If there’s a problem with genre fiction at all (and particularly the horror genre, and even more particularly Lovecraftian genre fiction – OK, multiple problems, I know, I know), it’s that its writers have an unfortunate tendency to bog down in the minutia of the form and format, resulting in stories which merely rehash the already fragrant pulped material of previous years. And so we end up with protags going for a drink down at Tcho-Tcho’s Bar & Grill, or yet another shuddersome “Check it! The Yellow Sign!” and so on. I highlight Lovecraftian tropes here (because that’s my eldritch bailey-wick) but this same issue can and does appear anywhere in genre material: we all know what to expect from zombies, vampires, Little Green Men, and the like, and most toilers in the genre vineyards see little reason to break from those tried-and-true molds.
That’s prose, and such laziness can in most cases be forgiven. There’s only ever one Story, after all, or at most a dozen, so more repetition than reinterpretation/rehabilitation can be expected, even tolerated.
Unlike mere story, though, each poem is (or should be) unique, and when the above happens in poetry, and particularly poetry in the speculative fiction arena, the results are disastrous: lame re-treadings of sci-fi or horror tropes, humourous barely-a-poem asides loaded with references for the in-crowd, and no examination of wider themes relating to the poet’s world or indeed, the world outside that world. This is why (with the exception of Ann K. Schwader) I’ve steered clear of reading “horror poetry”: it is largely a shallow dip into a mostly empty interior geek-space, the space of the specific subject of the poem (zombies, extra-dimensional beast-gods, whatever) and it has nothing to say to me. With a poem like that, once read there’s just no good reason to re-read, and that, for me, is what characterizes a decent piece of poetry, the urge to return and begin again. So why start?
Well, on several recommendations I bought and started Bryan Thao Worra’s DEMONSTRA. I read it straight through in one sitting, and have since read it several times more, in whole or in part. DEMONSTRA is clever, insightful, compassionate, often funny, sublime. Worra brings a very human eye to the world he sees, and that world is filled with, yes, Lovecraftian critters and deities, rampaging kai-ju, giant robots, and the occasional zombie, but also the cultural warping of the Lao diaspora, the god-forms and spirit beings of Laotian belief systems, wrestling sages, surreal road trips, and the meathook realities of wars public, secret, and internal.
Only two pieces into DEMONSTRA, there is a poem about the Deep Ones. Now, there are only so many places a poet can go with Lovecraft’s batrachian breeders from below, right? Worra doesn’t go to any of those places and the result is a poem of peculiar melancholy and spiritual intensity. A line:
Bending, curving, humming cosmic.
Awake and alien.
That is as good a definition as any of what great poetry actually is: the written word used as a hyperspatial bridge to another, radically different point of view, an eyes-wide-open felt experience of ourselves as not-ourselves, which yet comes round again, bending, curving, to speak to our centre: great poetry is a humming transmutation device for the soul. And that is what Worra’s writing in DEMONSTRA does, piece after piece.
Some highlights were Zombuddha (a striking comparison of the traditional Western zombie with the rough lineaments of enlightenment that made me laugh out loud with the pleasure of recognition “Yes! Of course!”); the rich re-telling of Call of Cthulhu from a Lao perspective in The Terror in Teak; the epic road poem The Dream Highway of Ms. Manivongsa (“Fifty years from now, no one will see any difference / Between J.R. and J.F.K., or who shot them. / Now, flee.”); and Full Metal Hanoumane, which includes a geeky reference to Planet of the Apes, true, something that in lesser hands would make a clanging mess of the poem, but here transforms it into a clear bell tolling in the purple depths of space.
Worra has mastered his subjects, instead of the other way around. He has, over four previous books and multiple publications, also mastered his poetry, and I suspect he has mastered his self, his own “writer’s ego”, to a degree that allows him to enter his interior world, return with jewels that reflect that world and ours, and then place those jewels in perfectly appropriate settings that only add to their lustre. I highly recommend this book: it is a bright spot in the overwrought gloom of standard speculative/horror poetry and well worth acquainting yourself with. The appendices: of Lao spirit-entities, and Cthulhu Mythos deity-names translated into Lao; as well as the lovely artwork of Vongduane Manivong that grace the pages, are an added bonus.
DEMONSTRA is published by Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian micro-publisher of weird and truly wonderful work. You can order DEMONSTRA from them directly here. Bryan Thao Worra can be found here and followed on Twitter @thaoworra
Folks, it’s been a while since we dropped some mad Martian Migraine Press knowledge on you, so here goes: gird your loins for a NEWSCLUSTER!
We’re told by our author SRJones that his auto-ethnographical non-fiction book, When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality, is nearly complete. “It’s reading less like a work of Lovecraftian apologetics now, and more like a wigged-out crank religious text,” he says. “Which bothered me, initially, but I’ve since decided to just go with it. Y’know, git mah crank on.” CRANK AWAY, sir! We’re looking forward to getting our editing mitts on the thing, and we’re excited by some of the early illustrations coming in from Michael Lee MacDonald, an illustrator from Victoria BC, that Jones has tapped to provide cover and interior artwork! Check out this mock-up our DesignDroid5000 slapped together on a down-cycle!
