As most of you know, April is #NationalPoetry Month, and the Horror Writers Association (HWA) is opening submissions for the eighth installment of the HWA Poetry Showcase. The showcase will open today, April 1st and run until May 31st and is open for HWA members only.
Full details to submit can be found here.
Note: I will be editing this year’s anthology alongside judges Sara Tantlinger and Angela Yuriko Smith. All types of poetry are welcome and encouraged, as well as all types of horror, although poems that elicit themes of child abuse/pedophilia, racism, homophobia, or transphobia will be immediately dismissed.
With that said, let’s meet the judges and have a little chat!
SMW: When did you first get into poetry? If you remember the first poem/author you read, feel free to include it here and talk a little about why his or her work has stuck with you all these years.
ST: I know it sounds cliché, but like for many of us, Edgar Allan Poe was my gateway into the world of horror poetry. I remember studying his pieces in middle school, and by that point I already loved R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, so having this introduction to how horror could be extended into poetry and wasn’t just for novels has influenced me ever since. I was also dealing with grief and a traumatic loss in late middle school, so I think Poe’s own focus on grief was something I intuitively became more and more drawn toward, but it took me years of studying his work and growing older myself to really appreciate the catharsis and peace I found in his words.
AYS: The first poem I remember reading was “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It was somewhere around third grade, so it was the perfect level of macabre romance for an impressionable girl. Noyes paints such a vivid picture I saw every detail in my mind—and such details! The road as a ribbon of moonlight, Tim the ostler's "hair like mouldy hay," the fated black-eyed daughter braiding her hair with hope. I remember gasping at the end, my hands trembling. She broke her own heart, I remember thinking, but with a musket—for love! It was my first tragedy. For me, the entire world expanded in a breath and became a different place. It was still Cheyenne, Wyoming and I was still sitting on the edge on a dusty playground but that poem blew everything up and put me in a new universe... one inhabited by bold words of intense gravity. They pulled me through the white space, like a wormhole, and deposited me in a brilliant new existence. It was probably the first time I'd experienced metaphor in this way, and I was amazed that saying the moon was "a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas" conveyed a better understanding than "it was a windy night." “The Highwayman” thrilled me with the power of language. I vanished into this place of claret velvet coats and black-eyed women who managed to thwart unjust authority at any cost. Alfred Noyes had conjured an escape from the mundane for me. This was true magic.
SMW: What are you hoping to see this year from poetry submitted to the showcase?
ST: It’s easy to fall into familiar tropes with horror, so I’m really hoping to see writers take those tropes and put unique spins on them. I want poetry from diverse voices and perspectives, poetry that doesn’t shy away from visceral descriptions, and poetry that captures a story within its limited lines. Don’t be afraid to send us your darkest pieces, and really evoke all the senses when you immerse us deep into your lyrical worlds.
AYS: I hope to find work with the potential to leave me gasping like “The Highwayman,” but in a new voice building a new world. Poems have the power to awaken the dormant parts of us with images and ideas. Ahead lies the potential for poetry that takes our breath away among the frigid stars before plunging us to suffocate in the underworld. As long as it leaves us breathless, I will love it. Some of these poems have already been written and sit waiting for submissions to open. Others will be scribbled out on a deadline. All have the potential to break up the grey, mundane matter in our lives and bring forth new dreams and demons. But to be more truthful, I don't hope that we will see breathtaking poetry—I'm certain of it. The HWA is soaked in dark talent. I'm excited to see what they/we conjure.
SMW: It’s no secret that speculative poetry is certainly getting more popular. How do you interpret the rise in dark poetry over the years?
ST: Dark poetry has been with us for such a long time, from historical scops to a Twitter-sized poem online, we’ve always been telling each other horror stories through poetry. It feels natural that in these uncertain times dark poetry would rise again -- and it’s very exciting to see it continue to gain traction! Social media definitely has a huge part in that; it’s easy to share and promote what we write, but dark poetry in particular has a unique flavor and enticement. Honestly, after the start of the pandemic and lockdown, my brain struggled to focus on super long works, but poems felt like home. A lot of us find comfort in horror, and dark poetry is equipped to give us those short, descriptive, beautifully haunting bursts of stories and songs. I certainly hope we see this trend continue in its popularity, and I strongly hope publishers see the value in that and pay poets more for their work.
AYS: Poetry is able to impart a special vision of reality more true than actual fact. Comparing poetic truth and factual truth is like comparing a fresh apple to a painting of an apple. They can both be called apples, but the poem is the experience, and the factual truth is just a mouthful of old paint chips. A poem is biting into reality to feel the juice run down, sticky, and sweet enough to catch a summer day or a first kiss—or death if it's poison. The facts without poetry are flavorless, safe, and bland. Alfred Noyes could have just let his highwayman promise to return at dusk. "Cool," Bess (the landlord's black-eyed daughter) would have probably replied. Instead, the dashing robber promised to return "When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor..." and thrilled not only Bess, but the rest of us.
I think this ability to express truth in 3D is why poetry, especially dark poetry, is in demand. The last year was a dark one, but this isn't a sufficient way to sum up all the agony, shock, and fear we collectively experienced. To say "It was a tough year" is like calling a painting of an apple an apple and expecting it to be a good snack. It's not wrong to call it an apple but it hardly does justice to the depths of pain many have endured... still endure. Dark poetry allows us to share that emotion in a way that lets us sink our teeth into it and taste the bitter tang that stabs our eyes until we weep.
Many people don't understand how to experience deep emotion. When we learn to walk, we also learn strong emotions are something to keep inside. Even before social media flattened our lives into viral smiles, we had the pressure of conforming to artificial standards. This is why art matters. It's a pressure valve that allows toxic sentiment to escape. Poetry is a way we can smile and say "everything is not fine" without losing face and friends. People can read a poem about life collapsing and witness their own shame, despair and loathing reflected there. They are allowed to experience the catastrophe from a safe distance and then safely tuck it away on a shelf... or become a poet themselves. Either way, it's a win for poetry, and that is a win for us all. Here's hoping the mainstream keeps exploring dark poetry and we can assimilate them into the shadows with us. For the greater good, of course.
Bios:is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning TheDevil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and the Stoker-nominated works To Be Devoured, Cradleland of Parasites, and Not All Monsters. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraTantlinger, at saratantlinger.com and on Instagram @inkychaotics.
Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism.
Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA’s poetry contest in the dwarf form category and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize for poetry.
Spaceand Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. Space and Time has been publishing fantasy, horror, and science fiction poetry and prose for over five decades. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net.
Her work has been published in several print and online publications, including the Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase vols. 2-4, Christmas Lites vols. 1-6 and the Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology, winner of Alberta Book Publishing’s Speculative Fiction Book of the Year.
Angela currently enjoys living in Independence, Missouri with her husband and fellow author and narrator Ryan Aussie Smith and their pack of dogs.
To find her books, visit her Amazon page.
Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. 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-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, and most recently, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.
Follow Wytovich on her blog at http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter @SWytovich.