For this week you can find not just one interview, or even two -- today we will see three interviews posted as a holiday treat! Our first introduces us to the incomparable David C. Kopaska-Merkel and his long-running, excellent magazine of speculative poetry, Dreams & Nightmares!
For those readers who might not have previously discovered Dreams & Nightmares, can you tell us a little about it? What makes your publication unique?
Every editor makes personal choices about what to include and what to exclude. I'm not sure I could say explicitly what my criteria are. I try to be eclectic within the fields of fantasy and science fiction, but I have to admit that I tend towards free verse and poems that are rather dark.
How did you become a poetry editor?
When I started writing poetry in the early 1980s I didn't know anything about the field. I couldn't find very many magazines that published science fiction and fantasy poetry. So, I started my own. As the years went by I discovered that there had been several magazines publishing when I started that were completely unknown to me until later. Nevertheless, it's true that when the first issue of Dreams and Nightmares came out in January 1986, there weren't a whole lot of other venues.
What's your background? How has that affected your decisions, with regard to individual poems or types? Are you more critical of some genres, subgenres, or tropes than others? If so, why?
My background, with regard to poetry, is that I am self-taught. I never took an English class in college, for instance. This means I don't know a whole lot about many forms and genres. Also, by training and profession I am a scientist. I have a preference for science fiction and science poetry because it plays to my interests. I'm very critical of rhyming poetry that falls off its meter or forces the rhyme. For me, this ruins an otherwise excellent put poem. This is one of the main reasons I don't publish very many rhyming poems. I love rhyming and metered poetry when it's done well
What good is a fantasy?
What a question! It's a commonplace to hear people say that fantasy has no rules. Of course this is complete nonsense. It's just that the rules of a fantasy universe can be, and usually are, demonstrably impossible in the real world. But within the story internal consistency is required. Real motivations and behaviors are expected. A fantasy story can do everything any other story can do in explaining or relating tales of humanity. It just does it in a setting that, for some of us, is particularly entertaining or fascinating.
What scares you?
Another question I don't particularly like. I don't read or publish what I consider horror, so I'm not sure the question is relevant to the magazine I publish. I guess one thing that scares me is senseless violence; this is true evil. When a person, or a character, kills or tortures others for motivations that don't seem sufficient or appropriate for that kind of behavior, it emphasizes the idea that "it could happen to anyone." I don't like this.
Where is the "science" in science fiction? How could SF help us to prepare for the future?
The science in science fiction ranges from near-future applications of real technology that we have already in existence to something so distant it is practically unimaginable. As far as practical applications go, stories that explore what we could do with our present technology or with only slightly enhanced technology can show us outcomes that most of us would prefer to avoid. The stories can warn us against certain courses of action that might have consequences we had never thought about. I'm not sure this really happens very often, but, I feel certain that near-future science fiction has caused some people to think twice about actions that can be consequential in the world.
Stories set farther in the future can place ideas in people's minds. They can suggest desirable technologies or sociological constructs or scientific or social projects that could be beneficial. I do believe that popular fiction can emplace ideas that bear fruit in people's future goal-seeking behavior.
Who are some of your favorite poets, and why?
I hardly feel competent to answer. I am not widely read in mainstream poetry. I like William Ashbless, who is really Tim Powers. I like Roger Zelazny, Wendy Rathbone. But the world's most famous poets? They're good, and I've read a little of their work, but I'm not familiar enough with it to say this one is one of my favorites, and that one isn't.
What makes a poem poetic?
Like science fiction, poetry is what I am looking at when I say this is poetry.
How do you feel about rhyme?
I already touched on this. I do like rhyme when it is done well, but I have high standards for form and content.
What are some of your favorite poetic forms? What catches your eye when you read a submission?
If a poem has rhyme and meter, what catches my eye is whether it follows the rules. Does it flow smoothly and melodiously? Meaning is secondary, though it is important. For free verse, or for traditional short Japanese forms (for instance) I want a poem to say something and do it euphoniously. As with fiction, if the first line is good, I am encouraged.
Which would you rather see in your slush: a SpecFic narrative that's easy to follow, or imagery/lyricism that blows your mind? How compatible are these two elements?
I guess for me the narrative is less important. But I really need to see both elements. I will sometimes by a poem that sounds beautiful and means nothing. But that's a hard sell.
What do find that submitters most often get wrong with their submissions? Is there anything outside of the obvious of the submitter not following your guidelines? What advice would you give to those submitting to Dreams & Nightmares?
Some people don't follow the guidelines. Some people have obviously never seen the magazine and don't even know that I publish fantasy and science fiction work, and not mainstream work. These failures are annoying.
I guess my advice would be: keep trying. I might not follow that advice myself, but it is still good advice. I have a couple of submitters who, at least for a number of years, sent me something approximately once a week. I might have bought one poem in 50, or even fewer, but I did buy some. And that may not make good financial sense for paper submissions, but it's not a problem with e-mail submissions.
Is there anything you would like to see more of? Less of?
I would like to see less poetry that is not really genre poetry at all. Of course, the authors of such things probably don't read this blog, but maybe some of them do. I really can't think of anything else. I have been getting a good mix of different sorts of poems lately.
-- David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Dreams & Nightmares