In July: “Embrace the Hideous Immaculate by Chad Hensley”
The HWA Poetry Page is going to take a one-month break from covering the 2013 Stoker nominees in order to cover a 2014 poetry publication. One of my goals for the HWA Poetry Page is introduce new poets with an in-depth look at their debut poetry collections. This month, we’ll be looking at Embrace the Hideous Immaculate by Chad Hensley.
One of the most interesting stories behind this collection is the wonderful series of events that lead to the publication of Embrace the Hideous Immaculate. So interesting, in fact, that I wanted to present the same story from two different perspectives. First, the perspective of the poet:
CH: After a dark poets panel and poetry reading at the World Horror Convention 2013 in New Orleans, I got a friend request on Facebook from Stephanie Wytovich, the poetry editor at Raw Dog Screaming Press. I told her that I was actively looking to submit a poetry collection and she responded very enthusiastically that she “really loved my work and would be happy to look at a collection” from me. Now, after the panel, no one in the audience said a word to me so I was quite surprised and very pleased with Stephanie’s comments. I’ve had some success with putting together a few of my previous poetry chapbooks including What the Cacodeamon Whispered from Flesh and Blood Press, which was a finalist for the 2001 Bram Stoker Awards, and Deep South Drifter, which is inside Shades of Darkness from Naked Snake Press. But this was going to be a book and my first book of poetry at that. I began feeling daunted almost immediately.
I asked Stephanie if I could send her a batch of poems to start off and she could select what she liked. After the first round, she responded that she loved “the smooth, gothic nature” of my rhythm and images. She said “What I saw thematically was night/darkness as the subject, with the question, what’s lurking around out there? I like how you explore this in tune with the Gothic, and I think that’s what I’d like to push for.” With those words in mind, I began picking poems as well as a name for the book—Embrace the Hideous Immaculate. One of the first poems Stephanie chose for the collection was “Listen.”
the voice of Death is
like the gnashing of wolves jaws
gulping muscle meat greedily
like large leathery black wings
flapping upon midnight winds
like brittle fingernails
scrapping frozen cracked stone.
But I have heard
only a whisper
drifting through skeletal branches
clawing at a bloated moon
as crushed amber leafs
settle upon a silent mound of upturned earth.
(first published in Rictus #4, 1995)
When Chad first told me that story, with its wonderful sense of being ‘discovered,’ I immediately was interested in hearing the same story from Stephanie’s perspective. 2013 Bram Stoker nominee, Stephanie Wytovich, Poetry Editor at Raw Dog Screaming Press, was kind enough to share her thoughts from that poetry reading in New Orleans:
SW: I was sitting in the audience during the poetry panel at WHC when Linda Addison started reading Chad Hensely’s poem, “Dark Entry.” The piece ends with the phrase “a clicking in the shadows,” and it was such a striking line that I knew that I wanted to read more of him…His work is lovely and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
This story is a true testament to the importance of the World Horror Convention and the incredible opportunities to be discovered by participating (the 2015 WHC will be in Atlanta, GA May 7-10 http://www.whc2015.org).
I also asked Chad some non-discovery questions:
PAS: In Embrace The Hideous Immaculate there are some stunning illustrations by the talented Steven Archer. Did you have any input into those, or are those all from him? What was it like first seeing the images that your poetry created in someone else’s creativity?
CH: Yes, I had input but it was the exact opposite. I had to pick pre-existing art from Archer. So I looked at dozens of art pieces and chose a few illustrations that I thought matched with specific poems. I was amazed that the pieces fit so well with some of my poetry. It was rather eerie as a matter-of-fact.
PAS: What’s next? Are you working on anything new?
CH: Right now, I am working on sonnets. I have just sold a handful to S.T. Joshi for his new poetry journal Spectral Realms devoted to weird poetry. The first issue will be published this summer by Hippocampus Press. Joshi also accepted one of my sonnets for issue #5 of Weird Fiction Review published by Centipede Press. Weird Fiction Review is a super nice book so I am very pleased to finally get in an issue.
I also asked Chad about his beginnings as a poet, specifically about dark poetry.
CH: I can’t remember the nitty-gritty of exactly what possessed me to start writing horror poetry (hell, I didn’t even call it that). At the time, I was a sophomore in college and the school’s literary publication attracted my attention. Back then, the word ‘zine’ was still new, used in punk rock circles, mail art crowds, and certain fringe groups. An oversized, glossy lit mag paid for by the English Department of a small liberal arts college probably wasn’t what they had in mind but it was close enough for me. Especially in Jackson, Mississippi.
Now, I’d written plenty of bad (very bad) heavy metal free verse, slam dunked into the waste basket as soon as the high school bell rang. But, my freshman year at college, I took a class that literally warped my “fwagile, ‘ittle mind” into overdrive forever. This course, which met twice a day at two hour pops, combined history, literature, religion, and art on a worldwide scale. Starting with the dawn of time, we worked our way forward through the centuries. Throw a handful of feelings with a few punches from the school of hard knocks into the foray and that’s sorta what inspired me to jump off the deep end with my poetry.
I found out real quick that the artsy crowd that controlled the literary magazine at my college played favorites. They also had this thing for not wanting to publish more than one piece from a student no matter what the merit of the material. Of course, this policy didn’t seem to apply if the editors were your friends. To usurp these efforts, I came up with a few pseudonyms. One of these names was “Orcen” (pronounced ‘orson’). Spell it backwards and you’ve got necro. Pretty appropriate for a horror writer, eh? Bothered the lit crowd real good when they finally managed to figure it out. Got me called “Mr. Doom and Gloom” my junior and senior year.
