Good Afternoon, Friends and Fiends--
Today in The Madhouse, I'm sitting down with Ronald J. Murray to talk about his debut poetry collection, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, which was recently released from the JournalStone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press. Ronald J. Murray is a fiction writer and poet living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His short fiction has appeared on The Wicked Library, and anthologies such as, Lustcraftian Horrors coming soon from Infernal Ink Books, and Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption from Long Pig Press. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association, and when he is not writing, he can be found drinking entirely too much coffee and staying awake far too late.
For those of you looking for your next poetry read, I invite you to sit back, check out this interview, and consider picking up a copy of R.J.'s book--it's a truly fantastic debut and one you won't want to miss!
With crow feathers,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
SMW: Tell us about your collection. What gave you the idea to create in this bizarre, horrific world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?
RJM: Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower and its setting are a product of introspection during depressive episodes, to be completely transparent about its creation. I consider it an accidental collection, because I was only writing through struggle with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder to cope with increasingly worsening feelings of hopelessness and a battle against a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms. It just so happened that I ended up with enough to fill a manuscript, and it just so happened that I was using a lot of the same metaphors over and over. So, I can’t really say that the idea to create this horrifying pseudo-kingdom was deliberate. The setting just fit what was happening inside of me, as a dramatized, fictional account, that made me need to write it in the first place: a lack of control over what I saw as a world once lush now drying up, where sounds once serene have gone silent, and everything is gray and dim and dying.
SMW: What was your favorite part of the collection to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you?
RJM: My favorite part of this collection to create and explore was the strange world that blossomed from tumultuous times. I loved seeing what my mind produced while I was just automatically writing things to play with and refine later. The hardest was certainly writing about suicidal ideation without seeming like I was advocating for it, which I certainly was not.
SMW: Per the title of your collection, you’re dealing with representations of royalty here: The Crow King and The Corpse Flower Queen. What gave you the idea to crown both of these with an air of elitism and/or superiority? Is there something about the crow or the corpse flower on a foundational level that screams supremacy?
RJM: In its simplest form, the Crow is a false king. He wears a crown that only symbolizes false sovereignty, or a desire for real self-sovereignty that feels out of reach. He sits on a fake throne from which to spew diatribes against enemies that are, perhaps, non-existent outside of himself.
What the Crow King perceives as his enemy is the Corpse Flower Queen, who rules alongside him. Real sovereignty is represented by this character. She is in a position of balance and mental well-being, and she is able to help the Crow, and she wants to, but he sees her as the source of his misery: a putrid and rotting thing that brings him much displeasure, despite what happiness she may have brought him in the past.
In a literal sense, the Queen represents relationships marred or ruined by allowing mental health issues to go untreated. Without properly loving yourself, it’s difficult to have healthy friendships or romantic relationships.
Having said all that, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say either of them represent any kind of supremacy or real royalty. One wants to destroy everything he thinks stands in the way of a sovereignty that doesn’t actually exist, and the other is something the Crow, himself, put on a throne of opposition in his own mind.
SMW: Something that I really enjoyed with these poems is that there is a masculine and feminine energy dispersed throughout the body horror within them. Can you talk a little more about this ying/yang and how you define body horror personally?
RJM: Well, the yin/yang of masculinity and femininity was perhaps accidental. The real yin/yang comes from mental instability versus mental stability. When you have a mental health issue that’s left unaddressed, it can wreak havoc on your life. When you’re generally stable, as the Crow King knows deep inside that the Corpse Flower Queen is, you try to reach out to help. Unfortunately, that hand gets smacked away. So, I could comfortably wrap that up in a package like that.
Body horror, for me, is probably something that comes from a place of expressing poor self-image. It’s terrifying to see yourself as something rotting, or like there are things inside of you crawling around unseen that you can’t get out.
SMW: I noticed a haunting approach to the dissociation from one’s body between these pages, and it stood out to me as one of my favorite parts of the collection. As such, there are themes of memory, ghosts, and echoes of the past. Why do you/did you feel drawn to working with these topics?
RJM: I was particularly drawn to the use of ghosts and memories of the past with this collection because the Crow ultimately sees himself as having become corrupt. He is haunted by the memories of his childhood innocence, the former purity of his relationship with the Corpse Flower Queen, and the frustration that he cannot easily return to that. In his current state, he views himself as a monster.
He’s no longer what he once was, and he doesn’t know how to transform into something similar to that creature of goodness and purity.
SMW: Rot and decay feature heavily in your book, so I’m curious as to how poetry can utilize absence or disappearance stylistically in form and structure to change and shape how we read a particular piece?
RJM: I think this would be a fun idea to play with, and something that would take a lot of thought. Something like that would have to be executed properly in order for it to have a disturbing effect on readers.
SMW: Can you tell us a little bit about your process for writing poetry?
RJM: Writing poetry is just something that happens for me in bursts. If I’m doing something at work or around the house or yard that allows me to slip into a “flow state,” reflecting on myself, my emotions, or situations that I’m going through can result in several new poems. I basically visualize myself screaming the words at my phone screen, or my computer screen, my journal, or a notebook. I just let them crawl and claw their way out of my heart. Then, I let them sit for a while until they become something unfamiliar to me so that I can edit them from a more objective position.
SMW: What speculative poetry books have you read lately and/or are on your TBR list? Anything specific that you’re particularly looking forward to?
RJM: I’ve recently read the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase, Volume VI, your collection, Hysteria (which was wonderful, by the way), Choking Back the Devil by Donna Lynch, and I recently revisited Sara Tantlinger’s Love for Slaughter.
I need to get my hands on The Apocalyptic Mannequin and Christina Sng’s collections, A Collection of Nightmares and A Collection of Dreamscapes. Those are at the top of my need-to-read list.
SMW: What is next in store for your readers?
RJM: I recently finished a chapbook of poems about the pain of failed love that are filled with twisted and horrifying imagery. Once I get those edited and sent off to a second set of eyes, I’ll start shopping around for publication. Otherwise, I recently had a short story come out on The Wicked Library’s tenth season, titled Jealousy, and I’m planning for some pieces of longer fiction, which I don’t want to say too much about at this stage of their development.
Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower is a stomach slit by knives and guts spilled on the pavement. It is the organized chaos of a man on the brink of running, a man gasping for air in those split seconds his head breaks through the surface—a man who’s realized you can’t outrun yourself—told in the narrative arc of a Crow Crowned King and a Corpse Flower Queen in their castle in the suburbs.
"With lush language and imagery that draws from nature's decay, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower is a spellbinding poetry collection with a decidedly fairy tale and folk horror flare. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, this is a breathtaking debut."
-- Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens