2014 Poetry Contest Winners

Poet and editor Kenji Liu selected the winners of this year’s SFPA Poetry Contest. Prizes were offered in three divisions: Dwarf (≤10 lines), Short, and Long (50+ lines).

Contest chair Joshua Gage received 41 Dwarf, 117 Short, and 30 Long entries from around the world.

Dwarf Form winning poem:

Surreal Shopping List

by Bruce Boston

the autobiography of a trellis

a brisance of laughter so loud trilobites pause to listen

noctilucent bridge mix (2 sacks)

a guerrilla theatre staged in ragged flesh

hallucinogenic cutlet with flies

ravishing inversion of sunflowers stretching the skin of the eye

the burning bush

3 lbs stonehenge

Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks, including the dystopian sf novel The Guardener’s Tale and the psychedelic coming-of-age novel Stained Glass Rain. His poetry has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, the Gothic Readers Award, the Balticon Poetry Award, and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize and twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story). His latest collection, Dark Roads: Selected Long Poems 1971-2012, is available from Amazon and Dark Renaissance Books. bruceboston.com

Dwarf Form Second Place:

Radio Heart: Trace

by Margaret Rhee

Race is not programmed yet
So as you trace around my eyes
And my lips, the round contours of my face
You say, you are so human, all human.

Margaret Rhee is the author of the chapbook Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011), and co-editor of Here Is A Pen: An Anthology of Kundiman West Coast Poetry (Achiote Press, 2011) and glittertongue: queer and trans love poems (2012). She served as managing editor of Mixed Blood, a literary journal on innovative poetics and race, published out of UC Berkeley. Her poems have been published in several literary publications, including the Berkeley Poetry Review, Kartika Review, Luna Luna Magazine, and Mission At Tenth. She is the recipient of poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop. In the other parts of her life, she teaches, researches, and writes on the cultural politics of robots, and other things.

Dwarf Form Third Place:

Balancing the Scales

by Lola Lucas

By day his job was identifying remains
Shipped back to Earth
In stasis bags, cataloging scraps
And shards to return to families.

At night he volunteered
In the neonatal ward, doing
Fingertip massages to rub life
Into tiny creatures with rose petal skin.

Lola Lucas is a poet, columnist, book reviewer and the author of the essay collection At Home in the Park: Loving a Neighborhood Back to Life. Her work has appeared in The Alchemist Review and the Illinois Times in Springfield; she won Wednesday Club (founded in 1890) poetry prizes twice in St. Louis. Mythology and fairy tales led to the classic ABC's of Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke, then to feminist SF&F. She attends WisCon but is a founding member and 38-year veteran of Archon, the St. Louis metro con.

Dwarf Form Honorable Mentions

Warning Song by David Vandervort
Fast Food on Mars by Shirley Valencia

Short Form Winner:

Write, Robot

by Margaret Rhee

I can't forget how your wires feel around me
This is a circuit with a return path
This is how I know you

You return, and I trust.
The wires cross. Remember,
red is positive. Black is negative.
Cut the edges, and let's.
We've already crossed
this way before.

Q: Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge.
A : Count me out on this one. I never could write poetry.

why can't you write poetry, why can't you write a love poem about me? you continue to write over and over again about 1 and 0. 1 and 0. 10101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010

Let me translate:

t: Write me a poem about your love for me.

#! sure
a: (~yes) I am very happy to write a love poem for you.

#! never
a: (~no) I am sorry I cannot write a love poem for you. Unless.

t: If you could write a love poem, what words would you include?

#! Eyelashes
a: (~black) Those that I do not have, I love to lick.

#! Wet
a: (~sex) I am afraid of water, but I like things sloppy and messy.

#! Gears
a: (~oil) You take good care of them for me.

Who programmed you?

I crossed your wires and you opened me.
The nectar in me is all over you.
Now wet, you malfunction, robot.
All goes black.
Stick you in a bag of rice
Who knows if you will rise again?

Margaret Rhee is the author of the chapbook Yellow (Tinfish Press, 2011), and co-editor of Here Is A Pen: An Anthology of Kundiman West Coast Poetry (Achiote Press, 2011) and glittertongue: queer and trans love poems (2012). She served as managing editor of Mixed Blood, a literary journal on innovative poetics and race, published out of UC Berkeley. Her poems have been published in several literary publications, including the Berkeley Poetry Review, Kartika Review, Luna Luna Magazine, and Mission At Tenth. She is the recipient of poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop. In the other parts of her life, she teaches, researches, and writes on the cultural politics of robots, and other things.

Short Form Second Place:

Common Language

by Elizabeth R. McClellan

Venutians never had a double modal
before they came south.

