Exclusive Interview: “The Heartbeat Of The Universe” Editor Emily Hockaday


For more than 20 years, senior managing editor Emily Hockaday has overseen the poetry sections of the iconic science fiction and fantasy magazines Analog Science Fiction And Fact and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Well, now she has a new (ish) role: editing the new anthology The Heartbeat Of The Universe: Poems From Asimov’s Science Fiction And Analog Science Fiction And Fact 2012–2022 (paperback, Kindle).

In the following email interview, Hockaday discusses how she decided which of the poems published on her watch to include (and which not to include), what forms they take, and why none of them start with the line, “Oh 3PO, oh 3PO, wherefore art though, 3PO?”

Emily Hockaday The Heartbeat Of The Universe Poems From Asimov’s Science Fiction And Analog Science Fiction And Fact 2012–2022

Photo Credit: RJ Carey


For people unfamiliar with the magazine, what are Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction And Fact?

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine has been around since 1977 when publisher Joel Davis and Isaac Asimov created the magazine. We’re a bimonthly magazine that publishes the top short science fiction out there, including some slipstream, fantasy, and alternate history.

Analog Science Fiction And Fact has been around a lot longer; our first issue was published in 1930 as Astounding Science Fiction. Analog has been publishing cutting-edge hard science fiction (like Dune), along with factual science articles, for over 90 years.

Both magazines have regular columns, book reviews, and poetry, while primarily focusing on short science fiction.

And what is speculative poetry, and what makes it different from other kinds of poetry? Because I could see someone thinking it’s all story-driven epic poems like Beowulf.

Speculative poetry is poetry that either has a science fictional or fantastical element. It’s a little trickier defining genre lines in poetry than it is in fiction; poetry itself has an inherently fantastical quality. Dreams and metaphor can be literal (and often are) in poetry in a way that fiction can’t get away with.

For our purposes, speculative poetry is often about where the poem is set. Is it set in the future? On a starship or distant planet? Also, who is speaking? An AI or cyborg? These speculative poems are easy to pin down. But I’m also interested in ones that are less so. Poems about black holes or missing your alternate timeline.

Additionally, Analog publishes poems that are straight science poems, without necessarily having a fantastical element.

You won’t see poems here with purely mundane (and I only mean that literally) concepts. We can’t do a breakup poem unless it’s also about Mme Curie (see Carly Rubin’s poem in our anthology) or a poem about travel unless it’s to space or an alternate dimension (see “Packing For The Afterlife”).

I recently interviewed Stephen Kotowych, the editor of Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy And Science Fiction: Volume One, and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, who co-edited The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction 2022, both of which include poetry. Is there something going on with poetry in the sci-fi space, or am I just becoming aware of something I missed?

I think the sci-fi poetry community has gotten more robust in recent years, and the literary community has been more eager to dip toes in the genre space, but there has always been a strong contingent. For example, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) has been around since 1978.

So when did Asimov’s start publishing poems?

The first poems to appear in Asimov’s were in the Fall 1977 issue, or the third issue to be released. One was by Isaac Asimov himself (“Science Fiction Convention”), and then there’s a poem by Steven Utley (“Stepping Into The Role”) and two by Ruth Berman (“Low Grav-i-tee” and “Immigrant To Desert-World”), who we still publish. So Asimov’s has a long history of poetry.

What about Analog?

Analog’s first poem, “What’s in Store?” by John A. Carroll, appeared in the May 1977 issue. Poems appeared very rarely until the ’90s, when about one per year was published. In 2014 we started running two poems per issue and have kept up that rate over the last decade.

Given that, why does The Heartbeat Of The Universe only include poems from 2012 through 2022 and not anything earlier?

2012 is the year I took over reading and selecting the poetry for the magazines, so it made sense that I choose poems for the anthology that I originally purchased.

The Heartbeat Of The Universe is also not every poem published in Asimov’s or Analog between 2012 and 2022. Why did you decide to leave some out?

I wish we could have fit every poem in that we published. But alas, we were limited, so I chose poems that complemented each other and fit the sections. As I was looking through the poems, themes started coalescing naturally, so I went with those and curated the collection based on how the poems spoke to each other.

Structurally speaking, there are a lot of different kinds of poems: free verse, haiku, etc. What forms do the poems in The Heartbeat Of The Universe take?

