Saturday, July 4, 2009

Stabbed In Stanzas: Horror Poetry

Getting Stoked with Bruce Boston, an Interview

For my first column, I’m honored to be interviewing one of the best, if not the best, genre poets of our time, Bruce Boston. He’s won seven Rhysling Awards, five Asimov’s Readers’ Choice Awards, three Stoker Awards, and a Pushcart Prize. He also was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Karen Newman: Bruce, congratulations on another Stoker win with your latest poetry collection, The Nightmare Collection (Dark Regions Press, 2008). You’ve also won the Bram Stoker Award for poetry for Shades Fantastic (Gromagon Press, 2006) and Pitchblende (Dark Regions Press, 2003). In addition, your books, The Complete Accursed Wives (Dark Regions Press/Talisman, 2000), White Space (Dark Regions Press, 2001) and Night Smoke (written with Marge Simon, Miniature Sun Press/Quixsilver Press, 2002) were nominated for the Stoker Award for poetry. I noticed that most of these collections were published by Dark Regions Press and almost at yearly intervals. Does this particular publisher ask for your work at regular intervals, or do you have an understanding?

Bruce Boston: Thanks for the interview and the Stoker congrats.
I first met Joe Morey of Dark Regions Press in the late 1980s at a SPWAO (Small Press Writers and Artists Organization) Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Joe solicited me to write an article on the wonders and woes of small press publishing for his magazine Dark Regions. Over the next ten or more years of the magazine’s existence, I became a regular contributor to its pages with both poetry and fiction. My first DR book came out in 1995, Sensuous Debris, which brought together my best genre poetry from 1970-1995. Another eight books from DR have followed over the years, both poetry and fiction, with one more forthcoming.
Dark Regions has always paid me decently for my work and presented it to readers in a manner I feel good about. Joe Morey has been a longtime fan of my writing. I’ve given him books that he can feel proud of publishing. They’ve received critical acclaim, brought some awards to the press, and sold well enough. It’s a business relationship that has worked for both of us, and in the course of it we’ve become good friends.
When I feel I have a book that is right for Dark Regions, and they are open to submissions, I’m likely to try them first. On occasion, Joe has also solicited me for a collection or project. Currently I’m writing a series of Nostradamus-like quatrains for an anthology on Nostradamus that is forthcoming from Dark Regions.
However, Dark Regions Press has never been the sole outlet for my books. Since I started publishing with them, I’ve also published books through ten other presses, most recently the Spanish publisher Le Factoria De Ideas.

KN: How would a writer go about developing the kind of relationship you have with Dark Regions Press?

BB: It’s serendipity to a large extent. Yet you can improve your chances greatly by making as many connections as possible in the field in which you are writing. Attend conventions. Use the Internet. Be friendly and open to meeting new people. When you encounter other writers or publishers who seem simpatico to your work, pursue those connections. Don’t be arrogant or absolutist about your writing. Listen to what others have to say and be willing to compromise. This is the most likely way you are going to connect with a publisher that will be a steady outlet for your work.

KN: You often collaborate with your wife, Marge Simon. Do you work in separate rooms a while and then compare notes, or is there another arrangement? How often do you disagree?

BB: Marge and I work in separate studies, but will come together to discuss a collaborative poem or fiction. Most of our collaborations have come about initially from an idea and some lines from Marge. Then I contribute ideas and lines and if it seems to be working, we discuss a final draft. We don’t disagree often, but we have attempted some collaborations that we decided to abandon because we had different ideas about the directions they should take.

KN: How big an influence was Marge in your becoming an artist? What is the favorite horror illustration you’ve done?

BB: It’s news to me that I’m an artist. I have no natural talent for drawing, and I’ve never taken the time to learn. I’m a designer. I’ve been designing books, both small press and commercial, for twenty-five years. Once I had access to sophisticated graphic software, I discovered I could create electronic collages and abstract designs with it. I’ve sold a bunch of these to small presses as book covers and online portals. Anyone with a decent sense of design, and knowledge of the software, could do the same thing. It doesn’t make me an artist. It’s more a hobby, a relaxation. I don’t express myself as an artist through design work, but through my writing.
Marge has always been supportive of my design work, though not a direct influence. My favorite illustration is usually the one I’m currently working on or have just finished. Though I am rather partial to a cover I did for the May 2008 issue of Cover of Darkness.

