Mythic Delirium #20

Mythic Delirium #20Mythic Delirium # 20
Edited by Mike Allen
Reviewed by Deborah J. Brannon

Although the tenth anniversary edition is the first Mythic Delirium volume I’ve ever read, I’ve long been aware of the publication by reputation: many poems have appeared in Mythic Delirium (or related titles edited also by Mike Allen) that have later been nominated for the SFWA’s Rhysling Awards or been honored in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2007), such as “The Descent of the Corn-Queen of the Midwest” by Catherynne M. Valente, “Songs for an Ancient City” by Amal El-Mohtar, and “To the River” by Jessica Paige Wick. One poem even recently won a Rhysling: “Eating Light” by F.J. Bergmann in 2008 (short poem category). (By clicking on those links, you can hear the poems read, often by the poet. Amal El-Mohtar’s poetry is an especially sensuous delight when read by herself.)

Besides Mythic Delirium having such a solid pedigree, I’ve been intrigued by the poetry journal due to its ideological conceit: while the submission guidelines advertise that the journal publishes “science fiction, fantasy, horror, surreal, and cross-genre poetry,” if the featured poems I’ve read on the website and the contents of Mythic Delirium #20 are anything to go by, all poems published therein exhibit some kind of world- or myth-building. All of these poems are about the way we create the larger world or the nuances of our inner worlds or the intersection of multiple personal worldviews.

I had been meaning to order an issue of Mythic Delirium for some time before #20 came out, but never found the right moment when memory and finances were properly aligned in order to do so (for the quality, it’s really not expensive– a one year subscription is $9). Of course, then Mike Allen excitedly announced that Neil Gaiman had sold Mythic Delirium a poem and would be appearing in the tenth anniversary issue. Being the unrepentant fan of Neil Gaiman’s work that I am, this event rather galvanized me into securing a copy.

What I discovered was an unmitigatedly solid poetry collection; I also discovered that Neil’s poem is not at all one of the best pieces in there, which led me to discover a vague sense of shame in relying on a Big Favorite Name to prompt me into securing a poetry journal I knew would more than likely be good. Of course, then I decided that if it took a Big Favorite Name with an Average Poem to draw in a vaster audience who would then discover a repository of good “off-beat and speculative poetry”–well, then, no harm done. In fact, plenty of good done!

I wasn’t totally blown away by any of the poems in Mythic Delirium #20, but I was rather delighted and pleasantly surprised by more than half the table of contents: not a bad ratio when you’re talking about 25 disparate poems. To hit a few high points: I found Erin Hoffman’s “Beauty Sleep” to be a compelling recreation of the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale, although a jarring word or two kept me from completely falling into her vision. “Hoyle’s Baking Instructions” by F.J. Bergman was an intoxicating mess: either baking instructions, or instructions on how to gamble, or instructions on how to seduce a man… I’m not sure, which is both its winning and its losing card. It’s just slightly too schizophrenic to be completely cohesive. Catherine Knutsson’s “swansong” captivated me with its wing-beating lines, and “Millenial Mass” by G.O. Clark comes with a truly transfixing image at the end. David T. Manning both pleased and frustrated me with his “The Next Station”: there’s too much story there to stop with one poem! And while I found the characters intriguing and the accompanying illustration by Paula Friedlander evocative, I wasn’t as engrossed by Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica Paige Wick’s “Apple Jack Tangles the Maidy Lac with a Red, Red Ribbon” as I hoped to be. I think this is one poem that would be most impressive when read aloud, in character.

Apple Jack Tangles the Maidy Lac with a Red, Red Ribbon


The rest of my list of favorites from Mythic Delirium #20 encompasses “Journeying” by Adrienne J. Odasso, “Hellawes” by Georgette Perry, “Klabautermann” by J.C. Runolfson, “From Dr. Owen’s Obit” by Rolli, “From Dr. Owen’s Journal (Unpublished)” by Rolli, “Last Gift from the Eldest” by Danny Adams, and “Myth” by Kim Malinowski.

I found the remainder of the collection to be solidly average, with two exceptions: Sonya Taaffe’s “Zeitgeber” was disappointing in its inability to achieve any sort of poetic resonance, the densely-rendered lines crouching on the page. And Darrell Schweitzer’s “What If I Were Secretly the Phoenix?” fails to transcend the suggested mediocrity of its cinder-characterized main subject.

Another aspect of Mythic Delirium #20 that impressed me was its engagement with interior art: it featured seven illustrations specifically commissioned to accompany the poems. One of these illustrations – a star-inflicted, anatomically-correct heart – was even hand-colored by the artist Tim Mullins. Mullins’ other illustration (see link below) and cover art for the issue are equally well done. I’ve already commented above on the powerful silhouette work of Paula Friedlander, and how one of her illustrations perfectly captured the tone of “Apple Jack Tangles the Maidy Lac with a Red, Red Ribbon.”  Daniel Trout nicely depicted a forlorn sorceress of perilous ease in one of his illustrations, while Don Eaves and Terrence Mollendor disturbingly communicated the true insanity of the Astronaut Asylum in theirs (oh, “In the Astronaut Asylum” was a long poem by Kendall Evans and Samantha Henderson I so very much wanted to like more than I did).

In the end, I find myself most certainly sold on Mythic Delirium. Time to count up my pennies and purchase a proper subscription!

Relevant links:
Mythic Delirium website.
How a Mythic Delirium is assembled.
Listen to “Genesis” by Holly Dworken Cooley from Mythic Delirium #20 and see accompanying art by Daniel Trout.
Tim Mullins’ illustration for Neil Gaiman’s “Conjunctions.”
Cabinet des Fées review of Mythic Delirium #20.
Charles Tan’s review of Mythic Delirium #20 at Bibliophile Stalker.

Note to Neil Gaiman fans:
I know you want to know what Neil’s poem is about. Here’s an excerpt from Mike Allen’s editorial that explains a bit: “[Neil Gaiman’s] poem ‘Conjunctions’ is, intriguingly, a companion piece to alternapunk singer Amanda Palmer’s musical composition ‘Trout Heart Replica,’ both items apparently inspired by an extremely memorable visit to a trout farm.”

Also, trivia about the title, from Neil’s journal: “I was going to call my poem ‘Trout Heart Replica’ but when I told her that she said, ‘You can’t. That’s what I called my song, and I got there first.’ And she had.”

Illustration by Paula Friedlander of “Apple Jack Tangles the Maidy Lac with a Red, Red Ribbon” above used with permission by the artist.

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