A note about “Bacchanal”

/ April 21st, 2011 / No Comments »

This poem has a fairly innocuous beginning. Jessica Wick, co-editor of Goblin Fruit, challenged me to write a poem about her favorite Greek god, Bacchus. Of course I accepted the challenge, and, pain in the ass that I am, since she made the mistake of telling me Bacchus was her favorite, I decided I would try to come up with the most mortifying incarnation of the old goat that I could imagine. My concept was fairly simple: update the god of wine and parties into the modern day deity of drug addiction.

Yet doing that threw a number of disturbing doors wide open. News accounts of crystal meth use in New York sex parties and addicts going into withdrawal after Hurricane Katrina are sautéed in with the fashion industry’s glamorization of “heroin chic.” And my own encounters with drug use, drug crime and its consequences while I was a courts reporter provide underpinnings for much of what happens in the poem — one story in particular that I worked on, of a teen who tried heroin for no better reason than alleviating boredom and irrevocably ruined his life, weighed heavily on me as I wrote this piece. There’s a reaction to my first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that surfaces, and thoughts of my own father’s terminal cancer and the painkillers he takes that act as firewalls against pain also float in that mix.

Bacchus becomes conflated with Pan and the satyrs and less than any of these, a chemist consumed by his own product, summoned everywhere someone uses, everywhere someone craves, hopping like the Jersey Devil, his untrimmed and neglected hooves leaving bloody footprints wherever he goes.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

(See a stage performance here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash IV

/ April 21st, 2011 / 6 Comments »


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he traded his robe for a lab coat
its filthy tail
sweeps through oil-sheened mud
flaps with back alley lurch
spine hunched in huddled conspiracy
hooves split bleeding
a black bile wine
reeled everywhere on the tainted ley lines
blind husk heeds
the zombie century call
hopes the fix fixes all
hops the walls
prints trickle behind
rolled up sleeves reveal
the needle
tracks of self consumption
sore of entry throbs
purple jellyfish
hissing mob slithers behind
hollow-eyed         supermodel squad
anexoria hot         pop singer dirty
wilted parrot plumage
used-up Maenads
hunting for another Orpheus
no talent required         any orifice will do
pop’n’play in the master bedroom
to the music artery beat         mad-eyed
waif kneels curls fragile fingers
in the wool of His hips
boy        girl        no matter
liberate the libation
gunshots outside         the undead
can’t wait their turn
cultists sweating and trembling
in the Superdome
the worst of this generation
the best of this generation
bored to distraction
conjure Him          in the seedy glade
of tire ruts      beer cans      broken glass      hymens
clumsily torn
see the horns on his haggard head
glint in the headlights
of the pickup truck
sticks into snakes for everyone
curl them round your arm
to raise a vein
discover something new to do
for true           we’re all born again
grown on our fathers’ thighs
like a cancer

“Bacchanal” and accompanying reading first appeared online in Goblin Fruit, Issue 3, Autumn 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Allen. Art: Detail from “Goat” by Francisco de Goya, 1820-23.

A note about “A Curtain of Stars”

/ April 20th, 2011 / No Comments »

From time to time I’ve written poems inspired by things domestic. This one is particularly dear to me, inspired by the curtains Anita crafted specially for my home office, made from thick fabric with fanciful celestial patterns. Tim Pratt published this piece in Star*Line in 2002, but it’s really not a skiffy poem at all; at its playful heart it’s about nothing more than the two of us sitting at the fire, her sewing, and me, presumably, composing a poem.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

A review of “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves” — and fan art!

/ April 20th, 2011 / No Comments »

At the Fantasy Literature blog, there’s a review of the March 2011 issue of Apex Magazine that includes mention of the poetry. Reviewer Terry Weyna has this to say about “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves,” the poem I co-wrote with Sonya Taaffe and Nicole Kornher-Stace:

…the imagery is drawn with immense care, and the language is chosen to great effect. This poem, though, doesn’t just draw pictures — a noble enough quest for a poem standing alone, of course, if not the goal of this trio of poets — it tells the tale of the rivalry between the King of Cats and the Queen of Wolves across time. This is a perfect poem to read to celebrate April, which, after all, is National Poetry Month.

It’s always nice to see the poetry included in a review of a genre publication.

On top of that, Francesca Forrest, who interviewed myself, Sonya and Nicole about “King, Queen,” has created a piece of fan art based on the poem’s middle section. She posted it first on her LiveJournal. Check it out:

Poems from The Journey to Kailash III

/ April 20th, 2011 / 5 Comments »

A Curtain of Stars

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The needle repeats
with imperfect persistence
dotted thread lines,
new meridians in cloth,

stitches connections
between constellations,
binds warm lining
to a curtain of stars;

a seam that would
only compliment
the cloud-free night
should it appear there

suddenly crisscrossing
the Milky Way.
The spirits of the stars
are with us tonight

watching from the heart
of the fire; sparks rise
to the flue as you stitch
a new cosmos together.

