1. Love Craft is a book of very personal poems steeped in a metaphor of the horror of H. P. Lovecraft. Does anyone know Lovecraft’s work?

  2. Hey Dietrich,

    I was not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work when I read your book. I really enjoyed Love Craft and found your poetry profoundly intimate at very surprising times.

    Could you describe the birth of the book and how the process of creating and putting together differs from your previous work, Universal Monsters?

  3. Hi Neri,

    A very interesting question, particularly given the fact that most of the poems in Love Craft are really a kind of “slop over” from Universal Monsters.

    For whatever reason, probably madness or simple obsession, I tend to write poems in cycles, not singularly. Rare is the poem that comes to me alone, by itself, with no brothers and sisters. Thus when I first finished Universal Monsters, it was not done. When I finally found a publisher for it, it was nearly half again as long as it was when I first began submitting it. And, thus, when it came out, it still wasn’t done…because the poems were still coming, poems that fell into that same arena of subject matter, namely, my parents.

    My folks were divorced when I was 10, remarried, then divorced again when I was 11. My mother moved in with my father again 10 years ago as a renter (they have separate rooms) and then were finally remarried a third time last year. In the space of those forty some-odd years, I have always been fascinated by the horror of being trapped with the one, alternately, that you love and cannot have, and hate and cannot escape.

    This seems to me to be the most gothic of tales, one that Lovecraft writes about in very different ways. His stories put monsters on top. My poems tend to put them on bottom. In other words, I wrote the poems in Love Craft as poems about my parents (and myself) and let the titles, primarily, make connections to Lovcraft’s own themes.

    Every Lovecraft tale I know suggests, in some fashion, that we are broken beings, that our progenitors were broken beings, and that, were we to fully appreciate this fact, we would all go mad. Now, for Lovecraft, those progenitors are often cannibals, strange species of apes, aliens, monsters, deep sea gods, etc. For me, they are simply my parents.

    I don’t know which is scarier, but I try to play off the fact that the horror is there when I look into the mirror and/or when I go back home to the old dark house to visit.

    Did I already admit it’s not a terribly happy book?

  4. Hi Mr. Dietrich,

    Reading through Love Craft makes me feel like I actually know you and your parents in some strange way. Though I am not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft and am probably missing many references to his work throughout your poems, I definitely recognize the horror in the human that you show. While I appreciate what you are doing through this work, I am wondering how you are able to step back and look at things through this lense. Though the raw vulnerability of the images you present creates an illusion of intimacy and honesty, you obviously carefully chose what and how you wanted to show it. Did you find it hard to show your parents in that light? Do you use poetry as an emotional catharsis to work through the past and how it affected you?
    When I write about personal events in poetry or prose, I frequently want to mask and twist things to remove references to specific people. The concern over hurting people I am close to is multiplied when a work deals with a family member. How did your parents receive these poems? Did it open up dialogue about the past?
    Thanks for your time and your poetry.

  5. Hi Jessi,

    What wonderful questions.

    I don’t think I “try” to show my parents in any particular way, unless it’s to make sure I’m simply being honest. Now, honest in a poem does not necessarily mean utterly truthful; life isn’t “true.” Life is life. We can only encounter our encounter with it and imagine what that encounter means, then write about it. Writing about life is at least, then, two times removed from reality. What actually happened cannot be known because it will forever be attenuated by our perception; further, our writing about that perception may not be “accurate,” but may be more “honest” than simply stating facts, whatever those are.

    All pretty heady stuff, but, put more simply, shit happens, we feel shit, we write about shit. None of those three things are necessarily “real.” I hope when I write about my folks, at least I’m not actively attempting to get even or score points or attack or offend. Which brings up your question regarding catharsis.

    Often, when I finish a poem, my wife says, “Are you okay? Do you want to talk?” I know that what I do best in any poem is melancholy; that does not mean that I, the “real” Bryan, is melancholy. It’s just what I do well, mostly because I enjoy the texture of that emotion. Actually, I think of myself as sort of silly and goofy most of the time. Tired sometimes, but never (except on very rare occasions) sad.

    Now, having said this, visiting my folks has indeed become difficult, and watching their lives unspool and unhinge over the past decade has been nothing if not painful. Does that mean that I need to write about them to “get it out of my system”? Maybe, but I suspect it has more to do with what I have always been drawn to as a writer. It has to do with why I love horror. It’s why I listen to Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen, Kate Bush and Tom Waits, Enigma and Indian pan-pipes and Gregorian chants.

