In this episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, Aisha and Dan talk to critic and poet Catherine Rockwood about her new chapbook, And We Are Far From Shore, a set of poems about the television show Our Flag Means Death. Catherine reviewed the show for Strange Horizons less than a year ago, and discusses how reviewing and criticism feed into creative practice. There are also, of course, pirates.

Critical Friends logoTranscript

Critical Friends Episode 9

Aisha Subramanian: Welcome to Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF Criticism Podcast. I'm Aisha Subramanian.

Dan Hartland: And I'm Dan Hartland. In every episode of Critical Friends we'll be discussing SFF reviewing: what it is, why we do it, how it's going.

Aisha Subramanian: In this episode, we're talking to critic and poet Catherine Rockwood about her new chapbook, And We Are Far From Shore, a set of poems about the television show Our Flag Means Death.

Dan Hartland: Catherine reviewed Our Flag Means Death for Strange Horizons a few months ago, so we wanted to discuss how reviewing and criticism feed into creative practice and, of course, about pirates.

[musical sting]

Dan Hartland: So here we are with Catherine Rockwood, whose review of Our Flag Means Death came out at Strange Horizons last year—not quite twelve months ago, in December last year—and now comes to us with a new chapbook of poetry inspired by, well, I think by ... why don't you tell us, Catherine, what is the book?

Catherine Rockwood: The book is a microchapbook of poems. It's coming out from the Ethel Zine press in October of this year, so that would be coming right up. And it's … it's basically, it's a very short volume of six thematically linked poems that are inspired by it and indebted to the world created in the show, Our Flag Means Death.

Dan Hartland: As soon as I saw you announce this, it just really struck me. Because first and foremost, I love the review that you did for us. And it's really stuck in my memory for all sorts of reasons and maybe we can talk about a few. But it, it really struck me that here is, you know, as I say, not twelve months later, here is this … this other consideration of the text, this other interaction with it.

I just wondered whether the two things were, or had been, linked. Like, how did you get from the review to the book? Or were they not associated at all?

Catherine Rockwood: Well, they were; they were both driven by my very powerful interest in the show. And I would say that they came from different parts of the cognitive tangle that is my brain.

And first of all, I just have to thank you for—so I think I had to beg you. A little bit to run the review, just, just a little. It was also a very busy, difficult time for Strange Horizons, and for you in particular. But I, again, there was some question as to whether it was appropriate in terms of genre. And part of the pleasure of the review was untangling some of that, right? Whether … whether it made sense to review Our Flag Means Death in a magazine that's devoted to science fiction and fantasy and engagements with the field of science fiction and fantasy.

But yes, so there was, so the review was … I really wanted to try to untangle what was fascinating about this show, and what was sort of, I don't know, what was critical in my ability to kind of deal with its content. And would it actually be okay to just kind of be enthusiastic about it and to really love it, you know?

And I'd say that the … the poems, it's … it's just a different way of working. But in the review, you have to deal with what you see as being present in the text and the kinds of evidence and arguments that you can muster about that. And with poems, you can actually kind of enter into the world as you understand it and make your own small contributions and perhaps additions or counter arguments.

Aisha Subramanian: But then presumably the entering into the world and the inhabiting the world is also kind of a function of … You've already done some of that critical work in understanding how the world works in the first place?

Catherine Rockwood: That's right. Yes, so … you know, again, I can't really remember the chronology exactly. I think I wrote … I think I finished the review before I really sat down to start writing poems, and in fact, yes, that's right.

But yes, so the review is the entrée, right? You know into the … the world as I've been able to kind of understand it through the poems is shaped by the work of structuring and understanding that's been done by the review. I should say some of it is a bit different. So in the review, one of the things I was really focused on examining is to what extent does the show engage with the colonial legacies that are present in the historical matter that the show is tethered to. And in the microchapbook, one of the things that I look at pretty carefully is family dynamics, particularly in the family of, or the now sort of dispersed and changing family of Stede and Mary Bonnet.

And … and so that's, again, it's a … it’s a different area of activity, but there are poems that sort of, again, directly relate to the work done in the review.

Dan Hartland: You've mentioned the three things that really stick in my head about the review, which is your consideration of the generic element; your meditation, if you like, on enthusiasm versus, critical thought; and then, yeah, as you say, the engagement with the—you put it in a really nice way—the historical matter to which the show is tethered, which I think is a really, a really good way of explaining this show's relationship or otherwise to the past. And I want to get to all three of those things, actually, but I wonder whether, because you mentioned that the poems are kind of different to the review—and since the review is there online for everyone to read—I wondered whether you might be okay to read one of the poems for us, so that we can kind of see that difference in action.

