Mythic Delirium closed to submissions

/ May 2nd, 2011 / No Comments »

Mythic Delirium is now closed to submissions. We’ll reopen again Aug. 1.

Those of you who sent in poems before the deadline … you’ll hear from me before the month is out.

A reprint sale that’s also a donation

/ May 1st, 2011 / No Comments »

When I saw that T.J. McIntyre decided to resurrect his zine Southern Fried Weirdness as a Kindle anthology with all proceeds to go to tornado relief, I realized I might have something that would fit in with that project right well. And as it turns out, T.J. agrees, so I’m pleased to announce that my short story “The Music of Bremen Farm,” first published in Cabinet des Fées in ’06, will be part of this endeavor.

When I was a kid “The Bremen Town Musicians” was my favorite Grimm fable, and I even back then tried to write my own version on my parents’ typewriter. In my version, which as I recall was never finished, the “musicians” really were supernatural monsters.

But as a grown-up, I finally did get to write my own (delightfully gory) take on the story. Finished it, even! I’m delighted to have another chance to share it, and I hope other writers and readers will check out this cool project.

National Poetry Month post recap

/ May 1st, 2011 / No Comments »

The cruellest month is over!

So I wound up posting fourteen free poems total in honor of National Poetry Month — and mini-posts about the making of most of them — for no greater reason than the thought that it might be a fun thing to do. And, as it turned out, it was.

If you missed any part of it, and for some reason decide you want to unmiss it, here’s a recap with links to all the poems and notes.

Poem Zero: “Phase Shift

Poems from The Journey to Kailash:

I. “Defacing the Moon” (note about)
II. “Requited” (note about)
III. “A Curtain of Stars” (note about)
IV. “Bacchanal” (note about)
V. “Midnight Rendezvous, Boston” (note about)
VI. “Manifest Density” (note about)
VII. “Petals” (note about)
VIII. “Giving Back to the Muse” (note about)
IX. “Disaster at the BrainBank™ ATM” (note about)
X. “No One” (note about)
XI. “Sisyphus Walks” (note about)
XII. “The Strip Search” (note about)
XIII. “The Thirteenth Hell” (note about)

And as a final bit of fun, inspired by Saladin Ahmed … since I’ve been exploring my last poetry collection in the course of doing all this, I thought it would be fun to plug the whole thing into Wordle and see what I come up with.

Let’s just say I’m a poet who is prone to simile:

A Mythic Delirium reminder: last day to submit for Issue 25

/ May 1st, 2011 / No Comments »

Just a reminder that today is the final day to submit poems to be considered for Issue 25.

A note about “The Thirteenth Hell”

/ April 30th, 2011 / No Comments »

This poem, the thirteenth and final piece in my impromptu National Poetry Month series, is practically a fanfic — an unofficial coda of sorts to Laird Barron’s kickass horror novella “Procession of the Black Sloth,” directly inspired by that story’s final moments. It’s a fun poem to perform live.

I’m honored Ellen Datlow chose it for inclusion in her first Best Horror of the Year volume.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash XIII

/ April 30th, 2011 / 2 Comments »

The Thirteenth Hell

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Her voice in my ear said,
look, look.
Though I squeezed my eyelids shut,
hid my face in my hands, I could still see it.

I pressed my fingernails in,
hooked my thumbs and pulled,
like so many here before. And
she said, look, and I could still see it.

I crawled to the wall,
slammed my head on the stone,
found the cracks in the bone and clawed.
Her voice in my brain said, look,
and I could still see it.

I scrabbled at the ground
turned soft by my blood,
made a hole deep enough to force
my head in. She whispered from the earth,
look, look, and I could still see it.

The mud has swallowed me.
Things there feast on what’s left
of what I used to be. And she
is one of them, her mouth moving
in my skull. Look, she breathes, look,
and I can still see it.

            for Laird Barron

“The Thirteenth Hell” first appeared in print in The Journey to Kailash, Norilana Books, 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art courtesy of

A note about “The Strip Search”

/ April 29th, 2011 / No Comments »

“The Strip Search” was a piece specifically written for stage performance; the fact that it went on to appear in Strange Horizons and win a Rhysling Award was a nice unexpected bonus.

