Audio Chronicles: Poetry Horror with Housten Donham and Sally McCallum

Audio Chronicles is a series of audio-only features that endeavors to keep The Conversant conversational. Part interview, part project, part talk, part inquiry. Audio Chronicles is a place to listen and talk outside the control + f model of online reading. In this installment, Housten Donham and Sally McCallum of The Volta Blog discuss genre, horror, poetry, and multiple permutations thereof.

We like horror movies, but neither of us had read much horror fiction, so last summer we planned a horror fiction reading series for ourselves. This led us to discover some horror poetry, which is a thing we didn’t even really know existed. In this conversation, we try (and more or less fail) to define horror as a genre and think about why genre classifications (as in horror, fantasy, sf) aren’t applied more to poetry more often. We revive the largely forgotten work of HP Lovecraft’s young contemporary Clark Ashton Smith, and talk about contemporary cult horror writer Thomas Ligotti and the French novelist and critic Michel Houellebecq. Then we spend some time nudging around the internet and the current print poetry scene to find out what horror poetry is today. —Sally McCallum

Links to the poetry websites referred to in the episode:

Deep Underground Poetry

Dark Gothic Poems

The Goth-O-Matic™ Poetry Generator

Housten Donham and Sally McCallum co-edit The Volta Blog

Open House Presents: Housten Donham with Fred Moten


For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. In this piece, Open House co-editor Housten Donham interviews Fred Moten about his book The Feel Trio [Letter Machine Editions, 2014], which was nominated for a National Book Award.

Housten Donham: The visual appeal of The Feel Trio is one of the first things that struck me. Many of the poems stretch horizontally across the page, some in multiple columns. The visual field is utilized in a variety of ways. Did you work directly on the final arrangement of the poems on the page when they went to print? What was your practice for determining the right look to these poems?

“How the Whole World Crashes Into Silence”: Open House Interviews Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey’s To Keep Time (Omnidawn 2015)

Cosmo Spinosa: To me, there is a subtextual exploration of human effects on the environment that runs as a theme throughout your work. These seem like thoughtful and pointed juxtapositions, and not simply an arrangement of “things.” They seem like decisions informed by environmental issues, and in some sense, they seem political to me. As you were writing To Keep Time, was your process motivated by environmental issues, or were they more linguistically and aesthetically motivated, or both? Your work seems to reinforce and play with ideas that are commonly associated with eco-poetics, but your name isn’t usually brought up when people talk about the subject of eco-poetry. Do you think that your work fits under the category of eco-poetry?

Joseph Massey: No, because I’m not interested in formulating an ethical position prior to the composition of the poem — at least not consciously. If there are ethical concerns in the work, and I agree that there are, they’re an afterthought.

Housten Donham with Josef Kaplan

For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. This interview concerns Josef Kaplan’s Kill List (2013). Visit Open House for more interviews and contemporary poetry.

Housten Donham: I think that I’m just going to ask you some stupid questions, if that’s alright, because it seems to me that stupid questions might be the most important questions to answer, if questions are going to be answered, when it comes to engaging with the “around” of your work.

For example, usually when I explain Kill List to people who aren’t poets, they almost always immediately ask, “How did he determine whether the poets were rich or comfortable?” Which may be a stupid question, and yet, when I asked you that a few months ago, I found the answer quite interesting: you based the qualifications solely on rumor, on what poets you had talked to had told you. Which is great because that seems to coincide with many of the larger concerns that I personally, at least, read in Kill List, around the social network of contemporary poetry. I see it as a kind of coterie poem, but one which breaks down or at least threatens the social fabric of the coterie. Do you think it is productive to read Kill List in this light, as a kind of social document of contemporary poetry, as something that records, reflects, and reduces the social network and the concerns and interests that make up much of the poetry community?