    I have always loved the “sad” outside of myself: In Frankenstein, I am drawn more to the monster’s sad predicament than to the scientist’s obssession; in The Thing, I am drawn more to the two men dying slowly in the snow than the explosions and the chase and the transformations of the alien throughout the rest of the film; in Lovecraft, I could care less about the trappings of the story as a whole (the plot, the characters, etc.). What Lovecraft does is create a gloom space, a melacholy tone that is so seductive I cannot resist.

    So, I think when I think about my parents, or write about them, I am drawn to this gloom. I like turning it over in my mind and my words. I desire to recreate that emotion as an art object, not as a way of dispelling it from myself, but as a way of turning it into something more beautiful than it already is. Fancy way of saying that I’m doing exactly what one of my mentors years ago said was going to send me to hell, exploiting others’ suffering.

    But, seriously, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make art out of suffering. Auden writes, “About suffering, the old masters were never wrong.” And I think he’s right. Most great art is precisely about this state. Now, I certainly have no reason to believe my own work is great art, but I would like to hope that I at least strive in that direction. Otherwise, what is suffering for?

    Which, finally, brings me to you last set of questions: how did my parents react? I have to go to class now, but will post on this issue soon. As you might imagine, it’s not a happy story.

  6. Real quick, how do you feel about making warble an adjective? Warbly or warblie?

    I have to go to Tim’s class and see how he feels about it. Will talk about Lovecraft soon!

  7. Mr. Dietrich;

    This blog is an eye-opener. I’m a “non-traditional/returning” (read: old) student and am surprised that so few students are familiar with Lovecraft. I found that I liked the idea of Lovecraft more than his actual work the more I read of him, and other authors treated his mythos better than he did, I think. Still, he is somewhat “seminal” in the English horror genre, so I expected him to be better known.

    But my question for you is about your process as a poet, or your stance. I’m curious how closely you “stick to your guns” when you get feedback from other writers about changes to your work when they miss your purpose for writing. Do you find that you more of ten make the changes, or leave the work mainly intact? (I’m referring to really wholesale modifications, not tweaks and corrections.)

    Thanks for your time to speak into our class and our work. “Love Craft” clearly demonstrates that you are a terrific (heh) resource for our questions.

  8. Jessi,

    First let me finish answering your questions.

    About my parents’ reaction… Well, to Love Craft, there has been none. I didn’t let them know it was coming out and, since they have no internet and are shut-ins now, well, they won’t know unless, to quote Bradbury, “Some damn fool turns on the lights.”

    However, I did give a copy of Universal Monsters to my mother when it was published and she stopped talking to me for nearly a year. I tried to talk with her about it, but she didn’t want to. I imagine if it had been Love Craft the reaction would have been the same.

    How does one explain to someone who does not write, let alone poetry, that there is a difference between the writer and the person, between the voice and the reality? I can honestly say that the emotions that come from my poems are not the same that go into them. I don’t “write what I feel,” I write what I know (or think I know) so that certain emotions arrive upon the reading of the poem. That does not mean that I ever felt those emotions myself.

    I wanted the poems from both books to break your heart. Mine’s just fine. Unfortunately, for my mom, I may have succeeded. She has never once talked to me about the poems, and now I don’t talk about my publishing life, my poetry, my passion at all around her or my father. I don’t want her to hurt, but that doesn’t mean that I stop doing what I do. As my wife told me when this was happening, “Bryan, it’s your life too.”

    What is my responsibility as a writer? What do I owe to those who might suffer over my words? Nothing. That may sound callous, but I believe that I owe everything to the words, nothing to the world. The world changes, people change, politics and preachers and parents and progeny move on. Eventually we look for everyone “under our bootsoles.” But words? Words are forever. The words, the art, is a calling that supercedes everthing mortal, temporal, personal.

    I do not do what I do for the world. That would be A) hubris, or B) madness. No one writes poetry for fame or fortune or, even, the future. Again, Auden: “Poetry makes nothing happen.” One writes poetry because one has no choice. It’s a form of prayer, a connection to the Nous, a reason to be.

    I do what I do because I can’t do anything else (except guess what the price is going to be at the grocery store before they ring it up; too much Price Is Right growing up). I do what I do because it, the Word, makes me do it. I write because I love.

    My mother was hurt by my poems, and for that I will always be sorry. But I was able to do what I did because she taught me how. In all the right and wrong ways, she taught me how to love.

  9. Hey Cliff,

    Yes, I too am shocked when I find folks don’t know Lovecraft, but, then again, far too many these days don’t know Twain or Homer or O’Connor or Plath or Eliot or…. Anyway, at least we have Twitter.

    As for your other question, let me answer with a specific case: When I was working on my first book, Krypton Nights, your teacher, Dr. Richardson, told me that the first set of poems I wrote…that they–how to say this?–sucked. And he was right.

    I had written seven interlocking sonnets, a crown, and was far too caught up on the form to recognize that the content wasn’t working. The rhymes were too easy, the character of the voice of Superman was shallow, the word choice was not deep or resonant, etc., etc. Tim said, “I like this line and this line, but…”

    So I went home, thought about it for several hours, saved those few lines, and started again, from scratch. Those new versions went on to win some awards and show up in The Paris Review and start off a my first book. I don’t say this last part to toot some kind of horn, but to suggest that Tim, as always, was right. The poet who wrote the poems was not.

    Ultimately, the words don’t belong to us; they belong to the universe. Sometimes the words can’t get past our egos. Sometimes the words get lost on the way to the page. Sometimes it takes another prophet to teach us what the vision means.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that every comment from every workshop is good. The woman who believes her poems are spoken to her by God and yet can’t spell, the writer who is working on a concrete epic that must be read in a spiral, the one who takes off his shoes and sniffs them during discussion…these folks may not know what they’re doing. On the other hand, they MAY know, crazy or not, what the words should be doing.

    Some of the best advice I ever got came from a drunk woman in a bar at one in the morning. She read a poem I was showing to some friends and, before she went back to counting out her mini-shampoo bottles from her purse, she gave me the word I’d been looking for for years.

    The more you write, the more you learn how to navigate the voices. My best advice? Cultivate your inner schizophrenic. Patron saint of poets? Norman Bates. Perhaps Herbert West.

  10. Thanks, Dr. Dietrich. (Sorry for the “Mister” the first time around.)

    Dr. Richardson’s class workshop has been very helpful and there has only been one time when I thought my own inner voice was (probably) the correct one. Based on the class comments I have begun pre-editing much of my work before it is even shared, going by what I’m learning from the critiques. (Former fine arts major, I learned that critiques are where we really, really refine our techniques and become formidable.)

    Your specific incident is interesting, and reminds me also of the scenes from “Throw Mama from the Train” when the author just cannot think of the correct word to start the story … and the least likely candidate hands him the perfect word. 🙂

    Another question, if you don’t mind. In “Love Craft” your work had the unifying “skeleton” (heh) of the macabre, or at least the popular culture equivalent of it. Most of the poems also seemed to deal with familial dysfunction. I’m wondering if you specifically wrote any pieces, or edited existing ones, to try to add ligaments and sinew to transition the works? Or did you simply put them in an order you felt provided an arc for the reader? (Do books of poetry need “character arcs” as novels do?)

    Wups. Three questions. I’ll take any answer you might have available and like it 🙂

  11. Cliff,

    As a matter of fact, I did not have a “book” in mind when I wrote the majority of the poems. Sometimes I do, but as I think I mentioned before, these poems, most of them, came as “leftovers” from the Universal Monsters period of my live, when I was dealing with divorce and disillusionment. So, when I began to see them as a short book, I indeed looked for what Coleridge might call connective tissue to join them.

    In particular, “Necronomicon,” “Necromancy,” and “Behind the Shutters” were all added to provide that continuity. Also I renamed many of the poems with Lovecraftian titles. Finally, I tried to group them in three stages, Father, Mother, Son.

    With incidental poems, this is not an exact science, so probably some of the poems feel a bit misplaced, but I hope they hold together in unplanned ways. “Behind the Shutters” was written long before the colating process, but, even as I was writing it, I felt it would be a good concluding poem for any group of remaining family stuff I might write. It was, technically, the last of these kinds of poem I intend to write.

    Having said this, I know I’m lying because I now have four more that talk about family or father or mother, but the focus is very different these days, not so much on failed family, but on loss of mind. Since my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the monster has morphed. It no longer rages and tears; it lingers in the dark, waiting for the human to leave, for the quiet to come.

