Saturday, January 13, 2018

Weirdbook — First Annual Witches Issue

I meant to post this many months ago, but last year turned out to be rather difficult and all of my free time was spent pursuing other endeavors.  One of my many new year’s resolutions—the most important is to finish my long poem, thus completing my book—is to write more Blog posts, which includes existential inspirations, publication updates, art- and literature-related musings, and travel stories both new and old—adventures in Switzerland and Italy being foremost in my mind.

With that being said, I am once again pleased to announce the publication of two new poems, both of which were published last year in Weirdbook edited by Douglas Draa.  Although I was already honored to be included in this fine and well-known publication, I later found out that Stephen King’s Cthulhu Mythos short story “Gramma” was first published in Weirdbook in 1984, which made these publications even more thrilling.

In keeping with tradition of writing brief anecdotes about my published poems within my rare and badly-neglected Blog, I want to write a little about how these two pieces came to be—given that I have only published five poems since August 2016, I don’t think this is too onerous of a task.  My second accepted piece within Weirdbook, lovingly titled “Remembering the Peculiar Effects from the Sugar Witch’s Goblin-Brew”, holds a special place in my heart not only because of its subject matter (witches, both fact and fiction, interest me greatly), but also because it was published in Weirdbook’s first annual Witches Issue.  Although it may appear enigmatic and/or arbitrary to some, its conception was based on “real” and tangible inspiration, in particular my excessive consumption of sugar-laden autumn-vanilla cake balls from Whole Foods with caffeine-infused lattes and flat whites at the time, combined with my interest in the “original” witch’s potion, which, according to many writers throughout the centuries, was thought to have been a hallucinogenic flying elixir—copious amounts of caffeine and its palm-sweaty and heart-palpitating consequences can certainly feel like “flight”, followed inevitably by sugar’s sleep-persuading crash.  At times, depending on how many lattes one consumes over a period of time, such moments can feel like stress-induced madness, sitting impatiently and fidgeting about in anxious despair begging for any sort of poetic inspiration, only to end with elevated blood pressure and a frustrating loss of time; other times, however, such potions or “goblin-brews” can awaken the mind to intense imagination, soaring to new heights beyond the stars and their “supernal climes”, where ideas come so fast that one can barely keep up.  Even some bits of my bizarre ingredient list has its roots within the occult for even Lord Verulam (Francis Bacon) offers his own theory into what such odd things may have been used in flying ointments: 

The ointment that witches use is reported to be made of the fat of children digged out of their graves; of the juices of smallage, wolf-bane, and cinque-foil, mingled with the meal of fine wheat. But I suppose that the soporiferous medicines are likest to do it; which are henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moonshade, tobacco, opium, saffron, poplar leaves, etc.[1]

[Painting by Luis Ricardo Falero titled Faust’s Vision (1878), also known as The Witches Sabbath, which I believe shows quite brilliantly the hallucinogenic effects from consuming such “flying ointments” or witch potions.]

There are other subtle mysteries between the lines in my piece, as any proper poem should have, but given this context I hope it makes better sense to those who have read it and wondered what the hell I was on about.

The second poem—the first of these two to be published in Weirdbook in August 2017—was born from less interesting inspiration, but its publication led to a somewhat humorous outcome that is worthy to share.  It was written about a friend whom I first met several years ago during one of my favorite art history classes from university: 17th Century Dutch and Flemish Painting, taught by Professor Arthur K. Wheelock himself.  Not to digress, but Professor Wheelock’s passion for this very particular style of painting was not only evident and inspiring, but it was also contagious, for although I was already familiar with and admired many of the artists before his class, I became almost as passionate for them and their work afterward—especially paintings by Johannes Vermeer which I have followed religiously ever since, including visiting the 2017-2018 Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery of Art several times since it opened in October.  This friend and I met in Professor Wheelock’s course and we have had an off-and-on friendship ever since, vexing one another over the years and losing contact with one another every so often.  She was going through a rough time during one of our friendship periods and, with a mind to cheer her up, I decided to write a little poem about her.  I quickly realized this wasn’t the best of ideas for all my poetic inspiration led me on with temptations of death and murder—although, to be fair to her, much of my writing in 2016 bordered on death, murder, and suicide, mostly by way of poison.  Needless to say, and totally punning on the sort of class we met in, the poem didn’t exactly paint her portrait in the most flattering of light.  Finishing the poem in May of 2016 I later forgot all about it until I submitted it with four others to Weirdbook later that October.  Believing it to be one of the “weaker” and least speculative poems of the submission, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I heard back from the editor in February of 2017 requesting to purchase it for an upcoming issue.  Being understandably thrilled about the prospect of a soon-to-be-published third poem I reached out to this aforementioned friend who, also understandably being thrilled, desired it to read it immediately.  I sent her the manuscript without delay.  Well, apparently the poem was indeed rather unflattering and vexed and disgusted her greatly for I haven’t heard from her since haha.  This is either a testament to my writing and ability to ruffle feathers and push buttons, or perhaps it suggests that I am no writer at all and every time I question whether or not to write I should take heed to one of Tolstoy’s favorite French proverbs:  Dans le doute, abstiens-toi[2] [When in doubt, don’t].  Either way I shall keep at it.

To those who are interested these poems are available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.  The Witches Issue Kindle edition is currently only .99 cents which not only contains my caffeine- and sugar-inspired witch poem, but also contains 11 other poems and 21 short stories all devoted entirely to witches.  If you decide to buy the Kindle edition, please shrink it (zoom out) just a bit so the format of my poem shows up correctly—you’ll see what I mean once you open it.  The links to each are below. 

Weirdbook Witches Issue: 

Weirdbook #36:

[1] Quote taken from Francis Bacon (attributed as Lord Verulam) in The works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, and Lord High Chancellor of England, in five volumes.

[2] I first became aware of this interesting little bit of information while reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The same French proverb also appeared in War and Peace and I imagine it has appeared elsewhere in Tolstoy’s writing. It can also be translated as “When in doubt, do nothing.”

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