Naching T. Kassa
Have you ever wondered what inspires a poet to write or how their thought process differs from your own? Well, wonder no more. Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting a Poetry Roundtable Interview (of sorts) and I posed these questions to some of the finest poets in the HWA. Here’s a peek into the minds of Linda D. Addison, Marge Simon, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Christina Sng, Alessandro Manzetti, and Michael H. Hanson.
How old were you when you discovered your interest in poetry?
Linda D. Addison: My earliest memory (around five years old) is making up stories about cats flying, etc. I started reading/writing poetry in high school while reading Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and non-poets with writing that inspired my imagination like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, James Baldwin, Kafka, Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, John Cheever, and Toni Morrison. Richard Wright. My first poem was published in my high school newspaper, and I was so excited to see it in print.
Marge Simon: I’d say around ages 5-9, my father would recite from poems by Tennyson, Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and more, read me poetry and/or stories before bedtime. His language was colored with songs and sayings, snatches of poems, adages—a wonderful potpourri of language to inspire me to imitate and think about.
In fourth grade, I wrote my first horror poem, but didn’t know it. “Cream Puff Kin Folk,” in which I named hypothetical kinfolk. In the last two stanzas, I am making them into cream puffs and baking them in the oven.
Stephanie M. Wytovich: It was around middle school when I started writing poetry. That was also around the time I started getting into horror, so needless to say, once I started crafting poems and stories, all of them were fairly dark.
Christina Sng: I must have been about five. I loved the rhythm and rhyme of words and played a lot with them.
Alessandro Manzetti: When I was about sixteen, the first book of poetry I read was Baudelaire‘s The Flowers of Evil. I kept the book on the nightstand for some time, and I loved reading some poems before falling asleep. After Baudelaire, I continued to read in particular works by French poets, such as Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and as I grew older I studied American poetry, from modernism to the beat generation, the one that is closest to me today.
Michael H. Hanson: I think I was six or seven years old, and my older siblings were reading from a number of Dr. Seuss books to me. Green Eggs and Ham comes to mind.
What got you interested in horror? Was it a poem? A movie? A book? A TV show?
LA: I always loved scary movies growing up. My mom and I would stay up late watching horror movies on TV. The old B horror movies, like THE MUMMY, FRANKENSTEIN, THEM!, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, PSYCHO, etc.
MS: Interest in horror? First: being freaking crazy afraid of The World Book F with the scary fish down where it’s pitch black. I had such fear just to open to those pages. A year or two later, I realized that I couldn’t survive down there long enough to see them, much less be eaten by those spiny sharp teeth. So, I was safe. Ah, that was true until I saw piranha and watched them eat meat down to and including the bone.
SW: My parents, actually. Particularly my mom. For as long as I can remember, my mom has been reading me horror stories and celebrating all things Halloween. All my books growing up had a hint of darkness to them, ’80s horror movies rocked me to sleep, and I got hooked on classic monsters and cryptozoology/mythology pretty young. The first adult horror novel I can remember reading was Pet Sematary by Stephen King.
CS: I think I was the product of that generation, the ’80s when horror was all the rage. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, POLTERGEIST, the Dark Forces and Twilight YA book series.
AM: It was a book, including the short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, where horror is not explicit, visual, but silently surrounds you, leaving a lot of room for your imagination. I was very young, and it was that work that brought me closer to horror.
MHH: It was a mix. Movies like VALLEY OF THE GWANGI and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (which I watched on the big screen as an Army Brat on U.S. Army bases overseas) scared the Hell out of me as a child. Certain episodes of TV shows like SPACE 1999 (“Dragon’s Domain” springs to mind) had horrific elements that filled my childish imagination with creepy fright. I liked reading the comic books Creepy and Eerie as a child. I suppose the very first scary tale I heard, in Kindergarten, recited by our teacher, was “Goldilocks and The Three Bears.”
What is your favorite horror-themed poem?
LA: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is my earliest memory of a horror-themed poem that has never left me.
MS: My fave horror-themed poem? Depends on what “horror” is supposed to be. Many forms and feelings for that very word. I couldn’t possibly name one, anyway. Something new comes along—reading a horror poem over and over kills it for me. Um, BUT I have written a few myself that creep me out, like the one in our 2020 HWA Showcase, “Brothers”.
SW: Today, it’s the poem “Ouija” by Sylvia Plath, but truth be told, it’s usually a poem by Plath. She taught me more about writing horror than anyone else. Well, her and Anne Sexton, who in my eyes, is also an absolute goddess when it comes to poetry.
CS: I have too many to choose one.
