Dreams & Nightmares #87
Edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Reviewed by Erik Amundsen
This is my second of three forays into the speculative poetry magazine Dreams and Nightmares. This outing, I am reviewing issue 87. My last look at D&N turned out a little mixed, and I’m intrigued to see what will be in store for this issue. Not much in the way of preamble, but let’s get into it.
Wade German kicks us off Lovecraft-style, with “Dunwich Pastoral,” which I think would have benefitted from not tying itself so close to its source. By its own lights, it works, but viewed through the lens of Yog-Sothothery, the strongest language in the poem gets weighed down by its inspiration and becomes somewhat worn out. Not that you can’t spot this one for a mythos poem like the more paternally favored Whately brother on a clear night, but it might have benefitted from not having its source at the very top of our minds.
Marcie Lynn Tentchoff follows with a short and nasty poem in “The Taxidermist’s Daughter” which. Yeah. The subject matter does not scare or creep me so much as it just repulses me. The poem itself doesn’t do anything to make the subject any less or any other than repulsive, so let’s spin on.
The illustration doesn’t help matters.
Bruce Boston gives a litany to shadows with “The Knave of Shadows.” This one I enjoy. I’ve a fondness for litanies, and this one does the form justice; strong progression and good images. Early contender for my favorite.
Ruth Berman delivers a longer poem on the subject of a virtual sandy haired boy and a version of Sherlock Holmes who always plays his violin, even when he’s not actually playing it. It’s interesting; I can’t help but think it could have been a little bit shorter, could have stood another round of cutting, but I am not certain what I would cut. Some poems suffer from a sense of repetition even when they are not repeating themselves. Well, no, on further reading, one mention of the Turing test is enough, and that the music plays whether or not Holmes appears to be playing it could stand to be cut down. Some of the earlier lines seem a little overfull, as well. That said, I liked the ending.
Matt Betts, you win; I did laugh at “The Great Zombie Pyramid Scheme,” and I can’t be bothered to care about zombies anymore, but this was genuinely funny and mean and I liked it.
To return to the subject of being freighted down by one’s inspiration, we have Robert Borski with “Spirit of the Staircase,” which is either a thin rework bordering on paraphrase of a pair of sequences from Neil Gaiman’s Death: The High Cost of Living, or a dreadful coincidence. I am not averse to reworks, responses, or reactions to someone else’s work. All art is derivative, but when you work off of someone else, you owe it to them, us, and yourself to go someplace with it. You don’t have to hide or conceal your muse, hell, but you do have to do something they didn’t. Look at something they left out, or see it from a different angle. “Spirit of the Staircase,” if it comes from the place I suspect it might, does none of these things. If it is a victim of a freak collision of subject and attitude, it’s still kind of a boring poem, livened up only by the hint of violence near the end. I’m sorry, this does not work for me.
Robert Frazier delivers a quite long poem, one that the editor warned in the foreword was longer than usually accepted at D&N, but they felt compelled to take it anyway. I think it was a good choice. “Wreck Diving the Starship” tells the story of those who explore the ship which brought them to colonize a distant world and crashed in the ocean. One in particular, lured or forced to the center of the ship by a siren that could have been the ship itself. I am growing to like SF speculative poetry in the long form, and I’m glad for the chance to be told a story that would have been quite good as prose, but works very well as poetry.
A short interlude of poems for an illustration follows; they are cute.
Nathan Whiting follows with “The new fast-built planet” which throws a lot of cool images of a planet not properly finished at the wall to see what sticks. It starts intriguingly weird, gets weirder, turns into a total jumble, but then comes back into line with where it started, and for that, and for the strength of the images, which are quite good, I think this poem is quite successful.
I’m not sure what is going on in “Retrozoic,” only that flight, lawn maintenance and the rise of the dinosaurs is included, and that’s alright by me. I’m not sure what you’re up to here, Alec Kowalczyk, but I enjoyed it.
K. S. Hardy finishes this issue with “Midnight Sonata,” and has made me realize something. I do not like end-of-poem reveals that much. Turns out that what builds up in the first and last stanza is revealed at last to be Pan, and I love Pan right down to his hooves, but you don’t need to be so mysterious about him. Also, I’d kind of like the poem better without the first stanza. There’s nothing in there that is really necessary, which is really unfortunate. The image that tries to be built in the first stanza isn’t, but the second stanza is movement and quick and sure, and I like it a lot. At half-length, too, I think it would not have been a last moment reveal that it’s Pan so much as a logical consequence.
I am liking this issue of D&N better than the last. I haven’t gotten a handle on the editorial voice, just yet; it seems the magazine does choose variety over focus of theme, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate the difference in lineup between this issue and last, which keeps well with the magazine’s apparent remit for a varied experience.