Monday, March 21, 2016


Continuing with the HWA Poetry Showcase series, David E. Cowen interviews me about my work as a poet, both creatively and academically. Check it out below. I hope my process is interesting and encouraging to all those who are curious about the art form and what it can do for them.

Q: Why do you write poetry?

A: I write poetry for a lot of different reasons. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t talk about my emotions well, and it’s mostly because when I was younger, I was ashamed of what I was feeling, and I was afraid of it, too. As I grew up, I found myself in situations where showing emotion and compassion were met with various stages of physical and emotional abuse. At one point, my therapist suggested that I start journaling so I could open up a conversation with myself about what I was feeling in those moments, and I did, and I took to it, and I haven’t looked back since. 

I searched for a really long time about what my subject matter and identity were as a poet, and then I read somewhere (or maybe heard it in the movie Sylvia) that Ted Hughes told Sylvia Plath that she was struggling so much because she hadn’t accepted that she was the subject of her work. It dawned on me then that I could write my horror as an outward reflection of myself while also giving voices to other characters who have fought their way back from their own versions of Hell.

People ask me all the time what poetry is and what my work in horror means, and to me, it’s always been about survival. I write poetry because I love the form—I love the raw, gritty, intensity of the line, and appreciate the silence and the scream of white space—but I write because it lets me breathe and heal, and most importantly, when I finish a piece, it reminds me that some fears and tortures can end, and that there’s always a new beginning around the corner.

I chose horror as a genre for a lot of the same reasons that I chose poetry as my main art form: it’s guttural, it’s honest, and it doesn’t hold back. It lets you see how monsters grow and it shows you why sympathy for the devil exists. Horror isn’t black and white—it’s a gray area, and it makes you question everything you thought you knew was an absolute: your religion, your morals, your heart. I have a hard time giving a firm 100% answer on anything in life because I see things from so many different angles, and I can appreciate the viewpoints and respects of those in those mind frames. Horror doesn’t make me pick—it lets me explore, and it doesn’t judge me if my choices are less than what most people consider beautiful.

Q: In various writings you have referred to Professor Michael Arnzen as a mentor. The HWA is trying to promote a mentorship program for its members. What did Arnzen or others you also consider as mentors help you accomplish? What importance do you place on mentorship in the field of writing poetry? What benefits to aspiring poets do you see from the HWA program?  

A: I’ve been working with Mike for almost ten years now, and while there have been countless mentors and colleagues and friends who have helped influence and shape my work, Mike has been, and continues to be, my champion.

I first met Mike in 2007 when I started Seton Hill University as an undergraduate student studying 
English Literature. He was my advisor, and I’ve always be the type of person who has to have a plan, so when we first sat down to meet, I told him what my dreams and aspirations were and he handed me a copy of Cemetary Dance Magazine and told me to pick up a copy of Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year so I could start to figure out what kind of horror writer I wanted to be. For the next four years, I studied literature in the scope of horror and wrote almost all of my criticism papers on the darkness that I found in the pieces I was reading. Arnzen introduced me to psychoanalytic criticism and the uncanny. He showed me David Cronenberg films and assigned me Jan Svankmajer. He never let me slack, and he always encouraged me to dig deeper, to look harder, and to never, ever stop writing.

