A.J. Odasso (ajodasso) wrote,
A.J. Odasso

Concern re: removal of a 2017 Rhysling Award nomination

ETA, 1/25/17: Yes, what you read in the final sentence of this entry, and more explicitly in the comments, is correct.  I'm running for SFPA Treasurer.  I'd been planning on making a bid at getting involved since spring of last year.  My M.F.A. program and teaching fellowship kept me busy till June 2016, but now that I've relocated and settled into my new employment, I can act on said plans.

ETA, 1/18/17: With regard to the below, Tlotlo's poem was reinstated as a nomination today.  Many thanks to all of you who signal-boosted this, offered thoughtful commentaries, and helped to shift the outcome.  I'm exhausted and have been in and out of clinic, hospital, and pharmacy waiting-rooms all evening.  I've had a severe cough for almost four weeks; it seems I was misdiagnosed at first.  Hopefully I'm on the correct medications now!  Anyway, sorry for the belated info; other people's posts got updated before mine.

I had fiercely hoped that this post of around a year and a half ago would be my first and last such concerning what I (and many, many others) observe to be dodgy award-nomination practices on the part of the SFPA.  Despite apparent declines in both the organization's membership and reputation, I've maintained my membership because the ability to nominate and support my community in recognition of their outstanding work is important to me.

Since nominations are currently open until February 15th for this year's Rhysling Awards, I did what I usually do: nominate one short poem and one long poem, both of which happened to be poems that I and one of my co-editors had published in Strange Horizons during the course of 2016.  In addition to meeting the line-count requirements, both poems were published in the correct year, in a magazine of speculative literature.  There are rules against nominating your own work, but there are no rules against nominating work you've had a hand in publishing.  And it's a good thing there aren't, because reading submissions guarantees you're at the front lines of reading the most exciting new work your community has to offer.

Both of my nominations were posted to the SFPA website's public list of poems nominated so far in 2017 within a couple days of receipt; this is a crucial piece of information.  Please keep it in mind.  In all the years I've been Rhysling-nominated, which is every year since 2011 with the exception of 2012, this is the speed with which nominations tend to be added to the list.  That is to say: pretty fast.  I know this because I've always kept a close eye on that webpage every time I've made my own nominations.  They've always appeared within several hours to several days, at least from what I've seen in the past 6 years.

While I was at Arisia this past weekend dashing from panel to panel, I received an upsetting message from the current Rhysling Anthology Chair.  My nomination for the Short Poem category, Layla Al-Bedawi's "Propagation," had been accepted, but my Long Poem nomination, Tlotlo Tsamaase's "I Will Be Your Grave," had been rejected.  I was being asked to find a different long poem to nominate because Tlotlo's piece was apparently not speculative enough.  First of all, I'd never heard of nominations being rejected; second of all, the nomination had already been made public on the website.  Poets had already been engaged in excitedly congratulating each other on their nominations for more than a week.  I was instantly outraged on Tlotlo's behalf, as I can't think of any universe in which publicly announcing a nomination and then deciding to revoke it after the fact isn't bad form.  I spent a number of hours on email urging the Chair to reconsider this decision in light of the fact that it would be deeply, deeply hurtful to the poet after they'd already seen their nomination, but Tlotlo's piece was removed before the day was over.

I had been careful to take a screencap of the nominations page when the first email landed, to prove it was still there and listed publicly, I likewise took a second screencap once I'd heard of its removal.  That was also the point at which I tweeted both the screencaps and what had happened, because I was floored that both parties I'd heard from thus far in the email chain (David Kopaska-Merkel and F.J. Bergmann) could not see that the unfairness of the move demands an immediate reversal.  As you can imagine, this has been circulated a great deal, and almost no-one I've seen pass it along (at this point, I've lost count of how many times the thread has been quoted and passed along with the reblogger's commentary; please keep in mind that this style of reblog does not show up in the tally at the base-link) has been in favor of the apparent "mistake" that the Rhysling team claims to have made (i.e. that the poem got posted before the Chair could properly vet it).

Mistake or not, this action is problematic for more reasons than I can reasonably delineate in one blog post.  At worst, it's exclusionary and, yes, even racist to claim that a poem by a writer of color, published in a speculative magazine, is not speculative enough by white/Western standards to be worthy of nomination.  At best, it really is just a mistake, but even at that juncture, it had been publicly posted before being revoked.  It's flat-out bad form to essentially tell someone, hey, congrats, you've earned this honor, and then say, oh, oops, sorry, our bad, it just didn't conform to standards, we've got to pull it.  No matter which way you consider it (and, frankly, I consider it in both), Tlotlo's owed an apology.

Even if past Rhysling Chairs have habitually rejected nominations, I'm going to hope that none of them posted the nominations to the website before vetting and subsequently accepting or rejecting them.  Oddly, nowhere in the Rhysling Nomination Guidelines does it mention that your nominations might be bounced back at you if the Chair doesn't approve of them, and I have yet to hear from anyone else that they've ever been told they needed to re-nominate on similar grounds.  I, for one, do not plan to re-nominate a Long Poem.  I have already submitted one; even if it's not reinstated, Tlotlo's poem remains my choice.

The discussion surrounding the situation with Tlotlo's poem continues on Twitter.  Amidst the surge of heartening support in favor of the nomination being reinstated, there have unfortunately been some insensitive statements:

It's better to be nominated and pulled than to get no nomination at all? Wow, that's cold.

We're just trying to understand what people consider SpecPo? Er, we're TELLING you.

For an organization with this many years and this many mistakes behind it, I'd say the majority of current officers have really failed to learn the lessons being too, too patiently spelled out for them by those of us with the energy to do so.  And that number of us is rapidly dwindling, and not listening to reports of real pain (whether intentional or not) caused to members of the speculative poetry community is no way to ensure long-term survival.

(In spite of everything, I do hope to get involved with the SFPA in the near future.  If I didn't take be the change / trouble / [applicable noun] you wish to see in the world seriously before, 2017 is hopefully the year in which I'll push it to the limit.)
Tags: poetry, rhysling nominations, sfpa, speculative poetry, writing

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