out, Geoffrey’s History is not just the story of King Arthur—though Arthur’s story takes up the lion’s share of the book. It’s also the story of Arthur’s ancestors. One of those is about a fellow named King Coel. I’ve seen some suggestions that Geoffrey’s King Coel is the inspiration for the King Cole of the nursery rhyme. “Old King Cole was a merry old soul and a merry old soul was he.” I admit many dispute this, but it still inspired me to play with Geoffrey’s telling of the King Coel story in the form of nursery rhyme.

My other poem in the collection is a revised version of a poem I wrote several years ago. It’s called “The Passage of Merlin” and combines stories found in “The Life of Merlin” with stories from “History of the Kings of Britain to create a picture of a more dynamic Merlin than the trope of an old man in wizard’s robes that we’ve grown accustomed to.

You can read my poems plus other great Arthurian poems by such folks as Mary Soon Lee, Marge Simon, F.J. Bergmann, and Vince Gotera at: EyeToTheTelescope.com

Advertisements

Haiku

Last week, I learned that one of my haiku was selected as a finalist for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association’s Dwarf Stars Award and will be appearing in this year’s Dwarf Stars Anthology. Here’s the poem:

dead jackrabbit glares
at my car
with one glowing eye

The poem first appeared last Halloween in Lupine Lunes, an anthology of horror poems and short stories edited by Lester W. Smith of Popcorn Press. Pick up a copy to see several more of my haiku plus some great poems and stories by such folks as Deborah P. Kolodji, David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Gary Davis, Deborah Walker, and Stephen D. Sullivan. Clicking the book cover will take you to Amazon’s page for the book.

I imagine there are a few people who will look at my poem and say that it’s not truly a haiku. Many of us were taught in school that a haiku is a three-line poem of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. In fact, that’s rather a poor approximation of the most formal Japanese approach to haiku.

In fact, in Japanese, a haiku is typically written as only a single line. A formal haiku will be heard as three lines of five, seven, and five sound-beats. The word for those “sound-beats” in Japanese is on, literally “sounds” and often translated as syllables. However, poetically, these sound-beats don’t really work like syllables. As an example, take the name of Japan’s northern most island: Hokkaido. To an English speaker, that’s three syllables. In Japanese, it’s spoken as “ho-(pause)-ka-i-do-o” or five sound-beats. Another example might be the word for one’s spirit or will, seishin, two syllables in English, but in Japanese there are four sound-beats, spoken as “se-i-shi-n.”

The upshot of all this is that the 5-7-5 syllable structure in English often results in haiku that are wordier and clunkier than their Japanese counterparts. My poem above is written in lines of five, three, and five syllables. This English-language haiku structure is called a lune because its structure resembles a crescent moon. It’s also the reason an anthology focused on werewolf stories and poems is called Lupine Lunes.

One of the goals of haiku as a poetic form is that it endeavors to capture a moment in time, a little like a snapshot. More than a snapshot, though, it also tries to present the emotions that go with that moment in time.

My brother, Dean Summers, has been writing haiku since 1969. His haiku have been published in such acclaimed journals as Modern Haiku, Frogpond, The Heron’s Nest and Cicada. With Ruth Yarrow, he served as a judge for the 2004 Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards. I can’t honestly remember whether I first learned about haiku from Dean or in school, but much as I’ve always loved the form, I was afraid to play in the haiku sandbox for a long time, just a little intimidated by his success.

What finally motivated me to really explore the form was discovering so called “scifaiku” and “horrorku,” basically haiku with science fiction and horror elements. As someone who already wrote science fiction and horror, this allowed me to move haiku into my “comfort” zone. I could imagine future moments in time or scary scenarios and imagine what my feelings would be and play with that in word form. In fact, encountering a dead jackrabbit by the side of a dark Arizona highway was a real moment in time involving an authentic sense of horror. Fortunately, all it did was glare, otherwise I might not be here to write this post!