When I started in SHU’s Writing Popular Fiction Program a month or so after I graduated with my BA, Arnzen wasn’t my official mentor (shout out here to William Horner and Scott Johnson!) but he still taught me and mentored me in my writing. I wrote essays for him on Cronenberg, and dissected text on why Norman Bates was one of my favorite psychopaths. We started doing poetry readings together, and soon after that, we started writing together, too. We battle/d prose poems and ran around Greensburg drinking too much coffee, and like all great mentors, he introduced me to some of my favorite authors at conferences and encouraged me to teach and present both my critical and my creative work.
Into my second semester of graduate school, I signed with Raw Dog Screaming Press, and then a few months after I graduated with my MFA, I sold my thesis novel, The Eighth, to Dark Regions Press. Now I’m teaching writing, and traveling, and working/selling my stories, and so much of that is because I had a mentor, and most importantly, a friend and a colleague who constantly told me that I could do it. Mentorship is so important because you have someone in your corner who wants you to succeed, and beyond that, is willing to help you succeed and is happy when you do so. Even now, almost ten years later, Arnzen is still the one person who knows my work and my vision the best, and he’s constantly encouraging me to reach new heights and set new goals. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, and I hope that someday I can make as big of an impact on someone else’s life in the way that he did for me.
Q: Which poet, or poets, do you believe inspired you to both write poetry and emphasize dark poetry?
A: Growing up, I fell in love with Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe. I read them voraciously and fostered a true love of their words, madness, heartbreaks, and fragility. I wanted to bring that same torment to my writing. 
Q: How do you define speculative poetry?
A:  I’ve always defined speculative poetry as poetry that is fantastical in the sense of genre (SF/F/H). It can be formal verse, or free-verse, but an element of the otherworldly, the mythological, or the psychologically improbable should be present.
Q: Some poets claim to write entirely by inspiration, writing when the Muse calls on them. Others will attempt to write on a set schedule, sometimes daily, regardless of inspiration? Which are you and why?
A: I’m a little of both to be honest. I wear a lot of different hats in my life, and I make sure that I’m doing something writing-related every day, but that might not necessarily mean actual writing. I could be reading, researching, editing, marketing, etc., however I will say that once I’m headfirst into a project like I am now with The Widow Effect, that I write every day, and for a few hours a day at that. I don’t need the muse to write, but when she shows up and demands to be listened to, I pretty much put everything on hold for her. The one aspect of my writing life that is however, always consistent, is that I write at night. I’m a night owl and I can’t do anything until I’ve had like 2-3 cups of coffee in me, so I usually feel at my most creative at night when I’m properly caffeinated and the world is quiet.
Q: I have seen a number of references in your social media postings to music you enjoy. With the advent of rock music came the musician poet – Dylan, Tom Waites, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, and so many others. Were you influenced in your writing by any such musician poets and do you believe that connecting with well written lyrical music can inspire a budding dark poet?
A: Oh my, yes. I’m very, very much inspired by music, and the musicians above have been great influences on my work. For each project I work on, I create playlists that further inspire the theme that I’m working with, and right now, my playlist is all of the above, plus Johnny Cash, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, and Patti Smith. Their lyrics are transcendental at times, and I’ve had cool, spiritual revelations while listening to them at different points in my life. I’ve read almost all of Jim Morrison’s poetry, and right now, I’m reading one of Patti Smith’s memoirs. I think, so much as artists, sometimes just knowing that we’re not alone in this world is important, and their work as artists and poets make me feel whole and hopeful and strong.
Q: Given the variety of subjects in your work, how do you set to craft a poem? Do you start with an inspired idea, an image, a concept or some other foundation for the piece? Or, do you put pen to paper and just see what emerges – relying on the ghosts from the Ouija board to craft the initial piece?
A: My process for poetry is usually very methodical, although of course, there are plenty of moments where I just put pen to paper and pour out emotion. Usually though, I craft my collections in alphabetical order because that’s how I write and structure the arc of my books. I write each letter of the alphabet down in a notebook, and come up with five titles for each letter while taking into consideration theme, arc, pacing, etc. It’s a very long, carefully throughout process, and I love doing it that way because it gives me great energy to start writing because now I have all these pieces to think about and it’s not just a shot in the dark for me each night when I sit down to write.  I do something similar with my fiction, too, in that I write the poem version of the chapter/story before I actually write the prose.
Q: With an MFA you’ve had to find a place for your dark poetry in the academic field. What has been your experience in gaining academic acceptance outside groups such as the HWA or the Science Fiction Poetry Association?
A.  I haven’t really tried a whole lot of avenues in the academic community for my work yet, but I’m working on a non-fiction project and exploring some different avenues right now, actually, that might gain results and open some new doors for me. More on that later!
Q: You are an editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press. What do you draw from that experience that helps you as a poet? Also, as an editor, and judge for this year’s Poetry Showcase, what errors and mistakes do you see poets continually making that you can advise HWA members to avoid in their submissions to the Poetry Showcase?
A:  Editing for RDSP is a great outlet for me because I look at it as another way to teach. I get to help clients take a look at their work from another perspective, and in that process, I learn as much as them. We teach other what works and what doesn’t work, and it opens up a conversation about style, content, form, arc, etc.
I think some of the biggest mistakes that people make in poetry are that (1) they think that just because they put a lot of line breaks in something that it automatically makes it a poem and (2) recognizing that yes, while less is more, their words need to be tight, direct, and each one needs to hold as much weight as the other. As with fiction, it’s important to read a lot of poetry to understand the rhythm and styles of the art form.
Q: One of the reasons for limiting this year’s Poetry Showcase to members only is to encourage members to broaden their writing scope to try poetry which has a long and rich connection to horror? What would you recommend to the HWA member who normally writes fiction and wants write a dark poem to submit but may feel that poetry is out of their element?

