Thursday, July 14, 2016

HWA POETRY SHOWCASE III: MEET MICHAEL A. ARNZEN

Hi Everyone,

Today I stole my buddy Mike Arnzen away from his computer and threw him in THE MADHOUSE with me for a short stay. Mike has been here with me a couple times now, and fun fact, has even hung out with me and explored an actual madhouse before (see: Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum). So sit back, relax, and get into minds of my one of my favorite writers!

How did you hear about the poetry showcase?

I've wanted to be a part of the HWA's support for poetry ever since I first heard the HWA was publishing these Showcases.  I'd read the previous two anthologies and was really impressed by the work they contained, and I regretted overlooking the deadlines and never submitting to them. So when I heard another one was in production, I made it a point to not let the deadline pass me by this time.  The HWA has done so much for me over the years (I've been a member since the 90s) that I am trying to give back in different ways, from contributing to books like this to volunteering to things when I have the time, like mentoring and teaching classes at StokerCon and such.

What  is the title of you poem? Why did you decide to submit that particular piece?

"The Trappings of Poetry" is my contribution to Vol. 3, and I wrote it expressly for this collection.  I feel that the HWA is doing a fantastic thing in supporting poetry, but the majority of its writers remain fiction authors (myself included); so I wanted to try to explore the horror of the format itself and try to offer a text that said something about what it is horror poetry is, as much as to try to creep out the reader.  I often see this as my mission, even if it's not so conscious: to create "horror" that by its very nature is unique to the medium that contains it. So in this case I set out to write a horror poem that could only be done >through< poetry.  As with a lot of my experiments like this, I just let the proverbial muse take over -- but then I took control back -- and the poem became an exploration of point-of-view in the tradition of Poe:  a piece about devious compulsion and sadism that -- I'd like to think -- makes you more and more uncomfortable the longer you sit with the voice of the narrator... though, of course, it's really a poem about all of us writers, and thus, the readers of this collection.
What is your process like for writing poetry?

It's very spontaneous and loose -- a kind of word jazz.  This creates a lot of sick humor and puns along the way.  And this process is similar to how I write fiction, in that I really just try to channel my unconscious onto the page first -- striving to get as close to a "dream" state as possible (the proverbial "zone") and thereby release the nightmares -- and also trying to side-step all the things inside of us that censor and control us.  Poetry is best for this because it gives you the flexibility to avoid the structures of time, space, chronology, narration, characterization -- all the "structures" that impose order on ideas.  In a poem, anything goes, just like in a crazy dream, and I love that.  Not every horror concept works this way; narrative fiction is better for unleashing surprise and really giving us a "character study" or a way of contrasting reality vs. the fantastic.  For me there's a very thin line between the two forms, though.  In fact, I'd say that the most horrifying moments in a horror story are usually the scenes or passages most akin to poetry, since the language is fraught with weirdness.

Who are some of your poetic influences?

To write this stuff, you've gotta be open to surprise discoveries, so I'm never married to just one style, just one writer, or just one pet subgenre. I'malways exploring new things and trying to put myself into literary situations where inspiration and influence will come out of nowhere and change the way I think.  So most of my influences are people who have surprised me profoundly in the past, or who continue to freak me out and shock me with something new every time.  I already mentioned Poe, who is a big one, and maybe after that I'd cite someone like Jim Morrison -- but I really have been influenced most by contemporary genre writers -- friends in the business, I suppose -- who I always spend the most time reading and studying.  People like John Grey, Marge Simon, Ann Schwader, Kurt Newton...even you, Stephanie Wytovich. I try to absorb it all and want to be a part of the "conversation" we're all having about horror and mankind.  Outside of genre writers, I've been reading poets like Aase Berg and Zach Schomberg (all the poets at Black Ocean books are tops), and listening to weird music, with or without weird lyrics.  Like, right now, I'm digging a bunch of computer game "soundtracks" and have been listening to them as ambient noise as I write.  I also just discovered an amazing percussionist named Tatsuya Nakatani who is doing some crazy things to cymbals, gongs, bowls and skins that amazes me and inspires me to try to wrestle new ideas out of the mundane tools I already use in everyday life.

Who are you reading now and who/what are you looking forward to reading for the remainder of the year?

I just picked up "Underwater Fistfight" by Matt Betts, which I'm really looking forward to reading. He tends to tackle popular culture in a witty and surprising way.  I saw that the bass player from King Crimson and Peter Gabriel's band -- Tony Levin -- has a poetry book now, so I'll likely pick that up and see what he's up to.  After discovering and writing the intro to Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann's book last year -- On Quiet Nights -- I've renewed my appreciation for what musicians are doing, even if they aren't avid readers of other poets. Their instinctive play with the sound of language thrills me.   Aside from poetry, I'm hoping to catch up with the Stephen King books piling up on my "To Be Read" stack.  I still need to read the entire Bill Hodges Trilogy.  

Are you currently working on anything that you want to announce? Has anything of yours recently been published that you would like to talk about?

I was shocked to discover recently that next year will be a decade since my Stoker-winning short story collection, Proverbs for Monsters, came out.  It's been out of print and hard to find for a long time now, and I'd been holding back on releasing an ebook --  but since it's a Stoker-winning collection, it deserves to be out there.  So Dark Regions Press and I have been working up an exciting expanded edition to re-release around the time next StokerCon rolls around!  

All sorts of other irons are in the fire right now too.  My non-fiction study, The Popular Uncanny, should be out by the end of the year.  And I recently just finished polishing up 55 stories in a series for an anthology called "555 Vol. 2" which I'm really excited about. They're microshorts, but hilariously sick.  Too soon to announce my next novel, but it's in development and so far so good!  I also think I've got enough material to put together a new poetry collection as well.  So please let folks know about my free newsletter, The Goreletter -- it's the best way to keep up to date on my work and you get all sorts of things there that you can't get elsewhere, like original art, prize books and more strange poetry. 


Author Bio:



Michael Arnzen holds four Bram Stoker Awards and an International Horror Guild Award for his disturbing (and often funny) poetry, fiction, and other literary experiments.  He holds a PhD in English from University of Oregon and teaches in the MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.  Raw Dog Screaming Press recently published the 20th Anniversary edition of his first novel (Grave Markings, along with a decade-long collection of his micropoetry (The Gorelets Omnibus), and will be releasing his new nonfiction study, The Popular Uncanny, this October. See what he’s up to now at gorelets.com

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