“A Curtain of Stars” first appeared in Star*Line, Vol. 25, Issue 5, 2002. Copyright © 2002 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A note about “Requited”

/ April 19th, 2011 / No Comments »

This rough-hewn villanelle is wicked fun of a sort on the surface, but there’s something utterly unfunny underneath.

When I worked as a courts reporter, covering crimes, I learned that many terrible things follow utterly predictable patterns. I covered several murders that could be summed up the same way: a woman slain by her former husband or lover. Inevitably, these cases would have an easily-accessed paper trail attached to them, documenting threats and accusations of domestic abuse, court dates missed or charges dismissed, protective orders sworn out. And yet none of it effective in preventing tragedy — the killer might be punished afterward to some degree, but never stopped in time. I had much occasion to meditate on the mindset that green-lights this notion, that when a partner leaves, or tries to leave, or simply is suspected somehow of wanting to leave, the best response is to kill her rather than let her go and move on with your own life.

In my mind, the voice of the poem is female.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash II

/ April 19th, 2011 / 2 Comments »


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You killed me to keep me near.
Seven days, from then till now.
Why won’t you kiss me, dear?

Your fingers squeezed my cries of fear
to silence as you kept your vow.
You killed me to keep me near.

You’ve slaked your needs yet now appear
so frozen — frightened — sweat-slicked brow.
Please, why won’t you kiss me, dear?

Your heart in thorns, I’ve seen it clear,
this distance you could not allow,
until you killed to keep me near.

Your love’s fire became my bier.
My arms reach for your warmth now.
Kiss my breath away, my dear.

My mouth on yours till I can’t hear
your shrieks, ungrateful lover’s row.
My tongue on yours, our fates cohere.
You killed me to keep me near.

“Requited” first appeared in print in The Journey to Kailash, Norilana Books, 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2007. Art: Detail from illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice” by Harry Clarke, 1919.

A note about “Defacing the Moon”

/ April 18th, 2011 / No Comments »

I have more to say about this little poem than I thought I would. This was the title poem of my first collection, and I’ve used it in both of my big fat (by poetry standards) retrospectives, and when I give a poetry workshop, this is the piece I give to participants to play around with.

My humble writing career got started in the days of the desktop publishing surge, when advances in software and home printers made it possible for editors everywhere to generate paper chapbooks that looked (more or less) like a professional printer produced them. (My own Mythic Delirium is a relic of that time, a Triassic beast hanging on into the Cretaceous.) Back them, the equivalent of Ralan’s or Duotrope was a monthly snail mail zine called Scavenger’s Newsletter, published by the late lamented Janet Fox.

And that zine accepted flash fiction and poetry, but poems could only be 10 lines long. I wrote “Defacing the Moon” specifically for SCAV, but being the inattentive lunkhead that I am, I sent it in at 11 lines. Janet returned it with a note that she really loved it but it was too long.

Never give me an opening. I asked her if she’d be willing to look at it again if I made it the right length. She said she would — and what happened next turned out to be a big breakthrough for me. Because it wasn’t easy at all removing a line while keeping the same flow of ideas and imagery. It took a lot of thinking, a lot of playing with words, a lot of double checking with Anita, before I felt the 10 line version was ready to go back. But go back it did, and sell it did, and I learned a little something about writing.

The stanza breaks didn’t come until much letter, when I was shopping my first chapbook around for blurbsters. One of the people I approached, Bruce Boston (whose own published poems must number in the thousands) told me he would not endorse the book as was, but he’d be willing to give me tips for editing were I open to it. I sure was, and it was the best decision I could have made. He red-penciled my chapbook and turned a mediocre mess into something that could turn heads. One of those tips: make wise use of stanza breaks!

As to the topic: my favorite movie in the whole wide world (not saying it’s the best, but it’s my favorite) is Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The image from that film of an old sailing ship cutting a groove through the moondust with its keel inspired this verse. Though it’s possible the episode of The Tick in which Chairface Chippendale attempts to carve his name into the moon (managing the first three letters before Tick stops him) also played a part.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

A new post at Black Gate: Through Mordor to the Unreal City

/ April 18th, 2011 / No Comments »

Through Mordor to the Unreal City: A National Poetry Month Post

Poems from The Journey to Kailash

/ April 18th, 2011 / 1 Comment »

Defacing the Moon

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Your ship’s sharpened keel
slides across airless seas,
blown by the breath of your desires.

Those sails stretch like skin
to catch the winds of your whimsy,
and the keelblade carves crags
into cheekbones and eyes.

Soon your own face will rise
from the moon’s far side,
awaken and stare down the sun.

“Defacing the Moon” first appeared in Scavenger’s Newsletter, June 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2011. Art: Still from Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon,” 1902.

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