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An Interview with Poet/Author Peter Adam Salomon

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An Interview with Poet/Author Peter Adam Salomon

by David E. Cowen, Author of The Madness of Empty Rooms and The Seven Yards of Sorrow

By the graces of the HWA (Lisa Morton asking nicely – what I’m supposed to say ‘no’ to her? I think not) and a plea from the prior guardian of this blog I am taking over the task of bringing this blog to the members of the Horror Writer’s Association on a regular monthly basis. Aha, you are likely saying to yourself, this blog entry is late. Yes it is. I reside in Houston and an unwanted house guest named Harvey decided to stomp all over my back yard. Luckily, me and my family escaped property damage and more importantly injury. Many of my friends are not so fortunate. At this juncture you are likely tired of hearing about “Harvey” perhaps even making jokes about invisible rabbits and the like. I have lived through many, many years of Texas storms. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never experienced a natural disaster where every stranger on the street faced a loss or has a loved one who faced a loss. The horror faced by those of us on the Texas and Louisiana coast from Harvey is more real and worse than anything our twisted imaginations can put on paper. Because many of the flooded neighborhoods were areas that were not supposed to ever flood few homeowners carried flood insurance. For all the pride and bluster of self-reliance Texans espouse we are now going to have to rely, as Tennessee Williams put it, on “the kindness of strangers.” If you have the opportunity to donate to the many charitable organizations trying to help with the situation I implore you to do so. People need help and helping each other in time of need is what true Americans do.

Having served for the past 5 years as the President of one of the largest private organized poetry groups in Texas (almost 80 members) I have made it a mission to bring poetry back from the dead. Of all the fantasy, science fiction and “weird” organizations the Horror Writers Association has championed poetry. I am truly grateful for that and I hope that my assumption of the mantle proves to be a worthy partner in the HWA’s efforts

It is fitting that I focus this month’s entry on the author who handed over this blog to me. I want to reintroduce to you all Bram Stoker nominee Peter Adam Solomon. As detailed in his bio below Peter is one of the main reasons the HWA started its Poetry Showcase four years ago. Peter edited the Showcase for two years before asking me to take that spot. While Peter is a fantastic writer of fiction he is also a poet. His vintage of the dark wine of horror is splendid indeed. Peter’s latest volume of verse is PseudoPsalms: Sodom (Bizarro Pulp Press – JournalStone (April 23, 2017)    available at https://www.amazon.com/PseudoPsalms-Sodom-Peter-Adam-Salomon-ebook/dp/B072HF172P/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8.

Q: Peter, your latest two volumes of dark poetry openly start off with a religious reference –“PseudoPsalms.” Several of the poems make reference to possibly agnostic and borderline atheistic themes. Of the “taboo” dark or horror themes I’ve been told to avoid by others religion is often high on the list. For some reason it is okay to write about demons, ghosts and phantasms but, unless they have multiple cephalopod characteristics the concept of a corresponding deity is off limits. Your work seems to shrug off that aversion and take the issue of questioning belief and the existence of a “higher presence” to task. In your poem Barbed-Wire Roses (PseudoPsalms: Saints and Sinners) which focuses on the Holocaust and the Dachau concentration camp, you even ask the question I know there is a God/But I wonder where God went. In the second volume you include a poem, Teach the Agony, where the narrators states Through religion’s eyes/Where God has Failed/To protect the child within us all/ I searched for divinity/and found hypocrisy. The idea I see is someone who wants to believe but every time he or she searches they are left unsatisfied. Many of the darker elements of your other poems seem to arise from a moral emptiness that lets evil and horror breed and take their victims. Tell us about how you came to craft these volumes around these themes. And, what is the reason for the inclusion of “Pseudo” in both titles? Obviously there is a connection in the themes but is there another meaning you want to share as well?

A: First of all, what a great question! Thank you for asking.

The word ‘pseudopsalms’ is one I came up with long ago, back in high school, when I first really started questioning the entire concept of organized religion. Psalms, themselves, have such an interesting feel to them. Not quite as ‘religious’ as most of the bible, almost seeming to possess more of a ‘fiction’ feel to them, I suppose. But they’re definitely religious. I always thought of epic fantasy, Lord of the Rings, etc, to be the ‘bible’ of those realities and wanted to write a bible like that. Of course, I’m no Tolkien.

And, if the bible was simply the epic fantasy of our reality, then that led me to all sorts of interesting possibilities for writing and, especially, for poetry.

