Shira Lipkin

Hi. I'm Shira. I write stuff.

The Year in Shira

Sadly, I didn’t write much this year; 2013 was a year full of things both horrible and wonderful, and the horrible stuff kept me from my work.

But for the first time I co-edited a thing. Working with Michael on Flying Higher was great for me on a lot of levels; it started out as a whimsical bit of silliness at a con, and it turned into a thing that helped give me structure and direction. To everyone who gave us your superhero poetry, thank you. You probably don’t know how much you helped.

And it turned out really well! (Also contains my poem Limbo. Oh hush, Michael has a Hawkguy poem in there too. :) )

Other stuff that came out in 2013:

* “The Busker, Broke and Busted”, in Apex. Which is more of a song than a poem, but I seem to specialize in things that are neither flesh nor fowl.

* “And the War is Never Over”, in Strange Horizons. My debut there, and a poem I’m very proud of.

* Where We Died” and “Not Too Bold” in Niteblade.

* “Becca at the End of the World”, in Apex, is one I have a hard time reading at readings because FEELS.

* And “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” in Clockwork Phoenix 4, which is still, I think, my favorite story I’ve ever written. I wrote it in pieces last year as my year-and-a-half of hell was starting. I told myself that just sitting down and writing a little bit would be okay, just keep doing it, and I’d find my way out.

So I need to do that again. And that’s how I’ll start 2014.

Because 2014 is also a year of big changes.

I’m starting a project with my partners that you’ll be hearing about very soon.

And it’s time to finish that book.

Becca at the End of the World

My bio at Apex Magazine for this story includes the sentence “Her daughter just started college and is not a zombie.” This is relevant.

The thing is that I’m generally bored with zombies and vampires. I haven’t seen much *new* done with them in some time. So I’d never planned to write a zombie story.

But then I had this nightmare. It was vivid, unusually linear, and oh man, it HURT. Until this year, it was the worst nightmare I’d ever had. When I woke, I turned to the internet for solace, telling a few friends about this horrible, horrible dream.

And one said, “That would make a good story, actually.”

I didn’t write it then; I didn’t write it for a while. When I finally did, I did my typical “well I have written this little trauma bomb but I don’t know who’d want it” thing on Twitter, and Apex managing editor Michael Damian Thomas instantly insisted that I send it to him, as is his wont. :)

This story elicits strong reactions, which is right and proper. Some argue passionately about the protagonist’s decision. I think there’s no way to know what we’ll do in a room at the end of the world, really.

“Becca at the End of the World” was published in Apex Magazine #53 in October 2013. It was podcast at The Drabblecast in February 2014. The art above is by Forrest Warner for The Drabblecast.

Flying Higher! and Limbo

Flying Higher: Cover
So while I was away, I co-edited an anthology! From the introduction:

One lunchtime at Wiscon (the major feminist SF/F convention held in Madison, WI), we were discussing poetry. Like you do. In particular, we were discussing topics that Michael didn’t think could make for good poetry under any circumstances. Specifically: Superheroes. Shira and Alex Bledsoe absently agreed… then started generating ideas. “I could do a good Superman poem, I think,” Alex said. Shira offered Wonder Woman – no, Amethyst – no, too many choices! – and said, “Actually, we should do an anthology.” Since Michael never says no to an anthology challenge, he agreed.

Said idea might have been utterly lost in the mad whirl of Wiscon activity had we not ended up at dinner that night at an Indian restaurant with a dozen wonderful writers, editors, and miscellaneous marvelous people who, when Shira insisted they all write superhero poetry on their placemats, actually did so. The seeds of this collection were collected that night.

And that might’ve been it – a small collection centered around one fun dinner – but we decided that everybody should have a chance to join the fun and did an open call for submissions. The anthology quickly expanded to what it is today – a collection of over 50 superhero poems from the ridiculous to the sublime, from award-winning poets and writers to total poetry novices and everyone in between. The unifying thread through this collection is a pure love for superheroes, in general and in particular, whether they’re the heroes we grew up loving, those we create ourselves, or just the structure and tropes of their worlds.

We just wanted everyone to have fun writing superhero poems. We hope you enjoy them.


