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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



Romie Stott is the administrative editor and a poetry editor of Strange Horizons. Her poems have appeared in inkscrawl, Dreams & Nightmares, Polu Texni, On Spec, The Deadlands, and Liminality, but she is better known for her essays in The Toast and Atlas Obscura, and a microfiction project called postorbital. As a filmmaker, she has been a guest artist of the National Gallery (London), the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston), and the Dallas Museum of Art. You can find her fairly complete bibliography here.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
Cloud Atlas can be expressed as ABC[P]YZY[P]CBA. The Actual Star , however, would be depicted as A[P]ZA[P]ZA[P]Z (and so on).
In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
a ghostly airship / sorting and discarding to a pattern that isn’t available to those who are part of it / now attempting to deal with the utterly unknowable
Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
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