Catherine Rockwood: I'd be happy to. And so I should mention that the name of the microchapbook, so its title is And We Are Far From Shore: Poems for Our Flag Means Death. And so the first three poems in the collection are sort of nominally epistolary. They are as if letters written to people who are not immediately in contact with the narrator. And that's … so that kind of relates to the show's interest in what happens when you can't, like, when you have a relationship that is complicated, that's unresolved, and you actually … and you cannot get to the person immediately, right?

This second nominally epistolary poem in the microchap book is called “To Doug at Home,” and the narrator here, Louis, is thinking about the fact that his parents’ marriage—Stede and Mary Bonnet's marriage—has dissolved. And that his father is now a pirate and his mother has a new boyfriend. Name's Doug. Here we go.

Dear Doug
this is Louis
I have been wondering what pictures you paint
when you are by yourself at home
and where that is.

My mother says
I am not to inquire too anxiously
she says
our engagement as two households
is sufficient

and that I should try not to borrow worry.
Doug
I wish she knew that I am happy
sometimes I think I am misunderstood
by everyone but you.

Alma is brave
Mother is flourishing
my father is a pirate against us all.
I hated him until I saw you walk
whistling away to your own life

and return here in the morning, both hands full
of flowers none of us had seen before.

[pause]

I neglected to mention that Doug is a painter!

[musical sting]

Dan Hartland: It's a lovely poem. And what strikes me about it is, as you say, you are working your way into the show in a quite different way to the one in which you worked your way in in the review. And it just strikes me that—and take this in the … in the right way, Catherine!—it's an unusual thing to do to write a mini chapbook of poems from the perspective of characters in a show.

One of the things we often talk about on this podcast is that it's really easy to get quite po-faced about criticism. And it's certainly easy for people that don't do it or read it to think it's all about kind of complaining about a text, all the things that are wrong with it, or at least trying to figure out whether anything's wrong with it. That is not what you did in your review, and it is certainly, surely, not what is powering or motivating you to write a bunch of poems about this show—like, if you only cared about what was wrong with this show, these poems wouldn't exist.

And, as we discussed, in the review you do engage with this, okay? So where does the—and Strange Horizons often engages with this, various reviewers in different ways—that traditional way of looking at it is the difference between a fannish review and a critical review, but I think the two can coexist and I think they do in your piece. So I just wondered whether you could talk a little bit about that, because it's such a beautiful poem which gets … puts itself almost perfectly in the position of that character in that world, and it really does speak of the love for the show. So can you talk a little bit about how you balance, or if you balance, the critical with enthusiasm.

Catherine Rockwood: Uneasily! You know? Yes. I think that whole question of what you're doing when you do criticism—which of course this podcast is very interested in—I think … you know, one of my goals as I, you know, kind of keep going with my life and with various writing projects and with thinking and with reading and all the rest of it … I mean, one of my goals when I love something is to love it as thoughtfully as I can. You know, you want to be able to talk with some balance and insight about things that you love as well as things that you don't. This idea of criticism as something that has to come from being really irritated, you know, by a piece of art, you know, finding all the ways in which it doesn't do the things that you would like, you know? And again … so there are, there are lots of different levels here.

There can be, you can … you can have a negative critical response to something because you don't like the way it works and or you can have a negative critical response to something because you see the way it is, and you disagree with the intent and the message and the technique behind that, right? But in this case, yes, I absolutely was deeply moved by the show, was a little worried about how deeply it moved me.

Aisha Subramanian: Ok, that is relatable!

Catherine Rockwood: And I wanted to talk about it in as many and as thorough ways as possible. And test hypotheses, you know, and … and learn more.

Aisha Subramanian: I mean, I do not … I avoid doing any sort of creative work as much as possible apart from criticism. But I feel like, even with quite traditional forms of criticism, sometimes reading things closely—and that sort of … the sort of intimacy that you develop with a text—is an act of love. Even when you're ultimately doing that in the service of explaining why a particular text is, you know, embedded in a lot of deeply harmful systems, you're still … there is still a love in the intimacy.

It's a really strange thing sometimes. I can see more and more of a text's flaws as the process of reading it gets deeper and deeper, and then love it much more than I started out with, and I think that's … that's a pretty common stance for critical reading.