    The reason why these particular poems got grafted together with Lovecraft was that I finally had an insight into Lovecraft himself after many years of reading his work: He is not writing about monsters or aliens or extra-dimensional beings; he is not writing about madmen or magic; he is writing about his own life, the “monsters” in his family, and the loneliness that developed from loved ones who saw him as “odd” and “ugly” and who subsequently went mad. I suddenly felt a kinship myself with such a monstrously dark past, such bad history, such evil evolutionary heritage that makes us rethink who we are and from whence we came.

    Do books of poems need character arcs?

    Damn fine question. Most poets would say hell no. I say hell yes. This may be because I’m insane, anal, or simply listened to far too many “concept albums” as a youth (The Wall, Pink Planet, etc.). More likely its because I’m hard wired to see longer ideas in short pieces.

    I also grew up on serialized TV and comic books. I prefer longer arcs that connect, reconnect, revisit, vary the theme. I prefer longer poems that do the same, or poem cycles that do the same. But just because I can’t seem to write a single, short poem, that does not mean everyone else should harbor the same demons.

    I just like demons.

  12. Cliff,

    You are quite welcome. Any other questions folks? I really do enjoy this kind of thing. It isn’t terribly often that poets get to talk about their work on this deep a level. It makes me exceedingly happy to do so.

  13. Dr. Deitrich,

    Thanks for your honest and thoughtful answers. Poetry – really, the written word in any form – can take on a life of its own because of what the reader brings to it. The idea that you as a poet own something only too the words is very interesting. I heard a speech recently that suggested the idea of words that wanted to be spoken and images that wanted to be conveyed. In the speech the writer becomes a medium for the message which somehow simultaneously originates with him/her and yet is only coming through her/him. This seems to be what you are suggesting as well. What are your thoughts on the origins of poetry (and the truths/ideas/beauty contained therein) and the role of the poet? Is it the love of words (as inanimate objects) that compells you? Or is it a connection with something more that acts upon you even as you reach for it?

  14. Dr. Deitrich,

    Your poetry, and your responses, have me in a place that I find both uncomfortably familiar and foreign. I don’t know how to describe my father without sounding either technical or overwritten and cliche, and I (unfortunately) lack any bare bones facts with which to distantly discuss the situation. To put it briefly, until I read Love Craft I was fairly certain I should never write about it, and my latest attempt still ended up sounding like awkward teen angst. I have this unshakable idea that he is the dark muse that is the source of my poetry, the constant burn in me to write. I have the desire, but not (apparently) the means to talk about my own demons. Any advice?
    Also, you say that you have written about the horror of (your) heritage. What, would you say, have you been writing around?

    Your responses, even more than your poetry, have me thinking (again) about something Richardson often talks about; the idea that we, as individuals, and much like literature, are all nexus points, meeting places of everything that we’ve every seen, done, or known, and from that the thought comes to the immense impact that other people have on us, especially as writers. You quote at least one person (i think more than one) in each of your responses. Which was the slightly relevant lead-up to the following question. In your first response to Jessi, you said, “that does not mean that I, the “real” Bryan, is melancholy”. This is not, as you may think, me being a grammar nazi. On the contrary, I find it interesting that you chose (consciously or not) to refer to you, and the apposition of you, using a third-person verb. It is also interesting when combined with your advice to “cultivate the inner schizophrenic”. Without knowing precisely how to ask my question, at this point, I sort-of want to just point and say, “discuss”.

    And now for two completely unrelated questions:
    1. Would you call yourself a structuralist?
    2. You like demons, how about Terry Pratchett’s Crowley in Good Omens?

    And finally, thank you so much for doing this for our class (it is not often that aspiring poets get to do this either), and virtual-high-five for the fantastic tribute to Lovecraft in your work. I grew up reading his short stories, graduated to his novels in high school, and still love him.

    Brittany Rosenberg

  15. Dr. Dietrich,

    You have answered this at least in part before (or I have just picked up implications) but as someone else who “relates”, I guess is the best word I can find, to the recurrent themes of monsters and heroes (indeed, Lovecraft, monster movies, and Superman in particular among others) can you say what it is about these subjects that drew you into them? Or them into you? I think if someone else can find the means of expressing what exactly that is, I might have a chance of doing the same, and growing as a writer because of it. By the way, I absolutely love the opening piece in Love Craft. It makes an awesome entry point.

