28 October 2010

Happy Halloween: Guest Blogger Chad Helder Shares the Books that Shaped Him

Hi there Literary Magpie readers! I’m the guest blogger today (thanks, Jory), and I thought I would write about some of the books that “made me” (thanks to Nate Southard for the idea) as a way to pass along some literary inspiration and explain the origins of my weird books of poetry (Vampire Bridegroom and Pop-Up Book of Death), which will be released soon.

First there was Ai’s Cruelty and The Killing Floor. This was the very first poetry that I loved as a sophomore in college. I love the dark, brutal storytelling in these poems that take the form of dramatic monologues. I didn’t know poetry could be like this, and it definitely planted the seed of my literary obsessions. Ai was relentlessly brave with her subject matter and not at all afraid to delve into madness. She passed away earlier this year, and right now I am reading her final collection. Writing grotesque poems with mad narrators is one of my favorite ways to express myself (even if the subject matter is a complete fantasy).

Another major inspiration for me are Anne Sexton’s fairy tale poems collected in Transformations. The poems in this collection are a model for me because of the way they combine storytelling with startling metaphors, visual images, and scalpel-sharp wit. This book proved to me that poem-stories can be as rich as prose fiction (in a different--symbolic and visual--way, of course). In the Vampire Bridegroom, a lot of the poem-stories (that want to be horror movies) are modeled after Sexton’s storytelling in this book.

Strangely enough, another book of massive importance in my life is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. On the surface, this is a textbook on comic books in the form of a comic book, but this book has informed my poetry more than any book on poetry because of the ideas and theories it presents about visual storytelling, creating images, and how the brain makes meaning out of stories. In addition, the parts about how the brain connects gaps between comic book frames profoundly impacts how I make gaps between stanzas. I did write some comic books a couple of years ago, but now I am much happier and more comfortable writing story-poems that use a lot of the lessons I learned from writing comics.

Another huge inspiration on my writing is Li-Young Lee’s highly-anthologized poem Persimmons. I have taught that poem every time I have taught American Literature because of its brilliant, rich portrayal of identity. For me personally, I also love it because of the pastiche structure and image-based storytelling. The structure of this poem has influenced every memoir poem I have written, and that’s quite a few in both books--I am always trying to write my own Persimmons.

I am very excited to have two poetry books on the way: Pop-Up Book of Death from Rebel Satori/Queer Mojo Press (this book is more focused on dark surreal poems and memoir poems about the trials of Coming Out) and Vampire Bridegroom from Dark Scribe Press (this is my big horror genre book--lots of poems about queer horror and how The Closet creates monsters).

Thanks, Jory, for giving me the chance to tell your readers about my books and the books that have made me. Come and visit me at ChadHelder.com and HelderHorror.com!

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