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Poets of the Dark: Interview with Gerri Leen


Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader, she’s passionate about horse racing, tea, and collecting encaustic art and raku pottery. She has stories and poems in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nature, Strange Horizons, Dark Matter and others, and has a poetry collection coming out from Trouble Department. She’s a member of SFWA and HWA. See more at gerrileen.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?

The shows I remember from my childhood in the 60s and 70s really were influential. When it came to the dark/horror things I still remember today, it was shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, and of course, the movie Trilogy of Terror scarred me as it did so many of my generation. But along with being scared there was the appreciation for the twist that is often implicit in those shows. I love a good twist. And these were all short form anthology type media—so much conveyed in such a small amount of time. I think that might be why I’m so drawn to flash fiction and poetry.  

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 naturally skew dark so my process for horror poetry is really my process for any poem. When I am just writing poetry with no theme in mind, I love to do ekphrastic poetry as a way to generate ideas. I look through visual art and try to find a story within it. Often I’ll ask myself if it’s a story anyone else will see in it, and if not, that’s the way I want to tell it. Putting the narrative I’ve generated into a poem rather than prose sort of comes naturally: it’s generating the ideas that’s the tough part. 

If I am working from a theme, I try to just brainstorm anything I can think of that relates and then pick the ones that most sing to me and go from there. But before I start, I try to determine if the theme is too specific—if poems will have any place to land if they are rejected. A broad theme I can work with more easily than really specific things. Unless I really feel strongly about the theme. I once wrote a poem about ham sandwiches for a ham anthology—thank the deities that it sold because the odds were not in that one’s favor of finding a home if rejected.

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?

I’d probably share what I share with any writer/poet: keep your work out on submission. You never know who is going to resonate with it, even if it’s been rejected many times.  Write new poems all the time so you’re not overly invested in any of them (it helps make rejections sting less and allows one to get on with resubbing things.) And send the maximum number of poems allowed per submission because the one an editor may pick is rarely the one you think is the strongest. My experience is that dark stuff sells as well if not better than lighter poems, so keep mining the darkness.

2 comments on “Poets of the Dark: Interview with Gerri Leen

  1. When I was in the small press world, Gerri was one of my favorite contributors. She’s an absolute star.

  2. Great interview! I love your advice that the one that sells is often not the one you thought the strongest. So true.

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