Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Poetry Today: Trends and Traditions 8

Compiled and Critiqued by
Anthony Servante






Welcome, dear readers, to our eighth venture into the criticism of modern poetry from artists, authors, and actors. What we aim to do here each month is gauge the direction today's poetry is taking, whether it is echoing the traditional standards set by the classical poets of yesteryear or establishing new trends in wordsmithing. But before we begin, allow me to remind you of the rules for our critiques. As a scholarly writer for over 20 years, we have a basic premise we follow when reviewing poetry: The work must stand on its own. We, as critics, cannot analyze the works by their history, the poets' assessments or explanations of the work, or by psychological transference; the poetry must speak for itself. Oftentimes, poets send me a annotation of the poem so that I will better understand it. I'm courteous enough to read the poet's background notes, but always after I've finished my critique. So, let's begin. 

With us today, we have seven poets: Naomi Quiñonez, Jaye Tomas, Sydney Leigh, Rafael L. Lopez, Kim Acrylic, Katt Dunsmore, and Viggo Mortensen. 

We begin with the "Latina Poet Laureate of California", Naomi Quiñonez .   


Purchase Book Here


Ms. Quiñonez 

Biography:

In her first book, Sueno de Colibri/Hummingbird Dream (West End Press, 1985), Naomi Quiñonez celebrated the years of struggle in East L.A. when the Chicano movement received its baptism under fire.

From early in her poetic career she celebrated the heart along with the head, advocating strong feminist values in her political community.

Having traveled widely in the United States in the last two decades, she has reaffirmed her conviction that “art can transcend the boundaries that separate people from one another.”

She currently teaches at California State College at Fullerton.


The Poem:

We Are All Connected

We are all connected
to the belly of the earth
Each soul kicking-out
Flames fed by the heat,
of magma, lava and crust.
Billions of umbilical cords
Tied to a common center.
We are a bouquet of flowers
balloons and bellies
that cannot escape
each others breath
cannot escape
each other’s divine imperfect lives
Or profane and comic deaths.
This is how I know the pain
Of flesh sliced to pieces
By instigated metal
Cutting through air
To make its mark
On children huddled
In futile corners
Of scattered rubble. 
This is how I feel
The twisted gut-wrenched cry
Of desperation
In the torn stomachs of women
Who watch loved ones
Explode into heaps of useless ash.
Yesterday’s frightened eyes
Melting into pockets of charred skin.

This is how I see
A civilization disappear
Under a blood-stained blanket
Held by men armed with lies and terror
Another piece of humanity
Ripped out of the womb
Of mother earth
Another dream of peace
Raped at gunpoint.
My belly is a heavy weight
I carry into the uncertainty
Of each hesitant day.
My heart is a bruised
Eruption
Of haphazard futures.

The center tugs hard
Yanks the collective heart
Clears the common eye
Pulls the blood from our tangled veins.
And if you don’t feel this
You are lying.


The Critique:

We Are All Connected works as a metaphor for birth, the Earth acting as the pregnant entity giving life to every living thing on the planet. It is at once a grotesque image ("Billions of umbilical cords") and a sublime thought ("We are a bouquet of flowers"). But it is quite fascinating how Naomi extends the metaphor beyond the "We are all one" theme. Her perfect union is a mix of "imperfections", "profane and comic deaths". This is not Heaven. We are reminded that "Earth" is pleasure and pain.

By extension, her "birth" includes a cesarean section: "This is how I know the pain/Of flesh sliced to pieces/
By instigated metal" and "This is how I feel/The twisted gut-wrenched cry/Of desperation/In the torn stomachs of women". Furthermore, just as a mother watches her children grow closer to death everyday, the Earth watches her " loved ones/Explode into heaps of useless ash."

In the next extension of the metaphor, abortions transition from c-sections. The children, or creations of Earth, then transform to "civilizations", peoples, who are "Ripped out of the womb/Of mother earth" like the unwanted creature of a "rapist". Here Naomi compares the plight of the Earth as Mother to a rape victim carrying her baby to an undetermined term or future: " My belly is a heavy weight/I carry into the uncertainty
Of each hesitant day..../Of haphazard futures."

