Archive for book review

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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/adarkpoetrycouple/). 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 (https://www.facebook.com/Poetic-Blasphemies-173435956622495/) 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, www.fiendlover.blogspot.com. 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:

https://thegrimtidingspodcast.podbean.com/e/dark-poetry-special-the-crimson-circle/

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Lost Book Review: The Dark Eidolon

Posted in Clark Ashton Smith, S.T. Joshi, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 5, 2016 by Manuel Paul Arenas
A while back, the bookstore I work for asked the staff to write book reviews for the new website they were creating. They had to be brief, and on titles which were likely to be carried at one of our numerous locations. I chose “The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies” by Clark Ashton Smith. Unfortunately, the way the log in is set up on the computers at work, the credit for the review went to the last person to submit one, so my piece is attributed to another employee. To rectify this, I am reposting it here for you all to peruse.
Dark
Tagline: Excellent introduction to this macabre bard of the weird

“Clark Ashton Smith was an artist, sculptor, author and poet, known mostly today through his association with Horror icon H.P. Lovecraft. Although Smith did dabble in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos during his tenure with Weird Tales magazine, he was a master storyteller and wordsmith in his own right, specializing in exquisitely written fantasy tales and poems which smack of 19th century Orientalism and Gothic Horror. Featuring a generous selection of his sublime short stories, prose poems and metered verse, this collection by Penguin Classics, replete with an enlightening introduction and copious explanatory notes by Weird Tales scholar S.T. Joshi, is a great introduction to this macabre bard from the Golden Age of Pulp.”

Tabula Cūlus

Posted in Alchemy, black humor, De Vermis Mysteriis, Hermes Trimegistus, Lovecraftian Horror, Lucifer, Ludwig Prinn, Tabula Cūlus, Tabula Smaragdina, The Cult of the Yellow Sign with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A couple of years ago the Cult of the Yellow Sign approached me to write an article for inclusion in  one of their celebrated pamphlets. Wanting to take full advantage of this great opportunity, I gave much thought as to what I might write which would capture the essence of the C.Y.S. mixing surrealist humor and Lovecraftian Horror. At the time, I had just read about the Tabula Smaragdina of Hermes Trimegistus, a legendary emerald tablet upon which is inscribed an apocryphal alchemical treatise, and thought it might be fun to play on that. The Cult was enthusiastic upon receiving it, but they never used it, so it has been languishing in my archives since then. Written in the form of a mock book review from an unnamed (unnamable?) Cult member, here it is, in all of its dark droll glory, The Tabula Cūlus

“In his celebrated grimoire, De Vermis Mysteriis (a Cult bestseller second only to Abdul Alhazred’s Al Azif the most recent translation of the Necronomicon from the original Arabic by Egyptian scholar and all around madman, Ini-herit Apep, whose knowledge of ancient and forbidden tomes is exceptional but his man-crush on the Black Pharoah Nephren-ka is a bit cloying), author Ludwig Prinn said of his studies during his tenure with the mystics of Damscus that when it came to alchemy the Syrian sages continually emphasized their mission to find and reproduce the essence of life and creation. Their continual reference to the Tabula Smaragdina of Hermes Trismegistus, an over-hyped and frankly confusing fragment supposedly written on an emerald which fell from the forehead of Lucifer during his initial fall from Grace which claims to contain the whole truth and nothing but as it circumvents any revelation thereof pissed him off no end, so he performed a ritual of his own devising wherein he obtained an ebon gem from the Light-bearer’s arse upon which he forced 666 angels (culled from Thomas Aquinus’ pin-head angels to be precise) to transcribe his own alchemical treatise entitled the Tabula Cūlus which has recently been discovered, translated and published in our Cult Club Derma-Bound editions and will be made available to Cultists of discerning tastes at the next Void-of-Course Moon phase. The aforementioned gem has been retained by Cultist #138 and is currently being stored for safekeeping in his corresponding orifice.”

Cult Member #138

Cult Member #138

Ramsey Campbell’s “Ancient Images”

Posted in Ancient Images, Bela Lugosi, book review, Boris Karloff, Ramsey Campbell with tags , , , , on October 5, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just finished reading “Ancient Images” by Ramsey Campbell. It’s a slow burner which is heavy on the atmosphere but light on the action; a well told fright tale, with shades of “The Wicker Man”, but the ending is a little anti-climactic. A young film editor, Sandy Allan, goes to a friend’s house to see the film he unearthed which is reputed to be a lost film by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Upon her arrival she finds her friend’s residence in a mess, the film gone, then looks out the window just in time to see her friend leap off of the rooftop across the way. Offered time off from work to mourn, she decides to look for the film to vindicate her dead friend who is being lambasted by a bitter film critic for trying to dig up such a nasty old film, which the critic claims doesn’t really exist anymore anyway.  On her hunt to find the film, Sandy finds that many of the people associated with the film either died under questionable circumstances or totally disassociated themselves from it after the fact. Her  journey eventually leads to Redfield, a country town not unlike Summerisle from “The Wicker Man”: a seemingly quiet community with dark pagan secrets and killer scarecrows.

Promotional still from the Universal film

Promotional still from the Universal film “The Black Cat” (1934), featuring Boris Karloff (left) and Bela Lugosi (right).

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made many classic Horror films together for Universal Studios in Hollywood, during the 1930’s, when this missing film is supposed to have been made; why they would have gone to the English countryside to make what was basically an independent film with a no-name director is beyond my comprehension, and when would they have found the time? This premise doesn’t sit well with me and the execution of the book is lackluster for this grandmaster of the Horror genre; worth a read if you’re already a fan, but if you haven’t read Campbell already, I wouldn’t start here.

“Ancient Images” 1990 Charles Scribner’s Sons / SFBC