Also, you may have noticed I now have a newsletter signup in the right column under the "About Me" section. I intend to send no more than one per month, and only in months when I have an actual announcement (book/magazine releases, basically).
This week's woman in horror is Ashley Dioses. We "met" online after being published in the same magazine, only to then be in yet another mutual publication not long after. (Bloodbond and The Literary Hatchet.)
The following piece first appeared in the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writer's Association, December 2015/Volume 25, Issue 185.
I was in middle school when Edgar Allan Poe became my influence in becoming a poet of dark and Gothic verse. I have always been a huge horror and fantasy fan and he filled my horror craving in poetry. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found my craving for fantasy and dark fantasy poetry fulfilled as well.
The poetry of Clark Ashton Smith struck me in a way only Poe had struck me before. His poems were rich in imagination and his words were so spell-binding that they read like an enchantment from my lips. His poem “The Witch with Eyes of Amber” is such an example.
The Witch with Eyes of Amber
I met a witch with amber eyes
Who slowly sang a scarlet rune,
Shifting to an icy laughter
Like the laughter of the moon.
Red as a wanton's was her mouth,
And fair the breast she bade me take
With a word that clove and clung
Burning like a furnace-flake.
But from her bright and lifted bosom,
When I touched it with my hand,
Came the many-needled coldness
Of a glacier-taken land.
And, lo! the witch with eyes of amber
Vanished like a blown-out flame
Leaving but the lichen-eaten
Stone that bore a blotted name.
With those first two rich, enticing lines, that poem begs to be read aloud and so should all poetry. A poem should be written in such a way that it enchants all who hear it. For dark poetry as well, a poem should begin with a grabbing line and end with a line that will haunt the reader after they’ve finished it, just like any horror fiction piece.
Smith is known for using elaborate and, oftentimes, difficult vocabulary, but one needs not a dictionary to evoke stunning imagery. My poem “Witch’s Love,” published in Centipede Press’ Weird Fiction Review 5, compares a witch’s lover to various images of nature and is written in iambic tetrameter, which lends itself to a musical beat when read aloud.
Twin moons of palest crystal set
In cerulean eyes; star-fire
Enflames his crown with ruby jets
As red as Hades’ grandest pyre.
My lavender and rosehip blend,
Enchanted with my witch’s touch,
Was not used as I did intend;
His heart, at once, was in my clutch.
His taste is honey on my lips,
His silver tongue is sweeter still,
His touch is silk on my soft hips,
His love is master of my will.
He is the cosmos and its ice,
The oak and its deep steadfast roots,
The green absinthe and its high price,
The diamond from the ash and soot.
In only me his interest peaks,
For I alone enrapture him.
In me my magick love he seeks,
For I choose love not on a whim.
I am his witch and he, my love.
He, my desire, for only I
Can melt his ice from skies above,
And temper his poisonous high.
Each line is wrought with words to evoke one of the senses and creates a picture to shape the reader’s imagination. The vivid colors, the thick lavender scents, the smooth feeling of silk, and the sweet taste of honey can all be conjured forth with a reading.
I’ve heard that not all poetry should be beautiful, but doesn’t the very word inspire beauty? When you watch movies and a character executes a memorable line, isn’t it often remarked as being almost poetic? When you watch a romance, doesn’t poetry come to mind? Well, when it comes to horror, beauty can be a bit more subjective.
The beauty of words and the evocative images they evoke are not just limited to fantasy or even dark fantasy for that matter. This is also what makes it fun to write dark, horror-filled verse. Is your poem aimed to inspire fear or is it written to disgust your audience? What senses would you want to conjure up? Make your audience taste the blood spilled in your verse, conjure that metallic taste, and that sticky hot mess on their fingertips. Make your audience feel the cold steel of that dagger or the acidic taste of poison on their lips. Inspire fear with the magic of words that will slice through the tension-filled air.
My poem “Carathis,” published in Hippocampus Press’ Spectral Realms No. 1, and also chosen for Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror Volume Seven recommended reading list, is written after the character from William Beckford’s Vathek. She is a dark sorceress who is the epitome of evil and, in writing this poem, I tried to replicate the sense of dread I felt when she appeared on the page.
Her skin of burnished bronze, so silken to the touch;
Her hair of blackest midnight, wafting scents of such
Intoxicating aphrodisiacs; and her
Enticing eyes of hazel that made weak hearts stir,
Belonged to the dark Sorceress of high Samarah.
Fools only would court this dark queen whose mouth is marah.
Her heart was ice within a cage of blackened bone.
Carathis was her name, and she would rule alone.
Inside the high witch-tower of her dark delights,
She decked her walls with hanging bodies all alight.
Her floors were red, her followers were all deaf mutes,
And mummies who attended to her brews of newts.
Emitting fumes of mummies and the blazing flames
Frequently filled her working space as, without shame,
She practiced rituals, with offerings spread out.
Her tainted mind had found for certain, without doubt,
An entrance to the Palace of Subterranean Fire.
A place of treasures and rare knowledge to desire.
Such sacrifices of serpents and scorpions
Soon insufficient grew, and fresh new champions
Were needed to appease her gods of pain and Death.
Servants, friends, children were the same, for every breath
Could easily be stilled, for passage down below.
