Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spectral Realms ― "Ghosts of 1816"

I am, yet again, unnaturally excited to announce that one of my poems, “Ghosts of 1816”, was recently published in Spectral Realms (Hippocampus Press) edited by S.T. Joshi.  This particular poem holds a rather special place in my heart for it was inspired by a long-held obsession of mine:  Frankenstein and the “Haunted Summer” of 1816.  Mary Shelley’s deliciously Gothic novel and the supposed laudanum- and ghost-story-induced madness that took place within the opulent walls of the Villa Diodati during that year without a summer has long fascinated me and piqued my imagination with bizarre and nightmarish visions – it was only a matter of time before I would paint the malefic shadows of my imagination within a poem.

Although I am beyond pleased that a publisher would accept such peculiar shadows of my imagination, I dare say that I am even more pleased – shocked, perhaps – to find one who would publish the poetic form that I decided to pen.  For the past year and a half I have written in a more contemporary hand; however, for this particular poem, begun in the summer of 2015, I decided to honor the writers and poets who inspired it with a more Romantic-era structure – a Gothic-dark, Keatsean ode of sorts.  And though my beloved Keats inspired the form, it was Mary Shelley and her “wicked” company who were responsible for the shadowy substance between the lines and, in this case, between the rhymes.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the main ingredient, so to speak, paired with copious amounts of absinthe, but I also summoned a bit of Alpine inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” (1816), whose peaks “piercing the infinite sky” never fail to leave me in a “trance sublime and strange / To muse on my own separate phantasy”.  And though it was Percy’s poetic lines that initially brought me to supernal climes, it was my own experience while hiking and mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps in June of 2016 that introduced me to Nature’s Alpine witchery, whose silver-enchanted muse whispered to me most convincingly the strangest secrets of my own “separate phantasy”, which I embraced unquestioningly.  These new secrets, revealed to me while un-roped thousands of feet up and knee-deep in voluptuous snow, enshrouded within white-outs of pastel-cream cloud and, in one case, storm-purpled mist that surrounded me like night, led me to make several edits upon my Alpine-inspired stanza – such Romantic experiences were made for poetic thought.

It goes without saying that I included my dear Lord Byron, Dr. Polidori, and even Claire Clairmont within my poem, although it may take a bit of imagination to see and understand their specific influence.  But, without getting into any more detail, or revealing all of the madness between the lines, I’ll just end this little announcement by pasting the link to the anthology below, which is available worldwide on Amazon or via the publisher’s website at Hippocampus Press. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Amongst the Paris Dead: Oscar Wilde and Frédéric Chopin

I began writing this on the eve of a birth, followed the next day by a death, both of which occurred in the middle of the 19th century.  Given the title of this little piece it’s not too difficult to discern that I mean Oscar Wilde, born October 16, 1854, and Frédéric Chopin, died October 17, 1849.  Both of these ghosts, friends as I call them, haunt me almost every day of my life – one with brilliant words, the other with melancholy music.

I had the pleasure to visit these old friends while visiting France this past summer and I felt compelled to write a little bit about it.  Their final earthly residence is within the stone walls of Père Lachaise Cemetery, located in the 20th arrondissement in Paris.  Although Père Lachaise is a rather popular garden cemetery for wandering tourists, I was most pleased to find the grounds quite untrodden that day giving me much-wanted alone time with my brilliant friends.  Even though I speak with them often, either through rereading certain works or deliciously witty Wildean witticisms (say that five times fast), or by playing minor-key melodies seducing me to melancholia, I still felt an inexplicable desire to whisper secrets to them atop their graves.  I am glad I did.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel, remains a Gothic story I turn to just about every other winter since I first read it many years ago.  Between the elegant 19th-century style language, Wilde’s gorgeous prose and hilarious sharp wit, and the well-dressed supernatural elements and desires, it’s difficult not to be intrigued by such a work.  There are delicious quotes abound throughout the entire novel, too many to write out in a short blog post, but there is one quote in particular that I have found most amusing over the last six or so years:

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

This quote did not appear in The Picture of Dorian Gray.  It did not appear in any of his plays, nor did it show up in any of his letters.  In fact, it never appeared in any of Wilde’s writing.  The quote comes to us as an anecdote from Wilde’s jest with a philistine at an English country house sometime before 1884, as it first appeared in an American newspaper, The Topeka Daily Capital, on June 5, 1884.  The anecdote either came from Wilde himself, or from someone relating the story about him, but either way the exchange at said country house went something as follows:

At lunch, an obvious enemy of literature loudly proclaims that all artistic employment is a melancholy waste of time, and turns to Wilde and says,

“So, Mr. Wilde,” said the philistine, “pray tell how you have been passing your morning?”

