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Writing

How to Write Speculative Poetry: Step-by-Step Guide

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

Science fiction and fantasy stories have long been told via novels and movies, but the genres also have a foothold in the realm of poetry. This lesser-known genre of literary verse is known as speculative poetry. Inspired by fantastical creatures, magical realms, and futuristic worlds, speculative poems explore otherworldly themes through familiar poetic rhythms.

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What Is Speculative Poetry?

Speculative poetry is a genre of literary verse that has science fictional and mythological themes. It is called “speculative” because it is inspired by the unknown. Many types of poetry, like haikus and sonnets, are classified by their structural components—their syllabic patterns or number of lines. Speculative poetry—sometimes called SF poetry (science fiction poetry) or SFF poetry (science fiction and fantasy poetry)—is defined by its subject matter.

3 Subgenres of Speculative Poetry

Writers who specialize in this type of verse create worlds in which the unexplained comes to life. There are several subgenres of speculative poetry, including:

  1. Science fiction poetry: In a science fiction poem, the themes revolve around scientific phenomena, unexplained forces, and the futuristic world.
  2. Mythic poetry: As the name implies, mythic poetry is influenced by mythology and folklore. Mythic poetry can involve new interpretations and retellings of classic fairy tales.
  3. Horror poetry: This subgenre examines supernatural forces and the macabre through verse.

4 Examples of Speculative Poetry

The term “speculative poetry” might be a new one, but chances are you’re familiar with this genre of writing; familiar sci-fi and fantasy tropes that appear in everything from Lord of the Rings to Ender’s Game are also prevalent in speculative poems. Speculative poetry examples include:

  1. “Goblin Market”: Published in 1862, this poem by Christina Rossetti entertains the themes of temptation and redemption. It tells the tale of two sisters who visit a market run by goblins selling goblin fruit.
  2. “The Migration of Darkness”: This poem by Peter Payack first appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1979. In this piece, darkness is composed of tiny living particles, capable of reproduction and migration. They live at the earth’s North Pole and fly south every evening at sunset to blanket the earth.
  3. Fungi from Yuggoth: Known for his cosmic horror stories, H.P. Lovecraft penned this sequence of science fictional sonnets, which follow the narrator through the universe to the planet Yuggoth, where he runs into crustacean-like fungoid extraterrestrials.
  4. “Space Oddity”: The same year that astronauts from the United States landed on the moon, David Bowie released his song “Space Oddity.” Inspired by these real-life events, Bowie penned these poetic lyrics about an astronaut who blasts off in a spaceship and looks back at earth as he floats through the stars.
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Where to Find Speculative Poetry

Though it has been around for a long time, speculative poetry remains a highly specific genre that has not found its way into mainstream literature. However, there are a number of outlets dedicated to fantasy poetry, like the online magazines Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Stone Telling, The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, and Polu Texni.

The Science Fiction Poetry Association was created to bring recognition to this genre. The organization publishes StarLine*, a journal of speculative poetry. Founded by late science fiction writer Suzette Haden Elgin the SFPA recognizes the best science fiction poetry every year. The Rhysling Award selects the best long poem (50 lines or more) and short poem (49 lines or fewer). The Elgin Award honors the best poetry collections, including both longer books and chapbooks, which are shorter poetry collections less than 40 pages in length.

How to Write Speculative Poetry

If you’re ready to try your hand at writing a speculative poem, consider these four tips:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the genre. Become familiar by reading SFF poets and Rhysling Award winners; well-known speculative poets include Sonya Taaffe, Bruce Boston, and Mike Allen. Visit speculative poetry magazines online to read centuries-old poems and modern works.
  2. Find your subject. From the deep recesses of the earth to the farthest reaches of the universe, the topics for speculative poetry are endless. In this day and age of driverless cars and robots on Mars, it’s not hard to find a real-life or non-fiction story to ignite an idea. Create fantastic poetry inspired by your favorite fairy tale or legend, or simply build a world from your imagination.
  3. Choose a poetic form. Speculative poetry employs familiar structures, rhyme schemes, and syllabic rhythms—everything from free verse to Shakespearean sonnets. As you craft your stanzas, find a style of verse to match your story.
  4. Submit your work to a speculative poetry publisher. When you complete a new poem, share it with readers. Submit your work to one of the speculative poetry magazines to try and get your poem published online.

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