Poets of the Dark: Interview with Amanda Worthington
Amanda Worthington is a writer of the speculative whose work is alternately dark and whimsical. When she’s not writing, she’s probably enjoying the great outdoors, reading, working a crossword, or cuddling one of her 3 floofy cats. Her newest release is No Quarter: A Novella in Verse.
What sparked your interest in horror poetry? Was there a particular event or work that inspired you to delve into the darker side of poetry?
When I was about 12, I returned home from school one day and confessed that I hated reading because it was boring. My bibliophile mother would have none of it and allowed me to choose a book from her coveted bookshelf. My eye was immediately drawn to the glossy cover of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty. I was quickly told, “Not that one,” and went with Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot instead. It was on that day that my love of horror was born.
My love of poetry came later, but my love of wordplay came earlier, so it’s really hard to say when I began writing poetry. It started as love poems to a long-distance boyfriend in high school but quickly took a darker turn when I lost my mother to cancer. That was the pivotal thing for me. I was filled with so much rage and pain and verse was how I chose to express those feelings.
Can you describe your creative process when writing horror poetry? Do you have any rituals or techniques that help you tap into your darkest fears and bring them to life on the page?
I use music to get myself in the right headspace for writing but then turn it off when I’m actually in the process of writing. I fully immerse myself in my imagination and put myself in the situation or world I’m creating. There is no separation. There can’t be if I’m going to do my creations justice.
I have learned how to back out as needed. I am still in control. I just like to be “in the scene.” It’s a bit like an actor getting so caught up in a role that the two become one. It makes for the best performances, but it’s also important to be able to pull yourself back out again when you need to. I can’t help but think of Heath Ledger’s Joker here, and the toll the role took on his mental health.
As for the writing itself, I always write what I want to say first. Form follows function. I can always stylize and insert line breaks after I’ve gotten my message out. My poetic voice is nothing if it’s not conveying the words I want it to convey. That order of operations is important to me.
How do you balance the need to be evocative and disturbing with the constraints of poetic structure and form? Are there any particular strategies you use to create tension and build suspense in your horror poems?
I am not a fan of constraints and put them in place only after I’ve said what I wanted to say. I read my poetry aloud to get a sense of its rhythm, its flow, its music.
This next sentence is going to sound simple to the point of absurdity, but I like to use shorter lines and stanzas to build suspense. Short lines and short verses are a bit like short breaths, and we tend to be short of breath when we’re running, when our hearts are racing, when we’re being put into fight or flight mode. There is no time for rumination in these moments. This is where suspense happens.
I also find it effective to put disparate images side by side in my poetry. Reading or listening to poetry is an active and dynamic process, which I think we sometimes forget. Readers and listeners are often intrigued when they encounter parallels they would not normally encounter. I have a piece about two almost-strangers finally finding the love they both had trouble finding in the pre-apocalyptic world, but that love is paired with cannibalism, and that isn’t something most people expect to see. I think that kind of combination engages like nothing else can.
Who are some of your favorite horror poetry inspirations? Are there any authors or poets whose work you admire and draw inspiration from when crafting your own dark verse?
I love the work of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I’m also a fan of the lyrical genius of Maynard James Keenan, writer and vocalist for such projects as Tool and A Perfect Circle. I don’t think we often consider musicians as dark poets, but they absolutely are.
Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories are also a huge inspiration. I’m one of those people who thinks his stories outshine his verse and are no less poetic. I have a piece I’m working on that is loosely based around the central theme in Fall of the House of Usher. If anyone doubts the power of fiction to inform poetry, just take a look at Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which gets its title and main premise from a poem by Robert Browning called Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring horror poets who want to explore the genre? Are there any particular challenges or pitfalls they should be aware of, and how can they overcome them to create truly terrifying poetry?
Anyone can write poetry. I mean that. I have seen and assisted in editing pieces that went on to be published or, in one case, featured in the HWA Poetry showcase.
The biggest pitfall in my humble opinion is forgetting about function and going straight to form. Rhyme is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it forces you to choose words that do not do the best job of conveying your message, then it just isn’t worth it.
I tell people who are new to this craft to write a paragraph or two about what they want to say. Then I smile and say, “Congratulations! You’ve written a poem!”
Poetic form can intimidate people, but writing a paragraph seldom does.
So, my advice is to start there and see what magic follows.