“Oh, I have been immensely busy,” said Wilde with a most serious manner.  “I have spent my whole time over the proof sheets of my book of poems.”

“Oh,” growled the philistine, “and the result of that?”

“Well, it was most important,” said Wilde.  “I took out a comma.”

“Indeed,” returned the philistine, “is that all?”

“Oh, by no means, my dear fellow,” said Wilde with a sweet smile.  “On mature reflection I put back the comma.”

Apparently this was just too much for the philistine who took the next train to London. [1]

Even though I love and adore so many of Oscar Wilde’s quotes, this one in particular has amused me most given my own experiences with editing poetry over the last six years or so.   Upon returning to old poems, much of my time was spent on removing supposed superfluous commas, and then, after a bit of “mature reflection,” putting them back again.  A melancholy waste of time indeed, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Frédéric François Chopin, born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, died in Paris at the age of 39 on October 17, 1849.  Chopin’s cause of death has been a matter of discussion and debate for some time, but the most likely cause was consumption, otherwise known as tuberculosis as it was named in 1839.  For me, very few composers rival Chopin’s brooding sense of melancholy found in his piano music; it’s a sort of pensive longing, an ethereal beauty that dies away quickly, but stays with you forever.  And it is exactly this longing, this aching for something that has haunted and inspired me over the last fifteen years, both musically and with regard to writing.  Even just recently I wrote a short five-stanza poem whilst listening to Chopin’s Nocturne in C-minor, Op. 48 No. 1 on repeat for an hour.  Perhaps one day I’ll actually be able to play that heartbreaking piece on my piano, but for now I’ll continue to let its melancholy notes inspire poetry.

Other works that have and continue to inspire me I will list below.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather just a handful of some of his pieces that I have found myself listening to (and sometimes playing on my own piano) more often than others.


1 – Op. 9, No. 1 in B-minor                                        12 – Op. 37, No. 2 in G-major

2 – Op. 9, No. 2 in E-flat Major                                 13 – Op. 48, No. 1 in C-minor

4 – Op. 15, No. 1 in F-major                                       15 – Op. 55, No. 1 in F-minor

8 – Op. 27, No. 2 in D-flat Major                               16 – Op. 55, No. 2 in E-flat Major

9 – Op. 32, No. 1 in B-major                                      17 – Op. 62, No. 1 in B-major

11 – Op. 37, No. 1 in G-minor                                    20 – Op. Posth. in C-sharp Minor

Preludes (all from Op. 28)

No. 4 in E-minor                                                         No. 9 in E-major

No. 6 in B-minor                                                         No. 13 in F-sharp Major

No. 7 in A-major                                                         No. 15 in D-flat Major

No. 8 in F-sharp Minor                                               No. 20 in C-sharp Minor

Again, this is such a small list with regard to the plethora of incredible music that Chopin has given us, but these particular piano pieces have been my constant companion during many a midnight hour.  I hope anyone who happens to read this little post and listens to them will find the same dark inspiration that I found many years ago, and continue to find to this day.

[1] Although this information is scattered over the internet, from my own research it seems that John Cooper deserves the credit for the original research on Wilde’s comma-related anecdote.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

HWA's Poetry Showcase Volume III

I am unnaturally excited to announce that my poem “She Walks in Moonlight” has been published in HWA’s Poetry Showcase Volume III and is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle/electronic format.  It is a great honor for me to be included amongst such great poets as Bruce Boston, Corrine De Winter, Alessandro Manzetti, and many others.  Link to the anthology below.