Add to that a definite affinity for the shadowy and the dark and the creepy/scary/terrifying, and in searching for my ‘voice’ as a poet, I usually found it in the questions. Questioning God, or politicians, or people, or love, or heartache, or anything. And if everything could be questioned, then everything could be touched upon in poetry.

I’m still trying to find answers, and lately my poetry has been pointedly political, rather than religious. But, still, always questioning, always demanding answers, and always disappointed at not knowing all there is to know

Q. The imagery and themes of your two volumes also bring out the idea that horror is not so much an outside invading or maliciously intervening force. Horror is the everyday that lurks within and erupts causing people to inflict pain on each other. In your poem Cubicle (PseudoPsalms: Saints and Sinners) you present what I often call the “horror of the ordinary.” This darkness that comes from the day to day destruction of what makes us human. One set of lines struck me: Even if the cubicle was a soft gray fabric hell/without a view/ there was a paycheck every other week. Later in the poem it becomes clear that the worker in the cubicle worked in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. So we have the horror of the everyday, the hell of the fabric cubicle and the final reward of the man speaking is to go to the window seeing another hell forming; then watching as the first person jumped. This poem mixes so many images and the tension of the horror that we know will follow. I’d like to know the creative process, if you can describe it, that went into crafting this marvelous piece of dark poetry.

A: ‘Cubicle’ was a piece I’d had in the back of my mind for a very long time, to put the reader in that particular space at that moment in time but I was never quite sure how to frame it. For a while I considered placing the reader on one of the planes, and might still do that someday. But, finally, I decided that the ordinariness of the cubicle-worker, so familiar to so many from their daily lives, spoke more to the infinite horror of that day.

And that day changed my life in so many ways just as it changed so many others.

It was a difficult poem to write, knowing where I was going with it, knowing how it was going to end. It’s a difficult poem to read, because it’s just so ordinary, as you pointed out. It’s boring. It’s real life and, early in the morning at work is boring. Maybe there are some voicemails to listen to, some emails to read, some messages to return. Co-workers to greet, coffee to make. It’s all just so plain and regular and absolutely ordinary.

Then, everything changes. In the blink of an eye. In a heartbeat. Everything changes.

And, what always strikes me as truly terrifying, is how desperately we want everything to simply be plain and regular and absolutely ordinary again.

Q: In PseudoPsalms: Sodom several times you cross into themes of child abuse. The title poem, Sodom, was very painful for me to read (Don’t look back/God will protect you/If you obey/Little girl). Again the horror is not a creature from a crypt or metaphysical accident but human crafted horror where the lack of divine intervention is as much of the injury as the physical harm. Some people I have dealt with in the writing field believe that such themes should not be dealt with, even though they represent some of the true horrors of life. What do you hope your readers take away from examining themes of this nature from your work? 

A: That particular poem was another difficult one to write. But I didn’t want to shy away from what is truly horrifying in this world. Sure, an axe wielding cyborg-clown is scary or a shape-shifting alien with bloody fangs is frightening, but the rapist is real. The serial killer is real. And ‘real’ is truly terrifying. Real can hurt. Real can be evil.

I wrote a poem that was in my first collection, Pseudopsalms: Prophets, called ‘I Shut Out Your Light’ written in back-and-forth lines from the perspectives of both a rapist and his victim. I find it close to impossible even to read. And, yes, a number of poems in all three of my collections deal with child abuse. Maybe because to me that’s one of the world’s greatest evils and greatest horrors.

I recently visited the Oklahoma City Memorial and was struck by the chairs erected as monuments to those who died. Nineteen of those empty chairs are child-sized.

It was those chairs which held the most power for most everyone who visits the Memorial. And it was those chairs I wrote about in a poem to help myself process the experience.

I hope readers grasp the horrors of these situations, and understand the devastation such acts can cause, both in the moment and lingering long after the abuse ends. I look at writing dark poetry as shining a flashlight in the shadows, scattering evil by bringing light to darkness in some way.

Q: You were the first editor of the HWA’s Poetry Showcase, Volumes I and II. As I understand it you played a pivotal role in the creation of that anthology series. Tell us your role in the creation of this series.

A: Back before I was even published, in February 2014, I was talking with the brilliant poet Marge Simon about some ideas I had for the HWA poetry page that I had recently started editing. One of those ideas was a contest. Marge made some suggestions and then I emailed former HWA President Rocky Wood about an HWA sponsored poetry competition as a tie in with National Poetry Month (Marge’s idea for the tie in). Since National Poetry Month is in April, and it was already mid-February, I was thinking 2015 as a possibility. Since Rocky was on vacation, I ended up hearing from then-VP, now President, Lisa Morton the very same day with a go-ahead for April 2014. Over the next six weeks, with a great deal of support from Lisa and Rocky and Marge and other HWA people behind the scenes, we managed to put together an international poetry competition with entries from around the world, judged by Marge Simon, myself, and horror novelist Jonathan Maberry.