AM: I would like to mention “Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe. I think it’s a beautiful, dark and visionary poem. I wrote a modern interpretation of it, one year ago, for a book published in Italian including all Poe’s poems, translated by me.
MHH: “Ghost House” by Robert Frost.
What inspires you to write poetry?
LA: Everything inspires me, things people say, my reactions to happenings in the news and in the lives of those I know. Sometimes, something said in conversation (by me or others) will fire up images that become poems. I love words so much that it often only takes a few words to stop me in my track and feel a poem coming. That’s why I write everything down. I’ve been journaling since 1970; my journals are where I go to grab seeds and grow poems.
MS: Things that inspire horror poems? I find many ideas in history—The Four Horsemen are a grand source for inspirations.
SW: Anything and everything, but a few of my favorites are: watching the leaves change color, visiting cemeteries and abandoned places, the occult, weird medical history, snow, thunderstorms, heartbreak, nightmares, fire gazing, being in the water, snakes, dancing, staring at a cool color palette, doing something that spikes my adrenaline, traveling …
CS: It’s my therapy. It’s become part of who I am. I write to live. I write to heal.
AM: The opportunity to tell my vision of life, of things that happen or have happened, through a magnifying glass that can highlight the less visible aspects, those hidden in depth, elusive, but essential to give meaning to the whole.
MHH: Anything and everything. Overhearing a nearby conversation. Looking at the stars at night. A dream. Works of Art. Short stories and books I read. People watching. Daily life and observation are rife with muses aplenty. Music videos. Movies. Laughter. Tears. Sometimes I feel like an Emotion Battery, sucking up the drama and feelings and angst and joy and terror in the world around me, and then regurgitating it on the page… or cutting the veins of my imagination and letting it bleed across my computer screen.
Who is your favorite poet and why?
LA: I don’t even know how to pick one poet, whew! Every year I discover new poets that inspire me. My first memory of poets’ names was Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in junior high school. I would read them out loud in my bedroom alone, not always understanding the words, but loving the sound of them. Although, as I think about it, the fairy tales I loved in elementary school were very poetic.
Some of the poets who are longtime inspirations: Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Pablo Neruda, Charles Bukowski, Langston Hughes, Charlee Jacob, Tom Piccirilli, Marge Simon, and more.
Poets I will buy every time their work comes out: Michelle Scalise, John Edward Lawson, Alessandro Manzetti, Christina Sng, G.O. Clark, Rain Graves, Angela Yuriko Smith, John Urbancik, Bryan Thao Worra, Sheree Renée Thomas, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, Mary Turzillo, Michael R. Collings, and more.
I enjoy discovering new poets all the time.
MS: I don’t have a favorite horror poet. That’s like asking what is your favorite food. Wouldn’t you tire of just one thing?
SW: Classic poet? Probably still Plath, but I also really love Emily Dickinson, Charles Simic, and William Butler Yeats. My favorite contemporary poet is probably Andrea Gibson, but Ocean Vuong and Nick Flynn are close seconds.
CS: Sylvia Plath. Her poems are such a mastery of beauty and form, each piece is like an intricately carved sculpture so perfect, it belongs in the Louvre.
AM: My favorite poet is Allen Ginsberg, I think his work has revolutionized the concept of poetry, getting young people to this form of communication. He found the right way.
MHH: Robert Frost. He was a master craftsman of rhyme, which is part and parcel of my oeuvre. Walt Whitman is right up there with him, of course.
What is your creative process when writing a poem? Could you explain your process step by step?
LA: It’s not so easy to explain, even though it’s very easy for me to write a poem. My writing is very organic. Someone can mention a word, any word, and I can write a poem; images like music unwinds in my mind. That is one way it can begin. A lot of poems come from my journals, which I’ve been keeping since the 1970’s. I don’t know how many journals I have (although six years ago I took a photo of them when I moved from New York to Arizona) and files on my computer. I write down everything, bits and pieces of words that come to me, overheard, read, etc. Every collection I’ve written started with inspirations from my journals.
Often, I do re-write poems, but sometimes poems arrive complete. I read each poem out loud and that’s how I can tell if it’s done, if I stumble over a word/image, then I work on it. In general, the steps:
1-write the words that come, without thinking too much
2-read the poem out loud
3-edit (if needed) by:
-change words I commonly use (we all have them) into something more interesting
-try opposite meaning words, or opposite sounding, wild use of the Thesaurus
-trim out words not needed
-shape the poem with breaks by the breaths when reading poem or a form that appeals
-shape the poem into a specific form (Sonnet, Villanelle, etc.)
4-when edited as much as I think it needs, I like to print it, and not look at it for a couple of days before reading it again. If it doesn’t feel done, go back to #3.
