An Interview with Vincenzo Bilof
From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof has been called “The Metallica of Poetry” and “The Shakespeare of Gore.” With a body of work that includes gritty, apocalyptic horror (The Zombie Ascension Series), surrealist prose (The Horror Show), and visceral genre satire (Vampire Strippers from Saturn), Bilof’s fiction remains as divisive and controversial as it is original. He likes to think Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Baudelaire would be proud of his work. More likely, Ed Wood would have been his biggest fan.
HWA: Where did the concept/inspiration for ‘Visions of a Tremulous Man’ originate?
VB: No matter how I answer this question, it will sound awful, because the concept is very sensitive. I have always been fascinated with psychological unraveling, and the cause-effect of human development. I always wanted to write a short story about a character who becomes obsessed with a person who has already “unraveled” beyond the norms of ethical standards. I wrote a short story that used the concept, and I knew I would return to it. I had a hankering for writing another work of narrative poetry, and I wanted to work with an identical framework.
I did not think of Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I wrote the manuscript for Visions (and there are several iterations of this theme, now), but the idea of a family raised in the shadow of some variation of insanity is an idea that intrigues me.
We have multiple levels in play: we have a detective who begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with a series of unsolved murders; we have a brother-sister incestuous relationship between two people who were raised to murder—the brother fully embraces his desire for pain, and the sister is very damaged by the world that has made/unmade her. Then, we have Walter, who married into the family and was used by the siblings to commit crimes until he was caught, and Walter attempted to “rewind” his mental processes by finding God in prison. Finally, we have a young student who knows about the recently-released Walter, and her fascination with him allows for a sort of mass-unraveling on several other psychological levels.
HWA: What’s your favorite poem from this collection?
VB: I don’t have a favorite because the poems were meant to match the specific tone of each character’s personality. I actually wanted to toy with a lot of poetic forms, and I began to ask people what the most challenging poetry format is to compose; I know there is a villanelle, there are haikus, there is iambic pentameter, and there are several others that I don’t recall. The process itself became both challenging and rewarding, because I wanted the forms to capture the non-forms of the human mind…
HWA: What’s next for you?
VB: I have a lot of projects going at once. I have the first draft of a Titus Andronicus remake finished called The Poetry of Violence. A lot of people don’t realize that Shakespeare’s work is made up of remakes, and Titus is no exception. My version pits a white supremacist group against an African American family in an old blood feud. Of course, not all the characters are racist, but I think our country’s current political climate makes the work very relevant.
I’m also working on a third poetry narrative. I do not have a working title for it yet, but it takes place in outer space after mankind has seemingly replicated God by designing artificial intelligence, and a group of astronauts is allowed to contact a new alien race for God’s amusement. We’re thinking about I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison with the original Alien and Planet of the Apes.
HWA: How’d you get into the publishing side of things? What are you looking for with Bizarro Pulp Press?
VB: The origin story behind Bizarro Pulp Press is rather a long one. It essentially began with an idea generated by Pat Douglas, who loved the fun books Eraserhead Press was cranking out. He asked me to edit a couple of books, notably All Art is Junk by R. A. Harris and Moosejaw Frontier by Chris Kelso.
I want Bizarro Pulp Press to be the home for imaginative works that do not fall into any specific category or genre. I also love to publish fun, pulpy books, because it’s a core philosophy behind the press’s foundation, and B-movie, Grindhouse-style movies are a guilty pleasure of mine.
HWA: What do you think of the current and future state of horror poetry?
VB: I think there is one very negative thing going on that is holding it back; there is a lot of talent in the indy world, and there is a sort of “gatekeeper” philosophy that seems to be hoarding the market, and it’s preventing the genre’s growth. We’re celebrating the achievements of a handful of people and rewarding them for doing the same kind of work over and over again; we’re not talking about “bad” poetry, we’re talking about a lack of growth.
I think seeing the same people doing the same things over and over again is causing stagnation, while so many great books go unnoticed. There’s a level of selfishness and greed that is hindering the creative expansion of horror poetry. I want to encourage younger people to explore, to write, to push the boundaries of literature, but I also know how easy it is to be discouraged, and the current state of affairs isn’t helping anything. I think my opinion is probably going to be a bit unpopular, but ultimately, I think the poets who are always considered to be “good” are ultimately denying themselves exposure and growth because there is a lack of mentoring and sharing.
HWA: Do you have any favorite poets? Favorite poems? Thanks!!!
VB: Baudelaire, Eliot, and Pound always come to mind.
À Maxime du Camp
For the child, in love with globe, and stamps,
the universe equals his vast appetite.
Ah! How great the world is in the light of the lamps!
In the eyes of memory, how small and slight!
One morning we set out, minds filled with fire,
travel, following the rhythm of the seas,
hearts swollen with resentment, and bitter desire,
soothing, in the finite waves, our infinities:
Some happy to leave a land of infamies,
some the horrors of childhood, others whose doom,
is to drown in a woman’s eyes, their astrologies
the tyrannous Circe’s dangerous perfumes.
In order not to become wild beasts, they stun
themselves, with space and light, and skies of fire:
The ice that stings them, and the scorching sun,
slowly erase the marks of their desire.
But the true voyagers are those who leave
only to move: hearts like balloons, as light,
they never swerve from their destinies,
and, without knowing why, say, always: ‘Flight!’
