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Best of the Web 2000

A review by Trent Walters

Preditors and Editors The Web is in dire need of a critical foundation, lest it risk no one taking it seriously.  The Preditors and Editors website has attempted to settle that with a poll based on popular vote.  It's excellent in idea, valiant in the attempt and much needed to dredge through the sludge of written Web material, but the present system is flawed.

This reviewer swung over to read some of the best work on the web in 2000 at the Preditors and Editors Poll.  Although I understand it was a popular vote, I can not fathom by what criteria these works were judged.  Take, for example, Pepper Raines' self-published "Santa Was a Trucker"  from the 1999 poll [] beat out Brian Hopkin's Bram Stoker award winning story that also appeared on the web that year.  From the same site, the most popular short story by Jon F. Baxley beat out "Riding the Bullet" by Stephen King, perhaps the most popular writer of the latter quarter of the twentieth century.  What does that say about the stories that appeared on the Web this year?

So this reviewer decided to judge each nominated poem for himself -- a daunting task for a reviewer with so little time, but a critical foundation to such awards is critical -- instead of this mad-rush to vote by Internet pals.  Due to such time constraints, please note how brief the commentaries are.  Moreover, spotting the flaw is always easier than spotting the genius.  With that said, here's my suggested reading list from what appeared in the polls.  If you'd like to see the highly recommended poems (plus new poems and commentary by the poets) collected in print, send me a dollar for the postage, print and paper:  Trent Walters, Quarto, PO Box 31266, Omaha, NE  68131-0266.

Highly Recommended
(3rd) Working, Dancing Bear, The Mandrake Press,
(16th) Curse of Medusa's Husband, Bruce Boston, Fables,
(25th) Changing Masks, John B. Rosenman, Strange Horizons,
(27th) Ghost in the Cybermist, Deborah P. Kolodji, Twilight Times,
(33rd) drawn to gods, Anthony Visperas, of 2000,

(22rd) Foreskin, Brie Beazley, Clean Sheets Magazine,
(25th) Love Is An Aching Wish to Give, Ahmed A. Khan, Themestream,
(26th) Stopped by Cops, John Grey, Prose Ax,
(28th) Iggy Guards Her Secrets, Keith Allen Daniels, Asimov's SF,
(32nd) Picasso's Femme de Fermier, carolyn smale, samsara quarterly,

Honorable Mentions
(13th) Diamond Pete's Snapping Needlecorps, Jennifer M. Boudreaux, Aphelion, poetry/2000/10/diamond_petes_snapping_needlecorps.htm
(14th or 33rd?) I Do, Bill Noble, Clean Sheets Magazine,
(23rd) Surreal Domestic, Bruce Boston, Strange Horizons,
(24th) Icarus, Wendy A. Shaffer, Strange Horizons,
(27th) Scintilla, Emily C. A. Snyder, Fantasy Folklore & Fairytales,

Here's the rest in order of ranking by popular vote:

1. Slaying the Beast, Steve Lazarowitz, The Wandering Troll,
Very little original speculation, nor moments of genius, nor of soul, nor of music.  The rhythm is strong and uneven while the rhyme is uninspired at best and cobbled together at worst:  "There within a giant cave/The vilest creature laired/And we were here to hunt it down/A sacred oath we shared."  The strangest aspect of this poem's appearance at the top of the list is that the website claims to have published it in January 2001, so how can it be one of the best of 2000?

2. I Dare Think Otherwise, Leronia Rawls, Wordbeams,
This turned out to be an excerpt from an extended poem/book.  Though the poems attain a higher level of music than most found here ("mama cooked beans and meat/As we sat and watched the snow."), the architecture of the poem section seems to stop short of expressing something.

3. Working, Dancing Bear, The Mandrake Press,
A fine poem comparing the work of yore to the work of today:
in this dim lit room
with its air conditioned hum
the ancient tablets
of lists ledgers and balances
have been recovered
yet not one poem or song
to remember a great flood the best ox
young lovers

4. Worldbuilding, Sabina C. Becker, Dreams and Nightmares
MIA (either not available or not easily found).  Print magazine, too.  No website listed either though I visited it and failed to find the poem in question.  Reprint poems seem a little of a cheat to me since there are a number of awards already available, ie. Rhysling, Pushcart, Best of, etc.  However, since this was not a disqualification that I found listed on the website, I tried to ignore such prejudice.  I did, however, give preference to those appearing on the Internet for the first time.