MS: When I sit down, sometimes I doze off. Other times, I’m feeling like writing a poem. But I have no ideas. I get up again, wander aimlessly around a little bit. At that point, either I sit down and type up a great poem in one sitting or go to bed.
Seriously, whatever I will do has a period of thought, concentration. Sometimes if using a (given) prompt, I go back through the many, many poems I’ve got on the computer and pick some lines. The idea might come from a few words in those lines—which may be discarded once the work is underway. During the process, I like to take a writing tablet on the porch and scribble a rough draft that nobody but me can follow. I must do all that before I can mold the thoughts into a work of substance.
SW: My process usually involves me sitting in my office, drinking way too much tea (or pumpkin cream cold brew this time of year), and listening to ethereal creepy soundtracks while I write out my version of a mood board. I usually have a character or a scene or an image in my head that I want to write to, so by putting on some instrumental background noise and zoning out a bit, it helps me to channel the vibe that I’m looking to bring to the page.
With fiction, I’m an edit-as-I-go type of woman, but with poetry, I very seldom edit anything until I’m finished. Once I get everything on the page, I’ll go back to rework the breath, framework, and feel of the poem, being mindful that it reflects the tone I want both audibly and visually.
Also, when I’ve committed to a theme or a longer project, I also decorate my workspace to help keep me creative. Presently, I’ve been writing next to black candles, rose quartz, a goat’s horn, and a vial of snake bones.
CS: An idea comes to me and I just write, like automatic writing. Often it feels like I am just a conduit but that is how it is for me.
After the poem is complete, I go back and edit it, make it readable, make sure there are no repeated words. When it is done, it feels complete.
AM: It’s not always the same. Mainly, I start thinking about a theme, in a macroscopic way, and then, when I write the first lines, usually abstract, like something adjusting focus slowly, I can see the detailed scene of what is asking to me to be revealed, told. After that, founding the rights words to move on, until to the end, is the simpler part of the process.
MHH: It starts with a magic moment, where a phrase or a sweet patch of words sprouts in my head, sparked by a phrase or conversation I’ve overheard, a moment in a movie or TV show, the composition of a particular work of art. If I’m on the road (in my car or grocery shopping or on a walk) then I’m in trouble because I might not remember these small jewels that pop into my mind, before I return home, BUT if I am close to my laptop computer, I generally snap it up at these moments of inspiration and push all other thoughts aside and just write the entire poem from beginning to end. I’ve tried to embrace being a better craftsman in recent years by waiting a couple of days to do a rewrite or two, but every now and then a complete poem pops out of me that I am eager to see published ASAP.
Are any of your poems based on real life experiences?
LA: Life inspires many poems I’ve written in some way. I’ve written many poems inspired by real life in different ways:
-the loss of a friend or family member
-other poets/artists/musicians’ work
-something someone says in social events, on the street, convention panels
-my reactions to incidents in the news, movies, etc.
Example, when Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, my outrage at how people weren’t taken care of in a country that has so much, inspired a poem called “Mistaken Identity.”
MS: Real life experiences—sure, but I can’t pin them down. I just wrote a multi piece of scenes from my coma in my 20s. I was in it for two weeks; they thought I’d die. Finally, after many years, I got to “paint” those horrifying dreams in prose poems. I remember them well to this day, and I believe it has been accepted, but I have no contract as yet.
SW: My collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, has some shades of memoir in it, and I did a ton of on-site research at asylums, hospitals, and prisons when I was writing Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, so a lot of those poems are based on real places, actual stories/rumors I heard, and scenarios I imagined when I was in certain rooms and cells. My other collections have flavors of truths and some rewritten memories, but on the whole, I try to live in the land of make-believe.
CS: A good number of them, in metaphor. I’ve long learned, living in my culture, that we never write about what truly is, but disguise it in layers of metaphor.
AM: Almost always, even if in a surrealistic way, and never biographical. I think the poem should tell, with its magical tentacles, real life. It must never be a stylistic exercise as an end in itself, nor detached from something real. Poetry is life, and should scratch, not simply sing a beautiful melody.
MHH: I’d say ALL my poems take something from the real world, but, to be more specific, I would think about 50% of my poems are my comments on some aspect of daily life, my observations of the day, as it were. The other 50% is a mix of daydreams, my imagination, magical or dark places my muses lead me to … some of them quite a surprise.
What does the future hold for you? What work do we as readers have to look forward to?
