Archive for Clark Ashton Smith

Update 05/28/2020: The Emperor of Dreams

Posted in Ashley Dioses, Charles Schneider, Clark Ashton Smith, Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams, Darin Coelho Spring, Donald Sidney-Fryer, George Sterling, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Hippocampus Press, horror host, K.A. Opperman, Ron Hilger, S.T. Joshi, Scott Connors, Updates, W.H. Pugmire, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I received my DVD of the documentary Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams from Hippocampus Press. I have been wanting to get this since it came out in 2018, but just never got around to it, but as Hippocampus Press has it on sale for the moment, I decided it was time to invest. I am so glad that I did! Director Darin Coelho Spring tells the story of the weird bard and outsider artist through interviews with various weird scholars (Donald Sidney-Fryer, Scott Connors, S.T. Joshi, Ron Hilger, et.al.) writers (Harlan Ellison, W.H. Pugmire), artists (Skinner, whose art graces the DVD cover) and other Smith enthusiasts to create a fairly vivid picture of the elusive recluse of Auburn, tracing his life from his childhood, growing up in his family home in the hills of Auburn, California with no electricity or running water, leaving school as a teen to self-educate, his brief moment in the sun with his entry into the California poetry scene, his tenure in Weird Tales and, ultimately, to his final days in relative quiet comfort with home of his wife and step children.

Clark Ashton Smith (January 13, 1893 – August 14, 1961)

The film explores his apprenticeship under San Francisco auteur poet of the Bohemian sect, George Sterling, who encouraged his early forays in poetry. This fruitful relationship, unfortunately soured when Sterling tried to dissuade Smith from his tendencies toward the weird and the macabre, which Sterling dismissed as played out. It was around this time that Smith was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft, who encouraged this direction and became a valuable friend and ally until his untimely death in 1937. It was Lovecraft who encouraged Smith to try his hand at prose tales, and when he passed Smith lost the desire to continue, turning his focus back to poetry and eventually even deserting that for his idiosyncratic artwork and sculpture.

There is no film footage of Smith, but there were plenty of photos and even a recording of his distinctive resonate voice reciting some of his poems. Other partial recitations are peppered throughout by Harlan Ellison, Donald Sidney-Fryer, and in the bonus features there are full recitations by Charles Schneider, Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman. I highly recommend this documentary for anyone interested in learning about the one of the greatest weird talents of the 20th century.

Buy your DVD or Blu-ray at https://www.hippocampuspress.com/clark-ashton-smith/documentary

Cover art by Skinner for
Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams.

Parting related thought: I was so inspired after watching the documentary that I recorded myself reciting Smith’s poem Offerings to share on Facebook. Unfortunately, the video portion is really dark and murky. I need to find a way to light myself, before I bother to start a YouTube channel, so that my face isn’t lost in the shadows cast by the lamplight. I eventually want to do a show like a horror host, but with poetry and prose instead of movies. And not quite so campy, of course.

Blood Ceremony’s “The Eldritch Dark”

Posted in Album Review, Blood Ceremony (band), Clark Ashton Smith, Drawing Down the Moon (1979), Fairport Convention, Iron Claw (band), Jethro Tull, John Buchan, Living with the Ancients (2011), Lucas Gadke, Margot Adler, Oliver Haddo, Progressive Rock, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Sean Kennedy, Somerset Maugham, The Eldritch Dark (2013), The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, The Magician (1908), Witch Wood (1927) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

When I first got turned on to Canadian witch-rock band, Blood Ceremony, I went to my local record shop and ordered their back catalogue on CD. I was able to procure all of their official album releases save for their third album, 2013’s The Eldritch Dark, which, for some reason was out of stock for a long while and what few copies I found online were going for upwards of $25. A couple of months ago, I noticed that it had become available again on Amazon for the customary price of around $12, so I had a friend order it for me, as he has an Amazon Prime account and can get free shipping. I had heard it many times before, of course, but this would be the first time I’d be hearing it in detail and reviewing the accompanying booklet, that features the lyrics, most of which were penned by guitarist Sean Kennedy, and are definitely worth checking out.

I must admit, that upon listening to it on a nice sound system The Eldritch Dark has quickly become my favorite album of theirs. It is the most consistent sounding album and the sounds and themes they explore therein are really close to my heart.