In the middle of these college antics, a friend returning from summer school in London brought me a little publication she found on the magazine rack at Forbidden Planet in New York City on her way home. This odd, digest-sized periodical was Revelations from Yuggoth, a horror zine filled with macabre tales, art, and poetry inspired by HP Lovecraft. She said she bought it for me because it had poetry in it that sort of reminded her of mine. Earlier that very same day, I’d stumbled across another horror zine at a comic shop down the street. This one was called Deathrealm.
I was born too late:
Never to see
Plump, round priests passing
Dead peasants rotting
Covered with rats
On a dirt road.
Never to feel
The rising heat
From burning rusted iron brands
Poked into an old man’s arm
As he shouts to an inquisitor
That their god was his.
Never to hear
The screams of a pale-skinned girl
As her flesh sizzles and falls
From the blazing stake she is tied to
While surrounded by hooded men
Dressed in black.
Now, I can only touch
The knob to change the channel
As children shoot machine guns in Israel
While the pope passes, waving to
Filthy crowded streets in some city
Whose name I cannot pronounce.
(first published in Deathrealm #9, 1989.)
I devoured the contents of both magazines at a single sitting. Within the week, a submission was in the mail to each publication. Shawn Ramsey from Revelations from Yuggoth sent me an encouraging letter with his rejection. Deathrealm’s editor, Mark Rainey (thank his big, monstrous heart), bought a poem from this batch, setting my pen in motion for more submissions. By the time Deathrealm ended (may the stars be right once again!), I’d managed to sell Mark ten more poems.
Once I had a dream
Of a place
Deep in the earth-
A vast lightless cavern
Half-submerged by an archaic sea.
On the shore I wandered
In phosphorescent lichens’ glow.
Black pools bubbled,
Belching acrid fumes into the air.
Stalactites dripped ochre-colored slimes.
Inland I went, drawn.
I came upon a colossal statue
Rising from a gigantic crevice.
Made of unknown metal
Its many scales shimmered.
Mesmerized I peered up.
Enormous obsidian eyes,
Surrounded by tentacles,
Gazed at me.
I awoke to the sound of waves
Lapping at a midnight shore
Waiting for shadows to rise
From the deep churning waters
And in feeble moonlight
I shall swim home.
(first published in Midnight Shambler #3, 1996)
Reception to my dark verse wasn’t always positive. One of my English professors informed me that the purpose of a poem was to express an emotion. What kind of emotion was I trying to arouse in the reader with these? Another professor told me point blank that one day I was going to grow tired of writing such “paranoid, schizophrenic stuff”. Funny thing, I haven’t yet.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles and got a computer programming job working at a company called Northrop on their B2 Stealth Bomber project. One day, I made the mistake of letting my co-workers talk me into bringing an issue of Deathrealm to work. After reading my poem in the issue, a Christian employee told me that she could no longer be my friend; the magazine was outright evil. That would be the last time I took my poetry to work.
In 1998, I didn’t write a single poem the whole year. Now, it wasn’t exactly because I didn’t want to. I will admit to sort of being fed up with poetry. Let’s face it, how many people make a living writing poetry? Much less, horror poetry? In general, literary horror magazines are filled with fiction; most won’t even consider poetry. Even worse, lots of people claim not to even like poetry (I’ve read it on more than a few HWA members’ websites)! Horror poetry just wasn’t getting any respect. Or so I’d thought…until the next year.
I was planning on attending the 1999 World Horror Convention in Atlanta but when I found out that there were going to be two panels on poetry, I was pleased and surprised. Even better, there were actually people in the audience during both of them. Spring forward a few months and the HWA decides to open the door to horror poets, actually allowing a poet to gain active status solely from the sale of his or her verse! More amazing still, it might soon be possible for a poet to win a Bram Stoker Award. How horrifying would that be?
After the 1999 World Horror Convention, another writer introduced me to a British zine called Nasty Piece of Work. Digest-sized with a glossy cover, NPoW reminded me of Deathrealm, minus most of the supernatural element (but I wasn’t complaining). Editor David Green’s peculiar taste for nasty, diseased literature, literally jump-started my horror poetry into gear again. My verse managed to help fill the final three issues of the magazine. Somehow, I even got my byline on the cover for a poem. A hideously sick and twisted poem, but a poem nonetheless!
If the purpose of poetry is to arouse an emotion from a reader, then isn’t a horror poem that sickens your stomach or makes your skin crawl just as effective? Dare I say, maybe such a poem could actually be called literature, no matter how much it might revolt us? In Nasty Piece of Work #13, I read a poem by Steve Conway that bothered me for days. Its subject matter was pedophilia and, though the poem’s content truly sickened me, the free verse was well executed and quite effective. I still can’t get it out of my head.
Maybe, the best horror poetry makes us feel the most loathsome. Hell, if it can disturb an individual so deeply that they don’t want to be your friend anymore, maybe you’ve accomplished something. If not, you’ll just have to keep trying.
From the nether shade of a tree
I watch her walk
Across the cracked, pale pavement.
She wears black,
an imitated emotion dressed in gloom,
with a strange gothic brass brooch
pinned to her throat
and her hair,
the color of sun bleached bones,
blows with the wind.
But her eyes are hollow,
filled with crushed
sparkling emeralds that shine
Into my darkness and she smiles.
(published in STYLUS, The Millsaps College Magazine of Creativity, Volume #9, Fall 1987)
For more on Chad Hensley (http://www.esoterra.org/editors.htm)
To purchase Embrace the Hideous Immaculate (http://rawdogscreaming.com/books/hideous-immaculate/)