Category Archives: fairy tales

Writers Writing: Joshua Pantalleresco

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Here in Canada, we’re a small but mighty population. We have many amazing writers, some quite famous, some not as well-known but equally amazing. We write to stave off boredom, the always encroaching cold of the north (remember the North!), wendigos, sasquatch and Ogopogo. And we write to explore and express new thoughts and worlds.

In our mighty little nation, (lots of land and the population of California) we have an active, widespread speculative community. There is written word, spoken word, podcasts, plays, music. Hawksley Workman is a musician who has clearly explored the mythic and speculative in his works (such as The God that Comes). There are numerous examples and I won’t wander down that path right now or I’ll get lost.

We also have the creator of the Just Joshing podcasts, Joshua Pantalleresco. He has spent quite a few years interviewing writers, actors and other artists and the full list of some 350 plus episodes are here. I met Josh many years ago at a local convention, When Words Collide, in Calgary. He was a veritable energizer bunny, full of enthusiasm, ideas and an inquisitive, friendly mind. Over the years we have come to know each other better and of course I’ve run into Josh interviewing this person or that for his podcasts. He even received an Aurora Award for Just Joshing. He interviewed me back when I was editing Alice Unbound. I like to think of him as Josh Pants to the Rescue, and he would have been a great sidekick for Captain Underpants.

Alice opened the box and was punished for her transgression by being locked away in our world. As a patient in an asylum, her captors are the playing cards, and the ruler of the asylum is a certain black hearted Queen. To make things worse (?) Alice’s only companion has a certain Cheshire Grin. She must escape her current situation, and remember who she is, not only to save herself but to save us all.

Josh also writes, a lot. He wrote an Alice poem for Alice Unbound, but I did not accept it. Professional writers are used to rejection and even from their friends. And editors often have more good stories or poems than they can accept. I remember Josh capturing the madcap way of a Lewis Carroll world. Well, it seems that that challenge also spurred him to even greater things. Josh has now completed a book, Alice Zero. Without further ado, I’ll let Josh speak for himself about his latest project.

It’s all Colleen’s fault.

I mean it. It was her idea. Kind of. Sort of.

Colleen had this great idea for a Lewis Carroll anthology and she invited me to write for the anthology. I was flattered. I said yes. Of course I will write for you. Colleen is an awesome human being with a great gift for poetry and prose herself, and to be recognized is just awesome.

Once I said yes, I realized that I had put myself into a conundrum. What can I possibly say about Lewis Carroll that hasn’t already been said? I mean, I love Alice in Wonderland and knew that I wanted to write something about wonderland. But what exactly?

That night, I went to a bar and remembered meeting a girl with a gorgon tattoo. Now I was eventually turned down because she plays for the other team, but there was something magical about this woman. Not just the tattoo she created on her arm, but she was just an intriguing, artistic, wonderful human being. She’s still a good friend of mine to this day. We talked for a bit, and I promised I’d put her in my story.

The gorgon was something I needed to see. Medusa is a fun character. She is an interesting monster, and beautiful and deadly. In wonderland where up is down and right is wrong, perhaps, she’d be a hero? I imagined a gorgon knight protecting Princess Alice from the depths of the shadows in this weird world of wonderland.

And then I made the magical connection. What if I did a mashup of Alice in Wonderland as Greek mythology? What if Alice was Pandora? It made a lot of sense in a lot of ways and I was so happy. If it wasn’t for Colleen I truly don’t believe I would have met my friend. It wouldn’t have been a problem I needed to solve. I wouldn’t have thought to go to the bar, and I never would have had the opportunity. I would have missed so much.

So I had my story. Greek Alice. And it came to me, this asylum with the playing cards being her jailers and the warden being the Queen of Hearts. Alice is on a quest to find herself. She opened the box, and now must face the consequences of her actions.

I wrote it and had a blast and handed it to Colleen. I was so happy. Then Colleen rejected it. It was her decision, and I understood. The collection didn’t need another Alice story, but I was so happy with my Alice story that I wanted to do something. Some things, actually. Stay tuned for the following year. But I wanted to work on doing something on my own.

I have to admit I got in my own way for awhile. I’ve done the epic poetry thing with Mirror World Publishing and I loved that I got the chance to do so. But this is me again, for the first time. At least this time I got some help. Kenzie Carr is an amazing world class artist. I’m hoping we continue this collaboration as she did some killer things inside. Love her work and was pleasantly surprised how it all came about.

I had other people help out too. Vanessa Cardui did a wonderful job advising me, and I listened to a few others as well. Thank you, all.

Finally, here it is, courtesy of myself and Kenzie Carr. I never would have done it if it had not been pushed in that direction if it hadn’t been for an email from a dear friend. Colleen, it’s all your fault. But I’m so happy you were the catalyst in this. Thank you for being an amazing friend and an inspiration. Keep being you.

Perhaps, Josh gives me too much credit. Without his own imagination and talent, he would not have even created this. But it’s true that we can be inspired and spurred in new directions by others. Josh, I’m glad a tree grew from the sprout. I’ll be reading his work lately to see what crazy things Alice gets into. I hope you considering exploring his worlds as well.

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Women in Horror: Saba Syed Razvi

Saba Syed Razvi is today’s guest, on the leap day of February. You’ll find that besides her poems, her answers are poetic as well. Note that due to special formatting her poems are put in as pictures to maintain the integrity. Thanks for stopping by for Women in Horror Month.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?WiHM11-Scalples-wv

Honestly, I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t around poetry. My parents recited poems to me alongside lullabies, and I learned to memorize and recite them back. Sometimes we sang them. Sometimes they were in English, and sometimes they were not. I read poems to my younger sisters, often. I think I wrote my first poem when I was in kindergarten; it was about seeing colors beyond the darkness, and the letter M–and maybe also about M&M candies! So, for me, poetry and music have always been linked– and have probably always been about sugar as much as shadow. In the ghazal tradition, in the lyric tradition, there is music alongside the musicality of verse, and those sounds are in my earliest memories. Perhaps that music from distant dunes and distant drums, from ancient flutes and a longing for new ones, has always influenced my understanding of the capacity for language to invoke something of an otherworldliness in the otherwise worldly words on our tongues. As an academic, I’ve made poetry the terrain of my scholarship and search, so I am heavily influenced by the traditions I have encountered along the way. The poet I am today has probably been mostly influenced by Baudelaire, Dickinson, HD, Lorca, by Rumi and Hafez, Ghalib and Attar. I’m fascinated by the logic of the ancient world, and the language that carries its shadows into the new world in which we live and in which we create technologies for the death of living.

Why do you write poetry?