  16. Jessi,

    Where does poetry come from, what is the role of the poet, and what is my role? You have thirty minutes. Open your test booklet and begin…

    Let’s start with meaning. Meaning comes from the the intersection between substance, signifier, and signified. That is to say, it comes from the collision of the world, the person who sees the world, and the sign a person makes. Once the sign has been made, the process starts again, becoming itself the world (substance) for a person (signifier) to encounter and create meaning (signified) from. The process, however, never ends. Each new meaning creating a new trinity of colliding interpretive experience.

    Now, when that meaning means more than we are capable of taking in quickly, simply, and somewhat solidly; when that meaning makes us quake and shiver and swoon with a potential infinity of recursive and progressive readings; when that meaning “takes the top of our head off,” we have encountered poetry.

    Poetry is not a form or a style. It is not a genre. It is a mode. Poetry is about its own aboutness. Words at their peak. Grammar at its best. Lines at the edge of the abyss. A poet like Hopkins (a.k.a. God) works every word, every sentence, every line break, every rhythm, every syllable, every punctuation mark to its fullest. He juggles the universe in every choice, forcing us to confront God on the mountain. We cannot see God all at once, so we crawl back into a crack to watch her pass, slowly, one part at a time. We return to the mountain, quake again, crawl again, try to get at the meaning. We transcribe his words, engrave her thoughts on stone, come back to our people, fail the translation, shatter the tablets, go back up, try again….

    Poetry makes us encounter the burning bush. It makes us kneel before the pillar of fire. Poetry is ineffible, eternal, so jam packed with possible meaning that it will always mean just one more thing. To switch metaphors, poetry is Columbo, not Sherlock Holmes. Poetry makes us realize we forgot something, we should look again, we can almost see…

    Because of this, poetry can appear anywhere. In fiction, in film, in sculpture, in painting, in drama. Poetry is language focused on itself, sign making about sign. When I write a poem, I could care less about the libretto. I want to know what my palatte is, what my brushes are, what instruments I have at hand. All my “circus animals” are on display. The show is not the story, the insight, the epiphany…the show is the shadow play itself, how the shaft of light slants.

    So, the role of the poet is, as far as I’m concerned, to focus on the tools, the words, the play of sign. If I find ANY observation will help me eternalize the words, I will write about ANYTHING: parents, crickets, Superman, God’s clitoris, gray aliens, Poe, the Micronauts, the Six Million Dollar Woman. I of course choose the geeky stuff more often since, as by now you may be aware, I am one, but that’s not the point. I tend to believe the fact that I wrote about Electra Woman having sex with Dyna Girl was not what made the New Yorker want that poem. I think they liked it because the words, the focus on word play and line break and the attendant cascade of multiple meaning was pleasing in a creepy way.

    Because poetry IS creepy. It makes us swoon. It takes us out of ourselves. It does this because we live inside language. When language itself experiences earthquake, through poetry, we find our footing fails. We wobble. We grab hold. We fall in love with life again.

    In the film Excalibur, Arthur asks Percival, “What is the secret of the Grail?” Percival answers, “You and the land are one.” Then Arthur asks, “Who am I?” Percival says, “My Lord and King.”

    Poetry is the Grail. Poetry and life are one. Poetry is my Lord and King. That is who I serve. Cue “Carmina Burana.” Exit stage right to a flurry of dogwood blossoms.

  17. Hi Bryan,
    We all enjoy demons, because we all have our own and I feel like Love Craft are the missing sections from Universal Monsters. I find myself reading “Numerology” and “The Creature Walks Among Us” together and they go so well. It is as if Love Craft gives so much more background to Universal Monsters. I was wondering if that is what you were going for? I really appreciate the Flinstones references also.


    Thanks, Jeff

  18. Dear Brittany and Alysia,

    I promise to get to your questions later today or tomorrow. My Mondays are from the Devil.

  19. Brittany,

    Here is a poem by Dick Lourie, the one read during the final scene of the movie Smoke Signals:

    How do we forgive our Fathers?
    Maybe in a dream
    Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
    when we were little?

    Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
    or making us nervous
    because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

    Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
    For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

    And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
    Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
    for shutting doors
    for speaking through walls
    or never speaking
    or never being silent?

    Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
    or their deaths
    saying it to them or not saying it?

    If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

    This is one of the most beautiful poems I know. It isn’t terribly specific, does many of the things I myself avoid (large abstractions, precious moments), but it is still terribly powerful. And true.