Originally we had been looking at Lovecraft’s birthday for the release of When The Stars Are Right, but, since this is going to be our first actual physical book-type consumable product (as well as our usual electronic edition) and since we’d like to do this up right (or at least as right as possible — is anything ever truly perfect? Hmm) there is a possibility that the release date may be pushed towards Halloween. Appropriate, yes? Yes. And of course, Jones’ weird musings on all things squamous and spiritual will be available for pre-order. Follow Martian Migraine Press on the twitter @MartianMigraine for updates as they happen!
Martian Migraine Press authors have been getting some truly lovely reviews lately! Here’s just a sampling…
Low-brow, squelching fun. You don’t grab a book like this on literary merit, you dive headfirst into unapologetic escapism. It is unrepentant camp without resorting to self-satire (which shows admirable restraint). There’s a lot informing this – Lovecraftian subtext and J-Pop tentacle hentai, even French New Wave surrealism a la Moebius and the Métal Hurlant crowd, Laloux’s La Planète sauvage – Like a Ray Bradbury Theater rerun gone horribly, horribly wrong. It is a fever-dream of adolescent-imprinting and sexual development during the era of underground VHS cult. Deviant, imaginative, grotesque and what-the-hell-else-were-you-expecting-exactly-with-this-title. The name promises, the text delivers. It’s a three dollar bid to see how the author can top this title with her next foray into pulp depravity. Seriously, there is simply no better answer to “What are you reading?” while sitting next to someone on a train.
Red Monolith Frenzy is a superb read; fast moving, cleverly constructed and delivering both a knowledgeable Lovecraftian pastiche (honourable mentions of The Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Hidden Plateau of Leng) alongside the slippery, slimy cosmic sex that Lovecraft sublimated in most of his best work. The plot is intriguing, the writing is smooth and elegant and there are some really clever turns of phrase that help the forward momentum and at the same time deliver an intriguing off-kilter feel. The combination of bizarre perverted sex, weird supernatural elements and insane cosmic horror all work in perfect unison to make Red Monolith Frenzy a magnificently entertaining read and the perfect combination of Lovecraftian creepiness, freaky erotica and cosmic horror. All the other books in the Blackstone Erotica series are queued on my Kindle.
You can read the full review over on the Kult Kulture site here. Calum also has some nice things to say about us! Clearly, we’re happy to have him as a reader.
Finally, a discerning reader makes favourable comparisons between Nick Mamatas’ Cthulhu Senryu and our own skawt chonzz’s R’LYEH SUTRA. We’re not surprised, per se, but we have had our hair blown back a bit. Having chonzz in the bullpen here at MMP HQ has never been… easy. But reviews like this make it worth the drain on our psyches and various glands…
Exploring new ground in Mythos poetry, skawt chonzz’ avant garde verse recalls some of the more experimental and daring works from THE STARRY WISDOM: A Tribute to H P Lovecraft and Songs of the Black Wurm Gism: The Starry Wisdom Part 2 (Creation Oneiros). Like Nick Matamas’ Cthulhu Senryu, R’lyeh Sutra can be enjoyed both from a straight reading and at a higher level, reflecting on how skawt chonzz uses and refers to the Mythos – often in ways that might surprise some of the more hidebound Mythos fans!
Yes, if you’re a “hidebound Mythos fan”, Martian Migraine titles may not be for you… but if you can grok a little originality with your Old Ones, then we might hit that sweet spot in your soul.
Sure, he’s got a voice like the fragrant lubricating honey of alien bees poured over the red-hot workings of some kinda sexy murder-machine. And yeah, his spoken weirdness is pulled from the top drawer of the Weird Bureau and then rubbed all over his thoroughly unusual genitals before delivery to a gleeful audience, as Nature intended. Plus, the guy looks great in a suit.
But were you aware that SKAWT CHONZZ (Plutonian Crime Lord and the only anti-poet to be treading the stage at the Verses Festival / Canadian Individual Poetry Slam this week in Vancouver) is also altruistic as fuck? IT’S TRUE.
Enjoy some grainy video of skawt in his natural habitat below, and then head on over to >> this link << to pick up a FREE COPY of his genuinely disturbing occult-themed “poetry” chapbook R’LYEH SUTRA (now in electronic form), from Martian Migraine Press. Yes, if you’re attending any of the slam bouts at the Verses Festival this week, you’ll no doubt be laying down some cash for glorified folded and stapled 8.5×11″ copy paper but only skawt chonzz gives away precious, highly refined electrons that work on any computing device for free!
That’s just the kind of crime lord he is. Enjoy!