The world around me bears song and light, and sometimes I want to share it. Poetry isn’t like prose. One can sit down to tell a tale, and make it happen by plotting it and mapping it out, but poetry needs something of a living fire inside of it. When I feel the world alive in me, or when I feel the anxious spectre of death nagging at me, at the things in my life I hold most dear, I feel compelled to write them into being, just a little. Sometimes, it’s my anger that I want to seal into a vessel of verse, and sometimes it’s my grief. Sometimes, the beauty of the impossible is what breaks my heart. I write poetry because I am compelled to write it, because sometimes I feel like the words are lightning on the tongues in heart, like the world is bleeding from fingers, aching to spill free. Poetry is born from an image that takes root like a madness, from a thought that leaves me haunted, leaves me hunted, and the writing is a way to put it somewhere other than my nightmares.

saba

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The other day, in a class, I talked to my students about the difference between the source of inspiration and the process by which it is crafted into a work of literary art. Someone once called that the distinction between flame and fuel. I think it is more than inspiration or expression. I think poetry is a kind of alchemy of the self. Every poem takes something of who we are and transforms it into an offering. We take some aspect of ourselves, who we are at the core, at the most real, and we shape something from it. Maybe it comes from a desire of our shadow selves, or from the light of a lovesick delirium and its sabaOfTheDiviningAndTheDeadCoverlonging for the world. The most difficult aspect of writing poetry, then, isn’t finding the shape or the words or the idea, it’s the ability to let the world go long enough to invoke the energy that is the poem, to bring it into being. The ordinary world in which we all live is filled with obligations and tasks, responsibilities to be checked off and managed. We flit from one thing to the next, barely being in the world despite the time we spend. Poetry demands a deeper engagement, a vulnerability that comes from setting down those other duties and reins. I think the most difficult aspect of writing poetry is the point in the process when we must let go of our grasp on the ordinary world, trust our tether to allow us a space to create and a path to return. Composing poetry is a bit like falling into a trance; it isn’t something you can do while driving to the post office, but something you have to lean into. It needs deep time, and finding that time can be a challenge in our modern, busy lives!

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

Each of my books and each of my chapbooks takes on a different sensibility, a different theme, as organizing principle. In the Crocodile Gardens takes on myth and nightmare, dream logic and prophecy; it is about how we are beyond how we choose to be. heliophobia is more concerned with the promises of the fairy tale and the archetype; it asks us to think about who we are in the darkness, how light and shadow shape the places we belong. Limerence & Lux is really all about the dangerous pull of desire, the nightmare of longing or the delight of restraint. Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil takes on a different kind of darkness; it takes up the issue of the ordinary lives of Muslim Americans and the horror of their reality in a world which does not want to see them as something other than a foreign enemy, a horror more based in reality than in the supernatural. Of the Divining and the Dead takes up issues of the end times, of the realm of the soul beyond the life of the living, of prophecies and oneiromantic realities, or logic built from the idea of an afterlife built from sufi ideas of the material world and a world beyond the veil of the known. I suppose that the connecting thread among them all is that I am really drawn toward the spooky and the weird in our lives. I tend to write about the things that leave us feeling unsettled, disarmed, bare to the elements and to ourselves. I also like to write about robots and the goth scene, so it’s not all morbid mayhem, all the time!

saba2

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?saba heliophobiaCover

I think there is comfort in the darkness, honesty. Bliss and joy and rapture are all ways of expressing happiness, with some sorrow mixed in. I think that speculative and dark poetry tends to be willing to confront the aspects of our human experiences that we often hide away from the world of sunlight and manners. Dark and Speculative poetry asks us to consider our masks – and who we are beneath them, and what made us choose them anyway. It permits a depth of contemplation that we tend to shy away from in moments of levity. I think that such a complexity can be highly rewarding – and, ironically, remarkably illuminating, too. The Aurora Borealis is most stunning in the dark of solitude. In the dark and in the grotesque, we can find ineffable dimensions of the sublime.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’m currently finishing up a book of poems featuring a haunted castle in Ireland, a game hunter, a captive faerie creature, domestic violence, environmental destruction, and the ghosts left behind by grief. // One of my stories – a short piece that blurs the distinction between prose and poetry, called “Haunted Hearts” was recently published by the international online literary journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse. My haunted castle collection leans heavily into the poetry of the poems, if that makes sense, though a narrative is woven by the poems in the collection; it embellishes more of the grotesque. The story I’ve mentioned gives you a different sense of my appreciation for the things that haunt us, and it is tethered not by the emotional dimensionality of language, but by the shadows in the narrative and the outlines they bring to our attention. // If you haven’t checked out the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume VI (it’s filled with some wonderful poems by a lot of cool people), please do – and read my poem in it about vampire mermaids & Fukushima.

Is there anything else you would like to say about writing, horror or poetry?

saba BesideTheMuezzinsCallCoverAbout my poetry: I like to test the limits of language, its textures and materiality, its logic and its magic. My poems are often fashioned into invented or embellished forms, sometimes inherited from gestures of divination or worship, from storytelling and from science. I tend to prefer things that are complicated, that slip between our expectations, and I write poems in such a manner that exaggerates such a sensibility in my form and my cadence. I’m not interested in making the familiar new, but in making the weird even weirder. My formal innovation and defiance of strictly traditional forms is a kind of linguistic play and ritual, all at once. As such, I tend to be drawn to and to explore literary works that blur the lines in all ways. A rebel on the page, if not in life! My academic research tends to explore more social and communal aspects of literature, technology, science, and the speculative. I’m drawn to the ways in which our literature reaches back into our human heritage, and what it projects forward with its words and with its technologies. After all, our language is all haunted and its words are the machines through which we experience those echoes of memory and the valence of the expression. I’m interested in work that blurs the lines and the distinctions, that deliberately transgresses the structures of literary art and human experience. It is my hope that my own work can inspire the same kind of interest in others as I feel for the things I write about and the things study.

Saba Syed Razvi, PhD is the author of the Elgin Award-nominated collection In the saba author photo January 2018Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions) and the collection heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Award ® for Superior Achievement in Poetry, as well as the chapbooks Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press). She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between contemporary poetry and science and on gender & sexuality in speculative and horror literature and pop-culture, she is writing new poems and fiction.

Website: www.sabarazvi.com

Links to Books:
In the Crocodile Gardens, Agape Editions. From Amazon
heliophobia, Finishing Line Press. From Amazon
Beside the Muezzin’s Call and Beyond the Harem’s Veil, Finishing Line Press. From Amazon
Limerence & Lux, Chax Press.
Of the Divining and the Dead, Finishing Line Press.

 

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Women in Horror: Carina Bissett

WiHM11-Scalples-whCarina Bissett graces the virtual pages for Women in Horror Month. The month is nearly at an end but the poetry continues strong.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I have always been interested in the cadence and presentation of poetry, but it wasn’t until I read Anne Sexton’s Transformations that I realized I could walk the path of a poet. The real turning point for me was when Terri Windling invited me to write a fairy tale poem for Endicott Studio. That was two decades ago, and I’ve continued ever since.

Bissett Arterial BloomWhy do you write poetry?

For me, poetry is the perfect place to explore themes and imagery, both of which tend to drive my work. Not every image pairs well with the narrative drive expected in short fiction or novel-length work, but poetry is perfect for that sideways glimpse into wonder.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

Usually, a poem will take as long, if not longer, to draft than a short story. I like to taste the syllables, shift sounds. I enjoy imposing structure on my poems even if they start out as free verse. That reinforcement often makes me look at lines in a different way. It can be frustrating writing to form, but sometimes it also opens doors to places I never expected to find.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

All of my work is grounded in fairy tale and myth. The themes that tend to crop up in my work revolve around female relationships, estrangement and isolation, and domestic violence. Fairy tales have been a source of comfort for me since I was a young girl. Even then, I worked through issues in my personal life through the lens of fairy tale. As I grew older, I was introduced to feminist re-imaginings of these stories with The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. There is a special sort of freedom that comes from taking a well-known story and turning it on its head. In my own work, I tend to gravitate towards the fairy tales I hate the most. In rewriting them, I’m also to able to re-envision and explore my own personal narrative.