5. The Stone Guitar, Janet Buck, The Writer's Hood,
Many strong but clashing images confuse the poet's intent--whatever that may be.  Some of the images, in and of themselves struggle for meaninglesness:  "I waddle like a hunchbacked crab /with threads of meat inside its shell."  What do threads of meat have to do with waddling?

6. Winter Song, Christine Spindler, Shyflowers Garden,
Finally!  Took me forever to log on to this webpage.  Perhaps too long.  This poem was MIA.

7. Be Still, Susannah Indigo, Libido Magazine,
A laundry list of lovers, which could be interesting but lacked imagery and shed no new light on the subject.

8. Brenda, the Regular, Billie Duncan, Word Wrangler Publishing,
MIA.  Have that many people read and remembered this mystery poem to rank it #8?

9. The Last God, Jim Farris, Cloudy Mountain Books,
This one is a novel.

10. RESOLUTIONS OF EPIC PROPORTIONS, Patrick P. Stafford, Athina Publishing,
This three hundred or so lined, exultant poem ends with an urge not to procrastinate chasing your treasures.  Follow its advice and don't waste your time reading it.

11. Agape, Daniel J. Bishop, The Bibiliofantasiac

12. A Christmas Gift For Joy, Valerie Hardin, The Write Charm,
"A Christmas Gift For Joy" is as sentimental as the title sounds.

13. Womb Apples, Dionysus Blair, Electric Wine,

13. Diamond Pete's Snapping Needlecorps, Jennifer M. Boudreaux, Aphelion,
This was quite a competent poem, but little stood out except "Officially proclaimed/officious."  The sense of the poem was buried, but the level of language exceeded ninety-nine percent of the poll.

13. Viking moon, Teena Hartsfield, Shyflowers Garden,

14. I Do, Bill Noble, Clean Sheets Magazine,
This poem strings together some beautiful words ("I want your heart to harp my ribs,/my heart to press your plum-bowl breasts,"), but sometimes nonsense: "I want... my spine to dangle like a necklace"

15. Changing Heart, Michelle Smith, Shyfower's Garden,

16. Curse of Medusa's Husband, Bruce Boston, Fables,
I hate to say this since everyone's crazy about Bruce Boston.  Someone might think I've simply bought into the mania, but maybe there's a reason for the Boston madness [I wrote this before I read the madness for myself; I try to be dubious of hype].  It's fine and dandy to speculate till you're blue in the gills, but it's not a poem if it's not a poem.  This is the kind of speculative poem that stands up well both as a poem and as speculation.
In Boston's Accursed Wives series, the female fell victim to the male idiosyncrasies.  Here Boston reverses the gender streams as Medusa's husband attempts to find ways of living with a monster, which in the end cannot fail to destroy him.

17. The Writer, Jennifer L. B. Leese,,
When you're a writer
Time stands still
Thoughts of fables run throughout your mind
Vastly entangling all other thoughts
How does a thing entangle vastly?  This one is an experiment in entangled cliches -- something "The Writer" should avoid.

18. For You: Christina, Angela Brewer, Rhapsody Magazine,
I do hope the young poet does not happen upon this criticism and grow discouraged, but the imagery is weak and the sentiment heavy:  "Some people walk golden paths, and some walk copper./God has given you a path of silver./You are no different than anyone, yet you are unique."

18. Whale Chant, Melissa Pinol, ProMart Writing Lab,

19. Two Moon View, Maryann Hazen-Stearns, Raven Electrick,
This is a second caliber poem.  Here the poet has learned the joy of playing with words.  On the downside, there are many "poetical" words put in because their presence make the poem "poetical:"  "obsidian light /moon white on horizon /rising to greet moon," "sky," "dawn," and "sun."  The next step to take is toward simple objects and to make their arrangements profound.

19. Star Crossed, Maureen McMahon, Shyflower's Garden,

20. Foreskin, Brie Beazley, Clean Sheets Magazine,
An artist draws a naked man.  Good clean fun.

21. Asian Darkness, Patrick P. Stafford,,
another ebook

22. Caliber, C.J. Sage, Interweave,
Fair poem though it tries too hard with its strange mix of tough-guy and sensitive-wimp imagery.