Humanity is depicted as a tangle of "veins" tied to Earth, a complexity of relationships and conflicts, a tangled whole of individuals who feel the pull of the umbilical cords and the commonality of a singular mankind tied to the same arteries. And, Quiñonez warns us, "if you don’t feel this/You are lying." Because we cannot deny the empathy our common emotions, our pain, our pleasure, love and hate. To deny any such empathy would make us liars. And to accept the truth makes us brothers and sisters. A lovely sentiment hidden behind the grotesque lesson.   
********


Jaye Tomas



The Ethereal Ms. Tomas


Biography:

Jaye Tomas has be a "scribbler" all of her life, but the Internet provided a way to more easily share it. Creating Chimera Poetry (blog & facebook page) has been an incredible experience. The fact that anyone reads what she writes is a constant source of amazement and gratitude to her. Her biggest obsession is books and her reading tastes are eclectic to say the least: Tolkien, Lovecraft, Gaiman, Plath, Ellison, Christie, Aaronovitch, Yeats, Blake, King, Barker, Straub, Lopez, Maugham, Poznansky .....to name a very few. Originally from the windy suburbs of Chicago she now resides in the UK. Lately she has been casting her eyes in the direction of Italy, but hasn't completely settled on that.....yet. It may be back to the USA, it may be Edinburgh, it may be Gallifrey..... the beauty of the story is in the journey, not the arrival.
https://www.facebook.com/jaye.tomas.7 (Jaye Tomas on facebook)
https://www.facebook.com/chimerapoet (Chimera Poetry on facebook)


The Poetry: 

Nocturnes Collection –

Nocturnes
Nocturnes, Night Singers, sirens of the dark
The unwary snared in their fathomless gaze
Eyes of violet promising delight while relentless hunger
seethes unseen
Capering
while their bewitchment sung
draws ever tighter the binding
The old order eroded with the runes of power
Which held the singers in thrall
Lilith beckons now raven now jungle cat
a thing of sharp teeth and claw
Cruelty for hot bloods sake

Nocturnes 2
Nocturnes move amidst the night-time multitude
persistently unnoticed in the graying light
Masks fixed in place, smiles too
Hiding a glittering malevolence
the swirl of smoke blown back into the bottle
and held with incantations old as iron
Merlin’s will long held sway
against the undoing
but moonscape and nightmare exert their tidal pull
secure in knowledge that time and legends pass
until one glance too long into a looking glass
the snake charmer only holds the gaze, ‘tis the snake
who wields the magic

Nocturnes 3
Nocturnes, nightsingers, sirens of the dark
thief, breaker of bones
their shackles undone
eroded by time and disbelief
risen unchained,
unbound now travel with the moon
raven wings enchant
her sorceress wiles inflame
her song, her fragrance
burns through you,
binds you to her in love
and terror
and a desire so dark
it holds no memory of the light
you sink into beguiling eyes
your craving begins
twisting through your marrow
born in a second of splintered bewilderment
and sweetly gleaming fangs...

Nocturnes 4 (Owl Goddess)
No living breath stirs the leaves
claws extended she settles on the highest branch
tossing back her long claret hair
Opal sheened her eyes gaze heavy lidded
with farsight
into the forest as the shadows grow
an owl bows before her
while hawk and raven wheel above
calling out with awe and adoration for the huntress
the First
the merciless one
death comes on silent wings for the unwary
or the too trusting
her madness is that of wild things
rapacious hunger and desire
swollen and layered through the centuries
like a poisonous pearl uncompromising
uncaring
knowing neither time nor season
only the now
and the tempestuous winds
as she moves inexorably through the ages
ever and always beautifully
ruthlessly
and gracefully insane

Nocturnes 5 – The Moon
The children of the night looked to the sky
and sang sang
of the hunt
the chase
the thrill of the catch and the moment the hot blood spills
I sang their songs with them
joined my voice to theirs
paean to the moon
the silvery goddess
rising full of cool light and hungers
the myths spoke of night singers night walkers
embracing the hunter and the shadows
and of the thirst
I spoke them to the fold
the children the gathering
so they knew from where
from who they sprung
created memories and honed the edges of revenge
The elders wrote the legends
in runes of silver
mirroring the tattoos running through
our night sheened skin
I read them and kept them in safety and in secret
the growing library of the hidden
the hungry
royalty of midnight
pale children of the huntress moon


The Critique:

Let me say straight out: I chose to publish THE NOCTURNES COLLECTION as one piece and will review it as such. Thank you.

