Archive for May, 2018

The Dark Poetry Couple

Posted in Ashley Dioses, book review, Dan Sauer, Diary of a Sorceress (2017), Donald Sidney-Fryer, Grim Tidings, Hippocampus Press, K.A. Opperman, Mutartis Boswell, Obediah Baird, Poetic Blasphemies, Poetic Forms, Rhysling Award, Speculative Poetry, Steve Lines, The Audient Void, The Crimson Circle, The Crimson Tome (2015), The Dark Poetry Couple, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

As I have mentioned before, in my quest to find like-minded souls, I joined several forums on Facebook that focused on weird poetry, and I was bowled over by what I encountered there. These were not the Emo kids of the dark poetry forums I’d seen previously, writing overwrought doggerel about their oh-so-sombrous souls, but rather they were serious wordsmiths writing quality poems on divers topics within the realm of fantasy and horror using time honored poetic forms. I was admittedly intimidated, yet inspired.

It was within these forums where I met the Californian poetic duo of Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman, a/k/a The Dark Poetry Couple. I had seen their names before, and to be honest, was a bit peeved by how often; every time I pulled up a poetry journal it would have at least one poem apiece by them, if not two (for a current list, go to Who were these pretenders to the throne of Dark Poetry? I decided to find out, and sought out their work online, but found it near to impossible to find any poetry samples without purchasing one of the publications in which it had been published.

Around this time I was interacting with the folks on these forums and found that I was interacting a lot with Miss Dioses, who was very patient with my queries and comments on her posts. It was she who first told me about the sublime poetry of David Park Barnitz, and she also encouraged me to submit something to Spectral Realms and facilitated my communication with S.T. Joshi, which led to the publication of my poem Thalia. When I saw a post about their respective books, I asked what was the best way to pick up a copy for myself. She said that I could get signed copies from them, if I liked, but that at the moment only Mr. Opperman had copies handy to send out. I agreed to order one from him and in order to facilitate communication he added me to his friends list on Facebook.

“The Crimson Tome” by K.A. Opperman (2015, Hippocampus Press, cover art by Steve Lines).

I soon found that he and I shared many common interests so by the time I got my copy of The Crimson Tome (2015, Hippocampus Press) I considered him a friend. My book came with a nice note from Mr. Opperman, decorated with illustrations and marginal ornamentation by his hand, plus two postcards. One, a reprint of a vintage Halloween postcard (a shared interest) and the other was from a collaboration he did with artist Mutartis Boswell  for his poem Madame Krampus. Their partnership is called Poetic Blasphemies: “Home of the hybrid visual creations of UK artist Mutartis Boswell, and US poet K. A. Opperman. Hand-written calligraphy, paired with original illustrations.” They have a page on Facebook ( where one may purchase prints of this and several other of their collaborative works.

“Madam Krampus”, poem and caligraphy by K.A. Opperman and artwork by Mutartis Boswell.

The book was a revelation. First off, I was struck by how similar our writing voice was. We have similar topic interests and we use a similar vocabulary. It was almost like reading the writings of my artistic doppelgänger. I was so impressed by this that I sent him three of my poems to show how similar they were to works on analogous topics in his book. There are some stylistic differences, however, like Mr. Opperman uses a variety of poetic forms in which he is seemingly adept, whereas I stick primarily to light verse and prose poems. He has even developed his own variation of the sonnet, featuring 15 lines instead of the customary 14, which he uses to great effect in his sonnet cycle The Land of Darkest Dreams.  Renowned poet Donald Sydney-Fryer explains in his introduction to the book:

“Before the petrifaction of the sonnet into fourteen lines, the term sonnet simply meant a “little song,” its literal meaning, and could include rondeau, rondel, and other short lyric forms. An unusual and innovative rhyme arrangement—featuring an octave followed by a septet (rather than the traditional sestet)—the basic rhyme scheme appears to be, more often than not, as follows:

a b b a c b a c (octave)

d c e d e d e (septet)

Reader, have no fear! This new sonnet form works as well as any other, and surely functions quite well for Opperman. “

[The Crimson Tome, 2015, Hippocampus Press]

Aside from the aforementioned thematic similarities, such as our mutual interest in the Gothic Romanticism of Poe, the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, or the belletristic sorcery of Clark Ashton Smith, there are a few subjects which he is more prone to write about than I. Most of the poems here fall within the umbrella of Dark Fantasy, with a penchant towards Tolkienian High Fantasy as well as eroticism with the occasional lash of BDSM. There are also several Halloween themed poems with a focus on jack-o’-lantern/pumpkin imagery, Mr. Opperman evidently being an enthusiast of the Cucurbita pepo, as I have come to know him through his amusing and informative posts on Facebook.

