Like many of my poems, “The Changeling’s Lament” started as a few lines scribbled on the notebook next to my bed – “I have studied so hard to pass as one of you. I have tells – blisters, tremors, bruises.”
That sat there for a few months, I think; it lingered in the very back of my brain until a few days before Readercon. I knew I’d be reading at the Rhysling Awards Poetry Slan – I wasn’t nominated this year, but past nominees also get to read. Last year I’d read my nominated poem, “When Her Eyes Open”, but this year I actually had to decide what to read, which is notoriously difficult for me. So I decided that I’d like to write something to exploit my favorite thing about the Slan – the performance aspect of it. Usually, when I write poetry, it’s meant to be read on the page or screen. The benefit of reading aloud is that you get to use language in a different way.
So I sat down to write a poem that I thought was just going to be about the difficulties of changelings. And it twisted itself on me and showed me what it was really about. (You can read all about how the gender identity aspects of it came in at Stone Telling’s roundtable.)
I’m happy to report that the reading went really, really well. To the point that people were not just asking me about the poem – they were asking people at the SFPA’s table, one of whom said she thought it was going to be in Stone Telling…
I had not yet submitted it to Stone Telling! But of course I planned to, and I did, and thankfully the editors agreed that it was a good fit for Stone Telling.
The poem got a bit of editing, because what works for spoken word doesn’t always work written down – but the editors asked me for a recording of the original poem. During the recording process, I discovered that there was a thing one can do in GarageBand to change one’s voice from “female” to “male” and, well, given the nature of the poem, I had to! You can listen to both versions, and I hope you do.
I’ve decided that the collective noun for a group of changelings is a transposition of changelings. Are you a changeling, too?
“The Changeling’s Lament” was published in Stone Telling #5, September 2011. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award and recommended for the Tiptree Award. It has been reprinted in Here, We Cross, an anthology of queer and genderfluid poetry.
Brit Mandelo at Tor.com says: “Another poem about not fitting tightly-bound boxes of identity is “The Changeling’s Lament” by Shira Lipkin. This piece, too, works on an extended metaphor—in this case, of a changeling made to fit into the human mold—to explore issues of gender and the rigidly enforced strictures of “girl.” It’s also one of the more tragic pieces of the book, whereas the majority of the poems end with an uplifting note. The changeling does not escape the strictures that have bound and hobbled them into “her” and into “girl,” but instead informs us of the struggle and the agony—takes us along on the titular lament. The final stanza is like a blow.”
J.C. Runolfson at Versification says: ““The Changeling’s Lament,” by Shira Lipkin, is not understated, but it is definitely powerful. There are two audio tracks at the top of poem page, one titled “the girl’s voice” and one “the changeling’s voice.” Play them both at the same time and listen while you read, because this is a poem that speaks by alchemy, that speaks of change, and choice, and the limits of both.”