The Rhysling Awards, named for Robert A. Heinlein’s poet from “The Green Hills of Earth,” were established by the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 1978. Both the association and the award were founded by Suzette Haden Elgin. Each year, awards are given for Short Form poetry and Long Form poetry. The first award for Long Form poetry was won by Gene Wolfe for “The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps.” In 1980 Andrew Joron won the award for “The Sonic Flowerfall of Primes,” first published in New Worlds #216, September 1979, edited by Charles Platt.
Poetry often does not lend itself to literal interpretation, and Andrew Joron’s “The Sonic Flowerfall of Primes” is an excellent demonstration of that. Even just trying to understand the poem’s title in a literal or concrete manner is setting the reader up for failure since the words, when taken together, seem to lack any cohesion or coherence.
In fact, Joron seems to revel in the ambiguity of the title and the poem itself, which is narrated by unidentified beings which might be aliens, possibly some form of fauna, or an artificial intelligence, although the narrator does seem to identify variations of gender. The poem, which has numerous stanzas, begins by painting a picture, vague though it may be, of the world in which it takes place. This is followed by lyrical language which incorporates imagery of music as two lovers meet, again, ambiguous as to their identities.
In the end, Joron’s poem seems to be told from the perspective of a world which has seen some sort of catastrophe, which has resulted in the appearance of the beings about whom the poem is written, although even this is open to interpretation as the reader wrestles with Joron’s choice of words and imagery. The final stanza also appears to make it clear that the narrator is not only non-human, but living in a post-human world, but one in which humans had a major, and potentially recent, influence.
However, even when a poem seems abstruse, it can often provide the reader with the joy of reading the evocative language the poet has employed, an appreciation of the meter used in the poetry, or the rhyme scheme (although “The Sonic Flowerfall of Primes” lacks the last of these). Poetry also lends itself to re-reading and re-consideration as the reader attempts to understand either what the poet has incorporated into the language of the poem or discovers ways in which the poem connects to the reader, irrespective of the poet’s intent.
The other nominees from 1980 are currently lost in the mists of time.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. His most recent anthology, Alternate Peace was published in June. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.