Denise Dumars is today’s guest poet. She talks about her love of poetry, interests in weird themes and being considered strange.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I honestly don’t remember NOT knowing about or reading poetry. In my day it was common for people to learn to read before starting school, and children’s books are full of poetry. My favorite poem when I was a little girl was called “Overheard on a Saltmarsh” by Harold Monro. It’s about a goblin who is just dying to get these green glass beads that a nymph is wearing. He’s howling and freaking out and the nymph tells him to shut up because she stole the beads from the moon. So, yeah, fairly dark poem for a little girl. I guess I haven’t changed. I went on to favor Poe, Lovecraft, Baudelaire, and especially Emily Dickinson. Dickinson lived in a repressed era in which formalist poetry was pretty much the only poetry, and so she made up her own forms and lived her life her way. When she discovered that the neighborhood kids were whispering about her, she started wearing white to add to her “legend.” She also had an unrequited love for a married clergyman. Dark romantic all the way! I discovered the small press in the late 1970’s, and found so many poets that I felt a kinship with and who wrote work that I admired. There are too many to name, of course, but some names for Women in Horror month that pop up immediately are Corinne DeWinter, Ann K. Schwader, Marge Simon, Stephanie Wytovich, Linda Addison, Deborah Kolodji, Nancy Ellis Taylor…I could go on and on. See also my answers to the last question.
Why do you write poetry?
I had this student who always wore cat ears to class. I asked her one day, “Why do you always wear cat ears to class?” She said, “Why not wear cat ears to class?” She had a point. It’s like that with poetry, and people look askance at you for writing it almost as much as they look askance at someone wearing cat ears every day. But seriously, I think poets are born, not made. Poetry is just something I do; it’s part of my identity. No matter how much fiction and nonfiction I write, people primarily think of me as a poet. And I haven’t had much time to write in the last few years. I still have to make a living, and most of my free time has been spent taking care of elders in my family and managing their lives. I’m just now getting back, gradually, to my writing. My most recent book of poetry came out in 2012, and was nominated for an Elgin twice, and then later that same year my aunt got sick and I became her conservator. I’ll spare you the details; right now I’m trying to manage my late father’s estate and see that my mother is cared for. It’s a full-time unpaid job. I’ve been recently published in Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Space & Time, Eternal Haunted Summer, The Literary Hatchet and several other genre and mainstream poetry journals. Not having time to write has almost driven me over the edge, I’ll admit, so I guess I could say that poetry has saved my life multiple times.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
Well, except for the fact that people in the U.S. think you’re weird for writing poetry, I think getting in a poetic frame of mind is hard, especially if you’ve been writing a lot of prose. Few people really encourage you except when you write fiction and nonfiction, so when I write a lot of that I find it very hard to come back to poetry. I’m working on a couple of novels right now and have several new short stories I’m revising. I also have to write a second volume of one of my most popular nonfiction books, The Dark Archetype. Teaching doesn’t help. It’s really been the kiss of death for my vocabulary. I can’t spell anymore, either. A colleague warned me about that when I first started teaching and I thought she was kidding, but now that I’ve taught college English for 24 years I find that it’s true. Thankfully, I’ve been nominated for a Rhysling several times and even won a second-place Rhysling once.
They’re not what you think.
Transparent Hells’ Angels,
Dude may have weighed 280 in life
But now weighs less than a feather.
A last member of the Hessians’
“One percent” is on his oxygen tank today
Telling me how he saw his late friend,
The one Jim Carroll wrote about,
Who came looking for him
Right there in Intensive Care,
Transparent as a hooker’s raincoat.
You don’t tell him that you’ve seen them
As they laugh through red light cameras
Disappearing into the Milky Way
Out around Yucca Valley,
Heading toward the honky-tonk
At Pappy’s Pioneer Town,
Leaving you in the dust of life
Out where the sky
Is vaster than the afterlife,
Darker than the demons
That compelled the ghost riders
To leave the mainstream world behind
Even while they were alive,
None fearing the end
That inevitably comes too soon.
You taste salt and Reaper Ale
On your tongue, grow claustrophobic
Beneath a sky you had no idea
Was so fucking crowded,
And the hollow roar
Of phantom engines nearly drowns out
The Gram Parsons tribute band
At Pappy’s, and you are the one sad
Mutherfucker alone in the crowd.
You could disappear
Into the tarantula darkness
Of the Mojave,
A vision quest
Beneath the great chaotic
Smear of the night sky,
Or you could stop awhile
And listen to their voices
Before going back to the bar,
Just too damned ironic,
Then the long, dark
Lonely road home.
Don’t worry; they’ll be here
When you travel the dark highway
Again. You’ll start to feel the freedom
Of coming and going as one pleases,
Without corporeal limits.
It’s a trap; don’t believe it.