Children who think Jackson, Mississippi is humid
say We might could in dialect that shudders
at stacking it was never meant to accommodate.

Tlang’s brood-nurse came down to see the fall colors,
near about fell out when she heard Kendall
neutralizing lax vowels, the stresses all out of order—but
remarkably good
for a grub–and a [blue-neighbor-planet] grub no less…!

Ann Marie emailed their mother three months
after the interplanetary move:

Hot, like New Orleans in August,
but worse—except the clouds cut the glare
to nothing. Ten times the lightning,
never rain—and no porch-sitting,
not without a p-suit. I miss a good breeze.

Sxrit finds daffodils make her faintly nauseated,
remind her of larva jelly gone rancid.
They told her about rain, but not
how fast clouds roll in, how the first cold drop
can startle you to screaming,
nor the smell, the taste of water when it falls.

Even more incomprehensible than
when to say y’all and when all y’all,
though her neighbors are gracious at
such small mistakes, say oh honey,
never you mind all that now.

Gdryh’s senior thesis, critically received,
traces cross-migration patterns,
suggests a connection with
gender neutral second person plurals.

He presses a sprig of dogwood
for his lover’s scrapbook back home—
Chris misses spring in Memphis,
however much he loves the endless days,
the whipping winds, the hazy skies
of this new home place.

In Vicksburg or on Venus, a common question,
drawled, clicked or signed:

Hello, friend,
[outside-conditions] we’re having.

Elizabeth R. McClellan is a poet, editor, lawyer and occasional loudmouth who lives in the geographic center of the State of Tennessee and considers the state her backyard. She is a previous Rhysling Award nominee, winner of the 2011 Naked Girls Reading Literary Honors Award, and the 2014 Rhysling Chair. Her work has appeared in the Moment of Change and I Know What I Saw anthologies, along with Apex Magazine, Calliope Magazine, Goblin Fruit, Interfictions, The Legendary, NewMyths.com, and Stone Telling. For more, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @popelizbet, check out her author page on Facebook at tinyurl.com/ermcFB or visit elizabethrmcclellan.com.

Short Form Third Place:

My Crows

by Marion Boyer

My crows are small.
They know my face.
The neighbors have only one.
It comes every day
to their roof and is large
as a baby grand.

This morning I put on the tea
shuffling through them
on the kitchen floor. They
rustle around my ankles
when I sweep them out.
My crows know the way back in.

It's raining today and the neighbors'
big crow sits with his head
drawn in. His hoarse caw-caw flies
through my walls and rattles a teaspoon
that one of my own peers into,
the reflection quivering back.

At night, one of my crows
often hops to my shoulder
when I turn off the light. Wings
brush my face as he settles,
his beak presses against my head
for a moment of balance.

Marion Starling Boyer is a professor emerita of Communication courses at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She has three published collections of poetry, The Clock of the Long Now (2009, Mayapple Press) and Green (2003, Finishing Line Press). Boyer's most recent publication, Composing the Rain, won Grayson Book's 2014 chapbook competition. Her poem, “My Crows” was inspired by the amazing crows of Kalamazoo artist Karen Bondarchuk. Here's a link to Karen's work: karenbondarchuk.com

Short Form Honorable Mention:

News of the World by Kali Lightfoot
The library of butterflies by Sandra Lindow
Xenolinguistics by F. J. Bergmann

Long Form Winner:

Sorry, I Can’t Design Your Futuristic Bug Creature

by William Stobb

“The problem is I’m already making
a sci-fi trilogy about a cruel beetle race
originally based on the Eastern Eye
Click Beetle but with the sheen
characteristic of the Neon Weevil.
I designed the neural ganglia center
in the middle of their pointy little faces—
a totally fake thing I invented
that caused gag reflexes in focus groups
triggering the influx of backing funds that subsequently
earned me the very contract that’s buying these vodka crans.
Which, yes. Awesome. Thank you. Unfortunately,
they’ve got me in a non-compete.
So also, no. Bummer. Sorry. But hey:
can I just tell you that it’s true?
The future seems predictable in the first two
—human depravity and global collapse.
Evil bugs emerge from festering pustules.
Block by block, the major cities are devoured
while plagues o’erwhelm the countryside
‘til somewhere in Saskatchewan
the final human is sucked down by the glistening hive.
Yada yada yada. But in the new one,
when the millipede kingdom emerges
based on the wisdom of telepathically cooperative industry
and the bitchin’ karate possible
for creatures with a thousand legs,
the numbers shoot through the freaking roof.
These beetles don’t just succeed
in inheriting the Earth. Eventually
they harness cosmic forces and sail
into the great beyond. Then the question
is just so real: will they handle their godlike power
better than we handled ours?
Whoa. I know. Really, though
all I do is make their faces look gross.
Their industries unravel in turn—a generation
of beetles lies on its shells in tiny meadows
just watching the weed shadows bob
and masturbating—one beetle makes interesting
sounds and the caption reads [beetle love
song]. Then the ushers come down the aisles
handing out barf bags because
it’s time for the first beetle kiss: these two
iridescent ’pedes push their faces together
and it’s like eight mucus-y strands of feces
licking at an old brown tomato.
And that’s my thing. That’s where my craft
makes an impact on this town, nome sayin’?
After that it pretty much just ends.
Two lovers head out to sea on a leaf.
It seems impossible for them to survive
but you are led to wonder—maybe they could
mate and mate and mate and mate and mate and
rapidly evolve into an amphibious species that could rise
in yet another sequel like huge lobsters
on the shores of the millipede capital
and wreak havoc against the heartless
kingdom that shunned them.
Vanessa interprets it as tragic lover suicide
which raises the question does anyone
want to live in a future where beetles commit suicide?
And it’s questions like those, my friend,
that are bringing audiences back to Hollywood.”

