2012 Poetry Recommendations by Editors – Amal El-Mohtar

At the end of last year, I approached a few editors of speculative poetry to recommend five “Best of…” poems of 2012. I asked that the five recommended poems would be written, edited and published by other people, rather than the editors themselves.

Today we continue the “Poetry recommendations by editors” series with five “Best of…” picks by Amal El-Mohtar – speculative poet, writer, and editor of Goblin Fruit. Thank you, Amal!


Amal’s recommendations

I chose these in no particular order of preference; I have no ranking for them.

* “The Clock-House” by Sonya Taaffe. First apeared in Stone Telling 7.

I doubt that I could be more eloquent than Sofia in reflecting on this poem. I chose it because for much of the year it rarely left my mind — certain images (the thin twist of wrists / like piano wire), certain turns of phrase, but mostly the fact of it being in the world. The fact that someone took Alan Turing’s life and connected the threads between Snow White and apples and milk and wrought this deeply mournful and loving and beautiful piece of art that feels like it must have always existed.

* “Snowbound in Hamadan,” by Sofia Samatar. First appeared in Stone Telling 8

Sofia has this brilliant way of beginning a poem conversationally and then shifting its cadences from plain speech to lyric, from lyric to spell. I hear this at work here, and love this poem for teaching me about things I did not know, in the way I would have been likely to learn about them: with awe, with sadness, with regret.

* “What the Dragon Said: A Love Story,” by Catherynne M. Valente. First appeared on Tor.com in April, 2012.
I think I loved this best of the poems Cat had up on Tor.com last year, during their Poetry Month. These lines in particular:

Don’t you ever feel
like you’re just
a story someone is telling
about someone like you?

They resonated and reverberated with me. Usually with Cat’s poems it’s the gem-sharp imagery that cuts into me, the inescapability of her lines, but in this one it’s the conversation wrought of truths that gets to me and wrings me out.

* “The Gardener,” by Sandi Leibowitz. First appeared in Mythic Delirium 27, published November 15, 2012.

Look, this poem is narrated by Ishtar and features the sucking of peaches. Obviously it is calculated to win my heart. But also lines like “the cracks worn in his roughened hands / like the bark of almond trees he planted” pluck strings in me. It is a poem that made me smell summer and fruit when I read it, and for that I loved it.

* “The Three Immigrations,” by Rose Lemberg. First appeared in Strange Horizons, November 26, 2012

This poem just devastated me with its skill, its structure, with its subject that is very close to my heart, with its language about language and living between languages. It left me in tears.


  1. […] recommendations come from Amal El-Mohtar (Goblin Fruit,) Romie Scott (Strange Horizons,) Mitchell Hart (Through the Gate,) Samantha […]

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R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.

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