Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Note On The 2013 Rhysling Anthology

So, some time earlier this year I found out that my poem "Give Me Pluto" was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award. In a small field like poetry, and in the even smaller field of genre poetry, this nomination means A LOT to me, and I am absolutely grateful to the person who nominated me (thanks, and you rock, whoever you are) and to Strange Horizon's wonderful Sonya Taaffe for accepting the poem for publication in the first place.

But then, a couple of days ago I found out that not all of the other nominees had been sent proofs of the Rhysling anthology in which all nominated poems are collected. Although people at the SFPA are aware of this, to my knowledge, nobody has received a formal apology, and worst of all, some of these poets' pieces have been reprinted with errors in them, and in poetry, even such things as not italicizing a certain passage or forgetting a line-break here and there matter. I would think that the SFPA is very aware of this, I would think that they care.

In any case, the whole thing makes me doubt the professionalism of this anthology, and as a poet it just makes me feel sick for the other nominees to know that voting is supposed to take place based on a book that contains errors introduced some time during the making of the Rhysling anthology.

Therefore, I follow Elizabeth McClellan's example and encourage you to not buy the Rhysling anthology if you had been planning to do so, and to let the SFPA know that you are not buying it and why. I also encourage you to read this post by Lisa M. Bradly, another poet who never received her proof.

ETA 7/18: It seems SFPA President David Kopaska-Merkel sent out a proof and a brief apology now to the nominees who didn't receive their proof in the first place; while the printed version cannot be changed, this proof can thus only affect the pdf version of the anthology.

Comments are being moderated.


  1. Sorry to here this, Alex. But huge congratulations on your nomination.

  2. The system in place for the Rhysling Anthology has been more problematic in the past. At my specific urging, the custom of sending the .pdf to all contributors to proof was instituted several years ago and has greatly reduced the number of errors. My poems have also previously been published with introduced errors, including the one that won the Rhysling.

    Fortunately, only five poems this year contained any errors in the print version, and all have been corrected in the .pdf that is currently available. While these are still regrettable, and can certainly affect the reading of a poem, the errors in the print version consist only of a few indent, stanza-break, and italicization errors, and a missing middle initial. This may be the best Rhysling Anthology yet!

    There were significant delays to the publication schedule because of John Mannone's illness. Major lollygagging in contributor response to requests for proofing of other SFPA publications persuaded us to ask for a 24-hour turnaround to encourage promptness--which was very effective. John Mannone, as far as I know, did no editing other than correcting typos and punctuation; this is appropriate in his position, but should have been in all instances approved by the poet. Certainly no material edits of content should have been undertaken: the Rhysling Chair position is administrative, not editorial, except in the sense of producing a professional-quality publication.

    I took over making the final corrections in this year's Rhysling Anthology InDesign file when Robert Frazier, who normally does the layout, had to meet other obligations. I had previously spent hours listing errors in the first draft, and I carefully compared many poems to the available sources, until (as I thought) the proof was sent to the contributors, whom I expected would catch anything I or others had missed.

    David Kopaska-Merkel e-mailed the proof .pdf to all contributors--as he thought. What he didn't realize is that the long-poem addresses were on a separate worksheet within the contributor spreadsheet, and they were inadvertently skipped. Furthermore, several contributors replied directly to his e-mail, instead of to the requested reply address that would have copied to me as well; as a result, he did not realize that I had not received those corrections until it was too late to include them in the print versions.

    As soon as the omission was discovered, David immediately contacted all the poets who had been skipped and asked them to send their edits so that the .pdf could be corrected. Then I sent an announcement about the revised .pdf to the entire SFPA member e-mail list, naming the poems that had been corrected. There are only a dozen members who do not receive e-mail. SFPA does take these errors seriously, and they are far less frequent than in past years.

    The change in process that would avoid even more of these errors, I believe, is to do away with the requirement that the nominators submit the text of the poem, rather than the poets themselves. Obviously, transcription from print is fraught with the potential for catastrophe, and even copying and pasting from electronic media can introduce formatting changes (remember that some of these errors were introduced by the person who liked your poem enough to nominate it!).

    SFPA is always looking for input and volunteers. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to take part in improving the Rhysling process--or to step up to the plate and offer to edit next year's Rhysling Anthology instead of boycotting this one.

    1. Yes, what Sam said. In the introduction, John C. Mannone clearly commends poets who were willing to improve their poems, and it reads like he means going beyond simple copy-edits.

    2. I would also like to direct readers' attention to Elizabeth's blog again where you will find another reaction to this comment:

  3. "Certainly no material edits of content should have been undertaken: the Rhysling Chair position is administrative, not editorial, except in the sense of producing a professional-quality publication."

    I agree, and was therefore rather puzzled to read in the introduction to this year's Rhysling anthology that some poems had been edited. Can you confirm that these were copyedits rather than editorial?

  4. Sorry this happened to your poem, Alexa. Something similar happened to my nominated poem in 2009, when no proofs were sent out and my line breaks were lost. A seemingly small thing like that can affect the reading of your poem.

    I was the cooperating publisher via Raven Electrick Ink for the 2010 and 2011 Rhysling Anthology (no editorial input, just getting the book printed and distributed), but haven't been involved since because I found the process so frustrating. Everyone is well-meaning, but with so many volunteer hands in the process, anything like a professional publishing experience seems unattainable. There are new players almost every year, so when this gets fixed, that gets broken. I'm not pointing fingers or making excuses, just trying to tell it like it is.

    So my expectations are lower than yours. I hope each year's Rhysling Anthology will be a professional production, but I don't expect it to be. Still, I stick with SFPA because it's the best way I know to promote the field of speculative poetry.

    Congrats on your nomination. You know I like your poetry. :-)

  5. I was cooperative publisher this year, same basic issues as Karen mentioned, no control over the interior, just helping to print it. That said, I was also unhappy with the quality of the print Rhysling when I discovered how many problems there were. As such, I asked F.J. Bergmann to send me an updated version of the print file and I've replaced the version at the print vendor. Versions of the Rhysling purchased at online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble will now reflect the proofreading corrections. I notice the preview does not yet reflect the changes, but Amazon claims it can take up to a week for that to happen.