Mortals, Meet the Dark and Twisty: A Review of Goblin Fruit, Part III

Mortals, Meet the Dark and Twisty: A Review of Goblin Fruit, Part III

header2Hallo again, Ye Faithful Paladins of the Black Gate!

So nice to hobnob with you here, with every mother’s child of you looking so ruddy and so spry. Ah. I notice that since last we met you’ve invested in cold iron and a few sprigs of rowanberries. Protective charms. Hedge-witchery. Well done! I mean, it probably won’t protect you from the wrath of the mighty Goblin Hordes in the long run, but nice try anyway! You’re learning.

So, look. In Part I and Part II of this here saga, I introduced y’all to the myth, mischief and magic that is Goblin Fruit Magazine. In my final homage to the Goblin Queens, editrices Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick, I feel it worth mentioning their literary endeavors independent of Goblin Fruit, both prose and poetry, which may be found in such places as Strange Horizons (Amal’s “And Their Lips Rang with the Sun, for example, and Jess’s “How Wizards Duel”), Mythic Delirium, and Cabinet des Fées.

That’s just the beginning of their genre-spanning conquest, of course, but this is the 21st Century. Our friend “Google” will take you the rest of the way.

Goblin Queen Amal
Goblin Queen Amal

But as we come to journey’s end through these goblin-infested woods (which is like “eel-infested waters,” only scarier), let me introduce you to Mike Allen. I have, in fact, introduced you to Mike Allen before, in my article about the presence of Fantasy in Heavy Metal music.

But Mike Allen’s more than just my go-to Metalhead.

Mike Allen is the editor of Mythic Delirium, a do-it-yourself poetry zine that he has been editing and publishing, alone or with corporate help, since 1998.

Though it is in many ways a small scale project, it’s one of the highest-profile journals in speculative poetry, with verse included by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Catherynne M. Valente, Joe Haldeman, Greer Gilman, and many more.

Since 2001, four poems from Mythic Delirium and its associated special publications have won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award and five more have been finalists.

When I began I researching this article, I brazenly solicited opinions about Goblin Fruit Magazine on Facebook, Livejournal, Gchat and a bunch of eyelash-batting emails. Mike Allen responded to one of these aforementioned emails with such a beautiful love-letter to the Goblin Queens that I thought to myself:

Mike Allen
Mike Allen

“Self, why, I think you should just let Mike Allen take the reins for Part III of this blogicle! You’ll hardly have to write anything but a short little introductory paragraph. And perhaps just a sentence or two of connective tissue, since it’s obvious you can’t restrain yourself from doing so, and I think there’s a word for this, and I think it’s called hypergraphia or something, and didn’t Virginia Woolf have it?”

My mania for extravagant verbosity aside… Here.

Have an insider’s view on the Genesis of Goblin Fruit. And a prophesy for its future.

Mike Allen, on Goblin Fruit Magazine:

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe for an instant that the Goblin Queens have ever actually needed my help. Whether or not our paths had ever crossed, they would still be trailblazing the blazes out of speculative poetry.

That said, they did seek me out, and I’m flattered they did. I started hearing from Jess first, back before they’d even settled on Goblin Fruit as a name, sounding me out for suggestions. (There’s an embarrassingly funny story that follows from this. The guidelines for Goblin Fruit make cranky mention that Amal is not to be addressed as “Mr. El-Mohtar,” as she’s, well, quite verifiably not a man. Alas, I too at first made that erroneous assumption. My first online encounter with Amal was an argument about the relative merits of one of my favorite sf poems – with tongue-in-cheek, one might call this first sparring encounter “foreshadowing,” heh – and I remember thinking, “Who is this punk, and what does he have to do with that sweet Jessica Wick?”)

But I digress. They invited me to contribute to their first issue, and I did, and I believe Amal suggested edits to that poem (“Sisyphus Walks”) that I thought were quite good. They made voice recordings an integral part of their zine – the first in our field to ever do so – and asked me to be part of that, too. And they continued to use me as a sounding board for ideas afterward. I in turn did what I could to point people in their direction, not because anyone asked me to, but because I wanted people to see what they were doing. (And let me add, too, that Jess and Amal have worked at least as hard to plug my stuff as I have for them.)

Mike Allen. Purple hat courtesy of the Goblin Queens
Mike Allen. Purple hat courtesy of the Goblin Queens

Amal and Jess and Goblin Fruit have been a gale of fresh air in the speculative poetry community, bringing new energy and insight. And their determination to spotlight the poetry of fantasy, myth, folktale and fable in all its delightful and dark permutations has panned out marvelously. It’s no secret they founded Goblin Fruit because they weren’t seeing enough of the poetry they liked in other places.

So they took matters into their own hands, and the results have been stunning. Amal and Jess’ poetry picks and audio offerings are at the heart of it, but credit has to go too to their captive artist, Ollie Hunter, who’s built something that looks both beautiful and quite strikingly different from anything else out there.