Swimming with the Shark Boys

I was warned to be wary in water,
especially when swimming with the sharks.
But those were the boys I always liked best,
with their slick-backed scalps, sharp smiles,
and eyes like bottomless pits.

I recognize them by their restlessness,
the subtle gleam as they cut through the crowd,
the shimmer of shadow in a clear sky.
But others also watch them prowl.
Deadly beauty attracts admirers
seeking the sharp taste of fear.

I watch mermaids flirt through a mirror’s lens
as they pout full lips and flaunt dangerous curves.
Scales glitter in a practiced seduction
as they comb hair perfect for binding men.
The shark boys just laugh, teeth bared.

The sirens orchestrate a counterpoint,
chaos conjured from the deep, dark places.
They measure out the notes of seduction,
drowning the protests of the waves
relentlessly breaking upon the rocks
— a requiem for the dead.

My selkie sisters and I know better
than to venture out of reach of safe shores.
We cinch our seal skins tight around our waists,
watching for the warning signs,
the scent of blood on the waves.

But every time one of the shark boys turns,
gliding out of the gloom with graceful ease,
I can’t help but wonder how it would feel
to shed my skin, press flesh on flesh,
smother in a crush of deadly kisses,
falling into the abyss.

## published in Mythic Delirium, May 2016. It also received an Honorable Mention from Ellen Datlow in 2016 for Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 9

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Once, when I was a young woman, I was caught out in the desert during a particularly intense storm. Once the rain let up, I left the safety of my car to explore the new world that was left behind. When I looked at the ground, I discovered beads of polished obsidian everywhere. The rain had washed away the top layer of accumulated dirt to reveal these beautiful memories created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. I think dark poetry is akin to those obsidian pebbles, otherwise known as Apache tears. That darkness already exists, and the poets who work with this subject matter are simply exposing those gems for readers to discover.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’m currently working on a collection of poems about monstrous women in myth and Bissett Arachne Dorefairy tale. I also have a Snow White retelling coming out in Arterial Bloom, which was edited by Mercedes Murdock Yardley and is scheduled for release by Crystal Lake Publishing in April 2020. It features some wickedly gorgeous work, and I’m ecstatic that my story is included in this anthology.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing, horror or poetry?

In addition to writing, I’m lucky enough to work with other writers in my online, generative workshops at The Storied Imaginarium (https://thestoriedimaginarium.com/). These writers have created an incredibly supportive writing community, and many past participants have gone on to publish stories and poems generated in workshop. Just a few of the recent anthologies featuring their work include The Twisted Book of Shadow, Not All Monsters, and Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors. Seeing these writers’ successes gives me great joy. It has been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to seeing what they will write next.

Bissett Author PhotoCarina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and interstitial art. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Arterial Bloom, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Hath No Fury, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V and VI. She teaches online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium, and she is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at Stonecoast. Her work has been nominated for several awards including the Pushcart Prize and the Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

O MAD ARACHNE: A Folle in Three Acts

ACT I

Of course she’s bent
back, legs splayed
open for inspection
pride punished, Purgatory
reflected on a monster,
flanked,
an Infernal tapestry,
color curled,
secrets spun by sinners
who dared to fly to close
to the sun.

ACT II

In her Wisdom,
the goddess punished
the girl, a weaver, who needed
to learn a lesson—
as all girls do.
After all,
maidens are meant to be seen,
not heard.
Hubris for humanity,
despair hanging,
suspended, judged,
a tapestry of tragedy
wrought in twisted limbs,
bruised breasts, plundered spoils
of a war undeclared,
unquestioned.

ACT III

Talent?—Never, the matron
says. Wait!
The time will come—
an hour-glass counting down
minutes slipped,
regret shrouded,
ghosted, shed, obscure
glory days remembered
on cigarette breaks,
red lipstick smeared, feathered
lines, regret drowned,
boxed wine.

Remember, the matron says
to the dumpster, remember
she says to the stray
dog-bear, winged beast
remember, she says
to the spider who stares back,
eight eyes reflecting pride
shattered—
a warped mirror.

Inside the diner, a girl,
so young, so beautiful.
An artist—
a peer, a student, a child.
Listen, the matron says, stern,
unyielding.
An echo.
Wait.
The cycle resets.

## NonBinary Review #19 Dante’s Inferno, Zoetic Press. December 2018. The image above of Arachne is by Gustave Doré and is in the public domain. It was the inspiration behind this poem.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carina.bissett.5
Twitter: @cmariebissett
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/cmariebissett/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carina-Bissett/e/B00UK8VKDS%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/cmbissett

 

 

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Women in Horror: Deborah Davitt

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteWhen did you discover poetry and who influenced you?

Back in high school, I had a great teacher in my senior year who firmly taught us all that there was a clear and distinct difference between good writing and bad, and that poetry could easily be discerned as “good” or “bad” by applying tools to it–tools like looking for double-meanings and ambivalence and metaphor and so on. I took that first set of tools with me through college and grad school, where I focused on medieval and Renaissance literature, from Beowulf and Chaucer through Spenser and Shakespeare.

. . . and then I started writing poetry, and selling poetry, and I’m no longer convinced that there’s “good” poetry and “bad;” I think there’s “what’s to someone’s taste, and being lucky enough to find an audience for your voice” and that the world is a wonderfully more weird and complicated place than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

Why do you write poetry?

Why do I write poetry? That’s a good question. And the answer is manifold. Sometimes, I have an image or a word I can’t shake, and it doesn’t quite have a full story or a novel behind it, so I write the poem to get it out. Sometimes I write a poem because I’m angry or upset, and want to get *that* out. Sometimes I write poems as technical exercises, to prove, “yes, I can actually do a paradelle and have it make sense.”

Sometimes a poem written to a self-imposed prompt won’t leave me, and I wind up writing a longer story out of it. Or, as with last November, I wind up with a collection of poems that tell a narrative, and I find myself as compelled to finish that story as I ever have been with a piece of prose.

But in the end, I also write everything I write, poetry or prose, to communicate a thought or idea. I very rarely go for abstruse in my writing. I was a technical writer for just about twenty years, so my goal in everything I write is clarity and precision.

Hitogata

The world needs scapegoats and sin-eaters;
through which we might cast
our culpability into a doll,
a piece of bread, a slice of godly flesh,

washing them away in running water,
through which no evil spirit can pass,
or watch our sins slide,
sleekly buttered like a crumpet
past someone’s kindly lips,

erased and absolved,
taken on someone else’s shoulders—
oh, if only if guilt could be absolved
instead of perpetuated endlessly
in an endless cacophony online.

