Monday, May 20, 2013


Sand Alien

What is speculative poetry? This is the big question as the submission deadline for The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry anthology (eds PS Cottier, Tim Jones) looms near.

Speculative writing is often associated with or interpreted as Science Fiction Fantasy (SFF).  This is a genre I’ve cringed at ever since a bunch of SFF writers turned up at a themed end-of-year Canberra meeting of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) and immediately started laughing and barking (no – not literally) and telling everyone what they should be doing at FAW meetings. It was a lonnnnnng time ago and I know I’m shallow, but it put me right off!

So I’m interested, no – delighted, to find that the USA poet Bruce Boston says speculative poetry is to do with ‘…imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be.’ He talks about ‘what if’ and experimentation with language, form and content. That blows it wide open and … hang on … does that mean many of us have written speculative poetry without even realizing it? The question is begged. Well of myself anyway. The full piece, ‘Writing Speculative Poetry: An Interview with Bruce Boston’ by John Amen can be read at It was originally published in Pedestal Magazine Summer 2002.

Marge Simon has written a couple of paragraphs about it in Locus Online. 
She says you mainly found speculative poetry in the small press of the 1970s to 1990s. She includes examples of fine poems by Ann K Schwader and herself. Both of Marge Simon’s poems are about future-based or imagined conflict scenarios. I really like the prose poem Sparrow. Do read it.

ACT poet and TSLS co-editor, PS Cottier, suggests ‘About Science Fiction Poetry’ by Suzette Haden Elgin, the founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association at Don’t worry says PS, ‘… this article is applicable to all forms of speculative poetry.’ I appreciate Suzette Haden Elgin’s call for ‘rigor,’ and her two poems which are quite medical.

So – the poets writing in the context of health and medicine of which there are apparently many – are speculative poets too? Visit Tim Metcalf at - a NSW poet with a 28-year career in medicine - for a list of poems with medical links. Some of these may be speculative (let me know). I seem to remember both Tim Metcalf and Dennis McDermott were at one time (independently) compiling anthologies by poets who also worked in various health fields and roles. Just can’t find that information at the moment.

And what about science poetry? Bound to be speculative poems in there for sure (let me know). Hmmm that's another post another day.

Next I stoogle (stumble-google) on Alan Deniro and his ‘Notes on a Speculative Poetry’ (2006) at He talks about engaging in a dialogue with the future – a future that is beyond not only ourselves but anyone who has known us. His 15 points are an interesting read which I enjoyed very much. I’d love to quote one or two but I haven’t heard back from him yet re permission.

Phillip A Ellis tells us in his 9-point ‘How to Write Speculative Poetry’ at  that it ‘takes the reader into an unknown zone, full of chill and thrill.’ It features beautiful language and should be musical and haunting. (Oh but I do want that in poetry!) This ‘how to’ feature suggests themes, styles, approaches and typical settings and it should get you started, if you’re not already. More about Phillip and his own poetry at

For speculative outlets go to Speculative Literature at For a list of ‘the best’ speculative poetry anthologies from the last 150 years go to These publications they say are everything from mythical and magical, starry and surreal, scientific and grotesque to futurist and folkloric ... and just weird. Australia is represented by one ‘best’ anthology: Avatars of Wizardry: Poetry Inspired by George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith (ed. Charles Lovecraft, P’rea Press).

Perhaps The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry anthology (eds PS Cottier, Tim Jones) will make it to this and other ‘best’ lists. You have until June 4 to submit your speculative poems. More information and full guidelines are at PS Cottier’s blog where she suggests you hurry off your elegant bottom. Read her poetry – no doubt speculative - and entertaining commentary while you are there.

Comments and gapfillers welcome. See Comment option below.


  1. Lizz, I am reading through the hundreds of poems submitted for The Stars Like Sand, and the ones our research has identified, right now, sorting the elves from the goats.

    I am delighted, while reading some of the works, to be reminded of why I like this sort of thing in the first place; a particular 'whatifness' beautifully realised. A sense of wonder given legs...or at least tentacles!

    Have forwarded your article to Tim Jones, my co-editor, too.

  2. Congratulations on such a strong response to your anthology PS Cottier and Tim Jones. You must be having a wonderful time reading your swag. Looking forward to the book when the time comes, meanwhile am enjoying speculating about it...