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Four Murders can only be bought here.

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Well, I have been through two disasters when it comes to small press genre publishing.  I don’t bring them up to pour salt on anybody’s wound, but to simply point out how happy I was to see Needfire publish Barry Napier’s “A Mouth For Picket Fences.”   My history with Barry is rather simple.  One day, while reading for a poetry anthology, I opened up my email to see a submission from him.   I never talked or interacted with him before.  It was the first time I ever saw his name.  I seriously considered the poem for a moment, and then typed out a kind rejection.  Then, I tried to go on my way.  For some reason, his poem lingered for awhile, even if it didn’t fit the guidelines I was operating under.  Basically, the poem was written in a very contemporary way, which sometimes is a highly rare thing when it comes to horror and poetry.  So, I wrote him back and asked for him to seriously consider sending me something else.  He did, and both poems easily became my two favorite poems in Death in Common.  So, began, via email, to twist his arm into writing a book of poetry.  He seemed interested, so I applied more pressure to twisted arm.  Then, the floor fell out from the publishing arrangement that I had at the time, and then it also crumbled around the follow up attempt to publish that anothology.  With those set backs came the sinking realization that I was harassing a guy into writing a book, and then had no means to publish it.  That changed with my new relationship with Belfire Press and its Needfire imprint.   And, I’m very glad I was able to stick with Barry and see it through to the end, wherever that end took us.  A Mouth For Picket Fences is a really, really good book.  I’m honored that I was able to facilitate Barry’s interest in every way that I could.

Oh, and yeah, it’s available on Amazon.  I highly recommend it.

Wherein I talk about things!

Specifically: Wood Life, Death in Common, Into the Cruel Sea, growing up overseas, and my problems with “horror poetry.”

A fragmented (but very readable) book about the messy psychology of a serial killer

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble.

Books-a-Million

Oulipo has been one of the more interesting things to come out of the avant garde in the last couple of decades.  Care of poets.org

Although poetry and mathematics often seem to be incompatible areas of study, the philosophy of OULIPO seeks to connect them. Founded in 1960 by French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau, Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), or Workshop of Potential Literature, investigates the possibilities of verse written under a system of structural constraints. Lionnais and Quenuau believed in the profound potential of a poem produced within a framework or formula and that, if done in a playful posture, the outcomes could be endless.

I have argued elsewhere (on a blog I have long since nuked) that this “literature of potential” can be taken as a new sort of formalism, yeilding poem types or strategies that are so new, they’re practically alien to what poets would normally call “form” or “formalism.”   (Formalism is usually taken as a traditional approach to poetry, writing in in centuries old fixed forms like metrics).  The oilipo playbook is vast an interesting, however.  One strategy is Noun+7, or n+7

One of the most popular OULIPO formulas is “N+7,” in which the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. Care is taken to ensure that the substitution is not just a compound derivative of the original, or shares a similar root, but a wholly different word.

Good news!  Instead of the tediousness of sitting down with the dictionary and doing this by hand, there’s an n+7 generator online.   Like with Google Translate, this can be done with other people’s poetry or one’s own.  Sometimes, I like to play with oilipo tactics with my failures (and I have many!).  For instance, here is a poem I wrote like four years ago.

Through the bathroom mirror, neon red ghosts
watched her slide off pantyhose, her hot pink
angora sweater — even her silk blouse and bra.
She didn’t see them watching, how their faces
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steam
curled thicker, until the mirror had clouded;

she didn’t know how the bathroom was crowded,
how these neon ghosts seeped through seams
in the yellow wallpaper. They left no traces —
nothing any crime scene cops could later draw
out or deduce — except red smears in the sink.
All around, police couldn’t hear their boasts,
couldn’t see how ghosts swirled over their heads
and selected one to follow home and make dead.

Now, here is an n+7 version

Through the batten mischance, neon red giggles
watched her slipknot off pantyhose, her hot pin-up
angora sweepstake — even her similarity blue and brain.
She didn’t see them watching, how their factions
seared redder as she stripped. Hot steeplechase
curled thicker, until the mischance had clouded;

she didn’t know how the batten was crowded,
how these neon giggles seeped through searches
in the yellow wanderer. They legation no tractors —
novelette any cripple scheme copulas could later draw
out or deduce — except red smocks in the sire.
All around, politico couldn’t hear their bobbins,
couldn’t see how giggles swirled over their headlamps
and selected one to follow homily and make dead.

The one thing I like about this generator, however, is that it also gives other possibilities, giving noun substitutions up to 15:

Through the battleship misery, neon red giraffes
watched her slog off pantyhose, her hot piranha
angora swelter — even her sincerity blunder and brandy.
She didn’t see them watching, how their failings
seared redder as she stripped. Hot stepbrother
curled thicker, until the misery had clouded;

she didn’t know how the battleship was crowded,
how these neon giraffes seeped through seaweeds
in the yellow warder. They lemon no traditionalists —
nude any crochet schoolchild corbels could later draw
out or deduce — except red smoothies in the sit-down.
All around, poly couldn’t hear their bodies,
couldn’t see how giraffes swirled over their headquarterss
and selected one to follow honorific and make dead.

