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Poets of the Dark: Interview with Rook Riley


Rook Riley is the author of short stories in the following anthologies: Queens and CourtesansA Lone Star in the SkyRebels and RevenantsStrange Afterlives, and Witches and Warriors. After the military and then the  Department of Defense took them to live on both coasts and smack in the Midwest, they moved back home to Texas. Currently, they are employed as a middle school teacher (Welcome to body horror at its finest!) and a freelance developmental editor. In addition, they also write horror novels, game in tabletop RPGs, practice Krav Maga, and spoon warfare. Hobbies include binge-watching streaming services and collecting tattoos.

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? 

My interest in horror poetry was sparked by the HWA Poetry Showcase‘s existence. I’d written poetry on and off my whole life, but writing horror fiction had captured my attention. I was thrilled when I realized there was an opportunity to put those interests together.

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 approach writing poetry a little differently than writing fiction. It starts with an image. I’ll type that out and boil it down to as few words as possible. From there, I’ll apply figurative language while maintaining the concrete image I want to convey. My writing rituals are a bit mundane. I have a different candle for every project I work on. So when I work on a poem, my scent is Whiskey & Tobacco. It puts my mind in a specific mood and allows me to draw upon the creative energy more quickly than if I do not have a candle. Plus, the act of just lighting the candle has the effect of setting my brain up to know it’s time to write.

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? 

Suspense and balance, to me, all have to do with word choice. As I stated earlier, I start with an image and take away words until it’s merely the bones. The more tension the fewer words I allow myself. Rewriting and editing are where real creativity comes into play for me. How deep can I cut without losing the horror?

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?

Marge Simon, Jessica McHugh, and Donna Lynch are all fabulous poets. I read their work sometimes before I decide to start writing. It helps put me in the mood to light my candle and start writing my own work.

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?

If you’re interested in writing horror poetry yourself, my advice is to read poetry and horror widely. Think about a scene that stuck with you or a scene that disappointed you. Now take that inspiration and play with it, adding or subtracting words as you go. Be aware that you won’t get the poem to be what you want on your first try. Don’t beat yourself up. Everyone rewrites. Everyone. 

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