I was fortunate to see Kyla Ward perform her poem at Stokercon last year in a gothic frock coat. She has been shy to mention but her books have poetry have been nominated for Stoker Awards as well.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I remember my parents reading me poetry like T. S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Sir Walter Scott when I was very young indeed. I assume it stuck—indeed, altered part of my brain.
Why do you write poetry?
I write poetry because I can’t help it. Sometimes I get an idea and that idea can only come out in rhyme or a very particular rhythm. I write a lot of formal poetry because that’s what the idea seems to require, the support of that particular structure. Is this strange? It sounds strange to me.
No temple stands within the walls of Rome
to she who is Dis Pater’s palatine.
The cypress branch outside the shuttered home
denotes a grove beyond the Esquiline
where ash sequesters souvenirs of dread—
the greater bones may well resist the flame—
and all the earth is rancid with such dead
as left the future neither wealth nor name.
Her votaries both winged and fanged compete
with witches for the choicest scavenging.
The foulest odours mingle with the sweet
of spices flung in hasty offering.
No image of her overlooks this place,
yet all who die will recognise her face.
## Originally published in Mythic Delirium 4.4 and subsequently collected in The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities. It is the first part of the triptych “Libitina’s Garden”
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
To my mind, the challenge of poetry is marrying structure with language and meaning—meaning, in this context, can be a mood or impression, rather than an obvious message. All writing needs to do this, but poetry—formal or free—is especially prone to being warped by the pressure of structure. Inappropriate or awkward words slip in, that obey scansion but occlude meaning or sound ugly and jarring. To my mind, the best poetry sounds natural when spoken, only somehow better. It flows so well that the true ingenuity of it goes largely unnoticed: you simply know that it is beautiful.
For the author, this way lies madness.
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
I wouldn’t have said I explored particular themes, except that when it came time to assemble each of my collections, there they were.
The Land of Bad Dreams (P’rea Press, 2011) is more or less two halves, one representing dreams and the other a reality that through the poetic medium comes to seem equally fantastic. The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities (P’rea Press, 2019) on the other hand… well, I did consciously set out to write a contemporary danse macabre based on the medieval model. It was only when I came to assemble the other poems that I realised how much of everything I had published since the previous book concerned the mythology of death in one form or another.
In Greek mythology, Death (Thanatos) and Sleep (Hypnos) are brothers. So I suppose, thus far in my career I have treated them both and should now move on to something more lively.
A willing partner here at last!
Whose hand is smooth, whose step is fast.
Such earthly angels, once deceased,
routinely find their fame increased!
As amber, each iconic scene
preserves your carapace pristine.
Eternal glory somewhat flat
but not a whit less real for that.
Your words should consolation bring
and yet they have a hollow ring,
for moulded by a thousand hands
my guise but answered the demands
of press and public: all they see
is all the use they made of me.
Their compliments like razors strewn
along the path I trod so soon.
## Originally published in The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities. It is a single entry in The Macabre Modern
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
When I dip into the dark fantastic, when I read Ann K. Schwader or Bruce Boston, it’s to refresh my mind. Reading poetry is a brief yet absolute break from humdrum thoughts and everyday rhythms, and I’m not the kind of person who holidays on beaches. I’m more one for subterranean caverns, shadowed canals, the crumbling interior of castles and tombs, and echoing galleries of old world art. So too in my choice of Poe and Rosetti, Clark Ashton Smith and Leah Drake Bodine. Is this what other people derive from dark poetry, including, perchance, my own work? I couldn’t possibly say! What I do know is that, upon a time, ekphrasis—that is, describing a visual artwork in a poem—was considered a valid means of preserving the memory, the sensations experienced by the viewer during her contemplation (consider Shelley’s “On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery”). In this way, even people who had never seen the painting could appreciate something of its impact. Perhaps it is the same for these internal visions.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
The release of a collection generally means poetry takes a back seat for a while. I have short stories and novellas to finish before returning to the current novel. The poetic part of my brain will resume ticking soon enough.
Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?
Some people may see a paradox in the idea that a poem should be beautiful even when the subject is the horrific conditions in an overfilled cemetery, or the suicide of an unhappy actor. It appears that I do not. As is the case in Shelley’s poem, mentioned above, I feel there is a beauty particular to horror and macabre subjects that deserves exploring. Sometimes, the contrast serves to accentuate the horror. But some things are that much more frightening when they are beautiful, they become alluring, and even comforting. For me, this is where the true horror lies.
Based in Sydney, Australia, Kyla has produced short fiction. articles and poetry, including Stoker, Ditmar, Australian Shadows and Rhysling nominees, and won one-third of an Aurealis Award for her co-written novel, Prismatic. Her poem, “Revenants of the Antipodes” in the HWA Poetry Showcase V, won the inaugural Australian Shadows award for horror poetry. Her most recent release is the dark poetry collection The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities, in 2019 from P’rea Press. An actor (most recently in the immersive true crime experience Deadhouse – Tales of Sydney Morgue) and occasional playwright, she has travelled widely and rhymed adventurously. Her interests include history, occultism and scaring innocent bystanders, all of which come together in her current night job—a host with the world-famous Rocks Ghost Tours.