I’m truly delighted to welcome Lucy A. Snyder as my guest for this column. I finally got to chat with her at the Vegas StokerCon and then asked her if she’d guest my column. In the interim since, personal life got in the way for both of us. I highly respect her talents, and am only now realizing they are many more than I’d thought. Well, now’s the time—the dawn of another year, and I know you’ll enjoy what she has to say! By the way, she has an article in the January 2018 Writer’s Digest that will appeal to readers of poetry and flash fiction in particular. I can’t wait to read it as those areas are my field of creative interests!
Lucy is a five-time Bram Stoker Award®-winning writer who is author of a dozen books and sixty published poems. Her poetry collection, Chimeric Machines, was one of her Stoker winners. Her work has appeared in publications such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, and Best Horror of the Year. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Goddard College and is faculty in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. You can learn more about her at http://www.lucysnyder.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.
The Key to Writing Dark Poetry
Lucy A. Snyder
Poetry was the first form I fell in love with as a very young writer. I was in my early teens when I first began writing poems—don’t worry; I won’t be inflicting my early efforts on you here. But I became fascinated with words and wordplay, rhyme and rhythm, and poetry became my playground. When I was in college, I started learning more about how real poets go about their business while I was taking computer science classes. And it occurred to me that all the layered and hidden meanings in poems make poetry the most creative form of cryptography.
Make no mistake: a lot of literary poetry is incredibly cryptic to the average fiction reader. The problem is that most people go all the way through high school and college without ever learning to read poems in the way that literary poets are taught to write them. Consequently, the average reader doesn’t know about enjambment or anaphora. They wouldn’t necessarily recognize a villanelle or a sestina if they saw one in a magazine, nor would they know why and how the form of a poem affects its meaning.
This presents some real challenges to those of us who write dark poetry. On the one hand, we get a better deal than most literary poets because horror and dark fantasy publications like Weirdbook and Apex Magazine actually pay us a bit of money for our work; literary poets often not only don’t get paid but have to pay to submit their work. But on the other hand, paying horror magazine editors sometimes don’t know a sonnet from a sestina, either. So, we dark poets must write poems that our fellow literary-trained poets will view as well-crafted work. But we must also make our poetry accessible to fiction readers and editors who aren’t familiar with the techniques we’re using and maybe can’t see all the layers we’ve worked so hard to weave into our verse.
The key, in my experience, is to make sure that you’re writing poems with a solid narrative. Tell a good story with your poetry. If the main layer of your poetry is too obscure or hard to follow, it’s not likely to sell to a genre magazine, no matter what cool stuff is going on under the surface. Give fiction readers a solid, vivid surface to grab onto. Make sure that they’ll get something from your poem even if they haven’t been trained to catch everything you’re doing.
And I do encourage horror fiction writers to try writing poetry. Writing and reading poetry really made me pay attention to how words and sentences work and flow together, and made me think more deeply about word usage and style. Poetry is a great agility exercise for prose writers.
If you want to learn more about poetry, I recommend Mary Oliver‘s A Poetry Handbook as a good starting place. And if you’re interested in learning how to use poetry techniques to write better flash fiction, I’ve got an in-depth article on the subject in the January 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.
I’ll close this out with a couple of my more recent poems:
We would be two larks winging
our way through the Master’s
best, you said. I’d be your Grace
Kelly, your Audrey. Your eager eye
documenting our recreation, old-style
eight millimeter, hand-cranked.
I don’t remember Grant stripping naked
as he fled the marauding sky, flat
fields, drab motels, but a true auteur
is no script slave. Spellbound, I shed
my retro dress, hit the marks you ordered,
amateur heart fluttering in its dark cage.
But you’ve stopped wearing your tie,
your ring. You’ve switched to digital
video, the cost of the darkroom too dear.
The trunk of your old green Ford is filled:
coils of rope and plastic sheets. The shower
scene is tomorrow, you smile. I’m silent,
skull-rehearsing my own altered script
as I lie beside you in the feather bed.
(appeared in The Cutting Room, Tachyon Publications, October 2014)
Despite what you said, my love,
you only want pale saccharine
magic: a Splenda Glenda
with cheesecake frosting.
Wave your gourmand wand
and she’ll be your candyland.
You crave sweet maiden,
not seasoned mother,
never bitter crone.
My saltiness is legend.
I’m no marshmallow
though I certainly burn.
So, baby, just for you: I’ll embody
witchy clichés. Skunk your beer.
Wilt your soufflés. Sour your balls.
I hear that tears pair well with crow.
I’ll take my broom and cauldron
and sweep away to Avalon.
(appeared in Weirdbook Magazine, October 2017)