This particular poem is part of a collection I’ve been working on inspired by the events that occurred at the Villa Diodati two hundred years ago in the "year without a summer” of 1816.  It is not a retelling of what happened there, but rather it is a piece inspired by the darkness that was born within its benighted walls, borne along by my ghost-gloomed imagination and macabre thoughts that I have carried with me over the last year.

Even though I am still fascinated and rather obsessed with what happened during that haunted summer, I must say that I am somewhat looking forward to finishing this collection and moving on to other projects.  After a year of reading/writing nothing but Gothic ghost stories and disturbing poetry, which included several midnight rereadings of Coleridge’s Christabel and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, being distressingly entranced in an almost perpetual mental state of shadowy thoughts, and having some of the most disturbing (and beautiful) nightmares that I’ve ever had, I dare say it’s not long before the incurable effects of melancholy and possibly even madness start to set in.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Back from Europe

I recently returned from an unforgettable month-long journey through Europe.  This “adventure” was originally planned for last year, but superfluous work assignments combined with a torn hamstring prevented it.  For once, however, I am grateful and thankful that work impeded such a sojourn from happening – though I’m certainly not grateful or thankful about having my hamstring torn from the bone!

Traveling through Europe during the summer of 2016 was far more enjoyable for me mostly because of one reason:  my undying obsession with the summer of 1816, or “the year without a summer.”  I have had an intense fascination with the haunting events that took place at the Villa Diodati during that dark and stormy summer ever since I first read about it as a teenager.  Late-night readings of ghost stories and dark poetry in the midst of violent storms, discussions of vampires and other preternatural creatures from midnight till morning, and supposed laudanum-induced madness and debauchery – seriously, what’s not to love?

Whatever happened there almost exactly two hundred years ago, it certainly stirred the imagination and conjured up truly dark thoughts for the result of those events led to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, John Polidori’s The Vampyre, and dark poetry from Lord Byron such as Darkness and A Fragment.  And because these stories were written/inspired almost exactly two hundred years ago, there were two absolutely incredible exhibits that I would have otherwise missed if work and an injury did not prevent me from going last year – fate, perhaps?

I will certainly write more about my experience at the Villa Diodati and the other 1816-related exhibits, but for now here are a few pictures from the first leg of my journey in Paris.  Another fascination of mine is Gothic architecture and to see the Notre Dame with my own eyes was an unforgettable experience and inspired many interesting thoughts. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Opening Post


My name is Clay F. Johnson and this site is dedicated to both my own poetry and to the poetry that I love, both new and old.  I have been writing poetry and short stories off and on (mostly off) for the past five years - university studies, family/social obligations and career expectations have all added to periods of limited creativity or "off-ness."  Even though I have had to refuse my artistic inclinations at times, writing poetry is dear to my heart.  I like to classify much of my poetry (not all) as Dark Romantic, a sort of "pleasing melancholy," an ethereal Gothic of ruin and decay amid unspoiled nature in all her beauty and chaos.  Some of the poets of old whom I never hesitate to turn to include Coleridge, Wordsworth, Mary Robinson, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and my beloved Keats.

Even though I have been writing intermittently for the past five years, I have never attempted to publish any of my work - until recently, that is.  I began sending out some of my favorite poems to journals and magazines that I was familiar with back in March of this year and I am extremely excited to announce that one my poems has been accepted for publication.  Being a complete novice to publishing etiquette, I am hesitant to publicize exactly where my work will appear just yet.  However, I will say that my poem will appear in a collection of poems and will hopefully be available on Amazon later this summer.  You can be sure I will post that link when I find out more!

Being that I'm just now creating this site and I have absolutely no followers, I cannot say with certainty what will become of it.  I would like to think that I will slowly get followers and even befriend other poets and writers whose work I admire (and vice versa) and use this as a medium to share and support their literary endeavors.  Or perhaps the dust will begin to settle immediately after submitting this and my first and last BlogSpot post will be in the early hours of Friday the 13th, 2016 - an already dark and gloomy spring eerily reminiscent of that "year without a summer" of 1816...okay, I'll stop.  But no matter which direction this site takes, I will never stop writing poetry.

Thanks for reading and please keep checking back!

Clay F. Johnson