I need to give a shout-out to my daughter Autumn Summers who helped me find a good way to explain on as related to haiku structure. Be sure to visit her craft blog at: https://entropycreations.wordpress.com/

My brother, Dean, has a great page about haiku which includes an in-depth article about haiku structure, tips for writing haiku, and several of his poems at: http://www.hollybooks.com/haiku.htm

Dwarf Stars Award and Deal of the Week

Some days, I wake up to an inbox full of junk, sometimes it brings a lot of work. Today, it brought some exciting news, too good to wait for my regular Saturday post. Tales-9-3-cover-big First of all, I’m proud to announce that Greg Schwartz has won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2015 Dwarf Stars Award for best Short Form poem for his poem “abandoned nursing home” which appeared in Tales of the Talisman volume 9, issue 3. The runners up were Jane Yolen for the poem “Princess: A Life” published in the 2014 edition of Mythic Delirium and Robert Borski for the poem “The Square Root of Doppelgängers” which appeared in Star*Line 37.2. Congratulations Greg and the runners up! You can pick up your own copy of the issue with the award-winning poem at TalesOfTheTalisman.com or at Amazon.com. In addition to Greg’s poem you’ll find great stories and poems by Megan Arkenberg, Edward J. McFadden III, F.J. Bergmann, and Lee Clark Zumpe.

Another piece of great news is that my novel Heirs of the New Earth is on sale this week for only 99 cents. Heirs of the New Earth If you’ve started the Old Star/New Earth trilogy, but have been waiting to complete your collection, this is a great opportunity to get the final book in the series. The Earth has gone silent as the novel begins. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the mapping vessel Nicholas Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Can Ellis save the galaxy from the heirs of the new Earth? For those who are fans of my Captain Firebrandt short stories, this novel has some great moments for the old pirate captain. The ebook is on sale directly from my publisher at: http://lachesispublishing.com/?product=heirs-of-the-new-earth

Finally, I’d like to turn your attention to my Scarlet Order Vampire Journal. I recently had a wonderful book signing at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. Not only did I recap the events of the signing, but I shared how you can obtain special signed copies of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. If you haven’t already, be sure to drop by the post at https://dlsummers.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/signing-at-boutique-du-vampyre/ to get the full scoop!

Halloween Short Stories and Poems

Talisman 9-1 Cover

Subscriber and contributor copies of Tales of the Talisman volume 9, issue 1 have now been shipped out. It occurs to me this is a great issue for Halloween. Christian Martin’s story “Sabotaged” is a scary psychological thriller set aboard a space station. Davyne DeSye’s “…I Win” is a stylish and Gothic look at Death. C.J. Henderson delivers a chillingly twisted Cthulhu mythos tale. These along with many of the stories in the issue make it a good issue to curl up with this autumn. Of course each issue is lavishly illustrated by such artists as Tom Kelly, Laura Givens, Kathy Ferrell and Jag Lall. Between the stories you’ll find blood curdling poems by such folks as Marge Simon, Charles Templeton, and Noel Sloboda. Issues are now available at TalesOfTheTalisman.com and at Amazon.com.

While on the subject of spooky poetry, you should drop by the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s On-Line Halloween Poetry Reading at http://www.sfpoetry.com/halloween.html. There you’ll find recordings of some great speculative poets reading scary Halloween poems absolutely free.

Space Horrors

If you prefer that your horrors come from beyond the Earth, be sure to check out the anthology Space Horrors published by Flying Pen Press. In this collection, you’ll find tales of vampires, zombies and alien menaces among the stars by such Lee Clark Zumpe, Sarah A. Hoyt, Selena Rosen, Dayton Ward, and more. My understanding is that the first edition will be going out of print at the end of the year, so this is a great time to grab the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I’ll be starting discussions with the authors soon about a second edition. If all goes well, that should be available by next Halloween.

Hope you’ll check some of these out. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re reading this Halloween season.

Resources for Activist Poets

A week ago at WorldCon, I moderated a panel entitled “The Poet as Activist: On Seeing and Saving the Natural World.” This proved to be an interesting topic and we discussed many of the ways a poet or a writer can work in hospitals, schools, or with nature centers to help as educators or to bring awareness of issues to the public. My fellow panelist, Rie Sheridan Rose, assembled an excellent list of resources for people interested in this topic and I wanted to share them here.

The first items on the list are markets that show a particular interest in nature poetry:

The following is more of a market for activist poetry:

Here are some market lists where you can find more poetry markets. Even if a market isn’t searching specifically for “activist” poetry, they may still be interested in the topic of your poem:

Finally, Rie provided a list of discussion guides:

Hope you find this guide useful. If there was something we mentioned on the panel and I neglected to mention it here, feel free to bring it to my attention in comments and I’ll try to add it to the list above. As always, I’m happy to answer questions about the topic.