A: Oh, I love this question because I often feel out of my element when I’m writing fiction, but having said that, I think writing fiction is important and it’s something that I’m passionate about, so I don’t worry about what anyone thinks, and I just do it and try to be the best I can be. If it gets accepted somewhere, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t, then something wonderful still happens: I have a product to work with and learn from now. I think it’s important to push ourselves out of our comfort zones both in life, and in writing, because that’s how we find our voices and our stories. So yes! Write, submit, and try. At the very least, you’ll learn something about yourself and your writing. Growing as an artist is a necessary and vital part of the craft.
Bio:  Stephanie M. Wytovich is an Instructor of English by day and a horror writer by night. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine, and the assistant to Carlow University’s international MFA Program for Creative Writing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated poetry collections, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, and An Exorcism of Angels can be found at, and her debut novel, The Eighth, will be out in 2016 from Dark Regions Press. Follow Wytovich at and on twitter @JustAfterSunset

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Continuing with the HWA Poetry Showcase interview series, our second judge is John Palisano. Check out his work and take a moment to read his thoughts, and remember, submissions open up April 1st!

1.      What is your relationship to poetry as a writer? As a reader?

As a writer, poetry has influenced me greatly. I'm always applying lessons I learned from poetry inside fiction. Especially in attempting to say a lot with the least amount ... the 'right' words. As a reader? I've always loved poetry.

2.      Who is the first poet that you remember reading, and what was your reaction to him/her?

Edgar Allen Poe, of course. Elementary school. Those stories scared me, and I couldn't believe stuff so dark was being taught in our shiny little school. Of course, I was hooked. Although I remember when I told my dad, he said, "You mean Bill Murray?" and laughed. I was quite confused until many years later when I saw the resemblance.

3.      Who are some of the poets that you’ve been reading lately and what do you specifically like about their work?

KA Opperman and Ashley Dioses are a pair of poets I discovered through the Los Angeles chapter. They're both very unique, yet, classic. I love how they are using traditional rhyming poetry at times. Opperman's collection is wonderful in that the rhymes are not obvious, and you can tell a lot of thought and work went into the pieces. The overall effect is cumulative and wonderful. Dioses is similar, but more free verse at times. Equally excellent. Another recent favorite is Robert Payne Cabeen. I thought Fearworms was an instant classic. Me and my son read it often, honestly. Equally exquisite is the art he's created, which is unbelievable.

4.      How do you define speculative poetry?

Work that is made that isn't commissioned, and that comes from its maker true and clear.  

5.      When did you find yourself starting to connect with the form? Do you have a preference for style when you write? A particular style you like to read?

I was a young man when I began to enjoy poetry. I loved finding Ezra Pound and Burroughs and Kerouac, as most do in their early teens. Now, most weren't strictly poets, but the entire beat generation was and is fascinating. I've also been working through Bukowski, who one can read over and over again. I was lucky and found a book of poetry from musician Leonard Cohen recently, which is a treasure. Same with Henry Rollins, although his written work is so much darker than most of his spoken word.

6.      Where do you think poetry stands in the marketplace today? Do you think speculative poetry is on the rise, or is it a dead art?