22. Raven, Andy J W Davie, Themestream,
Overblown language: "Repaid for the deed, with eternal wisdom,/the raven's flight goes on."

22. Pan Transfigured, Caleb Monroe, Transversions

22. The Apparition, Mike Fantina, The Wandering Troll,
This is one of the more competent poems, but holds nothing striking.  Perhaps the meter and rhyme held too long a control rather than the sparse imagery here--saying little with so many words.

23. Surreal Domestic, Bruce Boston, Strange Horizons,
Unlike Boston's "Curse of Medusa's Husband", this one lacks purpose and emotional connection.  Still the words are well chosen.  No doubt many poets would stridently disagree with me, but what function does art play if it does not in some way reflect the human condition?

23. Grief, Wendy Rathbone, Strange Horizons,
I liked the speculative change on the elements in the middle stanza but little else:
Here the five elements are:
skin, blood, lightning
last breath and

24. Icarus, Wendy A. Shaffer, Strange Horizons,
I have had to read this one a number of times to decide whether I liked it or not.  Basically, the language is not arresting, but by the end the poet grabs the old concept and makes it her own--whether or not it follows from the rest of the poem is another question.  The image of the farmers struck me since it comes from the painting by Pieter Beughel (for which Auden wrote the masterwork "Musée des Beaux Arts") rather than the myth itself.

25. Imagination, Carol Hightshoe, ProMart Writing Lab,

25. Changing Masks, John B. Rosenman, Strange Horizons,
Coming across so many bad poems, one comes to expect the next one will be, too.  The idea isn't new, but its literalization into a poem is powerful.

25. Love Is An Aching Wish to Give, Ahmed A. Khan, Themestream,
With a title like that, I expected to hate it.  I didn't.  I was charmed.  No heavy words, no striking images, no deep meaning, just playfulness, especially, "I... hook my fingers /In yours and say /Tell me which of these /Fingers are mine/And which are yours."

25. Stopped by Cops, John Grey, Prose Ax,
      once again
      none of the things
      I regret doing
      are what they
      stop me for
Clever.  The more I read this poem the more I like it -- amazing how something so simple and silly can ring so true and profoundly enlighten.

25. Now That I'm Done, Scott Poole, Clean Sheets Magazine,
This one pirouetted with naked ladies, leaves, coconut milk, Robert Bly and some technical finesse; but the final product yielded little meaningful.

25. Room 304, The Vista Motel, Bakersfield, CA, Gary Blankenship, Blood Moon Zine,
He fled from the terrible
radiant dullness of day,
left us trapped
in the crystal dark,
constrained by Gordian knots
of still human sensibility,
harassed by the cacophony...
Need we read on?  Have we read too much?  Just what is crystal dark?  I think he could have sprinkled a few more multisyllabic, latinate words in.  Actually, the content itself was interesting enough if he could have not fallen so in love with every word.

26. Snail's Pace, Susan McDonough Sanchez, publishing online,

26. The End of New Beginnings, Stephen D. Rogers, Fantasy Folklore & Fairytales,

27. Ghost in the Cybermist, Deborah P. Kolodji, Twilight Times,
I was hooked on the first two lines of this one:  "As cloudy links obscure the info-Sun /he clicks on through another Cyberday."  Ha!  The poem, like Boston's "Curse...", stands up as both poem and speculation, examining our humanity under the scrutiny of current and probable future technology.

27. New York, New York, Anthony Visperas and Doug Hatley,,
A fair but drab poem -- a patchwork of words typical in such music lyrics, which is why so many songs that may succeed as songs fail as poems.

27. Scintilla, Emily C. A. Snyder, Fantasy Folklore & Fairytales,
Despite its "poeticness", this one has much potential.  The observer watches a flame leap from his/her match and light up the observer's room.  If it weren't the over-indulgence in words, this would have come highly recommended.

