Exclusive Interview: “Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX” Editor Angela Yuriko Smith

 

Usually when we think of scary stories, we think of movies, novels, video games, but not poetry. This despite the fact that one of the most famous poems of all time, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” is a dark and stormy night. In the following email interview, Angela Yuriko Smith, the editor of the poetry anthology the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX (paperback, Kindle), discusses what went into this new collection, as well as how “dark poetry” is not the same as “horror poetry.”

Angela Yuriko Smith Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX

For people who’ve never heard of it, what is the Horror Writers Association?

I’m glad you asked this question. Not to be biased, but like many good things, the H.W.A. was started by a woman somewhere in the ’80s. Her name was Karen Lansdale. She was in an elevator at a World Fantasy Convention with her husband, Joe R. Lansdale when Robert R. McCammon and his wife Sally joined them. McCammon said horror writers needed an organization, but he didn’t have the time. He proposed to call it H.O.W.L.: Horror Occult Writers League. He said it was needed, but who had the time for something like that? Karen raised her hand and stepped in. Honestly, she probably didn’t have the time either, but she made it happen.

While she and Joe were still at the convention, she started gathering names and addresses. These were actual snail mail addresses back then, not emails. She started sending out letters and making phone calls to gather the dark literary forces. After a while, all those letters and calls started falling into newsletters that were produced on copy machines at a nickel a page. At some point, the original H.O.W.L. took on a more sober name: The Horror Writers Of America, and then, when we became an international organization, we became the H.W.A. as we are known today.

As far as what we do, we work hard together to create sleepless nights worldwide.

And then what kind of poems are in their annual Poetry Showcase anthologies? Because the press release says it features, “…the Best Original Dark Poetry,” and not “…the Best Original Horror Poetry,” so I’m wondering if there’s a distinction or if I’m misreading it.

There is a subtle distinction between “horror” and “dark.” Horror tends to be blood, gore, and monsters brought into our current reality. “Dark” can be those things, but it is often in another reality. Sometimes that might be a dream, a subconscious, or another dimension.

I also think optics have something to do with it. Horror isn’t for everyone, and many people are repelled because they think of a slasher movie in the ’70s when they hear the word. Horror communicates that someone needs to run. Saying dark can mean basically the same thing, but it has a gentle tone. It’s creepy and inviting…much like a small, barefoot child swinging alone in the playground at midnight. Saying “dark” is like saying “come play with me forever.” Who can resist an offer like that?

The press release also says that poems in Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX were deemed worthy of inclusion by you, Lee Murray, Maxwell I. Gold, and Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito. But before they even got to the point of being judged, what parameters did they have to fit? Did they have to be original for this collection, did the contributors have to be members…?

The HWA Poetry Showcase is exactly what the title says: a showcase for poets that are members of the Horror Writers Association. The Showcase is a big event for us. We work on our submissions for months, trying to find the right words that will help us stand out. The poems do need to be original and never published. There are limits on word count and line length, mostly due to how much we can easily fit on a page. The purpose is to highlight what dark poetry is as well as show off our poets. Among dark poets, I’m not sure there is a more prestigious publication dedicated to this genre.

And who helped you more in the selection process: your five rescue dogs, your two rescue Madagascar hissing cockroaches, or your 17 chickens? Because chickens are notoriously prejudiced against free verse, while some dogs are averse to rhyming, though it really depends on the breed.

It’s funny you should mention our animal crew, because they have all been fired.

I’m kidding of course, but we have actually rehomed most of them recently. We are relocating to Brazil to do research on Shimanchu Yuta — Okinanwan witches — and so all our foster creatures have found permanent homes except for our permanent three canines. The chickens are all happy on a farm in Missouri, plotting to overthrow the humans and seize the global food supplies. The three hissing roaches passed away of old age: rest in peace Aleister Crawley and Company. The chickens sent in many proposals for how the roaches should be interred, but we opted for a simple burial in a location not disclosed to the chickens. The house is much more quiet without the miscellaneous chaos. I miss them, but I do think their absence has actually helped the selection process more than their actual input. Most of them had an amateur sense of poetry though, honestly, and limited imagination.

On a more serious note, what kind of poems are included in Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX in terms of structure? And are there any rules about this?

Poetry form, like fashion, changes with the times. Because we are trying to offer a limited sampling of what is available in a given year, there are no limitations. All we look for is work that is original, memorable, well-crafted and, of course, dark. We do have taboo topics, even in horror. While we often write about cruelty and violence, we don’t write about supporting cruelty and violence. That’s why it’s so important to rotate our judges. Everyone has their preferences, and none are better or worse. The more diverse perspectives we have, the better.

Though with Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX being 114 pages long, and 50 poems, I’m guessing there’s no epic poetry in the book…

It’s funny you should bring that up, because one of my first submissions to the Showcase was an epic poem I wrote about Snow White as a vampire. I know, it’s an obvious connection, but I was pretty chuffed with my idea. I worked on the poem for months. I honed it down to 100 perfect (in my mind) verses. When submissions opened I read the rules again to make sure I sent my magnum opus correctly…and was horrified to read it was limited to 35 lines. I went through “The Resurrection Of Snow” with an editing chainsaw. It was gruesome. Red ink flew everywhere. I was heartbroken, but rules are rules. The reason for the limit is simply due to how many words can fit on a page. Paper and ink give no favor to genius. We all print the same.

