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Poets of the Dark: Interview with Dianthe West


Dianthe West (she/they) is an architecture writer turned poet and fiction author, which was always the prize. Their work is inspired by the sublime and the quirky, from Gothic landscapes to urban fantasy to Carrollian fairy tale satire. Dianthe’s poetry has been featured in HWA Poetry Showcase IX. They live with their family, plants, four-legged familiars, and hundreds of grazing bunnies in Guelph, Ontario. Find them on Twitter @Dianthe_West and at dianthewest.com.

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?

I’ve been fortunate to participate in discussions in the horror community, particularly with women and marginalized people in horror, about horror writing as a way to process personal and cultural trauma. My parents were both Vietnam war vets with PTSD. Most of my creative work is based around processing military family trauma circa the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I think with Gen X in particular, we don’t talk about this enough because the US likes to bury that chapter of its history. But the effects of war played out inside our homes both at the time and for decades afterwards. I’m a pacifist. I identify with survivors who do peace work. So, for example, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien are two works that inspired me as a young person. I find working within poetic structures gives an order to the emotional chaos that comes with growing up in a shattered family. It’s like picking up the pieces and putting them back together again — though some of those pieces will always be missing.

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?

‘Rituals’ is a great way to describe it. I’m neurodivergent. When left to my own devices, I a) garden + live as sustainably as I can, and b) create and organize lists of words that I like. If you were to take a peek into my files, you’d find scores of lists with thousands of words from authors and poets I admire. I hoard words from nonfiction books about witches, the occult, the Gothic, that sort of thing. Maps. I love historic place names and how they evoke the landscape in different cultures and time periods. I do the same with images, collecting them in files. Visual artists do this. I’m a visual thinker. Words and images meld together in my mind. Things like typography, symbology, and pictographic scripts are fascinating to me. With all of these lists that I curate, I sort and re-sort words, juxtapose them and see what comes up that relates to my personal experience, like a designer creating palettes.

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?

With a few exceptions, every poem of mine begins as free verse. It helps to sketch the emotions down on the page. To make another visual analogy, this is like a gesture drawing, then afterwards the structure becomes the organizing factor, like outlines or fly lines or shading. The exception is when I’m working on a particular mathematical model, say a Fibonacci poem. Then the beats come first before the substance. Both approaches are worthwhile. I’m also a STEAM groupie — two members of my household are computer engineers, and I was a biology kid myself, so the math underlying nature, art, and language is always visible to me. I’m always aware of it. It has to arrive eventually. In poetry as in architecture, a good structure provides its own tension.

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?

Linda Addison’s poetry workshop was my first. I’ll totally credit Linda for getting this show on the road. I’ve also studied with contemporary poets Carina Bissett and Stephanie M. Wytovich. Most of the rest of my inspirations are historical. With an art history background, I suppose this makes sense. Some of my favorite poets from my own cultures are Elizabeth Siddal, Christina Rossetti, Sylvia Plath, Oscar Wilde, Goethe, and Hildegard von Bingen. My parents were deeply influenced by living in Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines, so you’ll see this imagery come up, too. I’ve studied Jin Nong, Thich Nhat Hanh, and early Buddhist nuns in the context of healing and East-West peace studies. I’m a Romantic by nature, (a New Romantic in terms of 80s pop culture). I would have fit in very well around 1812, except I also enjoy modern infrastructure, so I’ll happily admire my favorites from here.

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?

The horror community has been one of the warmest and most welcoming communities I’ve come across. Don’t be afraid to reach out and contact writers you admire. Everyone is promoting everyone else’s work all the time. It’s grassroots like this in a very good way. Workshops have been the best avenue to get to know people with similar interests and participate in group projects like anthologies and magazines. There’s a supportive community on Twitter in particular, and that’s where you’ll also find academics who will read and promote your work. Since horror is such a personal and varied genre, I’ll leave the substance of the work up to you!

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