I actually believe poetry is gaining a lot of momentum again. I've seen several young new faces who are very talented and very respectful of the past. I don't like thinking any art is dead. It may not sell billions of copies, but whenever someone reads it, or listens to it, the work is alive and instantly vital to the reader.

7.      What are some of your favorite magazines/presses for poetry, either to publish with or to purchase work?

There isn't one place, in general. Most are from presses I've never heard of, but the poets I have.

8.      What is the one stereotype you think poetry has that you’d like to see it shed?
      That it is just the musings of someone with a broken heart, pleading to the moon, written in the back of a wired notebook during high school history class. Some may be, but the best stuff is generated by a much more diverse group of people.

9.      What advice do you have for fiction writers who want to start experimenting with the art form?

I'd pick up a good poetry collection, and also, search out a good book on poetic form. There are techniques that, even if applied sparingly in places, can really make fiction read and flow better. Also? Listen to the beat during music. Listen to the drums. Listen to the cadence of speech and try and find patterns. Use some of that in your work.

10.  With the HWA Poetry Showcase coming up this April, what are you particularly looking for as a judge?

Works that are true. By that, not something someone thinks is profound and what people want to see, but something that came from their heart. If it's irreverent and fun, that does not make it unworthy. I love classic style. I love free verse. I love short. I love long. Just bring your own favorites. If you love them, hopefully we should, too.

Bio: John Palisano is a writer whose non-fiction has appeared in FANGORIA and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines. He's been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award© four times.  He’s got a pair of books with Samhain Publishing, DUST OF THE DEAD, and GHOST HEART. NERVES is available through Bad Moon. NIGHT OF 1,000 BEASTS is coming soon. John Palisano’s short stories have appeared in anthologies from PS Publishing, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Darkscribe, DarkFuse, Dark House, and many more. Say ‘hi’ at: and and and 
The next interview will be with myself, and it will be conducted by David E. Cowen. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 11, 2016


With the third installment of the HWA Poetry Showcase starting up in April, I wanted to do a short series with this year's judges to give some background and some insight into both poetics and its market for authors who are writing poetry today. Our first judge in the series is  David E. Cowen. Check out his work and take a moment to savor his words.

1.      What is your relationship to poetry as a writer? As a reader?

A. Poetry is a vexatious and harsh companion always complaining that I’m not keeping up with it. It is an addiction. For every day I tell myself I just can’t write anymore some image will trigger a thought, then a line then a stanza and then a poem. Writing is not therapy for me. It is not bearing my soul to a world that frankly doesn’t need to know my soul. Writing poetry is artistic creation; childbirth with mental labor pains throughout the process. When writing I am Prometheus giving fire to humanity – mind you some embers glow brighter than others. This prompts me to always want to write something strong and well crafted. This also means that I do not mass produce my poetry which means I write fewer poems. My hope is that what I finish becomes something wonderful.

As a reader I’m looking for intelligent art that makes my mind go deep into itself. I keep by my bedside the thin volume of Alan Ginsburg’s poems entitled Howl. I like to go through it sometimes just to feel the sense of his mind – “America I've given you all and now I'm nothing. America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.” Two lines framing such power and realism while heralding the “Beat” movement. Wonderful. I also like the works of Pablo Neruda and the loving wisdom he gives – “When I close a book I open life;” “I can write the saddest lines.” As a reader I read poetry for the power of words and the after effects of thought provoking verse.

2.      Who is the first poet that you remember reading, and what was your reaction to him/her?

A. The first poet that sticks in my mind is A.A. Milne, known for the Winnie the Pooh books. He also wrote several volumes of verse. It was the only set of books I have memory of my mother reading to me. His verse was sweet and simple and went to my heart. His poem “Halfway Down” stirred me because he allowed me to recognize that it was okay for me to have my moments and special places where I felt I could find quiet, solitary sanctuary in a very harsh and unforgiving environment. My personal portal into another realm. I recall feeling exactly as the poem read

I’m not at the bottom,

I’m not at the top;

so this is the stair


I always


I loved Milne’s rhyme and meter. I loved the soft, gentle beauty of the world he created. It seemed so safe to share “Vespers” with Christopher Robin. I still know portions of “Disobedience” from heart. No horror in Winnie and Piglet, but a lot of imagination. Makes me a bit of a “softie” I guess.  