Speaking of epic horror poems, that phrase instantly made me think of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” even though it’s only 3 pages long. And that made me wonder: How often, when looking over submissions for Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX, did you realize someone was just writing their own version of “The Raven”?

Salvador Dali once said “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” I think we can get so caught up in being original we lose the point: connection. Vampires, werewolves, and ravens are renewable resources because they hit us in all our dark and gloomy feels. We do see a lot of rehashed versions of “The Raven,” but there is sometimes a really keen twist that makes us love it all over again. There’s also a lot of imitations that just feel like Poe word jumbles. Nothing is automatically disqualified unless it touches on the taboos I mentioned earlier. I think poetry in general follows the universal rule of “it’s not the size that matters, but how you use it.”

So how scary do the poems in Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX get? Like, did any freak you out?

Being scared is a spectrum, and sadly, I’m on the “not easily” end. I’ve heard from others that the poetry in our volumes has given them nightmares. Lucky them. Even though I don’t get actually scared, many of the poems still make my heart race but for different reasons. For instance, I loved “there’s a haunted pornographic magazine in the woods” by M. Lopes da Silva. It’s a sharp humor, the kind that will slice you more the deeper you laugh. “spoon against bone” by Geneve Flynn hurts because there is so much truth to it, but as terrible as the truth is, her words create diamonds from tears. “How Do I Tell Her?” by Meghan Arcuri plays upon a mother’s deepest fears, but also is a good reminder at what lengths we will go to protect our loved ones. “A Darker Dawn” by Timothy P Flynn satisfies my tastes for grunge, grit and grimy verse. Every poet and poem in the book has something wonderfully terrible about it, and each one satisfies my cravings in different ways and at different times. I’m not sure I could say I even have a favorite, because it depends on what I’m hungry for at the time.

Judges Lee Murray, Maxwell I. Gold, and Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito

 

Now, this is the first year you’ve edited the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase. In preparing to do so, did you look at any other poetry anthologies — horror or otherwise — to get ideas about what to do…and what not to do?

I’ve been involved with the Poetry Showcase since Volume II, when the founder Peter Adam Salomon was editing. It was Peter that bought my first poem and encouraged me to pursue dark poetry. I’ve been involved with every volume since either as a poet, a judge, and now as the editor. If I didn’t have a poem accepted, I was involved as a reader and fan. Besides that, I read and review poetry in as many varieties and translations as I can find. I have a copy of A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch so I can look up different forms and try them out. In short, I read a lot of poetry. The more I read and explore, the more my tastes and awareness of what’s possible expands. I know all this influences me, but it’s not conscious. It all distills down into “a gut feeling.” I can say I do or don’t like a certain thing, but all of a sudden I’ll find someone who worked it in a different way and I do like it. Poetry, and art in general, evolves with us, alongside us, and through us.

Clearly, though, you did a good job because you’re going to be editing next year’s volume, Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. X. What’s the biggest thing you learned editing Vol. IX that will directly impact the editing of Vol. X?

Don’t get COVID! I had my year planned out with a half dozen trips I had to make. I took into account all my projects, including the Showcase. I gave myself the entire month of July to work on it. Instead, I came down with COVID. It’s probably the sickest I’ve ever been. I missed one of the trips because I was still sick, but then the rest of my year collapsed like a house of cards. I had three or four trips planned with only a week or two between as well as other projects and obligations. I will remember 2022 as my year of trying to catch up. Not that I plan on having COVID this next year, but I’m preparing early now. We need to get a new panel of judges in place, plan how we will celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Poetry Showcase and plan for the next decade.

I’ve always found poetry anthologies to be a good place to discover new poets. In editing Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX, did you discover anyone new that you liked so much that you went out and bought one of their books?

I have so many poetry collections I go through I can’t specifically think of many names. I know I got Embrace The Madness by Timothy P. Flynn and Gallimaufry by Bruce Boston because of their poetry here. I wound up writing a poetry collection with Maxwell I. Gold, one of the judges, because of our involvement together. I’m writing another collection next year with another judge, Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito, Maxwell, and one of the Showcase poets, Dan B. Fierce. Lee Murray and I have worked together on a collection in the past. I think the H.W.A. community of dark poets is a pretty tight knit group, so we wind up cross-pollinating with each other a lot. We’re also a very welcoming group. Remember the adorable ghost child swinging in the park alone at midnight? That’s us. Come, join the H.W.A. and join us. We will all have fun forever and ever and ever…

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX?

If you love creepy things, are a fan of the whisper in the hall when no one else is home, if you think you sometimes see another face in your mirror…come play with us. Don’t be afraid of the shadows. Stars only shine in the dark.

Angela Yuriko Smith Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX

Finally, if someone enjoys Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Vol. IX, which previous volume would you suggest they check out next?

Can I say all of them? Each volume stands alone as a snapshot of the year prior. You can see how life events we all experienced have influenced art. Each Showcase is like a time capsule in verse. Especially look out for next year’s, Volume X. We will be celebrating a full decade of dark poetry.

 

 

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