Browsing articles in "Poetry"
Dec 4, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Other Countries


Last night I attended the London launch of Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, edited by Claire Trévien and Gareth Prior. The anthology grew from the editors’ realisation that there doesn’t exist (to their knowledge) an anthology of contemporary poets writing about historical people and events, with the exception of historical wars, which is a limited lens through which to look at the past. The resulting anthology spans the entirety of history, from the formation of the Earth to the history we have only just made, with a diversity of poets and subject matters. In the introduction, Hannah Lowe writes:

‘Rewiring History’ seems full of the possibility of giving history a new charge, acknowledging that history can be dynamic and dialogic, a current which can run back and forth along wires, be redirected and forge new connections across an indeterminate matrix.

It includes my poem “Her Sun-patterned Eye” alongside excellent new and reprinted poems by Martín Espada, Emily Hasler, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, Hel Gurney, Susan Mackervoy, Kirsten Irving, Sarah Hesketh, Rose Lemberg and many more.

The launch was excellent: hearing the poets read their work from the anthology and elsewhere, often with contextualising information. (The fact that stuck with me the most is that only in 1984 — not very long before I was born — did a UK birth certificate add a field for the mother’s profession. But for a small number of years, my mother’s profession might have been hidden from the record of my birth: my father an accountant and father, my mother a mother. An accountant, too, fuck you.) I was also delighted to hear a poem — which is in the anthology — about Elizabeth Etchingham and Agnes Oxenbridge, who I read about when writing an essay on personal reception of queer history on my MA.

It’s a beautiful anthology and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

May 29, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane
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Wiscon 2012 – Report – FJ Bergmann harassing Rose Lemberg

This is an email I sent on 15 July 2013 in support of Rose Lemberg’s report about harassment by FJ Bergmann at Wiscon 2012. It is posted publicly with Rose’s permission, in support of this post, which I’ve co-signed.

Dear Wiscon Safety,

With Rose Lemberg’s approval, I am writing a formal report of the incident of FJ Bergmann harassing Rose at Wiscon in 2012, which I witnessed. Rose is copied into this email.

I was at the Moment of Change launch reading that Rose Lemberg hosted, and I heard the poem that FJ Bergmann read. It was an offensive, anti-feminist poem in its own right, nasty about the woman at the core of the poem (surely a very 101-level failure and inappropriate for a feminist, intersectional reading). But as FJ Bergmann read it, I kept hearing things that made me think it was aimed at Rose: the references to Russia (where Rose is from, and Rose has talked about this publicly multiple times in the years before Wiscon 2012), to birds (which feature prominently in Rose’s work), to Siberia (where Rose has lived, although this is not as widely known, but this has also featured in some of Rose’s work). I know there are other details that other audience members picked up on (anti-Semitism, PhD references, accent mockery – all relevant to Rose, who is a Jewish academic with an accent).

It left me with the distinct impression that the poem had been aimed at Rose, down to its minute details, and the nastiness directed at the woman of the poem was thus directed at Rose.

It made me feel very uncomfortable, so after the reading I spoke to several other friends who had been present – and I found that we had *all* felt very uncomfortable and were sure that it had been aimed at Rose: an active attack on her.

I do not think it possible that this was a misunderstanding. It was too specifically targeted at Rose, too nasty and hurtful.

In the interests of disclosure, I was friends with Rose prior to that Wiscon, as were some of the other people I spoke to, but I do not think that coloured our interpretations at all. (I was thinking “Surely this poem isn’t aimed at Rose… surely…” but by the end of the poem I was sure it was, and I afterwards found that everyone I spoke to agreed.)

It was upsetting to witness, and I know it has been deeply upsetting to Rose and still is, and I offer my support to Rose in this situation.

All the best,
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Apr 15, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

aš, aš / words unfinished, unfound

My poem “Her Sun-patterned Eye” is in Strange Horizons!

It belongs to a wider series of poems I’m writing about ancient/prehistoric archaeological finds, which includes “Bowl” and “Thousands of Years Ago, I Made This String Skirt” in Stone Telling and “Sister” in Through the Gate. I’m fascinated by people very distant in time, by people whose stories are rarely told and by how the past is written about: the metaphor of a palimpsest is useful here, the past visible between the lines of the future, and I’d like what’s visible to be a truer look at the past than what we get in most popular discourse.

When I read about the bones of a c.2900 BCE woman found at Shahr-e Sukhteh, 6 feet tall with a prosthetic eye covered in gold, carved with a sun-pattern, I wanted to write about her. What an eye! What a story she must have had! One artist on tumblr drew her, which I love. Here she is, as we know her:

Shahr-e Sūkhté

Bones. Is writing for a find of bones and grave goods truly history, or historiography? I started writing a narrative for her, a world she saw through her gilt eye. I stopped. The problem of filling in the gaps, of fictionalising, is one that historians (especially of the ancient world) face, and though I can embrace writing story in fiction or poetry, I apparently can’t do it for long without stopping to question it. “Her Sun-patterned Eye” is me questioning it: the opening up of possibility, the narrowing down again to truth, to bones. Remarkable bones, a surely remarkable woman. I hope this poem means more people are aware of her.

