Stephanie M. Wytovich’s latest poetry collection, On the Subject of Blackberries, dishes up sugar-coated fruit pervaded with poison and decay, each poem a rot-infested berry picked by a bleeding hand from a bush of brambles.
The most harrowing part of this collection is Wytovich’s raw confession of mental health struggles brought on by postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. She speaks candidly and bravely about this issue in the “Author’s Note” and “The Witchcraft of Writing,” both of which darken the stage for what’s to come.
Divided into ten sections, the collection begins with “the memory of poison,” dark drupelets that, bitten into, squirt with tart paranoia, shred with thorns as sharp as raptors’ talons. Wytovich paints imagistic words in black and beautiful strokes—some with a desperate flourish, others with a spatter of rage.
Throughout, we encounter revelations of instability and turmoil masked with a smile that’s begun to crack:
“I force my body into a kindness” (35)
“a black mound of sugar, / hysterically unhappy / but polite” (36)
You’ll find beliefs abandoned and a violent darkness, now embraced; murderous admissions rising from a whitewashed tomb.
In the third section, Wytovich shares sparks of light, a needed breather from the smothering angst of the opening pieces.
Wytovich’s poems remind me of Emily Dickinson’s, cloistered with her depressive and damning thoughts, of murders premeditated—or committed with motives unanalyzed, as if surprised at the results of spontaneous action.
My favorites: “I carried knives”; “I washed out the space in my head”; “The quiet kill of stars pushes darkness.”
The collection, which Raw Dog Screaming Press has published in hardcover, is sprinkled with Victorian etchings that complement overall themes and images from individual poems. This is a gorgeous volume for any reader’s collection. Add it to yours.
Wytovich asks, “Do you think I’m safe with these / dirty hands?” (114) You be the judge.
On the Subject of Blackberries was a delectably disturbing read. You owe it to yourself to taste its bitter fruit.
We’re all professionals here. We’ve fought through pain and fear and so dang much rejection to stand where we are. And we’d like to have a little cash in our pockets as well as a few books under our belts for the trouble.
Part of the process of getting paid is learning the system and how to work it. Figuring out how to best market ourselves, how to read markets, and how to give those markets what they want. How to make things people want and get them to part with their cash for it.
And there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that.
I want every artist out there to make their paper. Pay a bill or two. Maybe not die of starvation. Please stop laughing at the concept of paying a bill or even buying a basic coffee on the proceeds of a sold poem.
But, do you remember that first time you put rolled ink or scraped graphite to paper? Perhaps clacking keys on a glowing screen? The exploration. The creation. The pure, ecstatic joy of it.
Now, be honest with yourself when you think about this next question. Don’t yield to the need to lie. Be straight. Do you let yourself feel that same joy when you write now?
It’s easy to fixate on the artifice of our art, but it eventually pokes through the surface. It can too easily become all our art is—our soul another product we mold for maximum profitability. One that, ultimately, falls too flat and cold to sell well.
We’re taught that craft makes the sales, but most readers don’t care about your perfect scansion. The reason Bukowski and Plath still sell well doesn’t have a single thing to do with their admittedly solid craft. They laid themselves bare. Wrote what they needed to.
People resonate with that.
As a fan, I want you to find that fun again. I want you to go for it. Full bore. No restraint. That weird-ass, freaky thing no one would like and pretty much everyone would judge you for: I want that in my eyeholes.
I want you to play with words. I want you to tell my analytical side to take a flying leap off a short pier into the ever-sucking abyss of heartless nihil. Forget everything every professor and professional ever taught you and have a little fun with those words. Let that early version of you dance in the sandbox of this fallen, idiotic world.
Create the art that only you want to see in the world. Something so specific and weird that you know with every fiber of your being that no one wants. That messed up amalgamation of baby bits and juggled ejaculate. That saccharine sweet adoration we’re all too cool to admit we desperately need in our lives.
As an example, I’ll leave you with my favorite poem from my first published collection, Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison. It’s based on a silly joke from an absurd movie about zombies and murder that few people know about, and I DON’T CARE. I had fun writing it. I want you to have the same fun writing your own stuff.
BY WHOMEVER I PLEASE
It’s a girl’s right, after all. My body, my choice, you know the drill. So, if I want to feel clammy, frigid lips wrap themselves around the meaty edge of my arm while his teeth force their way inside me, spilling forth gushing rivers of my interior juices, then you can just mind your own fucking business and move along.
Asylums once used to confine those deemed mentally unfit to linger, forgotten behind trees or urban development, beautiful yet desolate in their decay. Within them festers something far more unnerving than unlit corners or unexplained noises: the case files left to moulder out of sight, out of conscience.
Stephanie M. Wytovich forces your hands upon these crumbling, warped binders and exposes your mind to every taboo misfortune experienced by the outcast, exiled, misbegotten monsters and victims who have walked among us. The poetry contained in Hysteria performs internal body modification on its readers in an unrelenting fashion, employing broad-spectrum brutality treatment that spans the physical to the societal, as noted in Stoker Award winner Michael A. Arnzen’s incisive introduction.
The number one rule in writing is that if you want to write, and write well, you must write every day. Poetry is no exception. When I decided I wanted to become a poet—something I distinguish greatly from being a fiction writer—I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Poetry doesn’t have a huge market, it certainly doesn’t pay well, and to add to the frustration, when you throw genre on the table, you’re looking at a dead end.
Except you’re not.
I’ve dabbled in literary—as I think every up-and-coming poet should—but anyone who knows me realizes my heart is firmly cemented in the black shadows of horror. So not only am I a poet, but I’m a horror poet, and contrary to the monsters and creatures that we all know and love, we do exist and there is a market for us.
And for you, if you’re willing to take the jump.
My connection with poetry has always been very visceral and intuitive, and I’ve come to realize, that unlike my prose, it’s not something that I can just sit down and work on routinely like a job. I need inspiration, crave it, and much like a succubus, I bleed the art form dry when I’m done. It’s hard for me to describe it, but for anyone who has seen what Bo does to her victims in Lost Girl, you can get an idea of how poetic energy works for me. Before I can act, I need a source. A vein. Something living that I can tap into.
Usually it’s art.
Most of the time it’s music.
Sure, I have times where I experience a swell of emotion spiraling inside of me and it’s easy to find the words to expel it, but other times I need to look at or listen to something so I can get hold of its story. Pinterest has been a great optical vessel because I can sweep through pages and save visuals and sayings that speak to me, and make collages or boards based on a specific piece or particular emotion. This is a great way to do character studies or pinpoint locations, and I find myself coming back to it more and more when I need assistance purging a poem.
Spotfiy, however, is my auditory mistress. I pace my writing based on the song I’m listening to, and I recently became enthralled with artists such as Jill Tracy, Johnny Hollow, and Sopor Aeternus. Their music is dark, seductive and beautifully gothic; it’s a wonderful aid when it comes to soft, psychological horror. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that one of my favorite pastimes as a horror writer is creating and administering the kill scene. In poetry, you don’t have the luxury of going on for pages about a kill. You have to be quick, fast, practiced, and effective. Much like if you were actually going to commit a murder.
So let’s write a horror poem using this process.
Step 1: Find your victim. Put on your favorite, high energy song or look up a piece of artwork. (These don’t have to be scary. They just have to elicit emotion). For example, here’s my current inspiration:
Currently playing: “Click Click Boom” by Saliva
Victim: A stalker
Step 2: Predict their next move. If it’s not scary, how would you make it creepy? If it is, how does it make you feel? This will give you your topic. Here are thoughts I jotted down:
Observations: He doesn’t see me watching him, watching her. He thinks he’s going in for a kill, but doesn’t realize that tonight… he’s the victim.
Step 3: Stalk and take notes. Write down individual words or phrases that come to mind when thinking about the subject matter.
Notes: Oblivious, sloppy, unaware, misogynistic, rape, watching, young, pain, knife, old blue jeans, broken, pervert, swelling sex, doesn’t understand, who does she think she is, I deserve this, curls, masturbation, innocence, gun.
Step 4: Go for the kill. Be creative and don’t limit yourself. Feel free to play.
Here’s what I came up with using this process.
Her Stalker’s Stalker
By Stephanie M. Wytovich
He watched her pull her auburn hair
Back into a loose ponytail, moaning
As flyaway strands caressed her teenage face.
He stroked the barrel of his gun, pretending it was her
Fragile hands around his cock,
Thinking, hoping, that after tonight he
Wouldn’t have to imagine it anymore.
He liked to watch her like this—
Catch her in the throes of passion
As she discovered her womanhood,
Felt what it was like to touch herself
Between the legs—but what he didn’t
See, was me. Me pulling back my soft,
Black curls into a ponytail, and
Fingering my knife as I watched him
Watching her, while I planned my kill.
I’d love to know how this process worked for you. Send your creations and trophy kills to wyt3319(at)gmail(dot)com, and I’ll showcase your poems on my blog at: http://joinmeinthemadhouse.blogspot.com/
Stephanie M. Wytovich
About Stephanie M. Wytovich
Stephanie M. Wytovich is an alum of Seton Hill University where she was a double major in English Literature and Art History. Wytovich is published in over 40 literary magazines and her collection of poems, HYSTERIA, will be released this summer. She is currently attending graduate school to pursue her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and is working on a novel. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for S.T. Joshi, Jason V. Brock, and William F. Nolan’s Nameless Magazine, and she plans to continue in academia to get her doctorate in Gothic Literature.
Besides being a terrific teacher with a great sense of humor, Mike is super creative in supporting the careers of fledgling writers. In his critique of DEATH PERCEPTION, I’ll never forget one suggestion he made about protagonist Kennet Singleton. Mike pointed out that he could get revenge through fire, which, as a crematory operator, is Kennet’s element. My book is so much better for his input.
So is my career. As I’ve struggled to honor the ideas that come to me, however twisted, Arnzen taught me that it’s okay to be dark, and that I must go there without flinching. In the past my darkness has gotten the better of me and laid me low more times than I can count. But since I posted a Facebook status about a month ago, all Arnzen’s past advice seemed to jell like clotting blood. “I exult in my creepiness!”
Arnzstigation set me free. I’m now working on the darkest story I’ve ever written, and it’s sharp as a scalpel.
I post this with gratitude for Dr. Arnzen’s influence and support. And I want to tell you about a brilliant project he’s got going…
The project is called Fridge of the Damned. Although phase 1 is fully funded, providing the capital to produce the magnets, there’s still a push to complete phase 2 of funding so that the magnets can be packaged in custom tin boxes. (Phase 2 goal is $2700.) I’d much rather have a tin box than a plastic bag, wouldn’t you? (Especially if it contains something severed and dripping.)
There are plenty of support levels, and every bit helps. You get the coolest premiums! I know I want at least one set of magnets—packaged in custom tins, (un)naturally. E-books, too. Did I mention Mike is an award-winning poet and micro fiction writer?
If you are a lover of horror, you must get his stuff, and supporting Fridge of the Damned is a great way to kill two birds with one donation.
There’s only a week left. Please support now, and support big. This project and its creator are worth it. Besides enabling this creative dark poetry kit to be packaged in style, you’ll be able to damn your refrigerator—as if the tender parts packaged inside weren’t enough.