This is what happens when you finish up a post at 2am. You forget in the first version to introduce your writer. So, ahem, Gerri Leen is another talent with a wicked sense of humor. Don’t ever try to feed her to dragons.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
My aunt was a schoolteacher/principal, and she loved poetry. She used to read it to me when I was child. As a teen, I was a Star Trek fanatic, and I read Leonard Nimoy’s poetry when it came out back in the 70s, but beyond that I never really thought that much about it. In college, I started writing poetry as a way to sort things out in life (massively emo things, most of which I would never submit now) and when I started to write seriously in my forties, poetry really clicked. Even though I don’t feel particularly drawn to rhyming poetry, I love the way songs are constructed and feel influenced by a lot of singer-songwriters across many genres. I love the stories that songs tell and I tend toward narrative poetry more than other kinds.
Why do you write poetry?
It’s an outlet and brings me relief and a quick dopamine hit. It seems to use a different writing muscle than prose—for me anyway. And I just absolutely love writing it.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
Finding your own voice even if it’s not what others are doing. Being brave enough to try things, to admit what you don’t know, to play and work hard even if it seems to come easily. I never studied poetry so there are probably all sorts of things I do “wrong” if you want to get technical with it, but since I’ve been writing it for publication, I’ve tried to be more intentional, to get better at it, to understand how it works (even to study some), to try some form poetry even (since I default to free verse). I also think it’s important to not get discouraged once you start submitting. To keep improving and improvising—and keep the poems out on submission. Just like stories, you never know who might love your work and how many times a poem will be out before it’s bought. And just like prose, there may be editors who never buy your stuff and others who love you. Balancing realism and hope. Just keep writing new stuff and don’t obsess over what’s already out on submission.
It gets loose
In the night
That damned puppet
I can hear it
Running up, sliding down
It trips sometimes
Tangles up its strings
Takes me days to work them free
Even longer to clean up the blood
I should tell
Maybe a priest
Could exorcise it
Make it stop getting loose
Let me sleep
Just one night
All the way through
Without having to clean up the mess
But maybe not
He’d wonder why
I never said a word before
How many dead?
I never told
I never tried to make it stop
And if I did
Would it stop?
Or would it come after me?
And who would clean up then?
“String Theory” first appeared in Paper Crow, Issue 0, 2009
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why? ?
I love to retell mythology or fairy tales. Give them a new slant, find an angle unexplored (or less explored—is anything really new?) I like tales of redemption, honesty, unexpected connections, vengeance, and honor. I currently have a poetry collection making the sub rounds—a mix of new and previously published poems focusing on mythology, fairy tales, and archetypal horrors.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
The same thing that makes dark fiction or visual media appealing. Dark stuff is fun. It’s cathartic to let it out as a writer and take it in as a reader/viewer. We all have the kinds of darkness we love and stuff we don’t do so well with (I’m a horror writer and yet I don’t like to be scared LOL and body horror is really hard for me to get through). One reason I think horror writers in general are such nice folks is that they get their darkness out on a regular basis in such a positive way.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I write in a lot of genres and right now my projects aren’t horror or poetry. I have a middle grade mosaic novel featuring genetically modified racehorses that talk and race on their own/manage their own careers nearly ready to get out on subs to agents, and I have an urban fantasy/mystery/romance that needs updating/revising. I try to create a lot of new poetry. I have a chronic illness, so I don’t always get far on prose as I tend to check out when I’m going through a bad period, but poetry can be done in short bursts so I’m glad I’m inclined to write it. Being ill is way less depressing when you have a side gig that accommodates crazy hours and not always being present. I’m also always looking for anthology opportunities that spark the muse—both for prose and poetry. I was super stoked to get into the HWA Poetry Showcase VI last year and if there is a volume VII this year, I’ll be aiming for that too.
“More,” they say, pushing plates of sweets
And savories at me, smiling as they urge
Me to stuff myself until I can barely move.
The food is good—magnificent, actually—
So I eat and eat and eat and ignore
Their whispered “This will please him, yes?”
“He likes them plump and marbled.”
Does he now? Do they think I came here
Only to eat? “This dragon?” I ask and there’s
A hushed pall, a drawing away from the table
By everyone who’s not me. “Feed him often, do you?”
I pat my bulging middle. Even with all this food
I’m still hungry, still feel the mix of pain and nausea
Of an empty gut—babies will do that to you.
Did I forget to tell these folks who have their
Every wish granted by the dragon they so faithfully feed
That I am gravid, large with child? Well, children—
Well, they’re not human, so let’s just call them spawn.
My stomach growls and I pull another plate to me.
“When will I meet him, this dragon of yours? Soon?”
They look relieved—no more lies—and nod and murmur,
“Yes, soon” and there’s a beauty in their honesty so I
Decide not to tell them what’s to come.
My babes will be clutched with teeth, refusing this
Food I happily gorge on, for they eat only one thing:
Large, scaly, winged, breathes fire—you get the idea.
I wonder how these people will do once they have to
Fend for themselves? That is, of course, if they get away
Before I’m ready for my post-spawning meal.
My favorite treat after giving birth: humans.
“Eat” first appeared in Star*Line, Issue 42.3, 2019
Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?
I blame my love of dark things (even my fantasy and sci-fi often skews dark) on my childhood: I saw Dark Shadows when it first aired. I snuck viewings of The Night Gallery when my Mom wasn’t paying attention and The Twilight Zone, which was allowed, could be creepy as frak. I was hooked on Kolchak and The X-Files and the series Friday the 13th. And I was forever terrified by that damned doll in Trilogy of Terror. I didn’t start out writing horror but it was inevitable that I’d get here eventually.
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has poetry published in: Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Songs of Eretz, Polu Texni, The Future Fire, and others. She also writes fiction in many genres (as Gerri Leen for speculative and mainstream, and Kim Strattford for romance). Visit gerrileen.com or kimstrattford.com to see what else she’s been up to.