Apr 4, 2014
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Verse Kraken launch!

Last night I went to the launch of issue 2 of Verse Kraken, a zine edited by Claire Trévien and Tori Truslow. The new issue will be online soon; at the launch, the contributors present read their work – a really enjoyable mix of poetic, experimental pieces – and the editors sold out the super limited print edition. It’s stuck into old copies of The Handbook of the British Astronomical Association, in places a palimpsestical collage: my poem, “Three Palimpsests on Ganymede”, is on a page called Lunar Occulations. Look:


Two more glimpses: Alex Boyd’s “St Kilda (The False Land)” and the back, listing items published in earlier editions of the handbook, including “Pleiades, The” and “Stars, The Brightests and Nearest”.



My favourite piece at the launch was Hel Gurney’s “The Book Remembers”, an audio palimpsest of Anglo-Saxon voice and women’s stories. I also loved James Coghill’s “Sunt Stellae XIII: Three Surrealist Translations”. Very short pieces lend themselves well to a reading event: there’s plenty of variety, and ample time between and after the readings to actually talk to people. (I’m not such a fan of reading events that are just the readings.)

An excellent, tentacular night!

Oct 29, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Poetry in SF

There’s a really interesting conversation between Lavie Tidhar and Shimon Adaf on Strange Horizons this week. It covers a lot of subjects – Israeli fiction, publishing, the relationship between biography and fiction, the relationship between speculative fiction and poetry. The latter is what most fascinated me, personally, and I’d like to quote one or two bits on that (though I do recommend reading it all):

Shimon Adaf: For me the affinity between speculative writing and poetry is a fact of writing. And I think that for you as well. You also started by writing poetry, in Hebrew, and you integrate poetry into your novels, mainly using the heteronym Lior Tirosh. How do you see the connection between these two modes of expression?

Lavie Tidhar: That’s true! For me, poetry was a revelation, that you can do things with words in a way I never thought you could. … In a way, when I look at my early Hebrew poetry, I think I’ve lost that part of me. They’re expansive, they’re not fully controlled, but the poems feel fresh to me still, they come from a place I may have lost. These days I mostly work poems into the novels and short stories, knowing no one is ever really going to make much of a reference to them.

Shimon Adaf: … I mean, for me, it started by trying to write kind of sci-fi poems. I was influenced by Samuel R. Delany’s work back then. I love the way he is able to fuse the epic spirit of poetry and the lyrical one in his work. I think that SF/F literature can serve as the true heir of the epic form of poetry in our era. But I can never forget the lyrical aspect that has to do with basic expression of the self, emotion, and experience. So I’m trying to marry the two in fiction through merging genres: injecting the fantastic into my autobiography and following where it leads, or vice versa, starting with my autobiography and letting it open to the encounter with the fantastic.

This is a good moment to link to Lavie’s own story “The Long Road to the Deep North”, also in Strange Horizons (and one of my favourites of the stories I’ve read this year), a science fiction story which contains poetry in Bislama. It’s integral to the story: to the very personal approach taken by the story, and to the future it posits, one in which many more voices are heard than in most SF.

Another science fiction story with poetry is the novel Always Coming Home by Ursula K Le Guin, which is full of poetry (and screenplays, and tales, and fiction, all contextualising the narrative of the woman Stone Telling) and which I love. There’s also Eleanor Arnason’s story “Knapsack Poems”, which I reprinted in Aliens: Recent Encounters, and Aliette de Bodard’s excellent “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”.

This makes me think of something I said at Stone Telling about poetry last year: “I like the poetic potential for voice — for direct speech or song. Due to the length I tend to work with in poetry (much shorter than my prose), it can be a very precise, very pointed voice, a direct statement or exclamation or confrontation. There’s no reason that prose can’t be or contain this too, but for me, poetry is a way to whittle down to this direct voice, to make it the only thing — to amplify it by way of having nothing else around it. To make it loud and impossible to ignore.”

The poems in Tidhar’s, Le Guin’s, Arnason’s and de Bodard’s works are not standing alone the way a poem published on its own page is, but in their contexts they speak, they are voices reaching out from the text. There’s a quiet, personal power there, and I wonder if that’s a power of poetry that’s been lost in English-language speculative literature in the fantasy pastiches of Tolkien’s poetry. There is more to poetry than terrible rhymes about elves! I would like to see more of it in all types of speculative literature: poetry as voice, speaking out from the text. I would certainly read it.

May 1, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

The market is always packing: / the paint peels, ready to go

Today I have a poem, “Always Packing”, in the new issue of Through the Gate. I wrote it after visiting Izmaylovo Market in Moscow, which felt like a fairytale market: not just because of the buildings you can see in those pictures, but because even in the morning it was already being packed up, as if about to be carried away on the autumn wind, yet another day it was still there, still packing.