I also have a poem in this! Michael and I both waited til the end to write our poems, to give everyone else first crack at characters. Mine happened very much at the last minute! I cycled through a bunch of possibilities, but when it came down to it, of course my poem was always going to be about Illyana Rasputin. “Limbo” is a look at a character who would never have been a superhero in any other universe, a trauma survivor who had no other labels available to her…

Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry is available FREE on Smashwords, and look at this table of contents!

Introduction ~ Shira Lipkin & Michael Damian Thomas
Becoming Wonder Woman ~ Julia Rios
Robin’s Legs ~ Mary Robinette Kowal
If ~ Kip Manley
Mrs. Freeze ~ Anita Allen
Riveted ~ Lisa Bradley
Untitled Haiku ~ Amy McNally
Untitled ~ A.C. Wise
Supervillanelle ~ Lisa Nohealani Morton
The Tiger is Herself ~ Gillian Daniels
Untitled ~ Eric Burns-White
swimming lesson ~ S. Brackett Robertson
Pantone 032 ~ Torrey Stenmark
Untitled ~ Lynne M. Thomas
Said Gorilla Grodd, to God… ~ Erik Amundsen
Unofficial Love ~ Shawna Jaquez
Riddler’s Clues, a Villanelle ~ John O’Connor
Invisible ~ Emily Wagner
Hawkguy ~ Michael Damian Thomas
Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave ~ Mike Allen
Alias ~ Erika Ensign
Judah Maccabee ~ Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Scarlet Witch at Rest ~ Laura McCullough
APACHE CHIEF ~ Sofia Samatar
Wonder Woman Lassos the C.E.O. ~ Wendy Babiak
Inhumanly King. (a poem by Black Bolt) ~ Adam P. Knave
Poison Ivy ~ Emily Nordling
An Elegy for Evelyn Cream ~ Amal El-Mohtar
The Wolverine ~ Matthew Kuchta
Bat-Mite’s Refrain ~ R.B. Wood
Untitled ~ Adam Lipkin
take off your horn-rims and fly ~ Gwynne Garfinkle
Untitled ~ Stefan Krzywicki
Guarded ~ Stephanie M. Clarkson
J’onesing for J’onn J’onnz—A Fanboi’s Paen to the Martian Manhunter ~ Kelly McCullough
Rocket’s Red Glare ~ John O’Connor
The Bone Woman ~ Alex Dally MacFarlane
Unmasked ~ Claire A. Miller
knitwear is both harder and softer than suits ~ Wednesday Burns-White
The Fish Aquatic ~ John Klima
You! I Thought You Were Dead!* ~ Steven Marsh
Untitled ~ Fritz Bogott
Untitled ~ Mari Ness
Bless Us, Nellie Bly, Saint of the Secular Upstarts ~ C.S.E. Cooney
The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face ~ Catt Kingsgrave
Untitled ~ Michael McAfee
The Tick ~ Liz Argall
Superheroes ~ Meredith Schwartz
Friendship and Butts ~ Shawna Jaquez
Green in Gold and Silver ~ David D. Levine
Super Sense ~ Talib Hussain
Superhero Haiku Triptych ~ Paul Weimer
Princess of Gemworld ~ Mary Anne Mohanraj
Limbo ~ Shira Lipkin


* Michael and I were interviewed by the wonderful Julia Rios on the Outer Alliance Podcast.

* Scott Slemmons of “Hero Sandwich” says, in part: “Thumbs up. I love the complete unexpected surprise of this. I really never considered the idea of writing poetry — serious poetry — about superheroes. It still seems like an odd idea, and I’m not sure I could ever manage to do it myself. But I’m glad all these poets managed to wrap their brains around the concept so well. The variety of poems is very good, with serious works side by side with less serious ones, along with enthusiastic geekery, poets who are entirely ambivalent about superheroes, tributes to comics, films, and more than one real-life hero. There’s something here for everyone.”

* Practically Marzipan has a very extensive review here.