It was a wild ride, and I will forever be grateful to the HWA and Lisa and everyone for their support for an unknown, unpublished author’s crazy idea. And now, looking back at the past four Showcases, and its international impact on horror poetry, and looking forward as the Showcase moves on to its third Editor in the amazingly talented hands of poet Stephanie Wytovich after two years of being led by one of my own favorite poets, David E. Cowen, it is truly gratifying to see the success it’s had. All four Showcases have ended up with best-selling anthologies of some truly wonderful dark poetry and I have no doubt that streak will continue going forward.

Q: What do you think you learned in being the editor of the two Poetry Showcase volumes that helped you become a better poet?

A: Wow, I have learned SO much. I have been blessed to have been able to have in-depth amazing conversations with my fellow judges who have been best-selling novelists and award-winning poets with long, brilliant careers. I have also been blessed to read so much contemporary poetry by some amazing poets who I might never have known about if not for their entries. The Showcase has published at least one teen’s first published poem in the same volume that a world-famous best-selling poet published his very last poem. It’s published and highlighted some of the very best work by some of the very best horror poets of all time and it’s been an honor to be associated with everyone I’ve worked with on this.

Q: What’s next poetically for you Peter?

A: I am currently at work on a number of different things. My next poetry collection, Pseudopsalms: Revelation, is about half-way complete and I am working on re-issuing my first collection now that it’s gone out of print and the rights have reverted to me. After almost four years I have recently stepped down as Editor of the HWA Poetry Page and I am thrilled that it’s now in such good hands. I’m greatly looking forward to continuing to ask questions, and to hopefully maybe finding some answers along the way.


Peter also shared some poems with me to include. This first one deals with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the memorial built to honor the victims. I had to visit a government office nearby a year after the bombing and cried as I walked along the chain link fence which had become a make shift memorial. The final memorial is captured brilliantly in Peter’s poem:

April 19, 1995 9:03am
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
 
There are chairs for children
Across from me
Too many chairs
The memories a chair contains
A life
Lived
Or one just beginning
So many chairs
In this hallowed stillness
The sun seems out of time
The birds vibrant against clouds
Against blue sky
Shining on chairs for children
Waiting for a visit
From children lost to tragedy
Found in memories
And memorials
Names and photographs
And evidence
Of a crime
Against humanity
There are chairs for children
Across from me
But not lonely chairs
Too many chairs for loneliness
Sad though
The chairs may not be lonely
But they’re sad
So many chairs
Some smaller than others
Each with a name
To be remembered
To be known
To be visited
To be remembered
The memories of a child
Lost
A life lived
Found
In nineteen chairs for children
Not lonely
But so very sad

As Peter also mentioned some of the more recent political poetry, he figured he’d include one of those too.

Then...

He woke up that morning
Peed and brushed his teeth
Shaved his face and brushed his hair
Fixed his tie and buttoned his coat
Kissed his wife
And smiled for his kids
Said hello to his neighbors
On his way to work
Before heading to a meeting
Where he slithered into a white robe
With a white hood
Safety in numbers
As they watched
The cross burn
Secure behind their masks

Now…

He woke up this morning
Peed and brushed his teeth
Trimmed his beard and brushed his hair
Buttoned his shirt without a tie
Ignored anyone who glanced his way
While he struggled to light a tiki torch
For a photo op
Chanting obsolete slogans
And never even bothering to hide from the cameras

A mask means something
I think

Mask: noun
‘a covering for all or part of the face, worn as a disguise, or to amuse or terrify other people.’