Those whose desires take on cloud-likenesses,
who dream of vast sensualities, the same
way a conscript dreams of the guns, shifting vaguenesses,
that the human spirit cannot name.
We imitate, oh horror, tops and bowls,
in their leaps and bounds, and even in dreams, dumb
curiosity torments us, and we are rolled,
as if by a cruel Angel that whips the sun!
Strange fate, where the goal never stays the same,
and, belonging nowhere, perhaps it’s no matter where
Man, whose hope never tires, as if insane,
rushes on, in search of rest, through the air.
Our soul, a three-master, heads for the isle, of Icarus.
A voice booms, from the bridge ‘Skin your eyes!’
A voice, from aloft, eager and maddened, calls to us:
‘Love… Fame… Happiness! Hell, it’s a rock!’ it cries.
On every island, that the lookouts sight,
destiny promises its Eldorado:
Imagination, conjuring an orgiastic rite,
finds only a barren reef in the afterglow.
O, the poor lover of chimeric sands!
Clap him in irons, toss him in the sea,
this drunken sailor, inventing New Found Lands,
whose mirage fills the abyss, with fresh misery?
Like an old tramp, trudging through the mire,
dreaming, head up, of dazzling paradise,
his gaze, bewitched, discovering Capua’s fire,
wherever a candlelit hovel meets his eyes.
Astounding travelers! What histories
we read in your eyes, deeper than the ocean there!
Show us the treasures of your rich memories,
marvelous jewels made of stars and air.
We wish to voyage without steam or sails!
Project on our spirits, stretched out, like the sheets,
lightening the tedium of our prison tales,
your past, the horizon’s furthest reach completes.
Tell us, what did you see?
‘We saw the sand,
and waves, we also saw the stars:
despite the shocks, disasters, the unplanned,
we were often just as bored as before.
The sunlight’s glory on the violet shoals,
the cities’ glory as the sunlight wanes,
kindled that restless longing in our souls,
to plunge into the sky’s reflected flames.
The richest cities, the greatest scenes, we found
never contained the magnetic lures,
of those that chance fashioned, in the clouds.
Always desire rent us, on distant shores!
Enjoyment adds strength to our desire.
Desire, old tree, for whom, pleasure is the ground,
while your bark thickens, as you grow higher,
your branches long to touch the sky you sound!
Will you grow forever, mighty tree
more alive than cypress? Though, we have brought, with care,
a few specimens, for your album leaves,
brothers, who find beauty, in objects, from out there!
We have saluted gods of ivory,
thrones, jeweled with constellated gleams,
sculpted palaces, whose walls of faery,
to your bankers, would be ruinous dreams.
Clothes that, to your vision, bring drunkenness,
women with painted teeth and breasts,
juggling savants gliding snakes caress.’
And then, what then?
Not to forget the main thing, everywhere,
effortlessly, through this world, we’ve seen,
from top to bottom of the fatal stair,
the tedious spectacle of eternal sin.
Woman, vile slave, full of pride and foolishness,
adoring herself without laughing, loving without disgust:
Man, greedy tyrant, harsh, lewd, merciless,
slave of that slave, a sewer in the dust.
The torturer who plays; the martyr who sobs;
the feast, perfumed and moist, from the bloody drip;
the poison of power, corrupting the despot;
the crowd, in love with the stupefying whip:
Several religions just like our own,
all climbing heaven. Sanctity,
like an invalid, under the eiderdown,
finding in nails, and hair-shirts, ecstasy:
Drunk with its genius, chattering Humanity,
as mad today as ever, or even worse,
crying to God, in furious agony:
‘ O, my likeness, my master, take my curse!
And, the least stupid, harsh lovers of Delirium,
fleeing the great herd, guarded by Destiny,
taking refuge in the depths of opium!
– That is the news, from the whole world’s country.’
Bitter the knowledge we get from travelling!
Today, tomorrow, yesterday, the world shows what we see,
monotonous and mean, our image beckoning,
an oasis of horror, in a desert of ennui!
Shall we go, or stay? Stay, if you can stay:
Go, if you must. One runs, another crouches, to elude
Time, that vigilant, shadow enemy.
Alas! There are runners for whom nothing is any good,
like Apostles, or wandering Jews,
nothing, no vessel or railway car, they assume,
can flee this vile slave driver; others whose
minds can kill him, without leaving their room.
When, at last he places his foot on our spine, a
hope still stirs, and we can shout: ‘Forward!’
Just as when we left for China,
the wind in our hair and our eyes fixed to starboard,
sailing over the Shadowy sea,
with a young traveler’s joyous mind.
Do you hear those voices, sadly, seductively,
chanting: ‘Over here, if you would find,
the perfumed Lotus! It’s here we press
miraculous fruits on which your hopes depend:
Come and be drunk, on the strange sweetness,
of the afternoons, that never end.’
Behind a familiar tongue we see the specter:
Our Pylades stretches his arms towards our face.
‘To renew your heart, swim towards your Electra!’
she calls, whose knees we once embraced.
O Death, old captain, it is time! Weigh anchor.
This land wearies us, O Death! Take flight!
If the sky and sea are dark as ink’s black rancor,
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light!
Pour out your poison, and dissolve our fears!
Its fire so burns our minds, we yearn, it’s true,
to plunge to the Void’s depths, Heaven or Hell, who cares?
Into the Unknown’s depths, to find the new.
For more on Vincenzo: VincenzoBilof.org