* The SFPA has two reviews here. Alex Plummer says “Flying Higher collects more than 50 poems by as many authors, all of which explore, ruminate on, or reimagine the complex, cape-shrouded, and ever-evolving world of the superhero. The collection forms a 91-page collage of crime fighters, cackling supervillains, and superhuman heroes; both those icons of the genre and those obscured by time. By utilizing a diverse set of poetic forms—partnering villanelles with limericks (dirty and otherwise), giving every freeverse poem a rhyming sidekick, and seasoning it all with a haiku or two and at least one sonnet—Flying Higher manages to be as varied and eclectic as the heroes that inspired it.

The collection is marked, above all, by a deep love and enthusiasm for the superhero genre, expressed in a variety of ways. Be it the retrospective sexual thrill inspired by genre mainstays, such as in Julia Rios’s “Becoming Wonder Woman,” or Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Robin’s Legs,” tongue-in-cheek humor at the expense of overdramatic storytelling, as if found in S. Brackett Robinson’s “Swimming Lessons,” (where inflatable shoulder pads are all that saves one costumed hero from a ignoble death by drowning in a pond), or an exploration of the poignant moral conflict implicit in superhuman power, as laid out by Catt Kingsgrave in “The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face,” each poem, whether affirming or critiquing, wells from an abiding engagement with a landscape populated by superheroes, supervillains, and all the characters in-between.

Several of the poems consider the less heroic and more quotidian aspects of superhero life. Consider this passage from Wednesday Burns-Whites’s “Knitwear is Both Harder and Softer than Suits,” where She-Hulk laments her wardrobe difficulties:

They can’t kill me, but they killed my sweater.
My squishy, gunky, loaf-around sweater.
I loved that sweater. You have no idea.

This shit never happens to Stark, and he buys new suits all the time.

Other poems also engage with the off-duty aspects of superheroing, but take a darker bent, considering the strain such a lifestyle would leave on an individual: the reality not often depicted in the comics and movies. This excerpt from Shira Lipkin’s “Limbo” shows a darker take on tragic origin stories:

I was not a child when I came home.

Not a child, not a hero,
but I wore your costume,
I hid my sword.

In Lipkin’s poem, the hero seems aware of the context in which he lives, and theme that traces its thread throughout other parts of the collection—heroes and villains taking on an insquisitve or even antagonistic relationship with their creators or fans; a sort of metatextual commentary on the superhero comic genre that both delights and chills. Of particular note in that regard is Michael Damian Thomas’s poem “Hawkguy,” where the titular hero is overwhelmed by the number of alternate continuities and reboots he finds himself in, as well as Mike Allen’s “Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave,” wherein a villain complains to his authors about his ignoble death.

Some of the poems of the collection assume a fairly detailed knowledge of the superhero genre on the part of the reader. Those who don’t have that extensive knowledge may find a few of the more esoteric pieces lost on them. However, with such a variety of poems, many of them worthy of a read whether or not a reader has an interest in superheroes, a lack of extensive superhero knowledge shouldn’t serve as a barrier.

For anyone looking for a collection of poetry that will at turns delight, shock, or pose serious questions, Flying Higher comes recommended. It’s available for free, so the only barrier to reading it is time—and this one is worth it. It transcends both Silver-Age comics nostalgia and Watchmen-esque gritty despair to arrive, through poetry, in a fractured but rich area where superheroes are increasingly human.”

Not Too Bold

The acceptance letter for this read “This is finally a serial killer poem that I am very happy to accept!”

Let me back up.

I grew up on fairy tales. Not just Little Red and Snow White; I dug deep into Grimm’s. My favorite was The Robber Bridegroom and its variant, Mr. Fox. I was a bloodthirsty kid! The murder and cannibalism fascinated me. I make no excuses or apologies.

It could use an update, I thought.

And I still want to install a series of signs in my house, through the progressive doorways:

Be bold, be bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.

Not Too Bold” was published in Niteblade #25 in September 2013. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw

So, you may remember that Mike Allen had a Kickstarter for Clockwork Phoenix 4, and that his $10K goal, which he made, was that he’d start a new magazine. He hit the goal, and we all got a little ridiculous on Twitter.

Me: Hey @mythicdelirium when do submissions open for your BRAND NEW MAGAZINE because I have a thing about a vampire& a werewolf who fall in love

@rose_lemberg: vampire and werewolf fall in love with a DEMON. And a witch. It is poly.

Me: ALSO THERE ARE ANGELS AND SELKIES. And everyone is noncreatively pseudokinky. PUBLISH ME.

