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Mythic Delirium, Issue 13

Mythic Delirium, Issue 13
Mythic Delirium
"Mythic Delirium is a biannual journal that publishes science fiction, fantasy, horror, surreal and cross-genre poetry. We do not publish fiction. While any style of poem is fair game, Mythic Delirium is unusual in that we are not adverse to well-done rhyme and meter. When considering sending a rhyming poem to us, keep in mind that the best rhyme does not call attention to itself and that properly done traditional poems possess consistent rhythm; lines don't just end in words that sound similar.

We are interested in work that demonstrates ambition, that casts new light on genre tropes, that introduces readers to the legends of other cultures, that re-evaluates the myths of old from a modern perspective, that twists reality in unexpected ways."

Mythic Delirium Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

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Have you ever tried to recommend a brilliant fantasy or science fiction novel to a friend who has never read fantasy or science fiction before? I have. Perhaps some of these recurring responses may be familiar to you:

"Geesh, I don't read that stuff. I stopped playing D&D when I was in high-school."

"I don't agree with escapism in literature."

"The covers are so bloody awful!"

"There are how many books in the series?"

"If I wanted to read about chicks swinging broadswords, I'd pick up a graphic novel."

Now, consider, these are obstacles that the avid SF reader must surmount in order to get readers of mainstream fiction to broaden their horizons. Imagine, then, how much more difficult it is to get anyone at all to read fantasy poetry, when in addition to all of the above, you get comments that amount to "poetry sucks."

This is where Mike Allen comes in.

Mythic Delirium is a biannual publication devoted to "science fiction, fantasy, horror, surreal and cross-genre poetry," and Issue 13 features, among others, the work of Catherynne M. Valente, Sonya Taaffe, Darrell Schweitzer, Marge Simon, Yoon Ha Lee and Constance Cooper. There's a good mix of the above genres in this issue, and I apologise in advance for the amount of material I'm going to quote, but really, on the whole, there were very few poems that didn't completely delight me, and only one that I confess I plainly still don't "get." I will also say that, while I would normally read a collection of poetry slowly, ponderously, putting it aside every couple of poems before picking it up again, I stopped just short of devouring this one whole.

There are a few reasons for that. In the first place, many of the poems have strong narrative elements that pull the reader along. The opening poem, "Queen of Hearts" by Catherynne M. Valente, is one such piece, but though the poem tells a story, it never feels like "prose swell'd to verse, verse loitering into prose." Rather, one cannot imagine the story told any other way than through the tropes and imagery -- and the imagery is gorgeous. Lines like "The Queen of Hearts cradled her voice in a whisper" (6) and "a Heart, tiny as a bead strung on silk, / unbeating, wet" quite captivated me. Another example is "Arise," by Aurelio Rico Lopez III, where the story crept up on me through the imagery until the shock of the ending made me shudder and immediately read it over again. Both poems are well-complemented by illustrations done by Paula Friedlander, Don Eaves and Terrence Mollendor.

The other reasons consist mainly of the poems being really, really good. Some poems lean more explicitly towards the dark side of things: "Hunger," by Kristine Ong Muslim, is the kind of piece that, read in the proper circumstances, would make me seek the shelter of blankets over my head ("We shapeshift as our bellies quiver. / Then we eat some more."), while "Highbinder," by Marge Simon, combines a subtle story with haunting imagery ("Inside her a woman's moon, / red wine & broken glass") to lingering effect. Other poems do an excellent job of using speculative elements in order to engage with and make sense of harsh, real-life difficulties: "Healing Ritual," by Lisa M. Bradley, is a poignant look at the experience of an MRI scan, while Danny Adams' "Utnapishtim on Friday after Dessert" offers a moving and terrifying view of old age and memory loss.

There's also a strong Homeric core to this issue (which Mike Allen, in his editor's note, calls "overwhelmingly fantasy-themed" -- to which I say, hurrah!), with three consecutive poems engaging with themes from The Iliad. "Les Berceaux," by Jaida Jones, beautifully intersperces stanzas from Sully Prudhomme's "Le Long du Quai" with her own work about men sailing away to war and adventure and leaving their women at home; "Helen Returns to Troy," by Darrell Schweitzer, imagines an aged Helen contemplating her past amidst the ruins of Troy; and, in what I confess is my favourite poem of the issue, "Not the Song of Briseis," Sonya Taaffe crafts a deeply compelling piece from Briseis' perspective that I frankly can't describe, since to say anything more would be to do a lovely poem a mean disservice. I recommend that you just buy a copy in order to understand.

And so, on to my one complaint: the last poem, "Grooves to Erakis," by Drew Morse. I have little say about this one beyond the fact that I just don't understand it; I've read it over and over trying to tease its meaning out, and it eludes me. I didn't get bored with trying to figure the meaning out -- I take pride in the fact that I painstakingly decoded the hidden story in City of Saints and Madmen instead of just looking it up online -- and the poem is done in such a way that I'm aware of skill, but unable to appreciate it. At the very end of an issue that pulled me so smoothly along, however, it felt like a disappointing snag right at the end.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first exposure to Mythic Delirium, and look forward to the next issue. I highly recommend it, not only for personal enjoyment, but also for the ease with which one can and ought to hand it over to the unenlightened and say, "You don't like SF? Or poetry? Pfft. Read this."

Copyright © 2006 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.


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