Once upon a time, perhaps
A mask was needed because of shame
Needing anonymity to be a racist anti-Semitic prick
That time, apparently
Is no more
No more shame
The opposite of shame
Those few, burning crosses behind their hoods hid from the spotlight
These Hitler saluting trolls with their dollar store torches
Refuse to hide behind masks
Instead they take pride in their pathos
Reveling in their ignorance

There have always been bigots
I fear there always will be
Now, while we see some of their faces
Far too many still hide in the shadows
Taking refuge in religion and anonymity
Solace in their pity
Comfort in their fellow travelers

Shame
For shame
If your god teaches you to hate
That’s no god I care to know

Shame
For shame
If your life is so small
You need to blame those who are different
In order to make yourself feel bigger
I pity you

Shame
For shame
If you believe
You are better than me
Because of the color of your skin
Or the words of a sacred text
Or the gender of your spouse
I have news for you
I’m no better than anyone
Because
I’m white
Or straight
Or Jewish
Or male
Or almost fifty
Or worrying about cancer when I should be worrying about my kids growing up in the world you hope for

But
For the love of all I know
You’re no better than anyone else either
Put down the torches
And the outdated beliefs
Shame
For shame

Poetry won’t solve anything
I fear nothing will
You’ve taken off the mask
Now take off the blinders
Look around
Listen
No one is taking your rights away
By having their own rights
No one is taking your love away
By loving who they choose
No one is taking anything from you
By having something for themselves
No one is taking your god away
By believing in a different god or none

Then and now
The choice is yours
Everyone has their own choice
To be who they want to be…

…why the fuck would you choose to be a racist?

Peter’s poem Cubicle from PseudoPsalms: Saints and Sinners discussed above:

Cubicle

The cubicle had soft gray fabric half panels
Human Resources sent out various memos
Of what could
And couldn’t
Be used on them
No pushpins
Or, heaven forbid, staples

There was no window view
I was years away from a window
And probably even further from a wall
Or two
That could hang a photo
Of the wife
The kids
The dog
The cat I never wanted
But grew to love
When it decided my lap
Was the best place in the world
Next to sunlight
Through the windows

The cubicle wasn’t tall enough
To block out the sound
Of so many other cubicles
With poorly printed photographs
Scotch taped to the soft gray fabric
And the constant ringing of constant phones
The ‘hello/goodbye’ of all those constant calls
The hum of monitors and computer fans
And the occasional rattle of someone
Despite the HR warnings
Clipping fingernails

The cubicle was loud
Life was loud
But life was good
If life could ever be considered good
There was the wife
The kids
The dog
The cat
To think of after all
Even if the cubicle was a soft gray fabric hell
Without a view
There was a paycheck every other week
Which made up for having to scotch tape
A picture of the sunset
To make up for the lack of a window
And there were the people in accounting
Who might have been friendly
More than friends
And never talked politics, history, or art
Sticking to sports
And the potential for a subway series
There was no need to discuss the news
We all worshiped at the same church
The sermons
Written in column inches
In the Sunday New York Times
Echoing the echo chamber
With 60 Minutes and CNN
Rosary and confession
In a closeted world
Of our own devising
Where everyone agreed
There was finally
Peace in our time
And life was
If not good
Close enough

There was the boss stuck in logistics
Because that was the only department
With a spare office
And he wasn’t going to live in a cubicle
Like the rest of us
So we didn’t see him as often as he’d like
Which made the cubicle seem a little wider
A little taller
A little quieter
Even though it wasn’t
It was loud
It was always loud
Until it wasn’t
And then was again

There was no window
There was the constant hum
And then it stopped
Not all at once
Like we’d lost power
That’d happened a few years before
And we’d gone on
As though nothing had happened
Because it was the end of history
And nothing ever happened
Or at least
That’s what we were told
And we listened
Because we were told to listen
To what we were told
And so we listened
And pretended nothing happened
Even though
Looking back
Something happened
Something bad
But we’d lost power
Then we got power back
And life went on
As though nothing happened
But today was another day
And nothing happened
Because we listened when they told us
Nothing happened
And it wasn’t quiet all at once
Like we’d lost power
Again
No
This was different
This was a subtle
Gentle
Quiet

It started near the windows
Something about a fire
But no two people knew the same thing
And since nothing ever happened
And we still had power
And the fabric half-walls of my cubicle
Still surrounded me in their soft gray embrace
I kept working
The phones rang
The ‘hello/goodbye’s’ continued
Every phone at once
It seemed

Like gravity
People gravitated to the windows
All the way on the other side of the office
To stare at the smoke
And the fire
And then
To stare
As rumors spread
And the silence spread
And the fire spread
And the first person jumped

We watched
Unaware
That on the other side of the office
At the other windows
People gravitated
To stare at the blue sky
Which should have been empty
But wasn’t
Because nothing ever happened
Until something did

Poems  from PseudoPsalms: Sodom

 Ravings of a False Prophet

Search inside
Within the hidden depths of soul
Find eternal emptiness
Then find the key
Escape the prison
Which masks the fear

Question what you see
Deity, wholesome, wicked
Power, life, and death
Ritualistic riddles hide the secrets of eternity
Behind aggressive animosity
Simply to touch forbidden answers

Question if you will
Choose to open rusty chambers
Or will you choose sacrilege and sacrifice
To know the truth they kept from us

Question if you can
That what is known is known is known
Rapture, revelation, revenge, and retribution
Study prohibited knowledge and whisper it to me

Wish to be a God
Science cannot save you
Only makes the ovens more efficient
Religion fails over and over and over again
To the point that anti-religion
Becomes a religion all its own
Philosophy lies in truth
Good and evil gave birth to sophistry
There are no answers to be found

If you study only what they allow
How much will you never learn?