Catherine Rockwood: Yes. Well, you know, I so agree, Aisha. I mean I've been nodding, you know, heartily the whole time we've been talking.

And I feel like … I mean, it's almost like that, you know, there's the sort of, I don't know: there's a theory that if you lock … if you make, eye contact with someone for long enough, you know, you're … you're kind of at risk of developing, you know, romantic feelings for them.

And you know, it's a little tricky because you may get a book to review and you can see … you know that there are things you really have to say about what it's trying to do and how it's trying to do them. But, as you come to understand the way the book works, you know, nevertheless, you're like, “But look at this beautiful bit over here!” You know, like, and, “Look at, look at, like, how amazing the intention behind this piece was,” you know?” Like, even if it doesn't work or even if it's problematic sometimes and, and—yes—it's, you know, the intimacy that comes with attention. Right? It's pretty profound.

Dan Hartland: You mentioned that one of the things you're doing when you engage with the text as closely as you have is testing hypotheses. I just wondered whether you were testing different hypotheses in the different forms. So, did you find that reading the text in order to produce a review or a piece of criticism gave you a different set of thoughts or a different set of findings than reading it for the purpose of producing poetry?

Catherine Rockwood: You do have to make choices, pretty careful choices. One thing is, I mean, in the review, I certainly didn't want to be delving too far into the emotional life of a family that is … you know, again, historically speaking, the family of a violent plantocrat.

Dan Hartland: So what was it about the poetry then that made you feel you could? Because I noticed … so, for example, Doug and … and Louis: the poem you just read was from the perspective of a character that does not appear in your review, isn't mentioned. And is … is that why? Did you feel freer in the poetry to do that thing than you did in the review? Can you describe why, if so?

Catherine Rockwood: Yes. Well, I think, you know, critically speaking … again, if you're looking at … and so in the review I get into the ways that the show, I really think, does try to cope with and acknowledge the fact that it's tethered to this, you know, violent colonial history.

And if you … if you really follow that thread, you have to talk about the fact that … I don't want to be too spoilery!

Dan Hartland: Well, at Strange Horizons, we don't discourage spoilers, but we do allow each reviewer to decide their own policy. So some of you … some of you like to avoid spoilers. Some of you love to give them. We'll leave that to you!

Catherine Rockwood: Okay. Well, so spoiler alert! If you haven't watched Our Flag Means Death season one, then you should probably switch off the next forty-five seconds of the podcast. But at the end of the first season, in episode ten, there's this sort of plot manoeuvre where Stede renounces, you know, again, his inheritance in … you know, his, basically, which is—and this is not dealt with in the show—but, you know, again, in the sort of loosely tethered historical material, he owns … He's inherited a plantation from his father who was in, you know, the first part of settler colonialism that really shifted over to sugar plantations and therefore began to employ enslaved labor on a vast scale.

And again, this is all … the show doesn't talk about it, it's all supposed to be kind of in a box. Although there are acknowledgements and there are kind of attempts to deal with it. So, at the end of episode ten in the first season, there's this manoeuvre where Stede renounces his holdings. He kind of … he sort of divests himself, right? He sort of washes his hands and says, “You know, you, Mary Bonnet, my ex-wife, and the children can have all of it. I don't want any of it. It's all yours I'm going to go and be a pirate with a free conscience now.” [laughter] Very strange sentence!

And so you have to, if you're looking at things from and through that lens, you have to talk about the fact that this kid, Louis—who it's very, you know, it's fascinating to think about what he would have thought about everything that's going on—but he is going to be the inheritor, right, of this property. And you don't want to go ahead and over-empathize too much, you know, with a character who's in that particular relation, right, to the colonial content of the material. And I think, you know, in the poetry, the frame is narrower. It is fictionalizing. And so I think, you know, I felt some … some permission to participate in the field of distancing that the show establishes around the material, and to just try to see things through the lens of a kid who doesn't himself necessarily understand everything about the way he is structurally situated in the world that he inhabits.

Aisha Subramanian: Yeah, I was sort of thinking about this, the idea of permission and the kind of, you know, how comfortable you feel settling into the world of the show, how comfortable you feel sort of inhabiting the world of the show to some extent. I'd like to hear you talk a bit more about the field of distancing that the show establishes that makes it possible to do that. Did that also affect your ability to write criticism around the show?