The album opens with Witchwood, a rocking song (replete with a tasty organ solo from front woman Alia O’Brien) about ancient rites and witchcraft in a rural town. I assume it to be inspired by the book of the same name by John Buchan, which treats of an old Scottish village that has a secret cult devoted to pagan rites and witchcraft. The final verse of the song sums up the gist of the song and sets the tone for the album itself:

A woman stood at Witchwood Cross
And spoke to me, although a stranger
Of eldritch worlds once thought lost
And blasphemies that once were whispered
She said: you’ll welcome us into your homes
We’ll linger in your blood
Our ways are in your bones

From the Witchwood we rise and greet you at your door
The old ways remain and the ancient gods they live on

The next song, Goodbye Gemini, is the album’s single, which is featured in their sole official video, which I mentioned before in my previous post about the band. It is a good song and a cool video that mixes footage of the band performing an in-the-studio pantomime, interspersed with psychedelic visuals, and video of Ms. O’Brien and a lady friend dressed in ceremonial gowns walking around the grounds of some venerable edifice. I do not recognize the references in the song and have not found anything online in my precursory searches. Listening to it, I am reminded that I wrote a poem back in the early 90s called Gemini, which my old friend Paul Mcafee wrote a tune for and recorded. I even made a special trip from Boston to his home in New Haven CT to record the vocal. I had fun, and it was a quaint ditty, but not in the same league as this number.

Next up is the haunting Lord Summerisle, a tribute to the character from the 1973 folk-horror film The Wicker Man co-written by Kennedy and bassist Lucas Gadke, who also sings lead on the song, accompanied by Ms. O’Brien. Mr. Gadke is credited as playing upright bass on the album, and I suspect this is where he does it. Although it is not mentioned in the credits, I could swear I hear mellotron on this song. I believe the instrument is listed as part of the gear used on the subsequent release, Lord of Misrule (2016), so perhaps this is an early uncredited instance.

The next tune is The Ballad of the Weird Sisters, which tells a tale of an enchantment gone awry. On returning home from a sojourn to foreign lands, two men (presumably soldiers)  are hailed by three hags just outside the city gates. The women persuade the men to follow them to their secreted dwelling in the woods where they are offered a “strange brew” with a “devil of a taste”. One young man, the narrator of the tale, is seized by the concoction and through some magical trickery, his many wicked and fell deeds are displayed in a kaleidoscope of images to all present. Knowing the jig is up, he decides to rid himself of any potential witnesses and kills everyone, sisters included. The final lines sum up the moral of the tale with a nod and a wink…

Possessed were they with fortune’s gift / And yet they were surprised / Three sisters should have better known / Than to let this devil inside.

The addition of fiddle, credited to Ben Plotnick, gives the song a real folk-rock vibe, like Fairport Convention, only darker.

Next in cue is the title song, The Eldritch Dark. Now, I am not entirely certain what Mr. Kennedy’s intent was by using this title, which is associated with weird poet Clark Ashton Smith. It is the title of an atmospheric poem of dark beauty and the name of the website dedicated to the author: http://www.eldritchdark.com. This dirge-like number about dark rites and ritual sacrifice features a vocal performance by Alia O’Brien that reaches an eerie crescendo in the final lines which gives me goosebumps!

The Candlemas Eve / Mid-winter witchery / On Candlemas Eve / This sacrifice receive

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler (1979, Viking Press)

Drawing Down the Moon is (presumably) a reference to the 1979 treatise on modern paganism by Margot Adler, which is seen by many as a benchmark publication on the subject, albeit with the band’s customary diabolic twist.

[update 05/10/2020: I found an entry in The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley (1989, Facts On File) which explains the term. Note; words in all caps are references to other entries I the book: An important ritual in some traditions of neo-Pagan WITCHCRAFT in which a COVEN’s high priestess enters a trance and becomes the GODDESS, who is symbolized by the MOON. The transformation is accomplished with the help of the high priest, who invokes, or draws down, the spirit of the Goddess into the high priestess.]

Next up is a group instrumental called Faunus, which is the only one credited to the whole band, individually. It’s a light folk-rock piece featuring flute that really sounds to me like an outtake from a Jethro Tull album, circa 1975-76. Mr. Kennedy does a nice solo on here with a bracing guitar tone.

Lastly, is the companion piece to an earlier work from their previous album, Living with the Ancients (2011). The song is The Magician and is the second tribute the band has done to the character Oliver Haddo, from the book of the same name, by W. Somerset Maugham. The former was about the sorcerer, in 3rd person, whereas the latter is in first person. Oliver Haddo was very much a doomy track with a heavy riff, but The Magician is decidedly more proggy. Both tunes end with organ solos.