I swallowed my opinions,
buried them deep in my own gullet
where no one could hear my
confession and condemn me—
made my own flesh
my hitogata,

until I opened my eyes one night
to find myself surrounded
by a swarm of paper dolls
all wearing my face,
shuffling shiff-shiff, each to each,
as each flattened body slithered
under the door
to seek new homes.

I should have drowned them first.

## First published, Gyroscope Review, Issue 18-3, Summer 2018. Click here to hear Deborah’s reading of it on Gyroscope’s site!

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry? Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why? {note: Deborah sort of answered these together so I have put the questions together as well}

While I was assembling The Gates of Never out of previously-published works, alongside pieces I hadn’t yet had published, I tried to organize them by theme; I think the two weaknesses of many chapbooks and collections are different faces of the same coin–either authors go very one-note, without any contrast of theme or tone, or they’re very scattershot, with wildly different pieces next to each other without any build or theme.

So I approached my first collection as, essentially, sheaves or folios of my work, organized by theme, stapled together. And thus I started with my more mythological and folkloric work, the historical faces of evil, or at least of indifference, the monsters out of the past. Then I moved through the fairy tale retellings, and then into the futuristic and scientific stuff–much of which connects back to the mythic as well.

Some reviewers have asked me, “Why all the monsters?” and the answer is, we learn who we are as humans, by looking at our darkest impulses. All of our monsters are always ourselves, at least in part. Some reviewers have talked to me about the passion in  the poems–it’s there, sure. The desire to drown in another, and find yourself become someone new, when you’re a we, and no longer an I. . . and then the tension between the we and the I. . . all part of Eriksen’s crises, really, and I play in the Generativity column of his crises a great deal. And there’s also the thought that the past and the future are really all a part of the same thing.

Or you can read the poems and decide what they mean to you. I can’t control that. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes reading and writing so much fun!

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I can’t speak for others, but what attracts me to dark speculative poetry is really how it can illuminate our current mental and social condition, through metaphor, through fractured mythology. All poetry does that, to a certain extent, but dark poetry takes a look at the monsters of our id and ego, drags them out into the light, and lets us see them–and ourselves–for who we really are. And might encourage us to aspire to be more.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two collections of poems and a chapbook all out making the publisher’s rounds, and looking at my Submission Grinder entries, I have a total of 115 things sitting in various slushpiles at the moment. That’s about average for me, and it includes short stories, flash, poems, collections, and more. There are a couple of larger projects I owe myself work on, but I’ve gotten derailed from for some time–so I’ll be looking to redress that in about April.

Testament

The burin’s edge slants across my flesh,
slicing through the skin
like copper plates, intaglio;
chiseling runes in the ink of my blood,
staining his fingers black.

The lines entangle, enjamb,
weaving ascenders and descenders
in tender embraces,
each word opening me further,
binding me, defining me.

He writes me upside down
and backwards, so that
I hardly know myself yet,
but my hundred newly-open mouths
whisper secret meanings,
and offer atramentum kisses;

he soothes my wounds with
copper vitriol, making the words
holy and incorruptible,
incapable of fading into sepia;

yet as he kisses me, our tongues meeting,
the words spark white-fire
under my skin, the runes writhing
into new configurations,
just as true as the ones he placed there;

I wrap myself around him,
the words press against him,
brand him, surge into his soul;
I pour into him as he pours into me;
I whisper his name against his ear
and bind him as he bound me,
press him as a leaf among my leaves.

## First published in  Panoply, #7, Summer 2017; also appears in The Gates of Never

Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing horror or poetry?

I never thought I’d write poetry; it took my friend Michelle Muenzler mentioning that there was such a thing as speculative poetry, and that you could get paid for writing it, at my first convention back in 2015, to open me to the possibility. I never thought of myself as a “horror” writer; while I cheerfully employ dark elements to threaten and terrify my protagonists in novels and short stories, I’d never have thought of myself as at all akin to the horror writers I’ve read and enjoyed–I’d have considered myself closer to “dark fantasy” authors like Tim Powers, whose work I greatly enjoy. But here we are, which is to say that you’re never your own best judge of anything, so . . . go out and do stuff, and let other people worry about categorization!

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her ddavitt p17 - Copyhusband and son.  Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations and has been published at over fifty venues; her short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s EdgeCompelling Science Fiction, and Pseudopod. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com/bibliography. You can obtain her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, at https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-gates-of-never-by-deborah-l-davitt/ and may contact her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deborah.davitt.3 or on Twitter, @davittDL.

 

 

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Women in Horror: Lori Lopez

WiHM11-Scalples-whLori Lopez is my guest today for Women in Horror Month. Yet another fantastic writer with nominations and awards. And a special treat: Lori wrote a brand new poem, seen here for the first time.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

Well, that goes way back to Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and Doctor Seuss books.  I loved those, and then the Alice books by Lewis Carroll.  I became familiar with works such as “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, murder ballads “Tom Dooley” and “Barbara Allen,” folk songs, protest songs, and a variety of lyrics.  I believe I wrote my first poem in third grade inspired by Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  I was fascinated with verse and wrote it before getting into prose.  I recall writing and drawing when I wasn’t reading in my spare time as a child, and I never really stopped, though I was actually writing songs for some years as a young adult before focusing on poetry, short stories, novels and such.  I also illustrate my books.

Why do you write poetry?

It isn’t so much why I write poetry, it’s more that I cannot stop writing verse.  It practically flows from me like breath and has since I was small.  It really does come naturally, whether humorous or serious or dark, whether fantasy or science fiction, horror, speculative . . .  I seem to be drawn to dark poetry the most, yet I have written a fair amount of humorous pieces too.  And of course, the two will merge.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I find that poetry affects my prose and prose affects my poetry. They bleed into each other like humor and horror, blending. Things turn out funny that were supposed to be scary. It can cause delays for deadlines. Personally, I don’t mind if my prose is poetic at times, or my verse has a prose ring. Punctuation and breaks, flow and balance are emphasized in poetry, yet also important for prose I feel. And I enjoy horror comedy, growing up with The Munsters and The Addams Family and The Scooby Gang for inspiration! Not to mention Lewis Carroll (because I already did).

I like to tell stories, so longer narrative poems will pour out. That isn’t what’s “in” these days. I seldom write very short poems, and when I write haiku I like to do poems with multiple verses in haiku form. I used to rhyme more than I do now, but I do still love to rhyme. And I don’t care what the latest trends are, what’s popular. I write according to what the story or idea demands. So I guess being “current” or “relevant” might be a problem. I am hoping there will always be an audience for quality verse, even if it isn’t always a popular style. I do experiment and may be cutting-edge on occasion, but not because it’s expected.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I have a very themed series of poetry books based on a poetry column I was writing for about five years, “Poetic Reflections.”  The column is currently on pause but will continue (I hope), less often than before.  Each column has a specific theme, with a humorous prose intro and poems more or less on the subject.  I used the columns to begin chapters in the Poetic Reflections book series, then added more poems.  Right now I am preparing second editions in print for the first two volumes, Keep the Heart of a Child and The Queen of Hats.  The first volume includes song lyrics.  A third volume was released at the very end of 2018 as an E-book, Blood On the Moon, and will be released this year as an illustrated print edition.  I have a fourth volume underway titled Poe-etic.

lopez bookI am also releasing two related book series.  My Poetic Reflections collections and columns encompass a wide variety of poems.  In my Darkverse series I am literally putting together the “dark verse” and have released a volume titled Darkverse:  The Shadow Hours.  It’s available in E-book and illustrated print editions.  I plan to launch a series for my humorous verse as well.