As with willful mistranslation, the point of the exercise is to find lines or parts to spin off or revise into wholly new workds.

This is going to be more of just a list — partially as a reminder to myself, for later purposes.  In no way is this a ranking or a definitive list.  And yes, I’m leaving Edgar Allen Poe out on purpose, too.  And this is largely freewritten, off the top of my head.  And, I don’t mean their entire career, either.

  • E.A. Robinon
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Anne Sexton
  • Frank Bidart
  • Sharon Olds
  • Wilfred Owen
  • Amy Gerstler
  • Stephen Dobyns
  • Thomas Lux
  • Aleksander Ristovic
  • Georg Trakl
  • Paul Celan (Without a doubt penned the be-all, end all of Halochaust poems, “Death Fugue”)

Poets of weirdness, and not in a Lovecraftian sense (And if I’m leaving out Poe, I’m leaving out Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and George Sterling).

  • Russel Edson (well, DUH!)
  • Bill Knott (See what I said about Edson)
  • Charles Simic
  • James Tate
  • Amy Gerstler
  • Vasko Popa (I go back and forth on this, partly because his poems — as in the Charles Simic translations — are so deceptively simple)
  • Joel Brouwer (Centuries, at least)
  • Jonah Winter (His book Maine, at least)
  • Paul Guest
  • Pablo Neruda (but now, I get into what is Surreal, Vs. What is “weird” — so I hesitate on putting him here)

Imprecise at best.  And, there are tons I’m not thinking of, at the moment.  A harder list would be poets using science as metaphor.  And I’m afraid my ability with that list would end up being

  • Albert Goldbarth
  • Albert Goldbarth
  • Albert Goldbarth
  • Albert Goldbarth
  • (you get the point)

I love this cover, and often I count myself lucky that Bob Freeman likes to work with me, both on my own work, and for Bandersnatch Books.    This is a story with a hard to place length, and it’s already been rejected from a few markets.  I really like the story, however, had fun writing it, and Scott Colbert and I thought maybe we could use it as a fund raising tool for the press.  Basically, have a title where the profits go 100% back into the press, rather than our standard 50/50 profit split with writers.

So, the low-down.  Caliban is character from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  In the play, he’s Prospero’s servent — and he’s a bit of a brute and perceived as an easy to fool simpleton.  There are, however, flashes of something else, something deeper with the character.  So, I thought to examine the character a little bit, and write a story about his youth — long before Prospero ever came to the island and subjegated him.   Also, I wanted to write a horror story, so I threw in some Lovecraft inspired elements (read: Tentacles).  So, this little chapbook is the result.  There’s no official release date; when it’s done, it’s done.  In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

_______________________

When Caliban brought the human yellow buttercups, she screamed. He dropped the flowers, and for a moment, he stood over her and stared down.  Her tattered purple dress was still waterlogged, as it had only been half an hour since Caliban had pulled her from the ocean.   It was stifling, humid, and hot; sweat beaded on her forehead and cleavage.  Much of her hair stuck together in clumps.  Caliban wanted her – she was the first human woman he’d ever seen, and his mouth watered.  Yet, the sight of him made her faint.  He lumbered away, crushing yellow petals beneath his calloused bare feet.

He raised his hand to his cheek, running his fingertips over large bumps.  He didn’t like looking at his reflection in the water; he knew the geography of his face rather well, and he didn’t like it.  On top of his narrow forehead, dreadlocks thick as cables hung, but the lower half of his face was broader, fatter, and more bloated.  Half-inch white spots dotted his black cheeks.  They even marked his broad, thick neck.   Each time he’d seen his reflection or even thought of it, it reminded him of how different he was from his family, and every time a tempest had sent a ship into the island’s barrier reef, he saw smooth faces of those who washed ashore.  It made him think of his human ancestry, and that confused him.

It never made his chores easier, either.  Caliban stepped from the clearing, and onto the beach’s pink sand.  The horizon had gone dark red with the setting sun, textured only by a few clouds.  At his feet, fifty bodies lay scattered, all of them breathing, but barely cognizant.  Caliban’s mother had enchanted them from afar, with the same spell she’d used to whip up a violent storm.

Caliban bent over and picked up a bearded bald man.  He placed the guy onto a cedar cart’s flatbed. He stopped and looked back at woman’s cave.  Unlike her fellow travelers, she hadn’t succumbed to his mother’s magic.  He shrugged and simply assumed his mother’s charms only worked on human males.  It was the easiest explanation, and he didn’t think about it any further, turning and lifting the next guy by his foot.  This guy was fatter than most, with a belly barely restrained by his belt buckle.  Caliban lifted him without even a grunt or a strain, tossing him onto the cart.  He repeated the process three more times before pulling the load inland.