Catherine Rockwood: Well, you know, in the review I talk about how narrow the camera field is in the show and the fact that it doesn't … it does not do landscape. It does interiors because you can't do landscape—because to look at the landscape reveals again the colonial underpinnings and the violence that's kind of present in the world outside of the house, right? The house at the plantation. And again, I know, I mean … I know very well that the violence is present in the house, too. You never … I mean, there's no discussion, right, of who does anything domestic, other than Mary Bonnet, right, in the shots that are shown in the family home, on land.

The creators of the show—and so I've seen a quotation somewhere, I wish I could attribute it, but I only know it's something I've recently read—said that they wanted to create a world, you know, where a diverse audience and, again, a diverse cast could watch the show, engage emotionally with the show, and not feel that they had to be constantly traumatized by reminders of what, for instance, you know, the eighteenth-century in the West Indies was actually like, particularly for people who had been brought there under slavery from Africa and other colonies. It's a difficult, difficult thing that they're trying to do. And I think, you know, people will—justly, right?—get to decide whether they feel that the show has succeeded or not, whether they can engage with it without, you know, pain and anger or not.

And, and I am … you know, like, I'm a white demigirl, right? You know that's where I stand in relation to this material. It’s not the only place I stand, but, like, that's important information. And the best answer I think I can muster is that, again, you can debate the degree to which they are successful, but I think there has been a conscious effort to acknowledge the colonial content and to reveal its power to harm, particularly in episode five. But then sort of—again—moving out from that, you know, through the rest of the show, sometimes it's managed and sometimes I think, you know, it's just very deftly sort of handled … and other times I think they, they did kind of, they … you know, it's a massive, terrible sort of historical context that they're trying to work with, and sometimes it gets away from them.

So for me, I had to keep the camera narrow. Same thing as … as the show did.

Dan Hartland: Do you think that—because we're talking about your review which is obviously a piece of critical work, and your poetry is a form of criticism, as well as being many other things—in the way that the show itself deals with its own material, is the show critical? Or does it choose to … not ignore, but, as you said, place in a box those things about its setup that it would struggle to encompass?

I'm thinking there is a trend, particularly in books at the moment, for coziness, right? And the best cozy books manage to put all these elements into balance. Others kind of fall over because really it's not so much cozy as just wilfully ignorant. And I'm just wondering how the show manages—if it manages, because in your review you're very open to the idea that it doesn't manage everything that it attempts to achieve—whether it manages to be critical towards that material itself.

Catherine Rockwood: Yeah, I think it's of two minds about it. And I think, you know—and again, I think it kind of needs the unpredictable, you know, violent, traumatic quality of the history that it sort of floats next to, like two ships moored near each other at sea, because this is a … it's a show about pirates! And I think that kind of sense that you might get stabbed, you know is actually—by the history, right?—is actually part of what the show is using. I'm not gonna lie, I think it really actually uses it to maintain this field of unpredictability and danger and unexpectedness that it is attempting to kind of … you know, braid in with the cozy and the delightful and the passionate and the queer. And, you know, I mean, like, I think it's … I think it's trying to use it.

And I also do think about, you know, so I don't know, but I mean: Taika Waititi is involved with this project, and in a Taika Waititi project, you often get just, like, some completely unexpected lashing of blood. Just like, all of a sudden, an artery! Which can be … it speaks, I think, to something in the body of work that he and affiliated people are interested in building, which is, you know, you don't … this might be cozy, right, you know, or we might really hit you with something.

And again, part of the critic’s work is to look at that and say, “Well, if, if you're getting lashed with blood, if all of a sudden—zing!—you've got arterial, you know, spatter on your face, then, like, in the service of what? Whose blood?” And ask yourself whether you think that worked.

Aisha Subramanian: I'm just thinking a lot about splatter patterns now.

[laughter]

[musical sting]

Dan Hartland: So yeah, my thought on that is that … that sounds like a … it sounds like a really interesting attempt to create a show, as you say, that enables a viewer to really engage in the ways that you have, Catherine, without having to worry too much, whilst also acknowledging that, yes, there is, just beyond the narrow field of vision, stuff that can potentially—not potentially, did do and could potentially still do a lot of harm. It doesn't sound like an entirely—to me, personally—an entirely consistent or satisfying way of … of dealing with the historical matter. But it may be the only way open to the show to do what it wants to do with that matter.

Catherine Rockwood: Yes. I agree.

Dan Hartland: You coined a really interesting term for really what it is doing, which is lo-fi fantasy, you called it. And I just wondered whether—because you're right, we do think carefully in the reviews department about what to cover and why, because we're conscious that Strange Horizons is a genre of publication. So yeah, you did … you did have to justify this one to us! But I think you did. And it is through this—this … this lens of … of lo-fi fantasy.

