In July, “Interview with F.J. Bergmann”
F.J. Bergmann writes poetry and speculative fiction with work appearing in Black Treacle, Dreams and Nightmares, On Spec, The Pedestal, Pulp Literature, and, as F.J. says, ‘a bunch of regular literary magazines that should have known better.’ In addition to being the Poetry editor at Dark Renaissance Books (darkrenaissance.com), F.J. is the Editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com), and poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com). Awards include the 2012 Rannu Prize for speculative poetry and the 2013 SFPA Elgin Chapbook Award for Out of the Black Forest (Centennial Press, 2012).
I’m very grateful to F.J. for taking the time to talk about horror poetry from the perspective of both a poet and an Editor.
HWA: Where do you see the state of poetry in the horror genre today? Where do you see it going in the future?
FJB: I think horror poetry may be in a healthier state in some respects than other flavors of speculative poetry, given that it is officially recognized by HWA as well as included under the aegis of SFPA. It’s quite clear that readers are never going to get tired of horror! Or dark-infused fantasy and SF, for that matter.
HWA: As an Editor, what are you looking for?
FJB: In general, my tastes are fairly eclectic. I’m open to experimental, unusual work. I like a fine balance between over-explication and opacity, between subtlety and the trite or inaccessible. My favorite poems are those where the reader has to do a little work to connect the dots. I’m a fan of Billy Collins’ dictum “End in mystery.” I’m not at all opposed to poems in form, with the exception of those relying solely on syllable count, but tend to prefer strict meter where rhyming poems are concerned. I have a weakness for prose poetry and funny poems.
HWA: As a poet, do you feel like sharing a poem or two?
Sometimes he would rise up momentarily
on his hind legs and sniff the air as if he had
forgotten something important. Other wolves
were grayer, smaller, less worried.
His pelt was reddish, as if he had rolled in blood
still warm and wet, and some of it had clung.
Whenever he drank from a stream or lake,
he stared at his reflection for a long time.
Perhaps he had once been tame, a prince’s pet.
He wore a collar studded with silver bosses
engraved with illegible runes. Although it rubbed
his neck raw, he was never able to claw it off.
In summer when even the clouds were drowsy
with the heat, he would find thick brambles
where briar roses were opening their hearts
to the wind and fall asleep in scented shadows.
Once in a great while he would go at night
very close to the houses of men and look up
at the glowing windows as if they were eyes
in a face he almost remembered.
(first appeared in Spectral Realms 2, from Hippocampus Press, in 2015)
The poem was originally titled “Was,” a pun on “were-,” but this title is more appropriate (a ‘palimpsest’ is a manuscript written on parchment where traces of a previous, incompletely erased document—in some cases, a much more valuable document—still show) in the sense of a life overwritten by an unwilling transformation, with vestiges of the former life faintly showing beneath.
When all the others were nothing more
than glowing cobalt skeletons, piled
in heaps below the Union Terrace
at the edge of where Lake Mendota had been,
we emerged, blinking wetly, from the forgotten basements
and abandoned freezers and refrigerators
buried under miles of landfill.
We came up into the buzzing incandescence
that called itself air. Where we moved,
that fluid swirled behind us in viscous rainbows
like the rose window in a melting cathedral.
We wore floor-length evening gowns removed
from the displays of Nedrebo’s Formal Wear
to cover our absence of light;
as we left, long slivers of plateglass snapped
under the weight of our souls.
We never raised our eyes above the necklines
of each others’ garments: that would have been unwise.
On each of what used to be fingers or toes,
we wore colored condoms found scattered
in the wreckage of Red Letter News.
A dirty syringe and a jeroboam
of distilled water will last us a fortnight;
a dog or a squirrel suffices for as long
as it takes until the last shards
of roasted skin crackle to aromatic powder.
Above what remains of the Capitol dome a golden angel
tilts like a suicide toward an unknown future.
In Olbrich Gardens the lilies still waste their empty tendernesses;
the oxypetalum still glow as blue as those bleached bones.
(first appeared in The Raintown Review in 2005)
This poem describes post-apocalyptic beings in the ruins of Madison, Wisconsin (where I lived at the time it was written), furnished with many details of the actual city.
HWA: How vital do you find organizations like SFPA and HWA to horror poetry? What would you tell non-members to entice them to join?
FJB: While SFPA also includes fantasy and science-fiction poetry, both organizations work for poets by providing umbrella organizations that offer social links, newsletters and other publications, and respected awards determined by member nomination and vote. In each case (for speculative poetry, and for horror poetry specifically), they are the only game in town as far as offering a collective position for poets writing in those genres. In the case of SFPA, what it can do for members is directly determined by the number of members who pay dues. I know that there are many speculative poets who have not joined SFPA; with increased memberships, SFPA could afford to achieve non-profit status, and to increase contributor payments for Star*Line. Other goals are to offer a conference and workshops specifically for poetry. Most organization policy is determined by those willing to volunteer—or even just to speak out within the organization. Anyone can direct its focus by stepping up to the plate as a volunteer.