    I think the beauty of the piece resides in its paradox. We assume the father’s (and the Father’s) job is to forgive us. We assume (blame Freud) that the guilt is always ours. The truth is, our fathers (and mothers) are no longer outside of us. They are in us. They are the voices we hear every day, every evening.

    They are the spiritual guides we listen to or don’t listen to, that we are moved by or not moved by. These voices, our voices, tell us much of who we are, shape significant portions of our self and societal interaction. When those actions, parts of self, don’t satisfy, when we fail, who do we turn to to blame? And who forgive? Should we? I believe we should. And, sometimes, poetry is a space for doing just that.

    I don’t know if I have a generic answer for how to write about your father. I would probably need to see the beginnings of your poems, to speak with you about details, but, barring such specifics, let me say this: You probably already know how to write about your father. He has already told you. But you will have to forgive both him and yourself before you begin.

    Poetry is always about love. If you love, the words will come. If you TRY to love, if you try to make a point, the words will fail.

    As for the “horror of my heritage” what I meant was the oh so Gothic situation my folks find themselves in. This decline toward stasis and sorrow has been sliding into its place since I was ten, maybe longer. I remember my mother hiding in her room in the dark for days, ringing a bell for us to bring ice water.

    I remember my father crying, weeping like a child and shaking even years after the divorce. I remember holding his hands (the frail, shaking rage of the man) while he screamed at me two Christmases ago, watching his eyes roll back black like doll’s eyes, like a shark’s eyes, when I suggested he was being unreasonable. I remember….

    I remember a lot of things. What do I choose? Those moments that speak to me. Those moments that provide entry to a larger truth about mother, father, about me, about myth, about monsters, the world. I always look for moments where worlds collide, where more than one idea clashes with another, creating a conflux of possible meaning.

    When I wrote about the birds in the walls in “Behind the Shutters” for example, that story is true. It happened. But I was also letting it stand for the emotions my father keeps trapped in the walls of his mind, the walls of his chest. I was letting it resonate with the image of his hands hanging at his sides when I had to leave for home one day. I was letting it resonate with the image of Hitchcock’s film. I was letting it resonate with all the other bird images in that poem, one after another after another.

    I didn’t write the poem until I had enough birds. If you’ve seen that Tippi Hedren film, if you remember the jungle gym scene, you know…the birds don’t attack until they have a quorum.

    Finally, for your last couple of questions: No, not a structuralist. As a poet, I’m a neo-romantic formalist. As a scholar, I’m a semiotician, a feminist, a mythologist. As a person, I’m a hopelessly romantic, liberal dork. Which is why I love Lovecraft too.

  20. Oh, and Brittany, yes, Good Omens rocks! So does Sandman and Neverwhere and, for the most part, American Gods.

  21. Alysia,

    Thank you so much. Well, I’ve never NOT written about geek stuff. I’ve never not loved it. Even when, for a time during grad school when I thought it all had to be “literary” and “lofty” and was writing about brain theory and doppelgangers, it was still, really, just brains, brains and beastiaries.

    Somewhere in a storage barrel in my folks’ garage there is an ancient, mimeographed school newspaper with a first grader’s first story, mine, about a mad scientist who creates cannibal jack-o-lanterns. Somewhere there are some half-story, half-picture pages of tales of Kreto the super robot, again mine. Somewhere in a landfill in Oklahoma are dozens of beginnings of science fiction stories, horror stories, superhero comics, bad drawings, and bad bestiaries. Mine. I have always lived in the castle.

    I just didn’t admit it until, oh, twelve or so years ago. By that point I had written a collection of poems about Superman (Krypton Nights), a collection about the Frankenstein Monster (The Monstrance, out next year), a collection about alien abduction (The Assumption, out next year), and had begun Univeral Monsters. Amazingly, I still didn’t see myself as a geek poet, as a sci fi writer, as a horror writer. After all, it was poetry. Poetry was above that…


    Okay, maybe batshit, but regardless, twelve years ago I started going to a conference where I was welcomed, where scholars were presenting papers on Buffy and the Bionic Woman, on comics and the Crawling Chaos, on space ships and superheroes. There, I met Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, Brian Aldiss, Octavia Butler, Patricia McKillip, Daniel Keyes, Charles Vess, James Morrow, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tom DeHaven, Greer Gilman, and, and, and…

    It changed my life. Not my writing. My writing, as I say, has always been firmly rooted in the Geek Pantheon. But it changed how I thought about my writing, both creative and scholarly. I came out of the coffin.

