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Sweet Poison
Marge Simon and Mary A. Turzillo
Dark Renaissance Books, 104 pages

Sweet Poison
Marge Simon
Marge Simon (born 1942) is an artist and a writer of speculative poetry and fiction. Her poems, short fiction, and illustrations have appeared in hundreds of publications, including Amazing Stories, Nebula Awards 32, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction. She won the Rhysling Award's Best Long Poem for speculative poetry in 1996, and the Bram Stoker Award for her collaborative poetry collection with Charlee Jacob, Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet in 2008, and again in 2012 for her collection Vampires, Zombies, and Wanton Souls. She is a former president of the Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and the Science Fiction Poetry Association. She currently lives in Ocala, Florida, with her family.

Marge Simon Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Mary A. Turzillo
Mary A. Turzillo (born 1940) is a writer noted primarily for short stories. She won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 2000 for her story "Mars is No Place for Children,"[2][3] published originally in Science Fiction Age, and her story "Pride," published originally in Fast Forward 1, was a Nebula award finalist for best short story of 2007. She was formerly a professor of English at Kent State University, where she wrote articles and several books of science fiction criticism under the name Mary T. Brizzi, including Reader's Guide to Anne McCaffrey and Reader's Guide to Philip José Farmer.

Mary A. Turzillo Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

What happens when you mix two award-winning female poets, both with a felicity at word-wielding and both of an age where they freely speak their minds on any topic with the equity of having understood life well?

You get Sweet Poison by Marge Simon and Mary A. Turzillo, beautifully illustrated by M. Wayne Miller. Theirs is a strength born of unity and diversity -- two minds whose words sometimes pull together, sometimes apart -- but what's left behind is not a vacuum but possibly a gem. They haul out curiosities and taboo topics on the gem-cutter's table and shave them with a lyric diamond saw-blade: poetry, religion, love, surrealism, and societal obligations, real and imaginary.

The book opens with its most compelling contrasts. Turzillo invents gods that she hopes will ignore us while Simon's gods refuse to work and are dunked into a "bloodied bowl." Turzillo wants poetry "naked," stripped of unnecessary clothes while Simon contrasts two poets -- male and female: His words are violent -- "I grind the bones" -- hers, fluid and circular.

Another good pair of contrasts crops up later. Each treats Aphrodite differently: Turzillo's "he who has made wanton with my desire and shrinks my heart" vs. Simon's "you've suffered nothing, wench."

As they progress, their words meld. Simon tends to render the surrealistic response while Turzillo speaks more directly in more concrete images and theme, but sometimes they switched, assuming one another's attributes. Sometimes they combined forces. On the whole, I preferred the call-and-response -- as Simon called one poet's work responding to another's. The collaborations lack the sweet tension of opposing forces and can meander.

A favorite is "Rock on" which treats a boy who blames his woes on his parents, not himself. During a reality television show, while making love, the young man strangles his lover. A mock execution takes place although we suspect another kind of execution has occurred. A partial quote does not do the poem justice. Readers walk in expecting one tone from the title, but we walk away with another:

  It happens
in this day and age,
you can't tell
life from virtual.

He said his parents owed him
like all parents owe their kids
a matter of rights (his)
a matter of wrongs (theirs)
so he was just showing them all
how good he was

as star of a reality show
that got a little too real…

He wanted fame,
wanted what was owed him.
He got it.
Rock on.


This is one poem where cutting out parts fails to hint at its full power.

My favorite of Turzillo's is probably her response to Simon's Alice-in-Wonderland poem, but with a wrinkle I haven't yet seen: It's Alice "Seventy Years Later." A reporter interrogates her, puts her on trial for how she's treated the other characters in Wonderland:

  "There was the regicide claim," I persist.
Please. The woman wanted every head to roll."

Tuzillo's best ending was probably "Funeral Rite" where it seems our persona is actually part of the funeral. Her words cut off mid-sentence: "Those drums—". The mystery waits to be unraveled.

Turzillo "found... astonishing" Simon's poem "The Substance of Belief" where, after decorating limbs with different national flags, a daughter is strangely amputated, limb by limb. This perhaps suggests how families get torn apart by politics and other belief systems. It isn't a pretty poem, but it's pretty effective.

Surrealistic poems abound although the poems about men and love I found more intriguing, such as "The Man Who Was Perfect in All Ways": What is the perfect man? Or what kind of revenge does "A Lady of Lemuria" exact in her narrative poem? Not to mention the grisly joy of learning about a love triangle and the famed "Trunk Murderess."

All in all, a strong collection to keep you reading and rereading several hours, poring over their friendly disagreements and imagery augmented by examining the same gem from another gemcutter's facet. We could use more collections like this one.

Copyright © 2014 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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