WorldCon in San Antonio

lonestarcon3 Next week, I’ll be attending LoneStarCon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, in San Antonio, Texas. I’m excited partly because it’s WorldCon and many of my favorite writers will be there, but I’ve also wanted to visit San Antonio for a while. A few years ago, I discovered that I’m a distant nephew of Davy Crockett, so I’ll definitely pay a visit to the Alamo while I’m there. The convention is being held from August 29 through September 2 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio. You can get all the details about the convention at lonestarcon3.org.

My schedule for WorldCon is as follows:

Thursday, August 29

  • 1pm-2pm – Autographing alongside Madeline Ashby, Derwin Mak, and Byron Reese

Friday, August 30

  • 10am-11am – The Poet as Activist: On Seeing and Saving the Natural World. In the 19th century, inspired by Emerson’s essay, Nature, Henry David Thoreau initiated a tradition of the nature writer as observer-artist. Today, that tradition continues, but amid a natural world that has been nearly devastated by our own species. Explore the evolving role of the nature writer as artist and activist. Are seeing the world and saving the world part of the same work? On the panel with me is Rie Sheridan Rose.
  • 11am-noon – Presentation of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling & Dwarf Stars Awards. Nominees for each year’s Rhysling Awards are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Each member is allowed to nominate one work in each of two categories: “Best Long Poem” (50+ lines; for prose poems, 500+ words) and “Best Short Poem” (0-49 lines; for prose poems, 0-499 words). All nominated works must have been published during the preceding calendar year of the awards year. The Dwarf Stars Award is for best speculative poem of 1-10 lines published in the previous year.
  • 1pm-2pm – The History of Science and the Experience of Science Fiction. Science fiction, janus-like, gives us a perspective on the future by examining how science and technology have developed. Speculating on the future in our fiction can also give us insight on how science developed or went into blind alleys. How does the history of science inform the way we read and write science fiction? Or is it vice versa? On the panel with me are: Miguel Angel Fernandez, Donald M. Hassler, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Kathleen Goonan.
  • 4pm-5pm – Kaffeeklatsch. Come join me for a cup of coffee and the chance to ask me what you will!

Sunday, September 1

  • 10am-11am. Speculative Poetry Workshop. Come and learn about speculative poetry and create your own poem. I’ll be hosting the workshop along with Alan Stewart and Jaime Lee Moyer.

Monday, September 2

  • 11am-noon – Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years. Doctor Who turns 50, and we’ve had a year of not only new episodes but specials, novels about all the Doctors, audio production, comics, and more. What’s ahead for the next 50? On the panel with me are: Lynne M. Thomas, Alastair Reynolds, Shanna Swendson, and Perrianne Lurie

Looking forward to seeing some old friends and making many new friends in San Antonio next week. If you’ll be there, drop me a note or a comment so I can be on the lookout for you.

Barrelling into Summer

Summer is off to a busy start. I spent this past week working on three major projects. My steampunk novel Lightning Wolves is due at the publisher’s by the end of July, so I set myself a pace of writing 2000 words a day when I’m not at my “day” job at Kitt Peak National Observatory. So far, I’ve been able to keep up that pace and I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be getting the first part off to beta readers in early July while I wrap up the ending.

Rhysling Front Cover

In the meantime, I’ve been working with the Science Fiction Poetry Association to get their annual Rhysling Anthology to press. The Rhysling Award is the award for best speculative poem published in the previous year. There are two categories. One is for poems under 50 lines. The other is for poems 50 lines and over. This year’s Rhysling Chair is John C. Mannone. I designed the cover using a wonderful photo of the Bubble Nebula taken at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Thanks to the National Observatory for letting SFPA use such a cool image. It kind of reminds me of the vortex at the opening of Doctor Who.

As I write this, I’m at the end of a two-year term as SFPA’s vice president. It’s been my honor to serve and I wrestled long and hard with the question of whether I was going to run for re-election, but I decided that I had so many commitments on my plate, it was better to step aside and let someone else help run the organization. Nevertheless, it will be my great honor to announce the Rhysling Awards at WorldCon in San Antonio later this summer.

Talisman 9-1 Cover

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I was canceling Tales of the Talisman’s summer reading to allow us to catch up with the magazine’s production schedule. Sure enough, that’s the third big project I’ve been working on this week. I’ve been editing stories for the summer issue and getting them ready to send them to the art director so she can make illustration assignments. I would have finished editing stories for the issue this week, but it turns out I’ve been called in to work at Kitt Peak a night earlier than I was expecting, so edits will get finished during my next break.

As if that weren’t enough, our water heater decided to die this week. At least it waited until summer!