So I just wonder whether you could talk a little bit about … about that, because it seems key to me not just to the sort of generic justification for why this review exists at Strange Horizons, but also almost for what we're just, what you've just, been talking about: the way in which and why the show engages with the past in the way that it does.

Catherine Rockwood: Well, you know, it is arguing that it takes place somewhere slightly else. Again, not a fully-realized secondary world, but somewhere that's not quite here, right? And you know, the supernatural, the use of the supernatural, is one way to do that. I mean, of course, there are lots of ways to engage directly with the supernatural, through kind of, you know, maritime fables or folktales, but that isn't what they've chosen to do.

They've chosen to have seagulls hex people. [laughs] You know, they've chosen to have an interesting balance between really, I mean—again—almost science fictional—like the, the interiors of the ships, you know, are somehow like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside—or simply like sort of a fantasy-historical set. In something … I mean, you can almost … you know, the inside of the French ship, you know, you can almost imagine that Steve Bonnet is participating in something like “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” It's like he's somehow gone to this fairy underworld, you know, where they're just vast palaces, you know, and he kind of has to find his way through them. And so does Blackbeard and so do all the other crew members of the Revenge.

This interesting kind of willingness to do exactly that: to use you know the inexplicable, the fantastical, the sort of straight-up magical, all the while insisting that what they're really doing is showing you kind of what's actually happening. And to argue that these are people who are good at producing illusions that are kind of like stage illusions that can be explained. Right? So there's an interesting combination of the illusion that is explicable and the strange visual or physical phenomenon that cannot be explained.

Dan Hartland: There was a critical term that had a particular flowering a few years ago: liminal, liminality. And it just strikes me that you use a lot of phrases in the review, as we said—lo-f fantasy, you also use the phrase, or the word, semi-historical—and it just feels that this is a show that sort of is really delicately balanced, in all the ways we've already discussed, but also kind of generically as well.

Catherine Rockwood: Yes. I think it is. And the more you look at it, you know, closely, the more you're like, “Ooh, I think they pulled that off there. And then grrrr!”

[laughter]

Dan Hartland: why did you write the review first? Why didn't the poems come first?

Catherine Rockwood: I wrote the review first because I really was having trouble making sense of my feelings! You know? Reviewing for Strange Horizons has been, I mean, it's been a wonderful way … So my background, I'm a former academic with a deep interest in science fiction and fantasy. And once I wasn't writing sort of straight-up criticism, these straight up articles about you know, British literature in the seventeenth century I found that I couldn't … it was difficult for me to get as analytical and as engaged with things I was interested in as I could when I had a critical project. You know, for me, to really love something, but be uneasy about it and to really want to think about it more and try to work out, you know, as far as I can, what is going on in there, and why it makes me feel the way I feel, is a) a deep need, you know—and again, that's why I'm very grateful that you said yes, after I begged you—and two, it really is … that’s how I can sort out what I think, and really get access to information, you know, and evidence that I would not be able to access, if I didn't write a critical piece about something.

For me, it's a way of, you know … so the show distances many things in the interest of kind of managing its material in the way that it wants to and, and producing the effect that it wants to. And for me, writing a review is a way of distancing all of the work that the show is doing to persuade me that it's succeeded.

Dan Hartland: I like … I really like two things that you said there. Again, the first is that you feel that Strange Horizons is a place where you can kind of engage as deeply as you want or need to with a text, but outside of all of the problems that come with sort of an academic environment. And the second is that you perceive your critical practice as kind of a generative process—so it almost freed you, or created the space in which you could create something of your own, which I think is a really wonderful way to think about criticism—but also a really important thing to reassert about criticism sometimes, which is that it doesn't … it isn't a purely reproving form. It doesn't exist only to find fault. It, at its best, it enables better things to be made.

Catherine Rockwood: Yes. Again, I feel like it's a very … it's a very useful type of work to do when you have a powerful interest but are also trying to assess the nature of that interest and decide if you want to take it into other areas of your working life. And it's very satisfying!

Aisha Subramanian: This is possibly quite a silly question, but as you say, you did kind of have to pitch to us the idea that the show was Strange Horizons-relevant, or that the show was genre-relevant. And, you know, rereading the review, I am pretty satisfied with that. I think we were willing to be convinced by your pitch, partly because we were … partly because we just wanted someone to write that piece as well!