LA: I’m very excited about the 2020 release of a film (inspired by my poem of the same name), MOURNING MEAL, by award-winning producer and director Jamal Hodge. I’m doing edits on my first novel. Other places to find me this year or next:
– work in Miscreations anthology (Written Backwards), 2020); Don’t Turn Out the Lights anthology (HarperCollins, September/2020); Weird Tales Magazine #364, October/2020); Chiral Mad 5, (Written Backwards, 2021).
MS: The future holds a deadline for this interview, and I hope more great dark reading and surprises!
SW: I have a couple of irons in the fire ranging from new short stories, an occult poetry collection, and a weird novelette. I’m also working on developing a new course surrounding the history and lore of vampires.
CS: I’ve been working on a new horror poetry collection, but I’ll be writing it from scratch so that may take some years. My short fiction collection is in the works as I continue honing my fiction craft.
AM: I’m finishing a new poetry collection, titled Whitechapel Rhapsody, coming in October 2020. It includes all new poems about the “Jack the Ripper” story, told in a surrealistic way, mainly inspired by real events.
MHH: My sci-fi/fantasy poetry anthology, Android Girl and Other Sentient Publications, and my dark poetry chapbook, Quarantine World: Trapped in the Coronaverse, were both recently released by Three Ravens Publishing.
My collection of poems for children, The Great Soap Rebellion, is currently being illustrated, and I hope to see it published in 2021 if I can find a willing publisher.
The latest volume of the shared-world action/fantasy/horror SHA’DAA shared-world series (that I am the creator of) is SHA’DAA: Zombie Park, a novella anthology (featuring the fantastic work of Gustavo Bondoni, Eric S. Brown, and Jason Cordova) that will publish sometime next month (October 2020, MoonDream Press).
I have also just created a sci-fi shared-world anthology loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, titled Not to Yield and containing stories by 18 very talented authors. In a few weeks, I will start pitching it to various large publishing houses.
And here is a wonderful treat, HWA Faithful. Here are some delightful selections from the darkest minds. Enjoy!
Linda D. Addison
(inspired by “The Raven” — Edgar Allan Poe)
Raven, sweet dark dream,
split open my eyes
peel away my hope, bring me
your joyless cry, your visions,
held tight in a decaying breast.
I drink my desire
from the sharp folds of your wings,
lie naked in your beak, become a seed,
let me rise in the endless night
through your dying breath.
Yours or Mine?
Pretend that nothing’s changed as I guide you
past the broken doors, the lines of empty cars
beneath a dull orange sky. We keep upwind
of the smell until we reach the sea … You spread
a tablecloth, I bring rocks to hold it down
against the wind. You’ve prepared a mock
picnic of conversation. Fictive wine and
Camembert. Sand sticks to your lips, you laugh
a little too hard and I kiss you.
The dogs follow sunset. They travel in packs,
some with collars. I’ve grown too weak
to beat them off. Days ago I’d try, but even
the small ones are gone. We brought the gun.
One bullet left. Yours, or mine?
As the Crow Flies
From The Apocalyptic Mannequin
In a chair next to a window, there is a girl,
a shadow, a wilting orchid. When no one
is looking, a petal drops, a rib pokes out,
a flutter of wings hits the glass like bodies
on pavement: the sound expanding, growing,
blossoming like cancer until it stops breathing,
the emptiness a pressed crow, a tarred feather,
all those little feelings marinating inside her
like grinding teeth and blood clots, the crowded
room now filled with nothing but ghosts.
The coffin is shut
And the mourners are gone,
Leaving only the children
Who push it
Into the cleansing fire
At the crematorium
Even as their father
Beats on the lid,
From the poem “Gasoline”
(Sacrificial Nights collection, 2016)
(…) A brand new Ford pick-up filled
with melancholy workers of the night,
a Christ sticker glued to the license plate,
stops in front of the windows of the bar.
In the driver’s seat, a young bastard
with too many possible fathers,
doomed by the sombrero
he imagines atop his head.
A man with an unstitched soul
and an atlas of hell on his scarred face
sucks the finger of Camilla until the ring slips off.
He downs the last shot of Bushmills.
“We can call him Diego,” he says
though he will remain only in your head.”
The wet poison on her finger
dries under the fan blades. (…)
Michael H. Hanson
They are settling into waters,
a grand foundering subsidence,
all of earth’s raven-hair daughters
drowning within men’s existence.
They are slowly going under,
hesitant, yet bravely upright
their whimpers like drowning thunder,
their savage teeth ready to bite.
They are sinking with both fists clenched,
submerging in a harsh world’s tears,
dismissing their macabre descent
as one more dream smothered by fears.
Cowled in thick, billowing shadows
waiting for fate in pale repose
harboring the greatest of hopes
that only truth and love expose.