I’m going to cheat today. I’ve already described the origin of this poem in great detail in an interview I did for Virginia Libraries in 2006. So I’m just going to crib myself:

“The Strip Search” began as a kind of complaint. In my day job I work as a courts reporter; I cover trials, lawsuits, all kinds of court cases. One of the side effects of having this job is that every day at least twice, and probably more often on any given day, I have to walk through a metal detector — after 9/11 all sorts of government institutions stepped up their security, and this is as true for courthouses as anywhere else. Now I like to wear suspenders when I’m dressed up for court. Suspenders are built with metal in them, so I was setting off the metal detector every time I came in. Some of the guards got a little frustrated with me and they started asking me, “Why do you keep wearing those?” My reaction was, “Doesn’t it seem a bit unfair that this heightened and probably justified — at least to some degree — paranoia about fellow human beings trickles down to the point where I’m not free to choose how to dress the way I want to, because I’m upsetting these metal detectors?”

So it’s because of this relatively trivial problem and my thoughts about its larger implications that I was suddenly struck with the idea of the gate of Hell operating as a metal detector. What would the gate of Hell detect? Well, it says “Abandon All Hope,” so no doubt if you entered that gate and you had some hope they would search you to find out where you were keeping it. My mind jumped on that: I imagined what that sort of metaphorical soul-searching — so to speak — would be like, and thus came the poem. …

It actually sat in my notebook as an unfinished draft for a few weeks. Then I was getting ready to perform at No Shame Theatre, an improv theater in Roanoke, and I needed a piece but I didn’t have one ready. I flipped through my notebook — I always carry some sort of notebook with me, since I never know when I might have some spare time when I can write something down — and discovered the remnants of that poem. So I redrafted it and finished it specifically to perform live.

So there’s actually some quasi-choreographed poses and gestures that go along with the poem; thus you haven’t really experienced the piece in full unless you’ve seen me perform it. But I’m glad it’s worked so well for people when stripped down to mere printed words or pixels.

Poems from The Journey to Kailash XII

/ April 29th, 2011 / 2 Comments »

The Strip Search

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The Gate said “Abandon All Hope.”

I thought I’d tossed all my hope away,
but when I stepped through the Gate, it still pinged.
One of the guards slithered out of its seat,
snarling as it drew forth a wand.
C’mere, it hissed,
it seems you’re still holding out hope.

Its crusted hide was a Venus landscape up close.
It brushed that cold black wand all over my skin,
put it in places I don’t want to talk about.
Snaggle fangs huffed in my face:
Sir, step over here, please.

Then the strip search began.
My flesh rolled up & tossed aside for mushy sifting.
Bones X-rayed, stacked in narrow rows, marrow
sucked out, tested, spit back in.
They made me open mind, heart, soul, shook them out
like sacks of flour, panned the contents
for every nugget of twinkling hope, glistening courage;
applying lethal aerosol
to any motion that could be ascribed to love or will
or malingering dreams —
sparing only a few squirming morsels
for later snacking.

Once they were done
they made me pick up my own pieces
(I did the best I could without a mirror)
then my guard kicked me out —
with a literal kick —
sent me rolling down the path to my final destination.

I’ll be honest with you, it’s no picnic here.
But, my friends, I still have hope. I do.

I’m not going to tell you
where I hid it.

“The Strip Search” first appeared in Strange Horizons, Oct. 3, 2005. Copyright © 2005 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: “Dante and Virgil at the Gates of Hell” by William Blake, c. 1824-27.

A note about “Sisyphus Walks”

/ April 28th, 2011 / No Comments »

About six years ago my buddy Charlie Saplak and I collaborated on a short story that re-imagines the Greek myth of Sisyphus, condemned to push a boulder uphill in Hell until it grows too heavy and rolls over top of him — after which he has to start all over again. Squish; repeat. In our version he has to reassemble the bodies of titans who have been torn apart by some cataclysm, but his work is always undone before he can finish.

