Cosmic Horror

Remixed visual poem from my series The Sea as a Metaphor for Death

One of my main writing projects this year is a cycle of poems and visual poems entitled Cosmic Horror.

The poems arose organically and without lengthy premeditation as a result of some images that came to me seemingly from nowhere and that I couldn’t get out of my head: a Golgotha in which the crucified men are contorted, sentient pieces of metal; a fleshy alien entity lying on its back, maw gaping, screaming; a strange arena or space used for ritualistic purposes and divided into distinct areas, surrounded by the sinister suggestion of a hidden audience.

When I started writing, these visions soon started generating scenarios, along with a network of related, interconnected images. Themes announced themselves: speech as an expression of our animalistic nature; ritual and its uses; collective identity; the alienness of everything; physical object and living thing as events (temporary, dynamic arrangements of matter). The latter idea was inspired by my reading of Carlo Rovelli’s writings on quantum gravity. Some of the other elements in the poems were doubtless influenced by my rediscovery of HP Lovecraft’s fiction, his terrifying depiction of an incomprehensible, hostile universe and of our place in it. I gave the poems the collective working title Cosmic Horror, as a slightly tongue-in-cheek nod to Lovecraft and weird fiction. Tropes from science fiction and horror movies also found their way into the poems, and into another project I was working on at the same time, Rites & Passages (on which I’ll write a post soon).

Remix of a visual poem from my recent book, (dis/re)membered.

Although the poems are far from cheerful, writing them was a joyful experience. The first drafts of most of them came about very quickly. I would not call it automatic writing, but my compositional process was intuitive and free, and I allowed the words and scenes to develop in their own way, without my having formed a conscious intention. I tend to think and write in series rather than poem by poem, and this was no different: after drafting the poems, I revisited each of them very briefly, in quick succession, editing and reshaping. A third and fourth production-line series of edits followed: the poems rolled along the conveyor belt, and I made little changes to each, knowing I would revisit it again later, before turning to the next one.

As for what all this means, who knows? The poems exist for me as disconnected scenes in a film. I see them, and I have a sense of what they’re about, but I do not understand them. Neither do I want to.

There are also three visual poems in Cosmic Horror. Each of them recycles some of the text in the poems, incorporating it into a vaguely biomorphic figuration, surrounded by darkness. The monster is brightly lit on set, but its context is a cold void.

Cosmic Horror does not exist in isolation from my other work. I have already mentioned Rites & Passages. The poems also connect strongly with my recently-published cycle of visual poems, (dis/re)membered, particularly in their emphasis on body horror, communication and the monstrous.

A visual poem from (dis/re)membered.

Some of the poems have appeared in periodicals: Sublunary Editions included six in their November mail-out; five of the poems are up at Selffuck; two at Burning House Press; one at The Interpreter’s House; three (posted separately) at RIC journal (here, here and here); one is included in an interview with me at Spontaneous Poetics; I posted one on this blog; and one of the visual poems (‘body of work’) was included (along with two from Chimera) in an online exhibition at Poem Atlas. The other two visual poems will be out via the Babel Tower Notice Board in January.

If you’d like to learn more about Cosmic Horror and hear me read some of the poems, tune into the Penteract Press podcast, in which I also talk at length about Chimera.


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