3.      Who are some of the poets that you’ve been reading lately and what do you specifically like about their work?

A. I have embarked on a rediscovery of some old favorites and classics. I re-read much of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Michaelbrent Collings recent success in self-publishing prompted me to look at Whitman’s poems again. Most people forget that the several versions of Whitman’s great volume were self-published. Whitman was an early influence on me. His style and openness, the crispness of his imagery and timeless nature of his work opened my eyes. I’ve also plunge into the narrative poems of George (Lord Bryon) Gordon; an early dark poet. Bryon was a bestselling poet in his day before the novel became popular. It is fascinating to read such sustained narratives. I think it’s important to reconnect with the great poets; to remind myself how I was inspired to write.

I also recently had the pleasure of previewing Peter Salomon’s newest volume of verse PsuedoPsalms Saints and Sinners. In this volume Salomon examines the essence of true horror in this world asking the ultimate question "I wonder where God has gone." A very brave question and one that seems to be a bit of a taboo in the genre. From poems examining the inner thoughts of serial killers to the abandonment of a people during the Holocaust Salomon's skillfully crafted poetry reflects that true horror resides behind the everyday. The smile of the friendly stranger, the indifference of governments and the futility of blind reliance in divine intervention. Only love and poetry offer redemption and hope. It’s a very good read.

Finally, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the Stoker nominees, always good reading. 

4.      How do you define speculative poetry?

A. I’ve answered this question last so I could savor the possibilities of answers. In 2012 Rattle Magazine, a “mainstream” poetry publication, featured speculative poetry in one of its issues. In the introduction the editors postulated that “speculative writing always creates a new world.” I think part of this is true though over simplistic. Deeper into the meaning I believe speculative poetry focuses on the gothic impulses of the poet and reader seeking to peel away the façade of reality to reveal the true inner nature of ourselves through allegorical fantasy, science fiction, horror or surrealism. Regardless of the genre speculative poetry exposes what is inside us; the hero and demon that rattles inside us all.

5.      When did you find yourself starting to connect with the form? Do you have a preference for style when you write? A particular style you like to read?

A. Let’s face it. Every single poet has faced the question “Can’t you write something happy?” Then in revenge you write about a happy serial killer.

 There’s just this inner melancholia that often affects poets. I’m certainly a good friend of self-reflection and the hot toddy glow of a good sulk. The turn to the “dark” is just a word away; reaching beyond daffodils and self-indulgent confessional rambling. I have always written about a hard, often cold and unforgiving world. This is not to foment depression or create hopelessness; just an acceptance of reality. I firmly believe that if we acknowledge reality we then learn to cope with it. Because of this many of my pieces were simply too dark in nature to submit to more “mainstream” poetry venues and periodicals. I was many years into my writing before I began to explore dark and speculative poetry publications and the varied forms of this type of poetry. I discovered true “science fiction poetry” through a fellow Texan poet Juan Manuel Perez who gave a reading at the poetry group I run in the Houston/Galveston area. His focus was on weird and off beat speculative poetry which fascinated me. It made me go back through my prior work and I could see this stifled darkness in my poems. So, I opened the gates and went with it. The result was my book “The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press 2014)” which was very well received and reviewed.

I don’t try to write metered poetry much. I know some speculative poets appear to be trying to recreate the classical styles of Poe or even Bryon. However modern natural speech is so divorced from the old iambic pentameter that I don’t think it works most of the time. That style also seems to steer some poets into falling into patterns of cliché.

I like to craft a poem with rich imagery, layers and an emotional impact. Southern Gothic seems to be well suited for dark poetry.