I also have a series of stories told in rhyming prose, with the first one titled The Dark Mister Snark.  There will be two sequels released in the near future:  The Darker Mister Snark and The Darkest Mister Snark.  I’ll be publishing some other specific poetry books, and my novella The Strange Tail of Oddzilla contains a number of silly pieces.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I’ve always loved spooky things.  I’m not alone in that, and people in general seem to enjoy macabre musings, creepy moods, atmospheric settings at least some of the time.  It can help them cope with unpleasant realities, prepare them for the true-life moments that make hearts race.  It’s certainly fun around Halloween.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

There is a ghost collection of stories I hope to finally release this year, Spooktacular Tales, along with the second Mister Snark.

There may be a new dark poetry collection this year, and the first humorous compilation . . . plus new print releases for volumes one to three in my Poetic Reflections Series.  I have a few other special things I will be trying to get done.  There are so many projects to finish or start, and I never know how long things will take, especially my artwork.  I’ll see what I can accomplish in the months ahead, along with recording several of my songs with my sons for our new band, The Fairyflies.

Is there anything else about poetry or horror you’d like to mention?

I have a lot of horror tales published, and a lot of people don’t know about me yet.  I appreciate this chance to be featured for Women in Horror Month.

My sons and I released a funny Bigfoot sighting video last year, also The Chupacabra’s Jig with a spooky song and animated Chupacabras.  We’ll be doing plenty of interesting things together, horror and otherwise.  You can check out our website, Fairy Fly Entertainment, and look for us on You-Tube to find author readings and other videos.  We’re planning a couple of new web series and our first film projects in 2020 and beyond.

THE SACRIFICE

Digits of dread, cold as the chill of a grave
Fingerwalk the bones of my back in ghoulish strides
Up and down the column of a crooked spine
Wending like a road through the night. Woe is me,
Plodding such a route, silent as a charnel resting-place —
A pasture of tombs; a network of catacombs, the bodies
Buried deep to slumber undisturbed. Lucky stiffs.
I envy their repose, their peace.

Cloaked in exquisite solitude I roam, unable to nap
Or catch a wink. Solemn as a wraith, a specterless spirit.
Hunched in reverie without words, my phantom thoughts
Dark and elusive. Troubles submerged, unseen but sensed,
Like a fanged bloodfiend in the mirror, for that is
Surely the worst and the most free, to be glimpsed not —
Even by one’s self. I’ve read the tales, the folklore.
I comprehend their pain and misery.

Yet I am more alone, and spend my days wishing
I were blind, to not view these scars, the mounds of
Brute force, an ogre’s shadow! Wishing not to be aware.
On fleeting respites I carve a trail of un-speculation through
Shadow and street. Then return to my fate, and none the
Wiser. Me or the masses. For my calling is no clearer
To the eye of the ignorant. No more obvious than scratches
Under a coffin’s lid.

How comforting that could seem at my lowest point.
A bed without disruption, minus the echoes from end to end
Of these infernal waking minutes. The drudgery of days
Wretched beyond measure, crossing any limit of sanity,
While the late and early hours flit away in a moth’s aerial
Fairydance — too swift, too intangible. A mere blink,
And then I am risen from the Keeper’s hut above
The beldam’s abyss.

Someone has to bear it, the weight and monotony . . .
The blistering ache and dire lamentous torment of my tasks.
In complete oblivion, anonymous, thankless, friendless
I labor . . . to fulfill an oath, a purpose that few in reality
Would believe or appreciate. It must be carried out, so that
Everyone like you will have a chance to lead a happier life.
Isn’t that how the story goes? How it’s supposed to end?
I perform this sacrifice . . .

There is a larger good, I need to believe that.
It is all I’ve got left to remember you. Eight years ago
I made a vow, accepted the destiny of fathers and sons in our
Bloodline. I was a daughter. No man-child remained of age.
And I did not inherit size or strength, but had to be adapted —
Flesh rebuilt from daintier, warped from beauty into beast,
Transformed like a monster by gruesome procedures and
Parts. Ripped from the arms of my young . . .

Who I may nevermore visit, hold, or speak with.
I miss you both. And fear for you. The patchwork creature
Of bulk and brawn a kind lass became has no resemblance,
No claim to such foolish daydreams. Wistful reflections.
A faraway existence. Only this. My duty and ordeal.
You were too small. If I might talk to you again, sweet children;
If I could share a last Bedtime Story, I would explain that
Once upon a time . . .

There were four Great Witches. Lazy. Selfish.
Rancorous old women. A family of very huge, very hungry
Sisters. And sometimes families cannot get along. These
Siblings fought over everything! To protect the world,
They had to be kept apart . . . These hags are vital for they
Control the Seasons and Elements. Without them,
A fragile balance could be destroyed. Their mother —
Nature — the Planet — would be in chaos.

I and male cousins toil as Witchkeepers. The Cavewitch
Locked in a mountain. The Woodwitch confined to a towering
Treehouse. The Pondwitch inhabiting a cage submerged,
The mudpool her kettle. Each stirs a cauldron, maintains a Spell.
The Wellwitch I tend, chained at the base of a dry stone pit.
At Dawn I must drag her out of bed, lug the enormous crone
To her pot, then collect sackfuls of ingredients. Fat Pumpkins.
Thick Toadstools. Fresh-picked Banewort and Witchgrass.

Devil’s Hand. Goat’s Rue. Bee Orchids. Witch Hazel.
Snapdragon Seed Pods. The Root of Mandrake. Flame and
Voodoo Lilies. The shed Skin of Poisonous Spiders and Serpents.
The Spit of Wildcats. Stray Owl Feathers and Bear Fur.
Whiskers fallen from Vampire Bats. A broken Bigfoot Toenail.
Laughing Hyena Tears. Lost Milkteeth from below the pillows
Of ornery sleeping Tots. A demanding list of foraged items to
Feed the Witch and fuel her Potion.

Vapors of enchantment ascend the steep rounded shaft,
Wafting, blending, merging with magick from her siblings
To form a purple layer of gases, embracing, shielding
Earth. Colorless to mortal gazes, undetected. Keeping you
Safe. Tomorrow I repeat the routine, climbing to the floor.
Moving the Witch. Scaling the Well. Gathering the List.
Hauling it to the cauldron. This time I will have slipped inside,
Instead of lingering at the window.

I may look like a beast; my heart is the same that
Always loved you. When you read this note, my darlings,
Picture me as I was. Tell your father to take you far.
I will not endure forever. This burden grinds one down,
And I do not want it to be yours. The world might not
Be as secure, as stable in the future. You will need to
Watch out for each other. Do not be afraid to live.
Do not despair over me.