KN: I saw on your website that you’re collaborating with ten other poets for your upcoming collection, Double Visions (Dark Regions Press). How did you select these poets? Please compare how their writing styles are complimentary to yours. How did you all make your differences compatible?

BB: The collaborations in this collection cover more than twenty years, from the late 1980s to 2009. They came about in many different ways and followed many different directions.
The collaborations that have received the most reader response are the Mutant Rain Forest poems written with Robert Frazier. They depict a sentient and rapidly mutating Amazonian rain forest that rebels against mankind’s incursions. Here, compatibility of voices never seemed to be a problem. Bob and I were writing out of the same traditions. We’d both read a lot of the same science fiction, growing up and as adults. We both had a background in modern and contemporary poetry. And we both had been publishing genre poetry in the same small press and pro magazines for a decade and were thoroughly familiar with one another’s work. Further, we were both excited and involved in the fictional world we were creating and the individual poems it spawned. All in all, this was an ideal situation for collaboration, and I think our individual voices merged very well. When I look back on the poems in the series now, I can seldom recall who wrote which line.
My collaborations with t. winter-damon took a very different course. Damon was writing primarily out of a different tradition: surrealism, decadent romanticism, cyberpunk, and cutting-edge horror. This overlapped some with my writing and reading background, but was far from coincident. We wrote three collaborative poems. Two of them ended up in Damon’s style of writing, i.e., I adapted my writing voice to fit his. One of them was written in what I refer to as my populist style: poems that will appeal to intelligent readers who don’t normally read poetry. In that case, Damon’s voice adapted to mine.
And there have been some collaborations that never worked out, either because my collaborator and I ended up not being excited enough about the idea to carry through on it, or there were conflicts in the execution of the piece that could not be resolved.
The selection of the poems for Double Visions was not difficult. I merely picked what I considered the best ones that also seemed to complement one another. The collection is shorter than it could have been if I’d included all my collaborations, but a better collection for it.

KN: I admire the way you get the most mileage out of topics, such as poems about people, i.e. “Lice People,” “Crow People,” and “Werewolf People,” and your famous ‘curse of’ poems. What was your reasoning not to collect all of those into single collections of ‘curses’ and ‘people,’ or are you planning to do that in the future?

BB: Actually, I’ve published four collections built around a singular theme or topic: Alchemical Texts, a chapbook of poems portraying the life of a medieval alchemist, The Complete Accursed Wives, fiction and poetry using archetypal genre figures as metaphors to reflect ways in which women are exploited and abused in relationships, Etiquette with Your Robot Wife, humorous genre list poems akin to the top ten lists of late night television, and Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest with Robert Frazier,
It was an aesthetic call not to collect the “accursed husband” poems in a single volume. First, there’s not enough to make a full-sized book, only a chapbook. Second, I don’t think they are as interesting or compelling as the “accursed wife” poems because the exploitation and abuse of men by women is not as much of a problem in contemporary society as the reverse. Regarding the “people poems,” which I prefer to call anthropomorphisms, the series is still in progress. At this point, more than half the poems in the series are scattered through other collections of mine. I may collect all of them in a single volume someday, but probably only if the other books containing them are out of print.

KN: Although you are best known for your poetry, you’ve also successfully transitioned to writing novels. I noticed the beauty of your word choices in your novel, The Guardener’s Tale (Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2007), a Bram Stoker Award Finalist and Prometheus Award Nominee. In what other ways did your poetry background help in writing the book? Did your various work experiences aid in that transition?

BB: Any kind of writing you do informs and influences whatever you write. Just as your life experiences do. I’ve worked as a technical writer, a copywriter, and for ten years I wrote author sketches for reference books. All of this helped me learn to communicate ideas and facts effectively and with economy, which can be a plus in almost any kind of writing, though probably more so in fiction than poetry.
The Guardener’s Tale was very much influenced by my poetry. The idea for the novel came from a single poem of mine – “In the Garden of the State,”-- about an overly solicitous future government that attempts to control and direct the lives of its citizens, supposedly for their own good, a kind of human bonsai gardening. Images of flowers, plants, and organic growth occur throughout The Guardener’s Tale, figuring in both negative and positive contexts, reflecting the themes of the book, functioning the way images often do in poetry.

