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The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Volume 4, Number 3
edited by Roger Dutcher

The Magazine of Speculative Poetry
The Magazine of Speculative Poetry (MSP) was founded in 1984 by Mark Rich and Roger Dutcher. Mark Rich published one the first speculative poetry magazines, Treaders of Starlight. Roger Dutcher published Uranus, another speculative poetry magazine. Finding themselves in the same city, they decided to collaborate on a new magazine. MSP went 13 issues with both as editors when Mark Rich, having found success in his writing, decided to "move on," both literally and figuratively. MSP has been edited by Roger Dutcher since then. Mark Rich continues as a contributing editor, providing reviews, essays and cover art. David Memmott is also a contributing editor. Magazine of Speculative Poetry
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A review by Stephen M. Davis

The poet Dylan Thomas once wrote that poetry is a "movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision." In other words, poetry is the truth left behind after all pretense and false modesty have been stripped away. I think this is the key to understanding why so many poems -- not just those in this collection -- ultimately fail: the poet believes that poetry is concerned with clever language, odd words, obscurity of image, or the hiding of the truth behind some metaphysical veil. Instead, I would suggest that the poet must always strive to speak the truth as clearly as he is able to, and that a difficult poem is merely confirmation that most truths are extremely difficult for us to speak of.

A number of the poems in the Magazine of Speculative Poetry have clever lines in them, but with the exception of a haiku, I don't find a single instance of a poem that defies paraphrase, and this is death to a poem. By way of example, think of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken." This is the famous poem beginning "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" and ending with "I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference."

If you studied this poem in high school, you may well have had your teacher ask, "What does this poem mean?" And someone may well have said, "Well, the speaker states that he took the more difficult path in life, and it has made him what he is today." You may, in fact, have read "The Road Not Taken" a dozen times or more. You may believe that it expresses a grand statement about righteousness and the Protestant Work Ethic. You would also be completely wrong. If you examine the poem closely, and if you refuse to succumb to the temptation of paraphrase, you will discover that the speaker is saying both paths lay equally before him. There was no difference between the two. If you are only mildly cynical, you may well conclude that both paths arrive at exactly the same place. That, in fact, is what the speaker wishes us to understand: we cannot plan for what has not arrived. The path to misery and the path to fortune may lie equally before you; they may, in fact, be one and the same. (And note how quickly I have lost bits of Frost's meaning by devolving into my own paraphrase.)

And here is the major failing of the poems in this magazine. They all can be neatly paraphrased. There is no loss of meaning that results from the process; you might well ask yourself in some instances why the poet did not simply choose to write a short story.

Wordsworth wrote of this kind of failing in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, where he reproduces a sonnet and shows that, of fourteen lines, only five are markedly different from prose, though there is rhyme and meter supplied by necessity through the sonnet form. I attempted the same demonstration on the poems within this magazine and found few lines of real poetic worth. I suspect, though, that I would meet with the same results if I examined closely a copy of the American Poetry Review, so I hope the reader will not think I am simply exercising pedantic snobbery.

There were some nice moments in these poems. Charlee Jacob wrote,

"Then darkness came, trailing space
 unbuttoning her starry dress
 revealing dreams beneath
 that burned themselves out
 before the universe could count them."
Rachael M. Lininger started "The Domes of Earth" with the lines
"It must be some mad nostalgia: they even breathe
 too carefully there, measuring molecules like coins."
The best overall poem in the group is Sandra Lindow's "Because We Must," which tries to find a new approach in talking about a sexual encounter, and which should be praised at least for being original.

I think, as I have already mentioned, that there is no memorable poetry here, which is not to say that I think the poets represented do not have some talent. Perhaps I am being overly critical, but I believe that poetry, being the most difficult of the writing crafts, must be judged by the most stringent standards, and I hope that poets learning their craft would demand to be judged in that fashion.

Copyright © 2000 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis teaches at the University of New Orleans as an Instructor of English. He enjoys chess, strong black coffee, and books by authors who care enough to work at their craft.

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