I must stay alert or am haunted by grim concerns.
I cannot allow myself to think: What if I refused?
What if I tricked the Witch to do my bidding, rather than
Permit these changes? What if I were the mother you
Knew and could run off with you . . . It’s too late now,
My dears. A surgeon and your grandma contrived this
Ruin. I thought there was no choice. When I think,
I see the truth — that I was deceived.

##

lopez

Lori R. Lopez is an award-winning author, poet, songwriter, and illustrator who loves wearing hats.  Books include The Dark Mister Snark, Leery Lane, An Ill Wind Blows, Odds & Ends: A Dark Collection, and Darkverse: The Shadow Hours.  Verse and prose have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines such as The Horror Zine, Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Bewildering Stories, H.W.A. Poetry Showcases, California Screamin’ (the Foreword Poem), Grey Matter Monsters, Dead Harvest, and Fearful Fathoms Volume I.

Vegan and an activist, Lori resides in Southern California.  She’s originally from Wisconsin and has lived in Hawaii, Florida, and Spain.  Her works span a range of genres — primarily Horror, Speculative, Dark Fantasy, Suspense, and Humor.  Lori co-owns Fairy Fly Entertainment with her two talented sons.

A 2020 Rhysling Award Nominee and a 2018 Elgin Award Nominee, her other honors include three first places in the 2018 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards, finalist for poetry in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards, second place for poetry in the 2016 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, second place for humor in the 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, and winner in the 2014 San Diego Book Awards.

Website: www.fairyflyentertainment.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/fairyflyent
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/lori-r.-lopez
https://amazon.com/author/lorirlopez

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Women in Horror: Lynne Sargent

WiHM11-Scalples-whI’ve been impressed and honored to feature so many great poets for Women in Horror Month, and that continues with today’s guest, Lynne Sargent..

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

The first poetry I encountered was Tolkien’s, as a child I loved poetry that was seeded into the books I loved to read. I started seeking out external poetry after coming across Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot” in Meg Cabot’s Avalon High. After I started writing poetry in high school as the result of a book report assignment, I also fell in love with Dickinson, Wilde, Plath, and when I found speculative poetry and started publishing, my horizons broadened even further and now I love poets like Amal El-Mohtar, Leah Bobet, Holly Lyn Walrath, and Brandon O’Brien. In general, my poetry is hugely influenced by politics, myths, and fairy tales.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry because it’s how I organize my brain. Poetry writing is an intense and sidelong endeavor in journaling, and its also how I work through ideas/emotions/problems that are too complex to handle in plain language.

Particularities

She put a grain of sand
under my eyelid,
not a pea
under my mattress

and still, I do not sleep.

Each morning comes,
the performed joy of waking
for his honor, the unemotional tears
second, unbidden, borne of irritation
or exhaustion, I know not
which.

I yawn at the day
at how carefully they scrub my skin
how precisely they watch my hand
with the knife at the dinner table.

I never pretended to be a princess,
I just was a discomforted woman
-and that was enough for them to avoid
the cost of a corset.

Now I dream of bedding you,
how you will lick my face clean
again, give me new eyes
like a new name.

Our kingdom will be a hundred mattresses high
all of them waiting to be stained salty,
too uncomfortable to look
upon, and you will know

the grating that can keep you
from sleep.

## Previously published in Dreams & Nightmares

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I find the most difficult aspect in writing poetry is the editing: refining an idea down, keeping it focused, ensuring the punctuation and breaks say exactly what you want to say, and making specific things general or camouflaged enough that readers can find something to grasp onto and see themselves in.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

The themes I find myself coming back to time and time again are issues of oppression, and the ways that stories can challenge oppression or reinforce it. As storytellers and writers, we have a fine line to walk making sure that the things we write are moving, but also that they have responsible messages.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I think dark poetry is attractive because in some ways it’s taboo, and it lets us talk about taboo things. Poetry is often about vulnerability and honesty, saying things that can’t be said in other ways. Dark subjects share that with poetry so they suit each other well. I also think in some ways poetry makes the grotesque more manageable, we make it pretty so its harder to look away.

Meat Puppets

They eat the children’s dancing skins
to the soundtrack of thunder in the next room over

while I take off your clothes,
and your flesh, and make love
to the naked muscles and bones beneath.

We chopped off limbs like they were butter,
rode dirt bikes through decrepit parking lots
told campfire stories while watching the gangrene seep into our skin

crawl its way all the way up to our eyeballs,
until the sunrise only looked like hunger.

and now here I am-
at screams and storms and meaty pieces

bloody, but satiated.

## Previously published in Polar Borealis

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’m working on getting my first book ready for publication with Renaissance Press! A Refuge of Tales is chock full of fairy tales and myths, and how they still influence our lives and the stories we tell about our world now. It’s my first collection (full-length) or otherwise so its very exciting and very nerve wracking.

Is there anything else you want to say about horror or poetry?

Let poetry wash over you! If you don’t understand it, that’s okay, just relax and let it make you feel how you will feel. Anyone can read and/or love poetry; its not just for critics and experts in literary analysis!

SargentLynne Sargent is a writer, aerialist, and philosophy Ph.D student currently studying at the University of Waterloo. Her work has appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Dreams and Nightmares, and Augur Magazine, among others. She is a Rhysling and Aurora Award Nominated poet. Her first poetry collection A Refuge of Tales is forthcoming from Renaissance Press, and received an Ontario Arts Council Grant. If you want to find out more, reach out to her on Twitter @SamLynneS, or find a complete list of her published works at scribbledshadows.wordpress.com

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Women in Horror: Halli Lilburn

WiHM11-GrrrlWhite

Today’s guest is Halli Lilburn, a Canadian poet, editor and fiction writer.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I started in high school when I was first diagnosed with depression. I used it as an outlet. My first great influences were Neil Gaiman, Shakespeare (thanks to the curriculum) and my grandmother.

Why do you write poetry?

For attention.  Honest answer.  I need to understand myself and I need others to understand me.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?  

I want to have a point and often it’s difficult to translate the feelings and misgivings of my heart into a formula that others can understand.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I enjoy themes like steampunk, nature, resurrection and spiritual powers. My chapbook, The Ballad of the Sea Lion Woman takes myths and fairy tales and spins them into steampunk tales.

Monster

I need your eyes
Scoop them out for me
So bright and alive
They will show me much more than before
I need your legs
Just chop them off
So strong and steady
They will take me much farther than before
Give me your voice
I wrecked mine when I stopped caring
So, I will rewind time
And breathe deep again.
Your brain, I need your brain next
To fill in the holes and the shadows
Carved out by abuse and ignorance
You should hear the things I was told.
The racist, sexist, ablest common norms
That stained me.
I got to switch up that rubbish with hipster tolerance and representation
While you’re at it, give me your liver, your heart, your age, your diet, your height and your depth.
The depth you stabbed me with when you tried to kill me.
Tried to rid society of old monsters like me.
Me and my entitlement, fake news and fake tan
But I can’t die. I can’t even get sick
Drown me, crush me, incinerate me.
My broken bones will snap back in place
And I will reach out and steal your parts
Piece myself back together.
You never wanted the responsibility or ownership or accountability
I’ll leave what’s left of you propped up in a chair
Hooked up to machines
With the occasional lightning bolt to zap life into you.
Your eye sockets can stare out
The passive listener like you always wanted
‘Cause man, if you had legs you might have used them.
If you still had a voice you might have to speak out.

