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Poets of the Dark: Interview with J.E. Erickson


J.E. Erickson is the author of Offerings to the Flower Moon: The Tale of the Abrams Witch (October 2022) and Dust Bunnies From Hell (October 2023). He currently writes horror and fantasy stories, and lives in an old house in the Midwestern United States with a nerdy soap maker, two spoiled dogs, and a (potentially) possessed vegetable garden. You can visit him at jeericksonwriting.com or on Twitter @maladjustined.

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?

Poetry has always been difficult for me, and I never really actively read it until college. Even then, it was tough for me to write because I don’t think I knew how to engage with it until my 3rd year, and it was an exercise in frustration. Sonnets bored me. Every free/open verse poem we workshopped seemed like prose poetry with arbitrary line breaks. Once I started reading Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath and embracing some darker themes did I find a sense of academic catharsis, so to speak.

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?

If I don’t have an image in my head, I can’t write. It can be a face, a setting, an animal’s corpse being reclaimed by a pine bog in a forest – if I can’t see it, I lock up. When I do get an image in my head, I try to interact with its emotional center. Once I have an idea of who it’s about, what they’re doing/feeling, and why, I can start toying with language.

I admire people who can pump out draft after draft of anything. It can take me a month to write a haiku.

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 have few rules, specifically for when I write a poem:

1)   Praise directness. If there is a dead body with maggots writhing in it, say so, and

2)   connected to 1, don’t treat a poem like it’s a riddle. It’s not.

3)   The form/structure should somehow reinforce the function of the poem. If I want to create a sense of disturbance or discomfort, then I might break a traditional rule or three. Improperly splitting words (not at their natural syllable) or setting up a rhyme scheme and purposely not following through later in the poem.

Sometimes this stuff works. Others, not so much. Poetry is one of my weaknesses, so I allow myself more room to fart around.

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’m very much an old poet person. Wilde, Coleridge, Dickinson, Thomas, Poe, Frost.

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?

Learn the rules; break the rules when you can get away with it. Write what you love.

Again: poetry isn’t a riddle. It’s more like a key hammered from language. If you’re reading something, don’t be afraid to not “get it.” Instead, write down how you feel when you’re reading it. When you get more comfortable reading it, don’t settle for simple reactions. “I like it” or “I don’t like it” are not instructive or useful, at a certain point. You have to ask yourself why you like something, and then figure out what about the language and structure and meter of a poem is causing you to react a certain way. Once you figure that out, even more tumblers will fall into place. It’ll make your writing that much easier, because you’ll be writing and editing with a purpose.

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