Reciting savage incantations soon let go
Her earthly limits, and she entered down with bliss
Into the palace where, awaiting, was Eblis.
He greeted her as newly hired within his ranks,
And offered food and wine, which eagerly, she drank.
He gave free range of his grand palace, and she soon
Surveyed every dark corridor. How she did swoon
When finally she came upon her long sought prize:
The talismans of Soliman that held the skies
And conquered all beneath them! Quickly grabbing one,
Her heart burst into flames with a heat like the sun!
Explosive cachinnation pierced the many halls
As her shrill screams forever echoed in his walls.
- After William Beckford’s Vathek
A poem should have beautiful language. Beautiful language, not necessarily the theme, makes a beautiful poem. If you describe the stiffened contours of a lifeless lover or the mangled cadaver of your latest plaything, then describe it richly, beautifully, darkly. Show the details of her crimson-stained hair or conjure the scent of his aged and rotting flesh. Do not spare a single psychotic notion in your verse.
David Park Barnitz, the author of the Book of Jade, is a perfect example of an author who could spin such enchanting language while describing a corpse. For example, consider these lines from Barnitz’s poem “The Grotesques”: “As one that the sweet pangs of passion bore. / And from its passionate mouth’s corrupted sore, / And from its lips that are no longer red,” (8-10). A dark romance with a fallen lover makes me wonder how long ago those lips were still red! I can feel his passion and can imagine the corpse from these lines. It creates a heavier blow than simply telling me he has lain with a dead body. The language is striking here as it is with the rest of the poem.
Now enough of love! Excuse the romance, and let’s get back to the horror. Not everyone wants romance in their horror and dark verses but that doesn’t excuse the lack of that enthralling language. Let’s look at another one of Barnitz’s poems, “Corpse.” “A dead corpse crowned with a crown of gold / Sits throned beneath the sky’s gigantic pall; / Gold garments from its rotted shoulders fall,” (1-3). A very fitting image for the title and it does not disappoint.
With a title as captivating as “Corpse,” you should expect the poem to cover, well, the corpse. A lot of images come to mind when reading or hearing that word. If you have such a title that you have your poem wrapped around, do not disappoint your readers with lack of imagery. Make your images, your lines, your verse more haunting than any image they can conjure up.
If you aim to strike fear, rather than repulsion, with your verse, not too many examples can instill the demise of Man and conquer that feeling with the last two lines of Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm.” “That the play is the tragedy, ‘Man,’/ And its hero, the Conqueror Worm,” (39, 40). Whether you wish to instill fear, repulsion, or drear lamentation, do it with your language. Even if the horror is subtle and only hinted at, enthrall them with your language. Poe did an excellent job at hinting at the demise of his narrator in these famous last lines from “The Raven.” “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor/ Shall be lifted—nevermore!” (107, 108).
Spin your dark enchantment around your readers and spellbind them with words they can ever be haunted by.
Ashley Dioses is a writer of dark fantasy, horror, and weird poetry from southern California. She is the author of Diary of a Sorceress, a dark poetry collection published by Hippocampus Press. Her poetry has appeared in Weird Fiction Review, Spectral Realms, Weirdbook Magazine, Black Wings, and elsewhere. Her poem “Carathis,” published in Spectral Realms 1, appeared in Ellen Datlow’s full recommended Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven list. She has also appeared in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase 2016 for her poem “Ghoul Mistress.” She is an Active member in the HWA and a member of the SFPA. She blogs at fiendlover.blogspot.com.
To purchase a copy of Diary of a Sorceress, click here: HIPPOCAMPUS PRESS.
Thanks, Ashley! Aside from Poe, I haven't read a lot of horror poetry, but it deserves another look, and I hope others will check it out, too.
Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.
This one's a bit different than usual. Alsina Publishing puts out short stories with the intention of learning languages through storytelling. 400 to 1200 words. Pays royalties on stories per read.
Fictional Pairings Magazine is seeking science fiction, mystery, and fantasy short stories. 200 to 1000 words. They will be pairing your story with a piece of music on Bandcamp. Pays up to $1.25.
Manawaker Studio is seeking flash fiction for their podcast. Ideal length is 800 words, but they will take a bit above or below. Pays a half cent/word.
Dark City Soul Magazine is seeking crime flash fiction. Up to 1000 words. Pays $5 per story.
Blue Marble Review is seeking stories appropriate for middle school and up. Up to 2500 words. Also accept poetry, nonfiction, and art. Pays $25 per published piece.
Dakka Press Presents is seeking stories appropriate for podcasting. Should be 20 to 30 minutes when read. Genre fiction and popcorn reads. Pays 1.5 cents per word up to 3500 words, and .4 cents per word after that.
Foundry is seeking poetry of various types. Pays $10 per poem.
Bosley Gravel's Cavalcade of Terror is seeking horror and dark fiction flash fiction. Up to 1000 words. Pays $5.
The Sunlight Press is seeking personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, art, and photography. Word limits vary per type of submission. Paying market, but does not specify how much.
Vanity Projection is seeking humorous essays and satire. Pays $5 per piece.
Have you read any dark poetry? Were you aware that horror came in the flavor of poem? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?
May you find your Muse.