During the composing process, Charlie asked me to consider writing a poem that would flesh out some of the details of this new Sisyphus’ world, and “Sisyphus Walks” is the result. The short story, which has yet to find a home, ended up quite different from the all-out surreal approach I went for in the poem, which borrows much of its imagery from a strange dream I had of a desolate landscape with pipes protruding up from the red, barren ground, through which can be heard voices carried from unseen caverns fathoms below the surface.

This happened to be the poem I had handy when Jessica Wick of Goblin Fruit invited me to submit to their first issue. Her co-editor, Amal El-Mohtar, who I hadn’t yet gotten to know, improved the piece considerably with a handful of edits.

To think that half a decade has passed since then; Goblin Fruit just celebrated its 5th anniversary with a terrific new issue. How time flies …

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash XI

/ April 28th, 2011 / 2 Comments »

Sisyphus Walks

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Sisyphus lifts the thighbone of a god
Above his head (a bone thick and long as
A felled tree) and begins his trudge
Across the hard-packed dust.

Spills of silver fluid blanket uneven stone,
Not pooling in hollows but spreading in
Thin film atop the ground, slick sheets
Draped over surface, that part rather than
Splash as Sisyphus steps through.

Pipes, metal, ceramic, cracked, of
Unpredictable diameter rise from valley floor
As breathing tubes from water; some protrude
Through mounds of bone. Ragged
Openings echo voices from some
Place deep below, their syllables
Forming no language Sisyphus knows.

Sheer black rock bluffs rise from the plain,
Jagged walls carving empty ocean basin
Into this bewildering maze where Sisyphus
Is never lost as he walks, titan bone
Balanced over head, around and over other
Cyclopean remains, charred pelvises or ribs,
A jaw bone that rocks itself, still eager to speak,
Fingers long as Sisyphus’ legs crooking
Come Hither. Sisyphus has seen all before
And ignores.

From these bleak walls towers rise, not built
So much as grown, or eroded, stalagmites
Stabbing into oilslick sky. At intervals,
Massed clusters rise as castles, their rough
Battlements riddled with windows, round portholes
Peppered at random, even bored into unsculpted
Bluffs; sometimes faces peer from them,
Bestial visages, or smooth masks, or things
Much more indistinct. They never speak, and in
A blink have gone. On them, Sisyphus
Wastes no wonder.

Shadows in the maze constantly change,
Thrown by whatever arch the spines of the sun
Choose to sweep as it twists and squirms
Cross-sky, a glowing wyrm whose radiance
Brings no heat, its soft progress sometimes
Thwarted by coils of sickly rainbow cloud,
Sometimes whipped along in eddies
Of a firmament where colors never blend.
Like Sisyphus the sun never settles or sets,
Merely strains against confinement, thrashing
To all compass points and back again.
Sisyphus remembers a moon, complex
Mobile of cold beauty, intricate pieces that
Spun and interwove; but like the night,
It’s banished; he can’t remember when
He last saw it shimmer above.

Pushing against the grain of a wind
That sucks and blows as breath,
Sisyphus arrives at last at neat fields
Carved at random by castle shadows.
This is his destination, though no place of rest.
Among the ordered rows of bone
He walks, until he comes to a tract where
Parts of a behemoth skeleton
Lie ceremonially on the ground,
Arranged as one should be;
Shoulders above ribs, feet below knees;
Gingerly, he lowers thighbone into place.
No arms yet, no hands, no head.
Sisyphus walks away, with countless
More bones to search among
To find and collect the right ones.

Once this god is together again,
Perhaps it will tell him why it placed
Him here, why night never comes,
Whether Sisyphus has at last
Repaid his long-forgotten debt.
And if it has no such to say,
Then he will begin again
With another one.

“Sisyphus Walks” and accompanying reading first appeared online in Goblin Fruit, Issue 1, April 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Allen. Art: “Sisyphus” by Franz von Stuck, 1920.

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