For my reading tastes, it is very eclectic. I believe that you have to keep your interests varied to avoid falling into old writing traps. Also, reading good poetry inspires writing good poetry. For example, “Four Elements (Bad Moon Books 2014)” written collaboratively with Charlee Jacob, Rain Graves, Marge Simon, Linda Addison is a wonderful work mixing beautiful illustrations and verse. At the same time I still love to read Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Galway Kinnell and Whitman.  

6.      Where do you think poetry stands in the market place today? Do you think speculative poetry is on the rise, or is it a dead art?

A. Juxtaposing the words poetry and “market” is like trying to connect the opposite ends of two magnets. There’s no mass market for poetry of any kind except maybe Penguin Classics volumes used by schools. This forces poets to become Fuller Brush salespersons peddling their books at every coffee shop and book shop that will let you read. You truly sell only by direct sales from personal appearances.

When Lord Bryon published his “The Corsair” in 1814 the pamphlet reportedly sold 10,000 on its first day of release. Selling 10,000 copies of a book of poetry today would put you on Amazon’s top ten bestsellers in poetry for life. Mainstream poetry is drowning. There is no business model that can justify the cost of a “perfect bound” volume of books. The much maligned e-book may save poetry from financial extinction.

While the sales of poetry, speculative or otherwise, is in a dead zone, interest in poetry is not. With the advent of the MFA programs in many universities a new market for teaching and workshopping poetry was created. To some extent, more people make a living on poetry – usually teaching – than ever.

From personal observation only (who does studies on these things?) I think poetry is like life -- to steal a line from Michael Crichton – “Poetry finds a way.” Poetry may be low in the public eye but there are a lot of poetry societies and groups. Houston, which does not have a reputation as a “literary” town, has multiple readings every month. Somehow, despite all the coroner reports of its death, Poetry survives.

Dark poetry, even with its ancient roots in the works of Homer and Dante, has a chance to grow. It offers something meatier to a reader. There is both the art of poetry and good story telling. I think we need to find a better way to develop an audience. I’d like to see more longer poems paired with artists for graphical displays; or short film makers. All of this could build an audience.

The one thing the HWA offers dark poets is an audience for poetry volumes through the Stoker nomination process. Turning that into financial success is a long way off.

7.      What are some of your favorite magazines/presses for poetry, either to publish with or to purchase work?

A. Jeanie Rector’s The Horror Zine. The Literary Hatchet by Lizzie Borden Press. Weasel Press’ Vagabonds, The Haunted Traveler and Degenerates are nice reads. The Pedestal. S.T. Joshi’s Spectral Realms. I enjoy reading the poetry in Strange Horizons as well.  

8.      What is the one stereotype you think poetry has that you’d like to see it shed?

A. “More people write poetry than read it.” I don’t know how many times I hear this. I also want to spit at the fact that the statement is unforgivingly true. I want to go to poetry readings where the audience is not entirely fellow poets. If we are just talking about genre poetry I want to end the stereotype that prompted Paul Cook’s article in Amazing Science lambasting most speculative poetry as “embarrassingly bad.” That is how “mainstream” poets and critics view genre poetry. They don’t see it as “legit.” I think this is very short sighted and simply snobbishness. The narcissistic self-reflection of much of the mainstream “MFA” crowd cannot have any more legitimacy just because it’s not “genre.” But to stand up to this type of stereotype, speculative poets have to maintain their standards. Poems must be good because they are, not because they are genre poems.

9.      What advice do you have for fiction writers who want to start experimenting with the art form?

A. Take up photography. You don’t need to buy a fancy camera to do it, most cell phones work quite well. When you make yourself look for angles, perspectives, points of view and framing every time you walk into a room or take a walk outside, you begin to train your brain to think in poetical terms. Fiction can be a sweeping landscape indulging in every shop, café and spectral flicker of shade on the road. Poetry is a photograph; a captured second in time of a much larger story. Every window frame and every reflection in a window is a potential photograph. When you look at a room or a structure or a discrete segment of a landscape envision how this image will appear, not just in the lens, but in a photograph after you have cropped it and massaged the contrast, gamma and color saturation (or shadow and lighting if grayscale). Create art with the image.