KN: Have you ever regretted not obtaining an MFA or PhD? With your level of success, you obviously didn’t need them, but if you could time travel, would you obtain one or both of these degrees? Why or why not?

BB: I do have an M.A. degree, in economics, though the main reason I pursued it was to keep my draft deferment and stay out of the Vietnam War. If I could time travel, or do it all over again, obtaining a higher degree in creative writing would be very low on my list. I think such degrees are mainly for those who plan a career in teaching and publishing articles. I’ve taught creative writing both at the college level and in online classes, but have never viewed it as a career. Though the best creative writing classes have something to offer, I don’t think you learn to write by taking classes and receiving degrees. You learn to write by living, paying attention, and reading. Also, much of the academic world tends to look down its nose at the kind of writing that interests me most -- sf, horror, dark fantasy, and noir – so I don’t think it would prove to be a good environment for me in terms of seeking a higher degree.

KN: You’ve edited two issues of Star*Line and served as an editor for half a dozen other publications, both mainstream and genre. What do you enjoy most about the editing process? The least? Would you be interested in editing a strictly horror publication?

BB: Editing for me is a creative process, somewhat akin to putting together a collection of my own work. As you accept work for a given issue it often begins to take a specific direction. Individual poems and stories resonate with one another. Sometimes this all comes together like magic. At other times it is a struggle. I enjoy the process of putting together an issue where this resonance occurs and leads to a kind of coherent whole. I also enjoy encountering submissions that I think are excellent that I am going to responsible for publishing, particularly if they are by a writer that is new to me.
What I don’t like is having to reject good poems and stories – there’s seldom enough room for all the good work submitted – all the more so if they are by a writer I know and admire.
I’ve just finished guest-editing my second Star*Line prose poem issue, which will be appearing later this year. I probably won’t feel like taking on another editing job for a while, but when/if I do, I’d certainly be open to editing a horror publication. My only criterion would be that the publisher grants me free rein in determining what was to appear in the part of the issue I edited.

KN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything additional you’d like to share with our readers?

BB: Ah, the inevitable chance for self-promotion that occurs at the end of every interview. I’ll keep it short. In addition to Double Visions, I have a collection of sf speculative poetry titled North Left of Earth that should be out from Sam’s Dot this fall. I’m working on a noir novel, inspired by writers such as Jim Thompson and Charles Williams, and also compiling a new dark poetry collection. I have assorted shorter works forthcoming in various magazines and anthologies. You can always find the most recent ones listed, with links to those online, at my website.

Thanks go to Bruce Boston for his time.

--Karen L. Newman

“Shades Fantastic” reviewed by Karen L. Newman
When the final ballot for the Horror Writers’ Association 2006 Stoker Awards was announced, I wasn’t surprised to see Shades Fantastic (Gromagon Press) by Bruce Boston among the works nominated for superior achievement in poetry.
Bruce Boston delivers another great collection in Shades Fantastic. He shows again why he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Most of the poems are reprinted from fine genre publications such as Asimov’s SF Magazine and Strange Horizons, including “Heavy Weather”, the 2005 Asimov’s Readers’ Award. He includes just five new poems, the only fault I can find with the book. The collection is beautifully illustrated by the talented Marge Simon, Boston’s wife.
It’s easy to become a fan of Bruce Boston. He writes about common things and speculates about them. His words flow on the page with a lyrical beat and strong imagery, as illustrated in the first stanza of my favorite poem in the collection
“In the Course Morn”:
Brown lies the landscape,
once green through the year.
In the mean market stalls
the fruit is hard and dry.
Dust must be wiped from
the scales and weights
several times each day.
The meter here reminds me of Robert Frost. Hidden meaning abounds and the internal rhyme of dust and must and the consonance in the title are clever, making the poem memorable. The other poems are of as high a quality.

--Karen L. Newman