@time_shark: oh do you now? (patience grasshopper)

Me: Ha! No. No, I do not.

@time_shark: I’m curious if someone could write a story like that I’d actually buy. [NO that is NOT a challenge...]

Me: …damn you. *chases plotbunny*

I did not chase the plotbunny at that time. At that time, I was going wild on Twitter to distract myself from the fact that our cat was dying and my grandmother was having the same symptoms as the cat. Besides, I had a totally different idea for my CP4 submission, something that would really bend storytelling in weird ways…

…something that I just couldn’t get started on. I needed to do research for it, et cetera. In the meantime, life was collapsing in on me and I kept getting little story-sparks for this thing. Could I write a story like that that Mike would buy? Doesn’t matter, I have five other things to do first. But what if – NO, brain, stop it, that is last in the queue!

But in the middle of the hell time, I sat down and wrote it anyway.

My characters have ridiculous names. I crisscross five different genres. I hoped the story wouldn’t get rejected on formatting alone, because I Did Things. But I wasn’t writing to make it pretty and publishable. I was in the center of the whirlwind and it was my damn rope. And it didn’t matter if anyone else liked it, because dammit, it made me laugh when I didn’t think I could. And whenever I had time, whenever I wasn’t medicating the cat or flying to Florida or dealing with my now-ex cheating on, lying to, and emotionally terrorizing me, I would sit and say “it’s okay if you only do a hundred words today, but you have to do a hundred words.” No drowning allowed. I was writing with a strict set of guidelines because that’s what I needed, but I had no idea if it would work for anyone but me, and I didn’t need it to. I needed to be ludicrous and break all the boxes and build something new.

So I wrote it.

I sent it to my husband and he said it was my best story yet and y’know, I think I agree. It’s my longest. It is not grimdark. There are parts that make you laugh and parts that make you go oooh and sometimes those are the same parts.

So I sent it to Mike. And he bought it, this story about a vampire and a werewolf in LOVE and there’s a witch and an angel and an alien stripper and there are zero straight people in it and two genderfluid characters and a new drink and karaoke and discredited scientific theories.

And it all starts when a vampire and a werewolf walk into a bar.

(The witch is already in the bar.)

You should buy Clockwork Phoenix 4 is what I am saying, I guess. And Mike, thanks for the challenge. :)

“Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” was published in Clockwork Phoenix 4. It has been reprinted online at Mythic Delirium, and it is on Tangent Online’s 2013 Recommended Reading List.

Louis West at Tangent Online says: “Shira Lipkin’s “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” is an incredible love story about Zee, a witch who can flip through realities like reading a book, who violates the laws of physics by thinning boundaries between worlds because she’s bored, and who long ago hid her heart to avoid the pain. Cast in a poetic, screen-play type style, at places the structure of the story morphs because a character doesn’t like the way Zee first portrays them. Hiding her heart made her inviolate and immortal. But Zee is “apocalyptically bored,” and “bad things happen when beings who can smash together universes get bored.” Hesitantly, she comes to the decision that perhaps it’s time to find and reassemble the pieces of her heart, only to learn that the most crucial pieces never left her. The ending changes the story, and everyone in it, allowing me to discover a brand new tale upon rereading it. Exceptional and highly recommended.”

Dusty on Movies says: “One of my favorites, Shira Lipkin’s story follows a playful witch who flips through dimensions like they’re TV stations. Along the way she develops a relationship with a bar-keeping angel and a mysterious courtesan. She also casts a spell of love between a female werewolf and female vampire, who of course have all sorts of compatibility issues but love each other nonetheless. It’s a story with heart, literally. Our witch has hidden her heart to increase her power, but now she’s on a quest to find the pieces she’s hidden throughout the multiverse. This is a truly fun story. There’s a gimmick with the text alignment that adds to the fun. I’ll let you discover it for yourself. I’m a huge fan of this story.”

Just Book Reading says: “A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.”

Michelle Anjirbag at Cabinet des Fees says: “a new kind of love story, in part inspired by a challenge by the editor himself. What makes a heart whole?”

And the War is Never Over

This poem had been building for quite some time.