## from We Shall Be Monsters

lilburnWhat is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

People need to wake up to the world around them.  The horror of indecency needs to be exposed so that we can abhor it and fight it.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I am working on a sky pirate adventure novel with my 17-year-old daughter.  She creates the monsters and I write the fight scenes. We are excited to get it published.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about poetry or horror?

My spelling can be horrifying and I apologize for that, but I won’t let it stop me from writing. Not any more. I had teachers who cared about nothing else and that really stifled me but my skills lie in structure and imagery so stop telling me I’m stupid.  Not lilburn biohelpful.

You can find Halli at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5301255.Halli_Lilburn  I have works in Tesseracts 18 and 22, Carte Blanche, Vine Leaves and many others.  I am an editor with essentialedits.ca and The Dame Was Trouble by Coffin Hop Press.  She teaches creative writing, art journaling and steampunk workshops.  She is also a Dungeon Master.

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Women in Horror: Jacqueline West

WiHM11-Scalples-wvWhen did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I discovered poetry as a kid, when I spent many hours browsing the narrow aisles of our little public library. Shakespeare and Poe and other classics came first, and then I moved on to T.S. Eliot and e. e. cummings, and around age thirteen I found Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and fell madly in love. Because I couldn’t afford all of those books myself (and because the internet wasn’t really a thing yet), I would copy all of my favorite poems down by hand in a blank book, so I could keep them and reread them again and again and again.

Why do you write poetry?

Because I can’t help it, I suppose. These days, I spend far more time writing fiction, but I began with poetry, and I think I’ll always return to it. A novel is a giant, sprawling construction, and I love wandering around in the worlds that I get to create that way, but I’m not sure there’s anything more satisfying than a finished poem. The rhythm and color and magic of words is put on such perfect display in poetry. Everything else is pared away.

Seven Whistlers

The Whistlers are six spectral birds who circle the world in search of a seventh. When all seven fly together, the world will end.

Close as papers in a book
they nest, now and then,
though they do not sleep.
Their open eyes glister
like slag in the dark.
Four, five, six keep watch
restlessly, settling wings
that send a dry wind
knocking cornstalks,
distant shutters.
They are family;
they are one body.
They love one another like bones.

Listen—
in the darkening sky
the whistle of breeze
through hollow things.
They are passing over.
The moan of breath
in an empty bottle;
a storm, miles off,
cut on the crest of a hill.
The chill of rain
without water.
They pass on.
They are searching still.

They have no call.
They only stare.
The pitch of air
through skeletons
and featherless wings as broad as sails
carries over miles, over mountains
and seas. Seven seeds,
holding secrets
that will split and swell,
while somewhere
the lost one waits.
Someday the pieces
will fall into place.

##  from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

In my most recent novel, I got to write both prose and poetry. The book is my modern-West CandlePinsCover600day, Minnesotan, metal re-imagining of the musician who may have sold his soul to the devil, so I got to write lyrics for my protagonist’s songs—which was incredibly fun.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The line between ambiguity and too-obviousness can be pretty fine. Often what seems perfectly clear in your head doesn’t actually make it onto the paper—so then you revise until you’re afraid that all the mystery and richness is gone, and then you have to go back and start all over again.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

A lot of my work is inspired by folklore, myth, and fairy tales. My collection Candles and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, is obviously rooted in superstitious beliefs and lore. Each poem explores a different superstition; some are whimsical, and some are very dark. I’m West LastThings Final Coveralso often inspired by history and location. My chapbook, Cherma, is not speculative, but it was inspired by rambles around a historic cemetery…

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Like many people have said, dark literature gives us a safe way to confront our fears as well as our other deep, dark emotions—to examine them, make sense of them, play with them. And a lot of us just find the dark and strange to be beautiful.

A Few Rules

Young people who fall in love while dressed in mourning clothes are doomed never to marry.

No flirting at the funeral.
No caressing near the casket.
No hand-holding behind the hearse,
no giggling at the grave.
Don’t parade your liveliness, your loveliness,
your youth, your certainty that you
will never be the ones shut up
out here, beneath the neat green hills
where every party peters out.
Don’t be too smug.
Don’t snuggle down among the tombs.
Don’t wink behind the preacher’s back,
steal a bloom from the bouquets.
You’ll be tempted. You’ll be sorry.
Don’t think that just because
the dead are dead they can’t be petty.
That just because they’re underground
they don’t begrudge you that quick kiss,
don’t hear and covet your fluttering heart

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’ve got a short story coming out in the anthology Nox Pareidolia: Volume II later this year, and I’m at work on my next fantasy/horror middle grade novel, which should be released by Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2021.

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and several other West2017 croppedmiddle grade and young adult novels. Her most recent novel, the YA horror/fantasy Last Things, is a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards and has been selected for the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Liminality, and Star*Line, and she has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and two Pushcart Prizes, and received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her first full-length poetry collection, Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions was published by Alban Lake in 2018 and was selected for the preliminary ballot of the Bram Stoker Awards. Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.

www.jacquelinewest.com

Escaping the Dawn

On Halloween, all souls in hell are released for twenty-four hours.

Their hunger builds in the last hours.
Streetlamps flicker, the small storms
of moths and mayflies long departed.
Gradual as a freeze, the liquid dark
turns white, ice trapping the moment
in anesthesia. Stars dull their corners.
The moon dissolves, a brittle skull
swirled to the edge of a seashell.
This is their warning. Dragged back
into closets, to the dust under beds,
to dark corners, to graffiti-spattered
holes, they mutter, unsatisfied, licking
their fingers. Day takes its first breath
on the horizon as they stagger slowly
back toward the darkness, always just
out of reach of those long, bright hands.

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

The Collectors #2: A Storm of Wishes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Last Things (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Digging Up Danger (Rodale Kids/Penguin Random House, 2019)
The Collectors (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018)
Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions (Alban Lake, 2018)
The Books of Elsewhere (Dial/Penguin, 2010 – 2014)

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Women in Horror: Trisha Wooldridge

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Today’s guest poet for Women in Horror Month is Trisha Wooldridge who has had fiction in the EPIC award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, and Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory. She also won the Eye on Life prize for her poem “To Me, You Are Holy,” in 2011.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I discovered poetry in my childhood through nursery rhymes and nursery rhyme collections, many of which have surprisingly disturbing poems! I was probably only about six or seven when I read Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and I was physically ill from the thought of eating that school of baby oysters. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop rereading it because I sensed that there was a Deep Truth to the nonsense: you couldn’t trust people; not everyone has your best interests in mind; people will hurt you to their benefit. In fact, if you look at a lot of children’s nursery rhymes, they talk about horrible and true things. London Bridge falling down, the plague, children getting hurt, being unable to heal from injuries… And then in grade school, we had Shel Silverstein, who also dealt with complicated and sometimes dark issues with nonsensical verse: being lazy, being bullied, things going wrong for no reason, dealing with the fair and unfair consequences to actions… So, from a young age, poetry was where I found a place to explore complicated and scary emotions.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry to process my most complicated and difficult emotions. While I love prose, poetry works on more levels than linear storytelling. With poetry, the white space, line breaks, punctuation are as much the message as the words—and word choice and word order carry more meaning than in a prose construction. So often emotions or situations—dealing with death, betrayal, self-analysis, pain, truest love—don’t fit into just words or just sentences. They need more—more dimensions, more meanings, more places to fit meanings. Poetry is a gift and tool for such feelings and experiences.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

Honestly, everything! If I’m writing a poem, it’s because I already have a complex, possibly painful or achingly beautiful—relationship with a topic. But the construction of a poem is also a challenge. Some poems are meant to be shorter free verse, others are 5,000-word rhymed and metered monstrosities! Some poems need a haiku, so you’re limited with an exceptionally short and rigid form. So, writing a poem is not only doing a deep-dive into emotions, it’s painstakingly finding the right form and then working it into that form. And then making sure it might hopefully make sense to someone else.