Every one would come back full-throttle
Sell his weevily soul
For just one more taste of Jack Daniels
One kiss from the girl singer
In Daisy Dukes.
Finish your beer; say a prayer;
Give them the middle-finger salute
Or any other gesture
You feel is appropriate,
And let them fade, fade,
Headlights lost in the Milky Way.
## I wrote this poem in memory of my late cousin, James Hicks, who was a biker. It appeared in my book Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, 2012, White Cat Publications.
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
My latest book of poetry, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal has a theme: paranormal investigation in the modern world. It just cracks me up the way ghost hunters nowadays use a plethora of electronic devices to talk to ghosts! They go hollering down hallways and banging on walls. Whatever happened to séances? Whatever happened to being quiet and listening? I find the whole thing hilarious. Overall I tend to write dark work: horror, dark fantasy, dark SF. I prefer the supernatural and the mysteries of nature and the universe, but I do write some mainstream poetry. As for themes, I think alienation, melancholy, loneliness, decay—you know, the usual! All of my books are out of print except the ones I still have copies of to sell. However, I do a lot of poetry readings. Check out my website or my Facebook page for info. I started performing with Casketeria, a dark romantic poetry performance troupe that also delves into humor. They’re an offshoot of a troupe I read with back in the 90’s called Undead Poets Society. Poetry is part of the oral tradition; it’s meant to be heard.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
It’s the same frisson you get from reading a horror story, watching a horror movie, listening to Goth music or viewing dark artwork. It’s all about the emotion; horror is a feeling, not a genre, really, and I forgot who first said that! Poetry is uniquely suited to evoking feelings, so if those feelings are dark and creepy, poetry really brings those emotions to the fore in an immediate way.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I mentioned novels and short stories and nonfiction, but as for poetry, I have a couple of collections working, and I’m promising myself that in 2020 I will submit far more poetry and get some of my chapbooks and book-length stuff together to submit to publishers. As for a themed collection I keep thinking of goofy crazy things—I have one called Heisenberg’s Phone Bill and another called Cajuns in Space, but I’ll probably finish a darker collection first—Kali Yuga Raga. We’re living in the Kali Yuga—the time of troubles. According to Hindu lore the Kali Yuga started on my birthday—Feb. 18th—around five thousand years ago. A raga is a Hindu pattern of notes that can be played for, oh, several hours to several days! I have a very dark view of our society and the future right now. That definitely does factor into my poetic themes. I’m a Lovecraftian, also, but as much as I try to stay away from Lovecraft these days the themes of cosmic horror keep sneaking up on me. My column on finding speculative poetry in mainstream magazines is published in each new issue of Star*Line, so look for that.
Is there anything else you would like to say about writing, poetry or horror?
I really believe in the beauty of decadence in its literal sense of decay. It’s a romantic thing; the love of cemeteries and ruined buildings and famous people whose lives ended tragically. I can be pretty harsh in my writing, but I think it all goes back to the darkly romantic. I was “Goth” before the word had begun to be used to describe the subculture. I like that science is now able to observe decaying orbits and suns and things like that, so that we can enjoy the beauty of the decaying cosmos. I love Paris, like all poets, but I also love Mexico and New Orleans, both of which display some of the same cultural tendencies toward dark romanticism. New Orleans is a part of my heritage on my father’s side, and it shows up in my poetry a lot. I keep a picture of his aunt Josephine on my bookshelf guarding some of my contributor’s copies. It’s an eerie picture of her in her nun habit in the fog—like the ghost of the Flying Nun! A sizable part of my interests also run toward surrealism and Dada—Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, went to Mexico and famously said, “This country does not need our movement.” In Mexico they have meet-ups for all the kids who wear black—it doesn’t matter if you’re emo or Goth, a metalero (fan of heavy metal), a witch, a vampire or whatever–wear black and come to this coffee house at such and such a time on such and such a day. How poetic is that?
Denise Dumars is a college English instructor, poet, fiction writer, and writer of metaphysical nonfiction. She is the author’s liaison for the academic journal Coreopsis: Journal of Myth and Theatre, and writes a quarterly column for Star*Line. She also helms Rev. Dee’s Apothecary: a New Orleans-Style Botanica, available online at www.DyanaAset.com and https://www.facebook.com/RevDeesApothecary/. She has a blog that no one reads at https://dyanaaset.blogspot.com/. See these links and her own website, www.DeniseDumars.com, for more info and book sales. She was born and still lives in Los Angeles County’s beautiful South Bay region, but her heart is in New Orleans. She has published two collections of short fiction, several poetry chapbooks, one full-length book of poetry, and two metaphysical texts, one co-authored with Lori Nyx. Many years ago she also had a screenplay optioned, co-authored with Nancy Ellis Taylor. She can be found grousing and muttering to herself at https://www.facebook.com/denise.dumars.