    Why do I write this stuff? Because I love it. But also because my real love is, has always been, myth. If you will indulge me for a bit, let me say that I don’t just write poetry. I also paint and draw and sculpt. Recently, my painting teacher required me to put together an artist’s statement. It speaks mostly of painting, but I think it may answer your question about my poetic muses:

    I’ve been taken with the world of wonder, with the wonder of the world since I first found out men were going into space. My father brought me home a poster of the Apollo astronauts. He also brought me a plastic replica of Apollo 11. My parents woke me the night we landed on that alien dust mote. Two years later, they bought me a JVC Videosphere, a small black and white television that was molded to look like an astronaut’s helmet.

    The only birthday party I remember, I was allowed to pick a movie to take my friends to: it was a documentary called Mysterious Monsters. It told the story of Bigfoot and Nessie and alien abductions.

    I watched every episode of Star Trek, 3:00 p.m. sharp, every weekday, maybe twenty times each. And the animated version. And Sea Lab 2020 and Land of the Lost and The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Man From Atlantis, Wonder Woman, Batman. I bought comic books by the gross. Saved up my money for a die-cast metal Enterprise and a disc-shooting raygun. Both are in my office today, next to a Dinky toy version of one of the moon landers from Space 1999. Every Saturday, my dad and I would watch Count Gregor’s Creature Feature. I know every Universal monster movie by heart; I can recognize them, sight unseen, from two bars of music. Ta dah…The Wolfman. I read every issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland I could get my hands on. I idolized the artist who drew the covers. Basil Gogos, God of my particular madness.

    At some point during this time, watching horror and sci-fi, getting up late at night to sneak a peak at 007 on my Videosphere or to watch that weekend’s marathon of Hammer horror—nubile negligeed vampires, bare thighed Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch in a bear skin bikini—I also started to notice the human, mostly female, form as they fought for their lives against Triffid and Trog, giant arachnid and encephalitic iguana. I also discovered, at school, they were selling small sheaves of lined paper, bound in covers with monster heads. The same kinds of heads Basil Gogos drew. I wanted to draw them too. Wanted to draw the kinds of bad beasts I had discovered I loved. Wanted to draw the beasts and the babes they terrorized. It wasn’t about the art. It never is. It was about—it is still about—first love.

    As I grew, I discovered I wasn’t alone, Basil wasn’t an only child. Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Michael Whelan, Rowena Morrill, Don Maitz, Richard Corbin, H.R. Giger…they all caught me, held me, wooed me with their wild worlds, mad monsters, warrior women. These artists, like the comic books, like the images of astronauts, like the Universal monsters trading cards I collected from packages of Wonder bread, bred wonder in me. They made me want to draw, to be them, to become a comic book artist, an illustrator, someone who could transport a kid like me to worlds that only we seemed to see.

    Older now, I recognize these early artist influences are kitsch, borderline at best. But then again, nothing from Cezanne or Monet or Pollock has ever moved me like they did. Of the “real” artists, of the “respectable” crowd, only those like Dali or Magritte or Dorothea Tanning come close to those first fiend folios. I still tingle over a prime copy of Plop or a back issue of Creepy. I still swoon over Heavy Metal. Nothing at MOMA whisks me away like any old comic illustrated by Jack Kirby.

    Thing is, I’m not even as good as those many would consider hacks. I gave up art for a long time, moved on to poetry, but I never left my love behind. I’ve been doodling bug-eyed aliens, dreaming big-breasted Barsoomian princesses for forty years (I even married the best of the latter), but I don’t yet have what I would call an imprint, a style of my own. I’m working on it. I may get there someday, but, until I do, what I do have is the same as what I’ve built my poetry on. What I’m beginning to see in my paintings and in my sketches is a hint of the magic of my old mythology.

    So I have faith, faith in monsters and mammaries, sex and serial killers, Playtex and planet X. I have faith in that cave, that moon mine, that first, vast, vestal celestial body, from which there must erupt all candor, all wonder, all whimsy.

    Okay, so that’s part of it.

    These days I think of all the pop kitsch crap as modern myth. I don’t really distinguish any more between Christ and Carpenter (John), between White Whale and James Whale. Sometimes I write about modern myths themselves, about or through them, as narrator or persona. Sometimes they become simply tropes to hang around the center of something personal. Either way, I am probably, as I write in Prime Directive (long poem coming out next year about me, my son, my father, and Star Trek), a “dear, doomed dork” for life.