28. Iggy Guards Her Secrets, Keith Allen Daniels, Asimov's SF,
MIA.  My first instinct was to assume that its nomination was a mistake since Asimov's is a print market.  The poet had to point out when the poem appeared:  in the Dec 2000 print issue & in Hadrosaur Tales before that.  So I read the poem, which was aligned to the right of the page for no reason I could fathom.  The poet later said that this was a layout decision, not his.  The poem itself is strong:  a tale of a narrator, on the verge of a Grand Unified understanding of something in his dominoes concerning aliens landing on Earth.  The narrator's iguana, Iggy, upsets the pieces.  I wasn't sure whether I should highly recommend it anyway or just recommend it.  The distracting layout of the poem pushed me over to a simple recommendation, which is a somewhat arbitrary decision.  If you want to decide for yourself, you'd better hope you had a subscription.

28. Too Far Removed, Coke Brown Jr., Word Wrangler,

28. JOURNEY, Elizabeth Lucas-Taylor, SHANELAND,

29. The Silence of Phii Krasue, George Gutheridge, Lone Wolf Publications,

29. Footsteps Dance in the Snow, RavenBroom, Readersvine,


29. Crow Hill, Robert Segarra, electric-bookworm,
e-book, not a poem.

30. Release Me, Teresa Lynn Daily, Shyflowers Garden,

30. An American Papyrus, Steven Sills, Word Wrangler,

30. Winter Trilogy, Melissa Pinol, Shyflowers Garden Library,

30. So My Girl, Ryan Able, disquieting muses,
An I-worship-the-girl-but-she-doesn't-know-the-real-me poem.

31. Splinters (from the novel, 'Graven Image'), N. D. Hansen-Hill, Clocktower Books,

31. The Wreck of the Preposterus, David Kopaska-Merkel
MIA.  No website listed.

31. A Lonely Teardrop on the Lawn, Jenny Philbert, Electric eBook Publishing,
is as sentimental as the title makes it sound.

31. Egret, Dancing Bear, Samsara Quarterly,
Slice of life poem.

32. Dominatrix, Louise Whitney, Disquieting Muses,
Fair poem about a defensive woman who wishes to remain unwed -- a little heavy-handed in its treatment.

32. Four Winds, Barry Hunter, Millennieum,

32. The Summer Cloister, Laird Barron, Melic Review,
Beautiful images sometimes becomes a word mash and sometimes degenerates to wispiness:  "in the summer cloister lingers a memory...// in the summer cloister linger many thoughts."

32. Picasso's Femme de Fermier, carolyn smale, samsara quarterly,
Woman dreams to improve her physical lot.  Don't we all.  Well-written.

32. Inspirational Poetry, Ruth Solomon, DiskUs Publishing,

32. Texas, J. Winter, failbetter,
I hope this was meant to be a humorous poem.  Yay, Texas.  [If you miss the sarcasm, you haven't listened to Texans praise Texas -- a praise which no one but Texans care about.]

33. Unrequited Love, L.Madeleine Beltran, Mystic Ink,

33. I Do, Bill Noble, Clean Sheets Magazine,
See #14.  This made the hit list twice.

33. Bodleigh Feldon, Roy Gaveston Knight, Regent Books,
Yet another ebook.  I guess the nominators didn't trouble themselves to see that the category was "poem."

33. The Night Watch, Pat Fredeman, Twilight Times,
A verse without much to say.  What does it mean to have little to say (this reviewer certainly uses it a lot)?  Essentially, the poet has neglected line by line significance, focusing on the whole.  Both whole and part are essential in a work so short.

33. Release Me , Teresa Lynn Daily, Shyflowers Garden,

33. In Praise of Possibilities, rachel dacus, melic review,
This one had possibility, but it alternated beauty and insight ("I could... / tattoo a scallop around my navel. // I might start a radio station, / found my own small nation.") with the trite and forced ("They would breach the taut surface / in a spray of surprise. // Now they branch through time's desert").

33. drawn to gods, Anthony Visperas, of 2000,
With death moments still so.
So it is with death nearly.
Nearly drawn to gods playing very.
Very, are the deaths loved with.
--Wow.  This one hit me in the gut.  The cyclic repetition initially and subliminally drew me to it before I even recognized its existence or meaning.  The almost strange yet natural order of words gives the feeling of a complete statement dropped off before conclusion, moments before revelation, keeping the gods off in their heavens even as we try to draw a bead upon their meaning and existence, especially now as our time to meet the Maker nears.

Copyright © 2001 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared in Speculon, Spires, and The Pittsburgh Quarterly, among others. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine he can be seen coaching the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach, or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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