The album was released on LP in a multiple special editions featuring colored vinyl and even a boxed set that contained a belt buckle!

The Eldritch Dark box set from Rise Above Records.

In summation, I feel that The Eldritch Dark is the point where Blood Ceremony stopped being a Doom-Rock band with proto-prog tendencies, to being a straight up prog-rock band. In fact, they remind me a lot of the Italian prog bands of the 70s, minus the Mediterranean melodies, of course. After this album, they released their first single, Let It Come Down, which was backed with a rip-roaring cover of the song Loving You by Scottish Hard Rock band, Iron Claw.

Let It Come Down, 7″ single (2014, Rise Above Records).

Blood Ceremony circa 2013 l-r: Michael Carrillo (drums), Lucas Gadke (bass, vocals), Alia O’Brien (lead vocals, flute & organ), Sean Kennedy (guitar).

 

 

Peter S. Beagle’s “Lila the Werewolf” (1969)

Posted in Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Dark Imaginings (1978), Gothic Fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft, In Calabria, Lila the Werewolf (1969), lycanthropy, Peter S Beagle, Werewolf Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

 

As I have little else to do on my down time but go through my book, CD, and DVD collections, I have discovered some gems I might not have noticed in normal times when I am more selective about what I read. Back in the 90s I bought an anthology entitled Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy. I was exploring the world of Dark Fantasy at the time and it seemed up my alley, so I picked it up but never really read through it because it wasn’t dark enough for my taste, despite the title.

Dark Imaginings: A Collection of Gothic Fantasy (1978, Delta).

It has some worthy fantasy tales for sure, by some of it’s most celebrated authors, but there are only a handful of tales in there which I believe truly fit the theme, and they are by the usual authors associated with the genre like Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft, all of whom I was very familiar with already. Anyway, I set it aside and eventually it ended up in my storage unit where it, unfortunately, got pretty banged up. I found it again in recent months and left it out so I could take a fresh look. I read the introduction by co-editors Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski, then I flipped through the pages looking for something that caught my eye. I settled on Lila the Werewolf, by author Peter S. Beagle, which had been touted in the introduction as a perfect example of contemporary Gothic Fantasy.

Chapbook of Lila the Werewolf (1974, Capra Press)

Without giving too much away, the story is told by a jaded New York bohemian musician, Sam Farrell, who finds out that his new girlfriend, Lila, is a werewolf. His blasé attitude and frankly cavalier handling of the situation are a bit off-putting and surprising, considering Beagle’s sensitivity and deft manipulation of the miraculous intruding upon the mundane in his 2017 novella In Calabria. Of course, there is an almost 50 year difference between the tales, and the author writing in 2017 had the benefit of experience and maturity to inform him. Beagle himself is quoted online as having said of Lila:

This story was written very long ago, in another world, by a young man to whom the idea of equating womanhood with lycanthropy, sexual desire with blood and death and humiliation, seemed no more at the time than a casual grisly joke. I would write ‘Lila the Werewolf’ today, but not for that reason, and not in that way.

There are some inspired moments and, at times, some humorous situations, but overall I think this is a werewolf story with no bite. Had he been more thoughtful, I think Beagle could have had a great story, as I feel that Lila is an interesting and sympathetic character. Most significantly, to me anyway, I found nothing at all Gothic about it. Lila’s lycanthropy is handled very matter-of-factly, with none of the customary allusions to folklore or the occult, and one never feels any impending threat save for the occasional menacing growl from the wolf. What’s more, had he not described her as a wolf in the beginning of the story, one would almost swear she was a just a peevish dog, despite her dietary inclinations. The story fell apart for me in the farcical third act, which I thought went on for way too long. As I said, I don’t think he took the material very seriously, which is a shame, as I think the idea had great potential. That said, I’d be curious to see what Beagle might have to say if he were to check in on Lila today.

Update 03/13/2020: Moribond accepted for Spectral Realms #13

Posted in Chelsea Arrington, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Coffman, Hell-Flower, My Bantam Black Fay, Pickman's Press, S.T. Joshi, Spectral Realms, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, Weird Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2020 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Last night I received confirmation from S.T. Joshi that my poem Moribond has been accepted for inclusion in Spectral Realms #13, where it will join My Bantam Black Fay, and Hell-Flower, respectively. After so many prose poems, it’s nice to be able to offer some verse again. Admittedly, I would not have been able to accomplish this without the help and guidance from my colleagues Ms. Chelsea Arrington, and Frank Coffman, who both commented on my work in progress. Mr. Coffman in particular gave me useful advice on how I might improve on Moribond. I am grateful to them both.