“Ashiel” illustration by Steve Lines (2015).

One of the last sections is dedicated to poems about his ladylove, Miss Ashley Dioses, whom he refers to here as Ashiel. These are really great paeans to his muse. These are accompanied by a lovely illustration by artist Steve Lines (who did the cover art and whose illustrations provide an added aesthetic treat throughout the book), based off of a photo from Miss Ashley’s blog, The book ends with some clever and heartfelt tributes by Miss Ashley and other poet friends from the Hippocampus roster.

“Diary of a Sorceress” (2017, Hippocampus Press, cover art by Steve Santiago.)

Around the time I had finished absorbing The Crimson Tome, Miss Ashley had responded to my query in regard to an available copy of her book The Diary of a Sorceress (2017, Hippocampus Press). She asked “Do you want it just signed, inscribed, and/or kissed?” To which I replied “Any and all of the above!” The book arrived with a nice inscription and with a lipstick kiss on the title page. It also came with 2 business cards, one for her and one for The Dark Poetry Couple.

Dark Poetry Couple business card logo. Calligraphy by K.A. Opperman and ornamentation by Mutartis Boswell.

Miss Ashley’s book is presented in sections, like Mr. Opperman’s, each representing the personal journey of the titular sorceress. The book begins with what appears to be the story of her courtship with Mr. Opperman as seen through the filter of the character of the sorceress. There are several poems in fact, like these, which might fall under the genre of Paranormal Romance, but as the book progresses, the subject matter changes and one begins to see tributes dedicated to classic weird works and their authors, like Edgar Allan Poe, Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. There is a section featuring vampire themed poems, two of which are based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s infamous vampire tale, Carmilla (1871), as well as a couple on Erzsébet  Báthory, The Blood Countess.

Illustration by Steve Santiago for the poem Lover’s Witch from Diary of a Sorceress.

One of the most impressive poems I found was one entitled Witch Lord of the Hunt, which was nominated for 2017 the Rhysling Award for best short poem.

Illustration by Steve Santiago for Witch Lord of the Hunt from Diary of a Sorceress.

I also liked a little poem called Bat in the Boiler Room, which introduced to me a great word I’d never heard before, obtenebration, an archaic word for darkness.

Obtenebration of the lone black bat,

Though tiny, flickered, twirled, as flames let fly

Defiant embers at stone walls nearby.”

[excerpt from Bat in the Boiler Room by Ashley Dioses, from her book Diary of a Sorceress, 2017, Hippocampus Press]

After being slightly intimidated by the poetic adroitness from Mr. Opperman’s work, I was a little reassured by the poems in Miss Ashley’s book, which, although no less accomplished than Mr. Opperman’s, tended toward forms that I could handle. Again, her use of language is skillful and her topics varied and unusual, though most of her work seems to fall within the genre of lyric poetry.

Her book also ends with some lovely tributes from the same crowd that honored Mr. Opperman, who himself offers up a nice poem for his inamorata, My Lady of the Nightshade Flower.  All of the tributes are actually quite good, as were the ones for Mr. Opperman, and sparked an interest for me in the work of these other poets. Included are Adam Bolivar, Michael Fantina, and D.L. Myers, all poets from the Hippocampus roster. Bolivar and Fantina both have their own collections published by Hippocampus and Myers has been featured in Spectral Realms, the journal in which I shall be making my publication debut in July. Incidentally, within the weird poetry community, Dioses, Opperman, Bolivar and Myers are known collectively as The Crimson Circle, renowned for their focus on dark poetry. Grim Tidings has a podcast featuring The Crimson Circle as well as Obediah Baird and Dan Sauer of The Audient Void:

As for the Dark Poetry Couple, I cannot claim to know them personally, only as well as anyone can know someone through social media, but what interactions I have had with them have always been pleasant and they have been polite and supportive of a total stranger, and I truly appreciate that. Their work is inspiring to me and gives me hope that, with some hard work and personal enterprise, I too may get a book of my own work published professionally, and gain a seat among the lofty lords and ladies of weird verse.








Barbara Steele: Queen of the Italian Gothic Film

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 11, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Sometime back in the 1990’s I read an article in the Boston Globe about the original scream queen, Barbara Steele. I had never heard of her before then and was intrigued by the description they gave of her unusual beauty. For the next several months I scoured the video stores for her films but was hard pressed to find much. Fortunately, a co-worker had a laser disc of “Black Sunday” (original title La Maschera del Demonio, 1960) which he taped for me onto VHS so I could see it. I was overwhelmed by Mario Bava’s Gothic vision and by Steele’s preternatural beauty. But she’s not just a pretty face! She could hold her own alongside the big boys of the Horror film genre. In many of her films she would even play two roles, one of a put-upon heroine, and in the other her evil doppelgänger, as in Black Sunday where she plays both Princess Asa Vajda and her evil ancestor, the vampiric witch Katia Vajda

black sunday

Promo photo of Barbara Steele as Princess Asa Vajda in Black Sunday (1960).