If I can share a bit of a story behind this one? It’s currently unpublished. I wrote it as a challenge to myself when I was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago: I would to record the first month of taking Adderall by writing a poem about mental health every day. It was my most productive and poetic month; I’ve actually found myself able to write more poems overall since the diagnosis. At some point, once I edit them all, I plan on collecting all 30 poems and some other ADHD related ones into a chap book.

Poetic Coping Strategies – An Adderall Poem

I’m reading three
different
books of poetry—
one whimsical songs of birds, death, and dinosaurs;
one exploding, burning galaxy that equally loves and tears asunder;
one a musical road trip of drugs, sex, murder, and suicide—
       not always in that order.

They are different sized books
       with different textured covers,
 and I read from each in parts
       and in succession,
 and together they make sense
       in the coils and tangles
            wiring my brain.

I’ve written more poems
       than there are days
            in these past months.

Last time I hyperfocused
       on poetry,
Death was on the lines—
       past and future.
That then-present medicated haze
       left me leaving
metered and rhymed
       text messages
            unintentionally.
It rewired my brain—
       not that it was
       factory setting normal
       in the first place.
Or ever.

But that was then—
      an emotional fractal
      honed by a deadline I didn’t
      want to miss—
 And this is now—
      a mental fractal
      tasting medicine
      enhanced by the
      promise
            of opportunity.

No less
      an interest-based
      obsession.
No less
      a force of nature.More me,
      being the me
            I want to be.

## Due to WordPress issues and to preserve the formatting–which is not spaced as Trisha wanted it–I could not get this to show in the same font.

If I can share a bit of a story behind this one? It’s currently unpublished. I wrote it as a challenge to myself when I was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago: I would to record the first month of taking Adderall by writing a poem about mental health every day. It was my most productive and poetic month; I’ve actually found myself able to write more poems overall since the diagnosis. At some point, once I edit them all, I plan on collecting all 30 poems and some other ADHD related ones into a chapbook.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I do tend to write in themes. A lot of my poetry explores mortality and the relationships people have with death and mortality through faith, spirituality, and religion—and how faith, spirituality, and religion can be positive or toxic to one’s life before they die. I’ve also recently been having quite the unwelcome roller-coaster of emotion in relation to health, mental health, the American medical culture, and the social culture around women’s health and overall mental health, so I’ve written a LOT of poems on that recently. I also love writing about the weirdly or eerily or creepily beautiful things in nature. And I have always been drawn to speculative topics—to magic, to monsters, to mythology, to the fae. So, while I do have some poems that are specifically fantastical or speculative, a lot of speculative elements work their way into my poems. As far as I’m concerned, magic is real and all around us, so most anything can and should acknowledge that.

Woodridge book

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Everybody has things they are afraid of; speculative anything creates metaphors, thought experiments, that let people explore their fears from a safer distance than actually experiencing those fears; and poetry pushes the brain to think and comprehend the message in a different way than prose. Dark speculative poetry gives people a means to explore their fears, and thus give them some measure of power to handle those fears, through the use of metaphor and thought experiment in a form that both creates distance from the fear but also forces them to think about the fear in a different way. And in thinking about the fear differently and from a distance, a person can further empower themselves and perhaps see new ways to deal with that fear.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’m really bad at putting together poetry publications. Usually I submit single poems to particular markets, and I currently haven’t got any poems I know are coming out soon. However, I am editing the next New England Horror Writers anthology, Wicked Women, and we are open to poems. It’s open to women who are current members of NEHW with a deadline of February 29. So, if you’ve got women readers in New England, they should check out the NEHW organization, join if so moved (it’s free!)… and send me some work! That should be out this October. Also, my contribution to New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, also coming out this October, is poetic prose. As for what I’m working on, poetry-wise, I have a collection of Ekphrastic cards (poems paired with photos) that I’ve been bringing to events; I’m very proud of those. And I’m currently going through a set of poems I wrote when I was diagnosed with ADHD that deal with mental health and putting that together in likely a chapbook collection.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about horror or poetry?

I went for some years just writing fiction and non-fiction, focusing on those for publication, and then I happened to hear Linda Addison read at a SF/F convention in Long Island…and I like to say she broke my brain in the best possible way. I bought one of everything she had that day and consumed it all. Since then, I’ve actually had the honor and pleasure of getting to know her through the horror community, so I can’t recommend her enough. But once Linda set me right and back into poetry, life was altogether better. Besides Linda, I love the poetry by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, whose poetry may or may not get employed by Unseelie courts to entrap humans. Stephanie Wytovich’s poems cast amazing and beautifully profane spells that shatter reality into lacy spiderwebs. Donna Lynch (who I first discovered through the band Ego Likeness, which everyone should also check out!) will eat you alive, heart or liver first, with the jagged teeth of her poems, while you sing along. Um…many more. But those three happen to actually be in my line of sight while I type this. Check out the HWA Poetry Showcase collections!

wooldridge bio

Trisha J. Wooldridge (or child-friendly T.J. Wooldridge) writes novels, short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about bad-ass faeries, carnivorous horses, social justice witches, vengeful spirits—and mundane stuff like food, hay-eating horses, social justice debates, writer advice, and alcoholic spirits. Her publications include stories and poems in all of the New England Horror Writer anthologies, The HWA Poetry Showcase Volume 5 and Volume 6, the Pseudopod podcast, and The Book of Twisted Shadows, The Jimmy Fund charity anthology Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, as well as three spooky kids’ novels. Her poetry and art have been featured in the Blackstone Valley Artist Association Art-Poetry shows of 2017, 2018, and 2019. She is also editing the 2020 New England Horror Writers anthology, Wicked Women, open to all NEHW members who identify as women. Rare moments of mystical “free time” are spent with a very patient Husband-of-Awesome, a calico horse, and a bratty tabby cat. Join her adventures at www.anovelfriend.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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Women in Horror: Gerri Leen

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteThis 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.

String Theory

It gets loose
In the night
That damned puppet
I can hear it
Clickity-clack
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
Sprinkle it
Salt 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.

Eat

“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.

LeenGerri 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.

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Filed under entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Writing