Have you spoken to other people about this idea that this show is fantastical or fantasy-adjacent, and how convinced were they? Because I remember a couple of responses to the review being like, “Great review. I am NOT convinced that this is fantasy!”

Catherine Rockwood: That's okay. I didn't see those responses! [laughter]

Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, that's fair. I mean, I stand by my argument, but, you know, it is a little … it's … you have to make the argument. It's not … it doesn't stand on its own. You know, sort of self-evidently, the artifact needs to be interpreted.

You know, I think one thing I would say is that the creator, David Jenkins, is clearly very interested in genre, but with a strong interest in science fiction and fantasy. So for instance, his previous series, People of Earth, was nominally about alien abduction: actual spaceships and things like that. But in a more sit-commy form where, you know, the aliens are kind of bickering up in their spaceship about what they're going to do with these irritating humans who they've been assigned to kind of cover. So, I mean, again, you can make the argument that, well, the director and writer is clearly very, very interested in working with science fiction and fantasy. And there are these strong links with, for instance, the movie The Princess Bride that are acknowledged throughout the series.

One of the difficulties was working with pirates and talking about genre in relation to pirates. It's just that, I mean, they've been so involved in the generation of myth and legend and, you know, occupied this very sort of borderline status themselves in terms of fact/fiction and how you categorize them, really, since piracy emerged as a thing that was engaged with in books and in broadsides and in popular culture.

Dan Hartland: Yeah, I would agree that the pirate has always, as depicted, always had something of the fantastical about them and yet that fantastical presentation comes to us via historical documentation. So yes, so the reception of the pirate is inherently fraught with these questions.

Aisha Subramanian: To add to that, the performance of the pirates is also fraught with these questions. Like, once piracy is a thing pirates are performing. Which is obviously something that the show thinks about quite a bit as well.

Catherine Rockwood: Very much so. And very overtly and all the time. Costumes! I mean, you know, Stede Bonnet is the clothes horse, isn’t he? He calls himself that at one point, you know. He's like … he's basically like, “This is my costume department.” They go into the wardrobe and—whatever episode that is, I think that's episode four—and he's like, “Here are my, you know, my costume changes.” And Blackbeard is, like, “Whoa, like, awesome!” But, you know, the show is interested in, like, what else might people who have performed as pirates, how else might they be interested in performing?

It's all very tricky to kind of get to grips with, really. I did my best!

Dan Hartland: And that seems like a good point at which, if you were willing, to read another poem.

Catherine Rockwood: Sure. So I think I'm going to read an excerpt from a fairly long poem. So the third epistolary poem in the chapbook is a poem that's in the voice of Lucius Spriggs, the highly educated secretary of pirate captain Stede Bonnet, a man whose life has clearly taken some strange turns.

And this is a poem addressed to his fellow crewmate, Pete, who used to sail with the Dread Pirate Blackbeard—so he says. And Lucius and Pete have fallen in love over the course of the voyage. So this is an excerpt from “To Pete, Tired at Midnight.”

What did I have to do with love before?
All my loves which, counted, number

more than there swim silvery minnows in the sea,
each of them, Pete, rests tonight with thee.

Tomorrow they'll awaken with the dawn
and I will grow distracted, without harm,

by elegance of one kind or another:
Jim's slender, deadly smile. The golden hover

of Captain Bonnet's hair. A fancied look
From Israel Hands, whose heart's a burning book.

With your permission, sweet, I would undo
Roach's full concentration on his stew

and all for joy. We both know at the end,
here is no crime—so therefore no amends.

Draw nearer, then, my darling, balding mate.
We weren't early, but we are not late.

Now, while the rigging sways above our nest
I can imagine all is for the best:

This ship, these crewmates, and our course and heading
which bear us on, not knowing but not dreading.

[musical outro]

Dan Hartland: Honestly, thank you. I mean, obviously, what everyone has learned from this conversation is all they need to do is beg us and we publish!

[laughter]

Aisha Subramanian: Okay, I feel at some point we might have to release that email just so everyone can open it. We were actually quite easy to persuade!

[musical outro continues]

Dan Hartland: Thanks for listening to Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF Criticism Podcast. Our music is “Dial Up” by Lost Cosmonauts. You can hear more of their music at grandevalise.bandcamp.com. See you next time.



Aishwarya Subramanian and Dan Hartland are Reviews Editors at Strange Horizons.
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Mnemonic skills test positive: inaccurately positive.
pallid growths like toadstools, / and scuttling many-legged things,
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By: Sammy Lê
Art by: Kim Hu
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