William Stobb is the author of five poetry collections, including a National Poetry Series selection, Nervous Systems (2007), and Absentia (2011), both from Penguin Books. He serves as chair of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, and as Associate Editor for Conduit. In 2014-2015, his work appears or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Kenyon Review, Hobart, Passages North, and Poets & Artists. He lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Long Form Second Place:

100 Reasons to have Sex with an Alien

by F.J. Bergmann

after 237 More Reasons to Have Sex, by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh

  1. More than one tentacle.
  2. With suckers.
  3. I mistook the blaster in his pocket for happiness.
  4. He asked me what a being like me was doing on a planet like this.
  5. His ventral cluster was magnified in the curved side of my rocket.
  6. His ventral cluster was like a bouquet of blue flowers.
  7. I said, “For me?”
  8. He felt like a cross between astrakhan and curly endive.
  9. I thought I was shaking his hand.
  10. He thought he was stroking my prehensile appendage.
  11. We both thought it was a diplomatic formality.
  12. We thought we were responsible for the fates of our respective worlds.
  13. I felt lonely because the universe was expanding.
  14. I felt small because the universe was so vast.
  15. I felt reassured because his presence meant we were not alone, after all.
  16. The gravity field caused genital engorgement.
  17. The anti-grav generator caused dizziness.
  18. The solar wavelength triggered hormone production.
  19. The Coriolis effect made my senses swirl.
  20. Lit only by Cherenkov radiation, I still cast a spell.
  21. Such unusual sex toys!
  22. Which he referred to as “probes.”
  23. When he unfurled his wings to stretch, I thought it was a mating display.
  24. I mistook his yawning for sexual arousal.
  25. I mistook his indifference for sexual arousal.
  26. I mistook his urgent need to micturate for sexual arousal.
  27. He mistook my sneezing for sexual arousal.
  28. He mistook my laughter for sexual arousal.
  29. He mistook my sulking for sexual arousal.
  30. He mistook my tattoos for a mating display.
  31. My piercings were highly magnetic.
  32. He thought my breasts were egg-sacs.
  33. He said he didn’t have DNA, so I didn’t have to worry about pregnancy.
  34. Parthenogenesis, on the other hand.
  35. I had had it with humanity.
  36. Not much else to do on an asteroid.
  37. We were both too far from home.
  38. The starlight was so ancient.
  39. He said he'd let me fly his spaceship.
  40. He said he’d let me play with his matter transmitter.
  41. He said he'd let me play with his matter transmuter.
  42. He said he'd let me play with his time machine.
  43. He told me he was a divine messenger, and I believed him.
  44. His silicon-based wings fanned my lust.
  45. His pheromonal signature was intriguing.
  46. His subvocal rumblings made me squirm rapturously.
  47. His buzzing vocalizations gave me a migraine, so I closed my eyes.
  48. Next thing I knew …
  49. He didn’t have a name to remember.
  50. He looked nothing like my father.
  51. He looked nothing like my ex.
  52. He looked nothing like anything I’d ever seen before.
  53. I was ripe for mischief.
  54. The bubbles in his creamy center turned me on.
  55. His outer integument was my favorite color, periwinkle.
  56. His outer integument had a fishnet-stocking pattern, and those things really turn me on.
  57. Including the seam up the back.
  58. And 9-inch stiletto heels.
  59. His emanations smelled like roast pork and cinnamon.
  60. I was hungry.
  61. I just wanted irregular sex.
  62. I’d never done it in free fall.
  63. He read my mind and knew exactly what I wanted.
  64. A myriad of moonlets intensified my longing.
  65. We were trying to establish each other’s respective genders.
  66. I told myself it was my duty as a Terran citizen.
  67. I told myself it was my duty as a xenoanthropologist.
  68. I told myself it was my duty as a xenolinguist.
  69. I told myself it was the best available treatment for xenophobia.
  70. We slowly climbed out of each other's Uncanny Valley.
  71. He said he wanted to serve me.
  72. He said he wanted to eat me.
  73. He said he liked my “Cthulhu for President” t-shirt.
  74. I was hoping someone would pay big money for the videos of our encounter.
  75. Someone on his home world.
  76. He said he’d take me on a trip aboard his magic swirling ship.
  77. Which had a really cool hood ornament.
  78. He said he’d take me 2,000 light years from home.
  79. He said he’d set the controls for the heart of the sun.
  80. He said his mother was a Space Lord.
  81. He said he was a Time Lord.
  82. He was way hotter than I expected.
  83. I had a fetish for long striped scarves.
  84. I had a fetish for the writhing of his ventral cluster.
  85. And the plumes on his dorsal ridge.
  86. His violet eyes turned me on. All fifteen of them.
  87. He said he was a famous rock star on his planet.
  88. He offered to let me make a plaster cast of his ventral cluster.
  89. He said he was a famous artist on his planet.
  90. He offered to show me his Rigelian-sandworm-excreta sculptures.
  91. He said he was a famous poet on his planet.
  92. I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
  93. He said he’d come all the way from Rigel just to hear me read my poetry.
  94. He wanted me so much he put his space ship on autopilot.
  95. He wanted me so much he didn’t notice when we overshot our destination.
  96. The stimulating vibration as our vessel entered the atmosphere.
  97. I thought the ship would blow up any minute and this would be my last chance.
  98. It was my last chance.
  99. Our vessel was about to crash.
            The smoke of our burning intertwined and rose up toward the stars.