Most of the poems — it not all — in the collection are unrhymed and free verse, which is a product of my taste. Though I will consider any form for both Asimov’s and Analog. When done right, I’m really fond of a pantoum or villanelle. I know over the years I’ve purchased many sonnets and recently a triolet. We primarily publish free verse, but that is because it’s what we primarily see in the submissions. Writing poems that rhyme and repeat can be tricky — it’s easy to fall into a sing-song trap. So I think that’s why we don’t see as many of those.

In terms of structure and shape, though, we have prose poems, single-stanza poems, and then poems in tercets, couplets, and quatrains. Some poems spread out over the page, while others are quite compact.

In a similar vein, are the poems in The Heartbeat Of The Universe just science fiction or are there fantasy poems and horror as well?

We have poems that run the gamut. Many of the poems are science and math poems — we have one really fabulous prose poem from Lola Haskins about ant behavior as well as plenty of poems about space travel, space probes, and atomic science — and many are science fiction in the traditional sense.

But we also have quite a few fantasy pieces, including “All Saints Day” by Lisa Bellamy about a run-in with her dead mother on the titular day. “Messaging The Dead” by Betsy Aoki straddles the line of science fiction and fantasy with a computer chat room for the dead. In Ian Goh’s “Taxi Ride,” a ghost must come to terms with some unhappy realities. And we have other poems that touch on horror and fantasy themes as well.

What about subgenres? What subgenres are represented in The Heartbeat Of The Universe? Like, are there cyberpunk poems, space opera poems, etc.?

Hm, I don’t know that science fiction poetry breaks down into subgenres the same way that fiction does. We don’t have anything that I would classify as cyberpunk or space opera, but our science fiction poems have a wide variety of theme and topics. We have time travel poems from Jane Yolen, Kristian Macaron, and Kimberly Jones. We have poems about the past, including fossils and archeology by Steven Withrow, Jason Kahler, and Brittany Hause. As I mentioned, we do have some straight science poems like “Field Notes” by Lola Haskins, “Somebody I Used To Love Asks Me Who Marie Curie Is” by Carly Rubin, “Soft Collision” by Scott E. Green & Herb Kauderer, and “The Astronaut’s Heart” by Robert Borski. And then I’ve already touched on the poems that step into the realm of the dead.

So, what do you reject more: bad epic poems that retell parts of the Star Wars saga or bad soliloquies about the forbidden love between Kirk and Spock?

Ha! Luckily we don’t see too much fan fiction in our poetry submissions. Most of the poetry I reject is either not the right fit for the magazines, or just doesn’t sparkle enough. I have had to reject a few epic poems in my day though…

Now, prior to The Heartbeat Of The Universe, you and Jackie Sherbow co-edited an anthology of horror stories called Terror At The Crossroads. What do you think you learned from co-editing Terror, and with Jackie, that made assembling Heartbeat that much easier or better?

I think there are two big lessons that I took away from editing with Jackie (which was a delight). First, the transition between pieces is important, like when assembling an album. You want the flow to be seamless but the pieces varied, if that makes sense.

I also learned the more business side of putting together an anthology: How the rights work (and we have incredible support with that from Dell magazines), promotion, and things like that that aren’t necessarily part of my everyday job.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Heartbeat Of The Universe?

I would ask that folks try to enter the collection with no preconceived notions. I aspired to put together a journey, thematically, that coheres and brings the reader through space and time and liminal places. I would encourage folks to sort of enjoy the flow. (And if your thing is to open the book at random and read the poems that way — that’s fine, too.)

I also want to note that this anthology exists because we have so many excellent poets sending us their work. I’m really grateful to all of the writers who trust us with their art — those who are included in the anthology, and those who aren’t.

Emily Hockaday The Heartbeat Of The Universe Poems From Asimov’s Science Fiction And Analog Science Fiction And Fact 2012–2022

Finally, if someone enjoys The Heartbeat Of The Universe, what anthology of speculative poetry that someone else edited would you suggest they check out next?

I would definitely recommend looking at the SFPA’s Rhysling anthologies. Every year the collected best poems are put into an anthology and distributed by the Science Fiction And Fantasy Poetry Association. These are a who’s who of sci-fi poetry each year.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *