Welcome to the Strange Horizons Southeast Asia Poetry Special!
In my experience, specials at Strange Horizons fall into three broad categories.
Sometimes, our specials exist to bring attention to a theme, like our upcoming November special which explores “friendship,” or our June 2020 special about chosen family.
Other times, our specials are a way of reaching out to a community we want to hear more from, who may not realize our doors are open to them, as was the case with our September 2019 issue featuring English-language SFF from Brazil; several of the authors had not previously published work outside their own country, and it gave us the opportunity to partner with the Portuguese-language SFF magazine Trasgo.
And finally, some of our specials celebrate communities that are already a core part of our makeup, already routine contributors at the staff level and as authors. That was the case with our recent Trans/Nonbinary special.
It’s in this last category I’d put the Southeast Asian poetry special. Some of the best speculative poetry being written right now is coming out of Southeast Asia. We regularly publish it, and just as regularly have to reject excellent poems our readers never get to see. What makes it into our pages, is, in a sense, a finger pointing at the moon. This is me pointing my finger at the moon. Read what is in this special, and then go and look for the moon.
If I were to summarize this issue’s poems in one word, it would be “haunted.” Either as a reflection of the submissions that came in this month, or of my own current tastes, these are poems about things which have ended, yet linger. Ian Goh’s “Firework” describes not only the celebration of one new year, but the afterimage of other fireworks, of other family outings. Andy Winter’s “空心菜” and Sunny Vuong’s “Âu Cơ in the Water Palace” recollect ended relationships which left a mark, whether by changing the experience of eating soup or by literally restructuring the shape of a river delta and the timing of tides. Yong-Yu Huang’s “City Lights as Myth” explores a city in the aftermath of a catastrophe: what remains, what is absent, what is unseen but imagined, in both the built environment and the people who occupy it.
Other hauntings are more explicitly ghost stories. Natalie Wang’s “All the Army Ghost Stories I Have Heard” is exactly what its title suggests it is, and wonderfully creepy. Mark Dimaisip’s “Housekeeping Duties” takes a friendlier and more domestic approach to departed friends and ancestors who have never really left the family homestead—the feeling of here-and-gone when re-encountering one’s childhood milieu, sometimes expressed with the idiom “revisiting my old haunts.” Meanwhile, Yvanna Vien Tica’s “Rites of Becoming a White Lady” takes the perspective of someone partway through the process of becoming one of the spectral young women who inhabit the folklore of roads and water bodies the world over, mournful and perhaps deadly.
Then we have invisible traditional spirits of the land, adjusting to new urban environments. In Jack Kin Lim’s “Kuala Lumpur Urban Legends,” a ceiling fan ghost has to confront the increasing adoption of central air conditioning, not to mention a jaded populace increasingly difficult to horrify. And in May Chong’s “Bunian Laundry,” one of the hidden people of the forest compares bird calls to the bells and whistles of a modern laundromat, and considers whether this too could be home.
Finally, P.H. Low’s “Ode” expresses belief in a romance which doesn’t exist yet, but that seems to, with a person who must be out there somewhere, unseen.
In the spirit of “Ode,” I will mention Strange Horizons’ own unseen future—a Southeast Asian special issue which will come out almost exactly a year from now, in August 2022, helmed by Senior Articles Editor Joyce Chng and guest editors Jaymee Goh and May Chong, which will feature more than poetry: fiction, essays, reviews, and, yes, more poetry. Those of you who donated to our fund drive last year may remember it as one of our stretch goals. It’s still in the cards; this poetry issue is not a consolation prize, but a bonus. An appetizer. It’s been a difficult year worldwide, and we needed extra time. And extra poems. Writers, keep an eye out for the still-forthcoming submissions call. And send us your work anyway, even when it's not a special issue. It’s always welcome.
As an extra extra, If you have already read the current issue a dozen times and still can’t wait, here are a bonus ten recent Southeast Asian and diaspora poems from our archives:
“balikbayan to show I’m Filipino” by Dujie Tahat
“Death by Three Senses” by Lev Mirov
“Explorers” by Ethan Chua
“Full Metal Hanuman” by Bryan Thao Worra, illustrated by Nor Sanavongsay
“The Danger of Self Love” by Deborah Wong
“Themself” by Amari Low
“Those Who Tell The Stories” by Davian Aw
“Translating Himagsikan” by Dimas Ilaw
“When She Sings...” by Zora Mai Quỳnh
“Wildlife Encounter” by Wen-yi Lee