F.J. Bergmann is waiting somewhere in Wisconsin for an unambiguous response to flashlight signals. She is the editor of Star*Line and the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. (mobiusmagazine.com)

Long Form Third Place:

Grinding Disney #2

by Michele Tracy Berger

I have a meat grinder and I have brought it to this forest. Invitations were sent and as the light fades, I see them twirl in, oblivious to danger. Leading the way is the fairest of them all (why doesn’t she use sunscreen nowadays?), the one who keeps losing her shoe, the one who went from mermaid to human and the rest of the princesses and common girls assemble. Alice is last, the girl of elixirs (can’t we just admit that she’s got drug issues?). Oh and to my surprise, in floats Tinkerbell, the wannabe, more insect than fairy girl. I tell them that the meat grinder is a magical stagecoach that will transport them to a special realm called Immortality. They trill at the lie. No Mensa members or MacArthur Genius awardees in this group. I tell them they must disrobe (the grinder will be hard enough to clean without shards of glass and cloth). They shed capes, headdresses, tiaras, and ribbons, like the obedient girls they are. I confiscate Alice’s flask. It’s a tight fit, but I get them all in. Just when I am about to turn the crank, Tinkerbell sticks her head out and asks, But why should we go to this land of Immortality? They love us, they’ll always love us. Are you sure? I say. I don’t have a beef with her and am about to tell her to fly off, but then someone pulls her down and she is gone. For a moment, I hesitate. Then, I remember how sharp their candy-tipped swords were when they plunged them into our soft young bellies, before we knew our own dreams. They are smarter than they look which has always been part of their survival. I grind away and ignore their pleas for rescue. I watch. The grinder extrudes neat mottled pinkish ribbons occasionally streaked with iridescent shimmering scales. And, with a pop, yellow fairy dust spurts out in place of the meat. Enjoying this more than I can say, I have not noticed that a crowd has gathered. Hungry. They know I do not belong to this forest. My spell casting falters. Hitting a dark beast on its snout, we fight for the fairytale meat.

Michele Tracy Berger is a professor, a blogger, a creativity expert and a pug-lover. She’s passionate about all of these ways of being in the world and plays with the order that she avidly pursues them.

She is associate professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and has several academic books on subjects that range from HIV/AIDS activism to the value of a women’s and gender studies education.

Her creative writing has appeared in The Chapel Hill News, Glint, Carolina Woman, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Ms., The Feminist Wire, various zines, and Western North Carolina Woman. In 2013 she became a “My View” monthly columnist for The Chapel Hill News and is at work on a short-story collection of speculative fiction.
She also has an award-winning blog, The Practice of Creativity. Come visit her on her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter @MicheleTBerger.

Long Form Honorable Mention:

Getting Winterized: A Guide to Rural Living
      by Elizabeth R. McClellan
Dr. Frankenstein’s Printing Apparatus
      by Carl Donsbach
What the Map Knows
      by Sheree Renée Thomas

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