Sunday, October 23, 2011

Celebrating 20 years: Time Frames

In 1991, Rune Press, a Minnesota-based publisher released a hardcover collection of speculative poetry called Time Frames. This year it's celebrating 20 years since it was first published. It featured eleven writers and was edited by Terry A. Garey

The poets included:
John Grey
Alan Stewart 

Over the last decade I've gotten to know many of the poets and it's wonderful to see so many of them still active. Several are still releasing books and performing, particularly at conventions in the Midwest.

Time Frames is a fascinating snapshot of the work of  poets coming just a few years out of the 1980s, a decade I would consider one of the richest for science fiction cinema of the 20th century. But the 1980s are also a decade I would be hard pressed to say produced an enduring book of speculative poetry that honestly caught national attention, with perhaps one exception.

Editor Terry A. Garey points to Robert Frazier's 1984 anthology Burning With a Vision, which was still in print back in 1991. That volume featured the poetic work of luminaries such as Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Brian W. Aldiss, Diane Ackerman, Alan P. Lightman, Suzette Haden Elgin, and Bruce Boston, who recently won a Stoker Award this year for his collection of poetry. When you see where those authors have gone since, I think it would be a deep mistake to dismiss the role speculative poetry has on international arts and letters.

Many of the poets in Time Frames emerged from Minnesota, but international voices from Australia and England are also reflected, in addition to other states across the U.S.

For this collection, Time Frames defines speculative poetry as poetry that "covers a wide range, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and is published in magazines and anthologies big and small."  From what I've seen, it was a significant moment to have brought the many genres together under the term speculative poetry, compared to the more well-known term of science fiction poetry. 

Going out on  a limb here, "science fiction poetry" is an apt enough term. But under its strictest definition regarding the use of science fiction elements, this would exclude a great many classic works before and during the 20th century. To me, at least, this term then divorces itself needlessly from the mythic and epic poetry traditions of old. This would be especially curious since many writers embrace the forms of traditional, formal poetry such as the scifaiku (or science fiction haiku). Literary mixed messages, if you will. 

Going back to Time Frames, then, I would applaud the perseverance of the editor and poets to assemble this volume for us to examine. It allows us to consider how well bringing these varied genres together works in one volume. For most of these poems, it succeeds, and the collection brims with humor, emotion, and engaging ideas as the very best collections should.

There are some anthologists who like to kitchen sink a collection and go for breadth, but I think smaller anthologies such as Time Frames actually have stronger advantages. It doesn't overwhelm you with so many names that you lose track of who's who and a part of the collection.

Each of the poets had their own notable approaches and were very conscientious to produce work that was rigorous and artful as poems but also as works of science fiction, fantasy and horror, as the occasion called for it. That is the double challenge of being a speculative poet. Time Frames includes both free and unrhymed verse, but also verse that falls under traditional forms, including some lesser known  styles such as the toddaid, a Welsh stanza form. There are works responding to the poems of William Carlos Williams, the stories of L. Frank Baum, and Rousseau as much as to Flash Gordon and the Voyager program.

In this collection, John C. Rezmerski, for example, was given enough space to contribute a sequence of poems pondering dreams that a more space-restricted anthology would not be able to include. We get to see how Mark Rich handles both short form and long form poems, and how Ruth Berman takes on a certain yellow brick road and also her approach to astronomical bodies. Each writer is given an opportunity to really breathe here.

Some of the poems are easy to identify as works of speculative poetry by their titles, such as "Gorgozak" or "Robot Beyond the Control Envelope," while other titles might be less obvious, such as "God, Reflecting on St. Augustine as St. Augustine Reflects on God," "The City of Fat, Jolly Poets,"  or "The Drawing of a Tree."

Time Frames is composed primarily of new poems. 8 appeared previously, particularly in the journal Tales of the Unanticipated. There are only 500 copies of Time Frames in existence, and perhaps even less than that, now, in the space of 20 years.

Only one copy is on sale among the used book stores, and it's going for $35. Which suggests that those who do have a copy are really holding onto it. I can see why.

One day, it would be nice to see a reissue of Time Frames, because I think a wider familiarity with the work within Time Frames could provide many emerging poets with inspiration and a view of not only where we have been, but what is possible. And who could ask for anything more from an anthology?

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