That said, what a face she has; with her large eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and pouty, sensual, mouth she looks like a cross between a death’s head and a kewpie doll. Even so, she has a powerful sensuality about her that makes it difficult to take one’s eyes off of her whenever she is on screen. Hollywood dyed her lush ebon locks a peroxide blonde and unsuccessfully tried to cast her as an ingénue in an Elvis Presley film, which she promptly ran away from to seek her fortune in Italy. The Italian directors saw her potential, however, and made good use of her sepulchral pulchritude and featured her in several Gothic Horror films, the most celebrated of which is Black Sunday.

Black Sunday_1960_poster_Italian

Italian poster for “La Maschera del Demonio” (a/k/a “Black Sunday”, 1960).

Other significant films in which she starred are “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock” (L’Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, 1962); “The Ghost” (Lo Spettro, 1963); “The Long Hair of Death” (I lunghi capelli della morte, 1964); “Castle of Blood” (Danza Macabra, 1964) and “Nightmare Castle” (Amanti d’oltretomba, 1965).


Steele menaces Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s adaptation of “The Pit & the Pendulum” (1961).


Oddly, in her most significant English speaking genre role, Roger Corman’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961) starring opposite Vincent Price, her voice was dubbed by another actress, which is a shame because she has a very distinctive British accent. In fact, most of her early roles seem to have been dubbed by other actresses. I myself never heard her real voice until I saw her appear in the 1990’s reboot of the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, where she resurrected the role of Dr. Julia Hoffman with much aplomb.


Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 reboot of Dark Shadows.


She has appeared in many other TV shows and films over the decades, including Fellini’s “8½” (1963), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1961) and “The Winds of War” (1983) but is mostly known for her Gothic Horror films of the 60’s. Although aged 80 years at the time I am writing this, she is still active and most recently had a supporting role in Ryan Gosling’s dark fantasy thriller, “Lost River” (2014).

On a final note, in a perfect world, the young Barbara Steele would have made an excellent Azraelle. With her haunting looks and her uncanny charisma she would have brought an enticing terror to the Litch Queen as she has in all of her best roles. Do yourself a favor and check out one of her classic films and prepare to be bewitched.


Tribute to Black Sunday by artist Bryan Baugh (2015)




Charlie Chaplin’s “Monsieur Verdoux”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Henri Landru, Monsieur Verdoux with tags , , , on May 7, 2018 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Criterion DVD for “Monsieur Verdoux”

I recently watched the Criterion DVD release of Charlie Chaplin’s controversial film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The film was based on an idea by Orson Welles who wanted to make a picture about Henri Landru, the infamous Bluebeard killer. He had asked Chaplin if he would be interested in portraying the lead in the film, but instead Chaplin bought the rights to the idea from Welles then decided to make it into a comedy. Although historically referred to as a black comedy, the sinister underpinnings of the original tale are almost cancelled out by all the cutesy slapstick and saccharine  sentimentality of the scenes involving Verdoux’s real family or when he meets “The Girl” a the waif meets on the street who he originally intends to kill until she tells him her tale of woe. He then takes pity on her and ends up becoming her reluctant benefactor.

German promotional photo of actress Marilyn Nash as “The Girl”, a waif whom Verdoux begrudgingly takes under his wing.

Chaplin tries to make Verdoux as sympathetic as possible, whereas Landru was really just a cold-blooded killer.   The last time I had seen it was on laserdisc when I worked at Laser Craze in Boston back in the early 90’s. I recall enjoying it then, but had forgotten about the incongruity of the jarring American accents from actors who are supposed to be portraying French citizens. That being said, Martha Raye is amusing as Annabella Bonheur, one of Verdoux’s intended victims.

Monsieur Verdoux menacingly regards Annabella Bonheurone, of his myriad “wives” (played by Martha Raye in an uncharacteristically glamorous role.)

The film did not fair well in post-war America, but it did garner some decent box-office in France.  “Moreover, Chaplin’s own popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by multiple scandals and political controversies prior to its release.”  [] A promotional campaign for the film was started to try to drum up support in the US, but it wasn’t quite successful. Posters were issued posing the question “Chaplin changes. Can you?”

Poster for Monsieur Verdoux

Although I enjoyed it when I first saw it, some 20+ years ago, I now find it kind of cloying and a bit off-putting in it’s misguided light treatment of a dark subject.