Horror Writers Association Blog

An Interview with Angela Yuriko Smith

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A former news journalist, Angela Yuriko Smith retired to write fiction. Her prose and poetry have been widely published in both print and online publications. She has nearly 20 books which include dark and speculative fiction for YA and adults, books for children and two collections of poetry. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, has been nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. When not writing, she teaches creative writing at Northwest Florida State College.

HWA: What can you share about the inspiration and writing of In Favor Of Pain?

In Favor of Pain was an accidental birth. I used to write a lot of poetry as a teenager but unfortunately, I chose my first sharing experience to be with a high school critique group that shredded me. I swore I’d never do anything like that again, but that changed a few years ago when I started participating in local open mic events.

Originally, I just wanted to participate on the mic to lose my dread of being on stage so I only shared bits of prose, but the venues were all so encouraging eventually I began writing poetry again. Except for two poems that were originally published in the HWA Poetry Showcases II and III, all the poems were written to perform locally. I finally decided to publish them on my birthday as a present for myself.

HWA: Do you have a favorite poem from the book?

My personal favorite is “I Witnessed a Murder.” It’s probably one of the least remarked upon out of the collection, but I absolutely love the idea of a flock of crows gathered on the side of the road like a bunch of anti-establishment teenagers. The real crows that inspired the poem almost made me swerve off the road last summer when they refused to move for me. They scattered across half the highway, clamoring and flapping their wings defiantly as I passed. As I sped on I realized that I could say I had just witnessed a murder (of crows) and knew then I had to write a poem out of respect for these brazen, beautiful birds.

I Witnessed a Murder

I witnessed a murder
alongside the road
baking in the noonday sun
spreading across the grassy knolls
unafraid of what it was,
questioning authority.

The murder waited
just over a hill so travelers
crested the horizon
only to be assaulted
by this black and rustling thing
that called out angrily
in harsh tones
that ruffled feather
and averted eye.

I witnessed a murder
alongside the road
and it made me smile
to see the congregation
taking residence
along the yellow lines
that consist of our rules,
not theirs.

I witnessed a murder
and it made me glad
to see such ravenous joy.

–Angela Yuriko Smith

HWA: In ‘Discarded Child’ you include two photographs. Is there a story behind them?

Not really. I couldn’t use personal photos of myself as a child because I generally ignore that part of my life as much as possible. I also didn’t think my neighbor would appreciate me creeping through the woods to photograph her child, especially for a poem entitled “Discarded Child.”

The images I did use are meant to represent the child I was and the child I had seen in the woods. The children in the photos both look like they are unhappy but forced to pose so that the adults can later show them off as proof of good parenting. I have a soft spot for children, but especially the wild, unwanted ones.

It’s not a poem specifically meant to be about a particular child but more about neglect in general, and how it seems terrible but we often grow up quite fine, and even better, because of it.

HWA: With ‘Yesterday’s Bride’ you tell an exquisite story, also with pictures. What inspired this poem?

I had overheard a conversation between two older women praising a third for never marrying after her high school sweetheart had died in a car accident. Not to be an anti-romantic, but all I could think of was what a waste of life that was for her.

They were lauding her for perpetual mourning, and I so wanted to go over there and ask if that’s what she felt like her true love would have wanted: a life of emptiness and sorrow for her. Even if he did, he didn’t sound like much of a catch then. Who would want someone they love to be perpetually sad?

Since I am generally a polite person, I kept my opinions to myself and instead wrote “Yesterday’s Bride.”

HWA: Do you have any favorite poets/poems?

Classically, of course Poe, so much Poe. I also particularly love “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. More recently, “Hamelin” by David E. Cowen is one I love because it has the same feel of dark passion. Other contemporary favorites include “Ghost Subway” by Alessandro Manzetti, “William” by Marge Simon, “Straw Man” by Lisa Morton, “Sleeping” by Kathryn Ptacek, “Sweet Dreams Love” by Peter Adam Salomon, “How to Recognize Your Friend Has Become a Demon” by Linda Addison and “Nakology” by Bryan Thao Worra. I know there are so many more that I can’t think of right now, but they will be sure to keep me up all night as I remember.

The Highwayman

PART ONE

I

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

–Alfred Noyes

HWA: What’s next for you?

Right now, I’m working on a new collection of short fiction titled “The Bitter Suites” about a hotel experience that specializes in recreational suicide. Those stories are turning out to be a lot of fun as I try to showcase the misery of death in a positive, therapeutic and even fun way. Well, maybe not so much fun…

I’m also rewriting my first book, End of Mae, to republish later this year. It was my first, and I was so excited at the time to finally be published that I essentially released a first draft. I’m constantly surprised it’s done as well as it has. Now that I have a few titles out, I’m eager to go back and polish that book into what it should have been.

I’m also really excited to have my short story, “Vanilla Rice,” in the Where the Stars Shine anthology.

For more on Angela: AngelaYSmith.com

 

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