I’ve been volunteering with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center since 2007; I’m a community education volunteer and a survivor speaker. In the former role, I’ve been doing a lot of work within my local community and the greater SF/F community regarding sexual violence. It’s been pretty nonstop. And by the nature of it, it worked its way into every aspect of my life – especially as I began to write a novel about childhood sexual abuse. And spent some time actually working at BARCC as well.

I began to fray. Vicarious trauma, they call it. It’s not uncommon. I kept pushing myself, but I got to a point where I had to take leave or snap, and I did take leave.

And the week I took leave, I wrote this poem.

Which has new meaning now that I’ve realized that I was in an abusive relationship at the time – a relationship that exploded into violence the week the poem was published.

“And the War is Never Over” was published in Strange Horizons in May 2013.

Where We Died

This one, I remember writing.

It’s a shadow of sorts of my first published short story, “The Angel of Fremont Street”. It draws from the same inciting incident – but instead of an examination of the years beyond, “Where We Died” is a snapshot, one few-second slice of a life right before everything changes forever.

It’s short, as my poems go. By necessity. Just one moment long.

Where We Died” was published in Niteblade #24, June 2013.

The Busker, Broke and Busted

I’m in an odd position with this poem, in that I don’t really remember writing it.

I remember it coming out, and me being bewildered – because it isn’t actually a poem. It’s a song, a Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque patter song about an obsolete robot. I remember bits of it coming to me in the shower, and I remember singing the lilting “I am, I am” notes to myself. (Poorly. There’s a reason there’s no audio on this post!) I just don’t remember the impetus! Which is highly unusual, but there are exceptions to all rules.

Its sole appearance in public to this point was the poetry reading at Arisia 2012, where I had my daughter sing it – the audience laughed, they sympathetically “awwed”, and they attempted to take up a collection to purchase and upgrade the poor robot! I was also heavily encouraged to write an entire musical. Which… might happen, with the help of Erik Amundsen, if our lives ever settle down sufficiently.

Besides the obvious issue that it’s properly a song, not a poem, it’s also very long, and was rejected from print magazines for that reason, but I did not despair. I was feeling uncharacteristically bright and pushy one day and asked Apex Magazine editor Lynne Thomas when they’d be opening to unsolicited poetry again; she responded that I should consider myself solicited. Little did I know that she’s a musical theatre geek! So this song/poem/impending event ended up with exactly the right editor. I love it when that happens.

“The Busker, Broke and Busted” was published in Apex Magazine #48, May 2013.

The Year in Shira

2012′s publications:
* “Mushroom Barley Soup: An Invocation“, in Stone Telling #8
* “nameless“, in Through the Gate #1
* “The Oracle Never Dances”, in Mythic Delirium #27
* “Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades”, in Mythic Delirium #27
* “Splinter” in Apex Magazine #42.

If you are of a nominating sort, “Mushroom Barley Soup” is considered a Long Poem and “nameless”, “The Oracle Never Dances”, and “Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” are all considered Short Poems as far as Rhyslings go. “Splinter” is eligible for all the stuff short stories are eligible for.

This year, I won the Rhysling Award for best short poem, for “The Library, After”! And I was Guest of Awesome at Pi-Con, which was, predictably, awesome.

In the coming year, look for “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw” in Clockwork Phoenix 4, “And the War is Never Over” at Strange Horizons, and “The Busker, Broke and Busted” at Apex. And now I must get back to writing!

Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades

(Art by Paula Friedlander!)

I am tired of Persephone Poems.

We all have them! I have two. It’s an attractive narrative – the lovely, innocent young maiden seduced into the underworld. People have done interesting things with the story. But it’s one of the most popular narratives out there, poetry-wise, and I am drowning in Persephone and want to drown her.

So yes, everyone loves the good girl.

What about the bad girl? What about someone who’s a Queen of the Underworld in her own right, and could be an equal match for Hades?

I’m a Sumerian mythology geek, and I’ve told my version of Inanna’s Descent. What about Inanna’s sister, who requires that Inanna surrender her very life?

That’s a strong character.

So here, Ereshkigal has a proposition for Hades.

And I still can’t read the last line aloud without blushing.

“Ereshkigal’s Proposal to Hades” was published in Mythic Delirium #27.