It was unnaturally silent.  No birds chirped, no animals stirred, and not even the breeze rustled through the trees.  The walk didn’t take long.  Within a few minutes, he reached a vast black, limestone hill with grass on top.  Chambers had been hewn into the rock, and two of those were sealed with boulders.  One housed the woman, and farther away, a stone closed in a larger cavern.  Using his shoulder, he pushed it out of the way.

He dragged the top man off, uncaring how his head smacked against the hard packed dirt.  It wouldn’t matter in the end – Caliban knew what was eventually going to happen to each of these men, and he didn’t like thinking of it.

Line breaks in free verse are important, and you choose to break a line can change the meaning of everything.  Consider for a moment:

It is 8:28 am and I have eaten.

People no longer crowd the eisles.

There are two things, as a reader of poetry, that do not impress me about the above.  First, lines are end-stopped, halting the reader at the end of the line.  So, it’s an extra long reading pause.  Plus, those line endings do absolutely nothing artistically.  So, consider this slight alteration.

It is 8:28 am and I have eaten. People

no longer crowd the eisles.

Changing that one little linebreak alters everything, suggesting a sense of cannibalism that was not in the first set of lines.  This is why, of course, it’s always important to look at each line of free verse as single unit, no matter where the punctuation rests.  So, imagine the giddy sense of naughtiness I managed to sneak into a poem (“I Will Survive”) that was solicited from me, for the anthology Dead Bells.

blown.  I wish I was

The line before is about people and their kazoos.  The line after is about dancing to Gloria Gaynor.  Certainly, that section of the poem doesn’t overtly suggest or preoccupy itself with oral sex, but this line does — even more, it speaks to the inherent loneliness of the speaker, who’s woken up in a gay bar, only to find that the world has ended and everybody around him is dead.    Of course, I can’t really quote more of the poem, partly because that anthology hasn’t been published yet.

In a successful free verse poem, no line is haphazard, and even though it doesn’t appear that way, the line breaks are highly calculated.    Of course, this is but one lineation strategies of many, but over time, it’s become one of my favorites.

So, today, while I was eating a rueben at Applebee’s, I was thumbing through the latest edition of the American Poetry Review. When it comes to that journal, it’s kind of hit or miss with me. Anyhow, I happened across something that touches on my aesthetic beliefs about horror in literature. APR republished an old essay by William Carlos Williams, entitled “The Practice.” Basically, Williams is reflected back on his other profession (the one that paid his bills), medicine. Basically, he suggests that without his practice of medicine, he wouldn’t have been able to write. Basically, making daily house calls kept him in touch with other people’s humanity, and that, in the end, fueled his writing.

That is why as a writer I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather that it was my very food and drink, the very thing which made it possible for me to write. Was I not interested in man?

It’s something I always circle back to. People make literature interesting, as language can only go so far. In the end, it’s always Achilles or Hamlet that keeps us reading, not the meter Homer or Shakespeare wrote in. The drum I often beat about horror is: in order to understand or comprehend inhumanity, you also have to understand and comprehend humanity. Squirting blood can only get you so far, and it’s the people written about that keeps readers reading. Have an uninteresting character, and you have an uninteresting story. If we adapt this to poetry, it’s a matter of voice and persona, in most cases. You have a listless voice, and you have a listless poem.

But that’s not the all of it. APR also published some other material on Williams, some of it from Robert Lowell, and then there’s Christian C. Thompson’s essay “The Science of Subjectivity.” Thompson basically seeks to examine Williams through the Lens of Immanuel Kant. But, those greater points aside, I found the third paragraph of the essay and instructive reminder of what it is to be a writer:

The serious poet — whether he or she realizes it or not — is a social scientist. On a daily basis the poet is inundated by a vast amount of cultural data which excites the sensibility, is synthesized and stored by the brain, until on occasion, something happens–sometimes immediately, somtimes weeks, months, or years later, which results in a poem.

As writers, to an extent, we are the sum of our experiences. Even if fiction is largely contrived, there’s still some form of observation going on, some sort of stimulus that has warranted a response. For Williams, it seems, this came by way of his patients and his house calls. And, it makes one wonder, at least, what might happen to horror writers if they took these observations, this sort of writing ethic to heart.

Way, way back a few months ago, I found myself slightly amused by the retail term “rocket cart.”  Ever since I received a promotion, I had to go through a bunch of new CBL (Computer Based Learning) modules, and I find myself out of the back room, more, into the wholly different world of the sales floor.  There, I’ve found wonderous new language to snicker at, like “Jerk Nuts,” “Boudreaux’s Butt Paste,” and “Meat Blast”  (and yes, those are all real retail products sold by Wal()Mart).  But, back to the more loonier side of my imagination, ala “rocket cart.”  I recently happened upon this snappy term:  ULTRA GATOR.

At first, my imination instantly goes to an aligator standing on it’s hind legs, with a UG monogramed cape on.  You know, a super hero of sorts.  The Uber-Gator among wimpy reptiles.  Or, there’s always this Lon Chaney Film:

aligatorAlso, it’s something a little more mundane… like the tags used to set off the anti-shop lifting equipment at the door.