Does poetry have any place in science fiction and fantasy storytelling?

Beowulf

When I set up my publishing business, I decided to set  out my stall and state what Greyhart Press stood for. After all, if it doesn’t stand for anything, it stands for nothing… and why would anyone go looking for books from a publisher that doesn’t know what it wants to publish?

So I wrote the Real Story Manifesto. You can follow the link if you like, it won’t bite honest! The essence of the manifesto is that I want to publish stories with a strong and traditional narrative structure, where the storytelling was designed to tell the story.

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, what is the purpose of storytelling other than to tell a story? But I was thinking primarily of science fiction short stories where the semi-pro and pro markets sometimes publish stories that are deliberately vague or describe a moment in time rather than a traditional story. Science fiction is strange like that. It’s derided by some for delivering lightweight, cliché-ridden stories with plot holes light-years wide (particularly genre TV). On the other hand, it sounds like I’m knocking another wing of the science fiction family for going so ‘literary’ that it sometimes seems to champion post-storytelling.

So you’d think that, given all I’ve just written, poetry wouldn’t fit into this Real Story Manifesto. When I wrote the manifesto, I would have agreed with you. After all, poetry can be obsessed by word choice, and structure, even the way the lines are laid out upon the page.  If a mass-market novel is burger and fries, a poem is an espresso taken standing up, and unadulterated even by biscotti.

Homer, yesterday

So does poetry have a place in science fiction and fantasy? Well, of course it does and always has done. It might have been a niche within a niche, but, many science fiction and fantasy magazines and websites have featured poetry.  I’ve heard them read out at conventions. Fragments of poetry and song have always been commonplace in novels, and I can confirm that that books of science fiction poetry do exist. Then there’s the Iliad

Fast-forward seven months to last week when I published a book of six poems, called The Legends of Light. That certainly hadn’t been part of the game plan.

The form is part of a poem's beauty

What surprised me when I first read the manuscript for Legends… was how clearly these poems were about storytelling. Not only did each poem tell a story, but they are like episodes in a six-part TV mini-series, telling a coherent whole. The author had a young adult (YA) audience firmly in mind, and I think she hits that mode beautifully because the stories, both individually and in series, are about transformation, about aging, learning, and growing up. The words, lines, and stanzas are the medium that she chooses to convey those stories. And what a rich medium they make. The rhythm of the poems gives an otherworldly, ethereal quality to the stories that fits the high fantasy genre perfectly. I’m normally dubious about ‘ere’s and mayhaps in fantasy prose. Here, the slightly elevated language of the poems suits the fantastic worlds in which they are set, and delights us when (still keeping the poetic language) the poems pass some wry comment about universal  truths such as sibling rivalry and a teenager’s apprehension about making career choices.

In this case, the choice of poetry over prose enhances, not weakens, the storytelling. That’s the Greyhart Press philosophy and so  I had no qualms about publishing.

So that’s a little of my personal Odyssey over the past few months in the realms of storytelling (to reference another fantastic poem with great storytelling) What about you? What’s your experience of poetic storytelling in science fiction and fantasy?

 ***

The Legends of Light, a six-poem high fantasy saga by Gill Shutt, is published by Greyhart Press. List price, $2.99, £1.75

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About Tim C. Taylor

Science fiction publisher and author of the bestselling Human Legion series. I live with my wife and young family in an English village. I am currently writing full time, when I'm not roped into building Lego.
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6 Responses to Does poetry have any place in science fiction and fantasy storytelling?

  1. Gill Shutt says:

    Not half as glad as I was Randall! Cheers Tim 🙂

  2. Pingback: Why I publish poetry | Greyhart Press

  3. Writing that touches us should be shared, no matter the platform or genre. I think you made a good choice here 🙂

  4. Randall says:

    I do love your article. I am glad to see that you recognize poetry having a place in story telling (since what I write is poetry). There are numerous people (or even some publishers I have seen) that do not want or like poetry. Thank you for your comments on this subject.

    • timctaylor says:

      Thanks, Randall. I guess, I’m showing my ignorance of poetry here. Most of the poems I’ve read in recent years have been small pieces, rather like flash fiction in its intensity. Going back a few years, I enjoyed the Iliad and Odyssey. They’re just a bit longer! One of the occasional delights I’ve found in publishing is to have my preconceptions shattered. In this case a poet — someone I’d never even heard of before — sent me something out of the blue that I’d not encountered before: traditional narrative structure in poems, but at a much shorter length than Homer’s. I would like to read something like that again.

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