Sodom

Don’t look
Little girl
Don’t turn around
Nothing to see
Little girl
Keep your eyes closed
Your head down
And run
Little girl

Don’t look back
God will protect you
If you obey
Little girl
There’s nothing to see
Just run
Don’t open your eyes
You don’t want to know
Little girl
How the guilty suffer
Little girl
The sinners
Burning
The evil
Punished for their crimes
Little girl
Damned to hell
Where angels fear to tread

Don’t turn around
Little girl
Run
Little girl
Eyes closed
Head down
And run
Don’t look back
Little girl
Don’t ever look back
There’s nothing to see
In the shadows behind you
Just keep your eyes closed
Little girl
I’ll let you go
I promise
Little girl
You have my word
Just don’t turn around
Little girl
Keep your eyes closed
It’s almost over
Little girl
Almost
There
Little girl

Such pretty eyes
Little girl
I told you not to look
Ordered you not to turn around
But you had to be defiant
Had to look
To see
Little girl
You just had to know
What I looked like
And now you’re not only a victim
You’ve become a witness
Little girl
Can’t have that
Little girl
You shouldn’t have looked
Little girl
Should have kept your eyes closed
And God would have protected you
I would have let you go
Rather than turn you
Into nothing
But the dried paths
Of salty tears
Down the cheeks
Of those who buried you
Little girl

 Teach the Agony

The fist tightens upon the world
Landing within the factories
Where children work to death
To make toys for children
They’ll never be able to afford to play with
One more agony defined
Lost amidst the multiplicity of agonies

Child soldiers
Child brides
Child slaves
And child laborers
There’s a pattern
If you look
Are you looking?
Do you see?
Or do you turn aside
To focus on petty microagressions
Because a pronoun is a pronoun is a pronoun
Is vital and important and worthy of your protest
But a seven-year-old girl
Stoned to death
On the other side of the world
For the crime of being raped
You can ignore
From the safety of your ivory tower

Searching to try
Trying to understand
Through religion’s eyes
Where God has failed
To protect the child within us all
I searched for divinity
And found hypocrisy
As you ranted and raged
The insignificance of your elitist battle cry
Should shame you
When so many need your help
And you refuse to see

In closing to my questions Peter wrote:

I figured I’d close . . . with a short poem, that finishes up the odd second part of PseudoPsalms: Sodom. Song of Salomon is something I’ve long thought about, the ‘what happened next’ aspect of the far more famous Song of Solomon from the bible. One of the most well-known collections of ‘love’ poetry, immortalized in the best-selling book of all time, the Song of Solomon is iconic and eternal.
 I, of course, had to ask: ‘what happened when they broke up?’

Ends

And alone, it ends
Suddenly
The way the storm breaks
Leaving poetry
Nothing but broken words
Letters scattered across the paper
Without meaning
Or purpose

Alone
Even poetry
Ends

Peter’s Bio: Peter Adam Salomon is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, the Science Fiction Poetry Association, the International Thriller Writers, and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published by Flux in 2012. His second novel, ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS, published by Flux in 2014, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Young Adult fiction. Both novels have been named a ‘Book All Young Georgians Should Read’ by The Georgia Center For The Book.

His short fiction has appeared in the Demonic Visions series among other anthologies, and he was the featured author for Gothic Blue Book III: The Graveyard Edition. He was also selected as one of the Gentlemen of Horror for 2014.

His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop in December 2013. Eldritch Press published his first collection of poetry, Prophets, in 2014, and his second poetry collection, PseudoPsalms: Saints v. Sinners, was published in 2016 by Bizarro Pulp Press. In addition, he was the Editor for the first books of poetry released by the Horror Writers Association: Horror Poetry Showcase Volumes I and II.

He served as a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest and for the Royal Palm Literary Awards of the Florida Writers Association. He was also a Judge for the first two Horror Poetry Showcases of the Horror Writers Association and has served as Chair on multiple Juries for the Bram Stoker Awards.

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