    It is telling, I suppose, that the same year I had my first poems picked up by Poetry and the New Yorker, what excited me most, what made me feel more vindicated than ever before, was acceptance letters from Asimov’s and Weird Tales.

    Weird Tales. This is who I am.

    After all, Weird Tales was the first major venue to publish Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

  22. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks! Actually, I don’t think I was PLANNING on Love Craft being an extension of Universal Monsters. It just is. As I say, the poems come in cycles. I’m afraid I have little control over when or how they end.

    When I finished the Superman poems, for example, I thought I was done. Then, when I started on Amazon Days (a collection of Wonder Woman poems), the voice of Kal-El came back. Turns out he was in love with Diana.

    Of course by that point, I myself had fallen for a Wonder Woman, a woman who would become my wife. It may look like these books are planned. They are anything but.

    How could I plan to stumble on the perfect woman? How could I plan on my father beaming out, suddenly, from this life?

    Regardless, at some point I imagine the Love Craft poems will be incorporated into a larger book. I think, right now, that that book may be titled Other Gods. But I could be wrong. The more personal the poems, the harder to find a mythic thread to hang them together.

    And yes, I watched way too much of the Flintstones as a kid. Also had the chewable vitamins. Eating cartoon characters to make you healthier… Hey, wait, there may be a poem there…

  23. Hey Dietrich, its me again. I have been having such a difficult time writing poetry lately. Another student, Aprell, strongly suggests showers to generate ideas.

    Do you have any rituals that magically give you results other than sleeping with a journal under the pillow?

  24. Lovecraft has a dark, intriguing, ominous vibe. One I get anyways. This brings me to my question, why did you write about Superman? Why not Batman in the dark seedy streets of Gotham? Was it the question of what’s going on in the paragon of an “All American” hero’s head?

  25. Neri,

    Well, I fear there is no magic. However, my best advice is to go out and read other poets, lots of them. Find recent journals and see what’s going on in them. The best way to be inspired is to read what might inspire.

    That being said, you might also be inspired by subject matter itself. Go pick up a copy of the Fortean Times or a book on how to embalm cadavers or hop onto a website dedicated to crime stories or watch a documentary on the formation of stars….

    Comb the newspapers for weird but true events (frogs blowing up in Europe, snipers in helicopters sent to kill Camels who have overrun city in Australia, tree frog infestation comes to Alaska in Christmas trees, shroud of Turin debunked, tomb of Cleopatra discovered, etc.).

    If the weird isn’t working, try imagining yourself as the voice of a cartoon character or a biblical or historical or mythical figure. Pick one that hasn’t been given much of voice. Tell the other side of the story.

    And if all of that fails, pick up a book called Triggering Town by Richard Hugo or the Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron or Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott. They all have wonderful triggers and tasks and assignments and insights to get you going again.

    Break a lead.

  26. Hey Benjamin,

    Well, I started with Superman. I moved on to Wonder Woman (that book hasn’t been picked up yet, though all the individual poems have). And I am now, wait for it…about a third of the way through a book of poems on Batman. One of those poems will be appearing in Poetry soon. I’ve written about twenty of them, creating a dialogue between Batman and the Joker.

    The first book was called Krypton Nights. The second, Amazon Days. This one? Gotham Wanes.

    Some day I would like to see the three of them in one large collection. Trinities make me happy.

    As for why I chose Superman, well, probably my best answers can be found in an interview posted on my website, or perhaps also in an interview I did for Jason Mott’s Pen and Cape website. But, long story short, I was influenced by several factors, the death of my stepfather, the gradual deterioration of my father, the death of Superman himself, and my studies for my Ph.D.

    In some ways, the book is about my two fathers (i.e. Jor-El and Jonathan Kent), but it’s also about the deeper concerns and philosophies of comics, and also about the nature of knowing. How do we know, how do we define, how do we make and understand sign? That big red “S”… What does it mean? Salvation? Damnation? Law? Rebellion? Truth? Lies?

    Whenever I am moved by a sign, by something that calls for me to write about it, it is always something that always already trembles with possiblities. Superman seemed just that. So did Wonder Woman and, now, Batman. Eventually, there may be just one more superhero.

    Hulk smash.

  27. Hi,
    I would like to know what helps you to get started when you sit down to write? Do you have a special technique or a brainstorming method? Also, where do the ideas derive from for your poems?

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