Creating and crafting a poem is really no different. A poem cannot tell the entire story of any life or event. As with photography, focus on what I call the horror of ordinary things. Every item in your curio cabinets has a backstory. Each item has been touched by something or someone long gone. For every story there is a tale of sorrow, loss, terror or disaster. There is a story there. Find it and run with it. Populate your poems with images. Smell and color are very strong tools in poetry. The reader’s poetical experience should be like lifting the lid on a simmering soup or sauce. The sight of the bubbling fluid, the overpowering smell rising with the steam, all causing the mouth to water.

If photography just doesn’t suit you study the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. You’ll see that in his sweeping paintings every corner is laced with bizarre creatures and happenings. Guess at the backstory for each and make that impression into a poem.

However, beware the cliché. Genre is never an excuse for poor poetry. Genre is not an invitation to languish in cliché. The most successful speculative poetry stands on its own as good poetry, not just good genre poetry. I love the “Goth-O-Matic Poetry Generator” ( as a teaching tool for what to avoid. You quickly realize the merely using the words “dark”, “dread”, “fear”, horror” and “mists” isn’t going to create a good poem.

If you write great fiction, you can pull off great poetry. Convey an emotional impact that is layered – is there a meaning beyond some scene of horror or terror? Is the poem an allegory to life? Is your werewolf a symbol for addiction? Is the possessed housewife a symbol for the abused or co-dependent spouse? Is there even another layer and meaning beyond that? Once you think in these terms your tools are almost unlimited.

10.  With the HWA Poetry Showcase coming up this April, what are you particularly looking for as a judge?

A. First, let me make a suggestion to HWA members -- SUBMIT!!!! Blow off the dust of that secret journal you keep where you have dabbled with dark verse but didn’t think you should share it. The Showcase is your chance to share this verse amongst friends. Every writer of fiction I’ve ever met has written poetry of some sort. Remember that prose poetry is poetry too. When I read Cormack McCarthy’s The Road it was clear to me that the novel was truly a narrative prose poem. Get out that paragraph of verse-like prose you once had to take out of a novel or story but you kept because you like it so much. Tweak it to see if it isn’t really a poem that needs a good home.

I want to see poems that get beyond the cliché. The acts of a murderer are not as important to me as to the “why” of the murderer. Even monsters have reasons for what they do. Don’t be afraid to borrow from mythology and folklore – just create something new with it. Hansel ends up eating Gretel along with the witch. Van Helsing runs off with the Brides of Dracula. Let the imagination go.

Overall though I love impact. I love well written poems that stimulate thought; make me ponder the layers of meaning (without being overly obscure).

Bio: David E. Cowen is the author of “The Madness of Empty Spaces,” (Weasel Press, November 2014), which was on the 2014 Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot and was  nominated for the 2014 SFPA Elgin Award as well as listed on Ellen Datlow's Best of Horror Recommended List for 2014. His other volume of poetry is entitled "Sixth and Adams" (PW Press 2001).  His work has appeared in the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Horror Writers' Association's Horror Poetry Showcase, The Horror Zine, Literary Hatchet, Degenerates: Voices for Peace, “Dark Matter” (UH Downtown), Harbinger Asylum,  Texas Poetry Calendar, Isotropic Fiction Magazine, the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Outfront Radio series and among many others.  David’s short story  “Goth Thing,” appeared in the award winning series, Exotic Gothic 5, Volume 1 published by PS Publishing. Other short stories have appeared in various journals including Haunted Traveler, Peripheal Distortions, The Dead Walk Anthology. Non-fiction articles and essays have appeared in CineAction (Canada's leading film magazine),'s "On Motherhood", The Encyclopedia of the Zombie: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth and other journals. David has been named the Editor of the 2016 Horror Writer's Association's Horror Poetry Showcase. David is the president and a lifetime member of the Gulf Coast Poets Chapter of the Poetry Society of Texas. David’s newest book, “The Seven Yards of Sorrow” (Weasel Press) will be released this September 2016.
My next interview will be with author, John Palisano, and then I, myself will then speak to these questions as well as both a judge of the showcase, and writer/editor of poetry.