Note: the character of Moribond also made an appearance in my tribute to Clark Ashton Smith, The Fell Fête, which can be found in the anthology The Averoigne Legacy from Pickman’s Press.

Goodbye 2019

Posted in 2019, Clark Ashton Smith, Denisse Montoya, Diablerie, Morbidezza & Other Denizens of the Dark, Spectral Realms, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, Year End Review with tags , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

2019 has been a year of slow advancement. I have continued to get my work published, mainly in Spectral Realms, but I still get rejected fairly regularly elsewhere. I do however have a few stories in various anthologies. I was particularly thrilled to have my story The Fell Fête be sought out for a collection of stories in the style of Clark Ashton Smith. The ebook*, The Averoigne Legacy, is available on Amazon.

Averoigne Legacy (rear blurb).

My friend Denisse Montoya and I have been working diligently over the last several  months to prepare my chapbook Morbidezza & Other Denizens of the Dark for publication. As I write, we have only to finalize the cover art then take it to a printer to self publish. I hope it will be available sometime in January if I can round up the requisite funds. I have also been putting together a manuscript for my next chapbook, Diablerie, which I hope to also get published in 2020.

On a personal note, I moved into a new one bedroom apartment, just down the block from the coffee shop I frequent, and I am excited to say that it has a gas stove, which I have made much use of since moving in. I have been cooking more and trying to eat better this past year.  After being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I have cut down a lot on my sugar intake and even lost 20 lbs.! I am still far from svelte though. Now, if only I could do something about these dark circles around my eyes…

I don’t have a roommate anymore, so I have no one to answer to either. This gives me more space for my things, as well as personal freedom, but it also magnifies my loneliness, which is already acute. I have decided that 2020 will be the year I fix that. I wonder what Morbidezza is doing these days… Do you think 10 months is long enough a wait to call upon a widow?

*(12/20/2019) As well as the trade paperback!

Update 10/28/2019: The Averoigne Legacy now available!

Posted in Averoigne, Clark Ashton Smith, Edward Stasheff, Pickman's Press, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, tribute fiction with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

It dawned on me that The Averoigne Legacy should be available soon, so I looked it up on Amazon, and lo and behold, I found it! Well, the e-book at least. I’m not sure whether it will be a physical book or not, though it may end up being a print on demand item. Any way, there are blurbs on the Pickman’s Press site for the individual stories and here is the one for my tale, The Fell Fête:

“A Spanish student visiting Averoigne is convinced by an enchanting local girl to attend her village’s traditional ceremony—to Iog-Sotôt.”

The Averoigne Legacy: Edward Stasheff, ed. (Pickman’s Press 2019)

Update 11/1/2019:

Got a message from editor Edward Stasheff asking me to proof read the e-book version of my story. He says also the paperback version will be available in November.

Update 09/19/2019: Final Revisions for The Fell Fete

Posted in Averoigne, Clark Ashton Smith, Edward Stasheff, Grace Stillman, The Averoigne Archives, The Averoigne Legacy, The Fell Fête, Updates, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2019 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just sent out the final draft for The Fell Fete. Hope I didn’t miss anything. Mr. Stasheff incorporated my initial revisions and just wanted me to do a quick read-through to ensure that everything looked good. Good thing he did, because there were a few very minor revisions that didn’t take from my last proof-read. I was making corrections on my blog in between calls, so I may not have saved some before I logged out.

I will keep you all apprised of any updates.

The Averoigne Archives (2019, Pickman’s Press).

PS: For anyone who is not familiar with Clark Ashton Smith‘s Averoigne story cycle, Pickman’s Press has published a companion book entitled The Averoigne Archives, containing all of the pertinent tales, which can be found on Amazon. The Spanish language version, Cuentos de Averoigne, even includes bonus translations of the poems The Woods of Averoigne (1934) by one-time Weird Tales contributor Grace Stillman, and To Clark Ashton Smith (1938) by Smith’s long-time pen-pal, H.P. Lovecraft.

Update 09/23/2019

Got my fee for the story, and it has been officially accepted. Now all there is to do is wait for updates on when the book will be available.