At the moment Goblin Fruit holds the record for most poems from a single publication nominated for the Rhysling Award in a single year. That says something about how far they’ve come in such a short time.

Let me share something else that (to me, in hindsight) shows how sharp they were about what they were doing. Amal and Jess were fans of Endicott Studio, which did showcase the kind of poetry they liked and wanted to see more of. Yet the fact that they found me says something, because I was most definitely not a part of the Endicott Studio circle, and yet as a writer and editor I was doing things that crossed over into that turf. Clearly the Queens were doing their homework and paying attention from the get-go.

You’ve mentioned my friendly rivalry with the Queens. Since 1998, I’ve been editing a poetry journal, Mythic Delirium. It really started as a grab bag of all speculative genres in terms of what it showcases, and it still is, but I also hooked into this thickening folkloric and mythic thread fairly early on, and caught on that there was a entire wave of new poets, Sonya Taaffe, Theodora Goss, Catherynne Valente, JoSelle Vanderhooft, who were taking and bending these topics in all sorts of fascinating directions. So, the Queens and I have a lot of overlap in terms of what we like, and who we want to publish.

And, on top of that, I started stealing their ideas. See, when they began accompanying their poems with audio, I realized, “Hey, I could do that!” And from that point on all of the Mythic Delirium featured poems on my site had audio accompaniment. (In one instance I’ve even used video.)

We have a rivalry in terms of the Rhyslings, too. The Queens are turfing me in terms of number of nominations – but poems from Mythic Delirium have won for three years running, with the most popular one of all, “Song for an Ancient City,” ironically enough written by Amal!

The "Goblin Delirium" issue of Mythic Delirium
The "Goblin Delirium" issue of Mythic Delirium

So our relationship evolved into a sort of friendly mutual taunting accompanied by even more intense mutual sounding-board bouncing. I smile at this memory: when they held their first group reading, at Wiscon, they sent me a photo of everyone in the audience waving, with the caption, “Hi, Mike Allen!”

It made absolute sense last year, when they came for the first time to ReaderCon, which is practically my home-away-from-home con, that we would together host a Goblin Fruit/Mythic Delirium group reading. We did it again this year (sans Jess, who was sorely missed) with the added layer that, in the interim, we had switched issues for a span, myself editing one of theirs and that pair editing one of mine. Much of the reading came from the Mythic Delirium issue the Queens edited, which we called the “Goblin Delirium” issue.

Our collaboration didn’t start entirely with that: Amal provided so much valuable input into my prior issue, the themed “Trickster Issue,” that I credited her as an assistant editor.

The switcheroo, I’ll confess, was both wonderful and trying. My editing style is quick, last minute and impulsive – I let my (ample) gut instinct guide me in making choices – where as the Queens are quite meticulous, and double-check their work a lot, both on their own and with each other. There was also a matter that no one could have foreseen that played into the timing. My own captive artist, Tim Mullins, lost his beloved wife Michelle to heart transplant complications just before our joint collaboration was to start. The fact that he’s kept coming through is a testament to his dedication and friendship.

But with both issues, we made it to the finish line, and watching the final product come together made for quite a thrill. (One delectable bonus: Ollie and Tim paid tribute to each other in their various cover-works.) I couldn’t be happier with the “Goblin Delirium” issue; it’s recognizably Mythic Delirium but with a Goblin Fruit flavor, exactly what I hoped to be shilling.

You might wonder what next? I’m not sure what the answer to that is. (We did, after all, complete this Herculean task not long ago.) Though I’m continuing to edit Mythic Delirium (in fact, I’ve announced the lineups of the next two issues, with one of them just about to come out), I’ve turned my overall focus toward fiction in a major way – right after ReaderCon, I finished the rough draft of my first novel.

Meantime, Amal is making huge waves with her own prose – her first “pro sale” story, “And Their Lips Rang With the Sun,” was a knockout, and her first book, The Honey Month, has accumulated an unstoppable swarm of buzz (pun totally intended.) She clearly has a big future beyond the boundaries of verse. Jess perhaps hasn’t been as prolific, but you know, she has a really unique, seductive voice – yes, that’s the right word – and I certainly hope she’s going to chase the promise of her writing career to the fullest.

What I am certain of is that Goblin Fruit is going to stay an exciting site to watch for as long as the Queens want to keep it up.

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Terri Windling

Thanks for this terrific article. It’s great to see the Goblin Queens honored for the important (and enchanting!) work they do in the field of mythic poetry.

(And an aside to Mike Allen: You may not be part of the Endicott Studio circle, but over here at Endicott we sure admire the heck out of what you do!)

[…] about me here before, in entries on modern Cthulhu Mythos stories, Heavy Metal in Fantasy, the fantasy poetry journal Goblin Fruit, and Arab/Muslim fantasy fiction. Yup, these chaps are all the same Mike Allen. I’m grateful […]

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