I also realised recently that my poem “Most Beautiful in Death”, published last year in The Cascadia Subduction Zone and print-only for a while, can now be downloaded on their back issues page. The issue to download is Vol. 2 No. 3, Jul. 2012 (PDF download of the whole issue), although you might want to peruse their other issues for even more poetry, reviews, essays.

Apr 7, 2013
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Exquisite Corpse

A little while ago, Sofia Samatar interviewed KJ Bishop. At the end of that conversation, Sofia suggested that she and KJ and two other people create an exquisite corpse, a surrealistic collaborative poem. Two volunteers were called for. I was one of them, Katie Lavers the other. Between the four of us, we created this:

Wet hands grasp stormy feathers.
Neon-yellow stutters against a crow-black sky.
The tapestry-tailed fox touches the filagree firmament
and a dead dove plucks its guitar in the frosty arbor.

A great secret will drown a small heart.
“Sing me a song, bad boy,” she said. “See my hands still have blood on them.”
Crow feathers fall bundled like hail.
At the opera, suddenly, towers of burning coal.

I think it’s amazing. Its lines resonate with each other, forming a whole, yet it is a pleasingly strange one. (I think one of those lines is quite obviously mine, but the others could be anyone’s! They could belong to the crows.)

Oct 1, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

and I kneel to the wheel of the fox confessor

Some fox-related news, but first, a fox, found on tumblr:


It’s kept me company through a day in which I got far less achieved than I would have liked. But! While I am neck-deep in anthology work, other things have happened.

The first is that Bogi Takács has reviewed “Feed Me the Bones of our Saints” and liked it very much. After some commentary that makes me very pleased indeed, Bogi calls it my “best story to date”. :>

The second is that my poem “Sisters” has been published in the first issue of Through the Gate. Go read! And read the other poems! Rose Lemberg, Shira Lipkin, Adrienne J. Odasso, Sonya Taaffe and more! Mine is, as the inspiration page says, about foxes and women c.16,000 years ago, and was a successful attempt to find the voice for a story I was working on about the same subject matter: a more straight-up historical look at this bit of history. That story, “Burials”, is currently out on submission. (“Feed Me the Bones of our Saints” is what happened when I wrote a completely fantastical take on the idea.)

The next story I’ll work on when I’m done with the current anthology work won’t be about foxes. I KNOW. I KNOW.

Aug 27, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

that time won’t let me

Stone Telling 8: Together, Apart is here!


Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Thousands of Years Ago, I Made This String Skirt”
Emily Jiang, “Merciful Deity”
Grá Linnaea, “Their Hearts Like Lock and Key”
Shira Lipkin, “Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation”

Kathrin Köhler, “the art of domesticity”
Charlie Bondhus, “Empty Room”
Ching-In Chen, “Love with the Soldier”
Adrienne J. Odasso, “Tables Turned”
Ursula Pflug, “Castoroides”

LaShawn M. Wanak, “I Will Keep the Color of Your Eyes When No Other in the World Remembers Your Name”
Sonya Taaffe, “In the Firebird Museum”
Amal El-Mohtar, “A Circle in Five Strands”
Sofia Samatar, “Snowbound in Hamadan”


Lisa M. Bradley, “A Crack in Its Speak: Fantastic Birds in the Gothic Country Lyrics of Jay Munly”
Review: Brittany Warman, “Unruly Islands, poetry by Liz Henry”
Interview: Julia Rios, Stone Telling Roundtable: Multiple Perceptions with Lisa M. Bradley, Ching-In Chen, Kathrin Köhler, Alex Dally MacFarlane, and Sofia Samatar.

I’ve talked about the creation of my poem “Thousands of Years Ago, I Made This String Skirt” here and I talk more about it in the roundtable. As I say in the latter: “But it is important to me that, in the uneven dialogue between past and present, I strive to locate women and shine a light on them.”

The poems in this issue seem to be about shining lights on people who are often ignored, on narratives that make people in power uncomfortable. It is an honour to be a part of it.

Aug 5, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Poetry sale!

My poem “Tadi” will be appearing in Strange Horizons. This too fits into the future setting; specifically, it’s about the wife of Falna from “Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires”.


Out now!

"...the 33 stories that MacFarlane has gathered for this volume dazzle with the virtuosity of their contributors’ talents."

- Publishers Weekly: STARRED REVIEW

"Works from around the world, some in translation, provide an invaluable snapshot of this moment in the genre as well as some tremendously enjoyable reading."

- Publishers Weekly: Best Books of 2014

"The stories range widely in scope and form — from prose poems to metafiction — to capture a dynamic, forward-thinking genre that plays with history, myth and science."

- The Washington Post: Think science fiction is dominated by men? Think again.

"...ground-breaking and superbly conceived..."

- Nina Allan: Strange Horizons: 2014 In Review

Aliens: Recent Encounters

"...this [anthology] blew us away more than any other. Mostly because of the sheer volume of greatness contained in these 32 stories... These are classic stories of alien encounters, from some of the best science fiction writers working today."

- Best Books of 2013

Short Stories