The Nocturnes Collection consists of five parts. Each part deals with themes of the night. The symbolism concentrates around nocturnal activities and creatures. Initially Jaye introduces us to the "night sirens" with their songs leading the unwary travelers to an early demise. Then Lilith appears and "beckons now raven now jungle cat". Summoning "Lilith" brings a lot of history to the introduction. During the English Romanantic Period, she was seen as a vampire who fed on the blood of children. But nearly every religion and myth has a "Lilith-type" character: from Mother of Satan, succubus, or predator of pregnant women. It is an interesting turn to have her here as a "siren" changeling. Lilith is beautiful, making her evil attractive, just as the song of the siren lures men to their death.

Tomas transitions from Lilith to "Merlin" and an age of magic. In contrast to Merlin's use of "white magic", the "Nocturnes" use black magic, wearing "Masks fixed in place, smiles too/Hiding a glittering malevolence:. Even as the old magician wields his spells over the serpent of the night, "‘tis the snake who wields the magic". Just as Lilith was a contrast of beauty and wickedness, magic here is represented by light and dark forces.

Nocturnes 3 sets Lilith in motion "her sweetly gleaming fangs". The serpent now melds with the "sorceress". The "raven" represents the foreboding of the night, and this piece of the collection serves as a warning to men to beware as "her song, her fragrance/burns through you". The further use of the pronoun "you" and the possessive "your" underscore the foreshadowing of Lilith's arriving with the night.

Nocturnes 4 (Owl Goddess) revolves around flight and birds as symbols of predators of the night. As Lilith transforms to a flying creature (it is not clear what appearance she has taken; she bears claws, rather than talons), while the night creatures adore her: "an owl bows before her/while hawk and raven wheel above/
calling out with awe and adoration for the huntress". Here the contrast continues from the serpent of the earth to the "bird-like" creature of the air.

Nocturnes 5 The Moon shifts from Lilith to the myth of this enchantress. The "children", one of whom is the narrator of the five poems, worship the arrival of the bloodthirsty siren. They speak highly of her: "the myths spoke of night singers night walkers/embracing the hunter and the shadows". And here in the night, the narrator tells the story, the myth, once more, a tradition of followers.

The symmetry of the Nocturnes Collection reveals a thematic development in contrasts: mother as life-giver and mother as life-taker, white magic and dark, serpents and birds. And all these elements meld to embody Lilith, beauty and evil combined. Jaye Tomas has captured the innocent "bogey-man" story of Lilith and has turned it into a series of poems that at once recreate the legend of this beautiful succubus and spin a story best told by the light of the moon.


********



Sydney Leigh


Shawna L. Bernard a.k.a. Sydney Leigh


Biography:

Shawna L. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, artist, English teacher, and native of the North Shore. Her poetry, prose, and photography has appeared in Merrimack Valley Magazine, local art exhibits, and on bar napkins across the country. Her first edited anthology, Cellar Door: Words of Beauty, Tales of Terror, is a collection of poetry, fiction, and artwork which won a Gothic Readers Book Choice Award last November. She also recently joined forces with Villipede Publications, one of the finest small presses in the industry.
Shawna's darkest fiction and horror is written under the guise of her literary double, Sydney Leigh. Sydney's poetry and short fiction has appeared in the Demonic Visions 50 Horror Tales series, Hellnotes’ Horror in a Hundred, Daily Bites of Flesh, Horrified Press’s Nightmare Illustrated, and numerous other publications. In 2013, she edited her second anthology and also won First Place in the Inner Sins Webzine Cross Words contest.
Her poem “The Undertaker’s Melancholy” is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Darkness Ad Infinitum anthology from Villipede Publications, and she has short fiction due to be released in the next issues of Demonic Visions and Nightmare Illustrated. She is proudly slated for inclusion in Firbolg Publishing's 2014 Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning with her dark gothic fairy tale short, “Rabenschwarz”, which will debut at the 2014 World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon.
Her best friend is a Border Collie, and despite holding degrees in English, Psychology, and Graphic Design, she spends most of her free time doing her teenage son’s laundry. She also trains dogs, rehabilitates wildlife, and always keeps a bag packed for spontaneous road trips with her imaginary roommate, Ted.
Websites and Links
Villipede Publications: http://villipede.com/
Villipede Publications on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VillipedePublications
Look for her website, “the spider box” sometime later this year.


The Poem:

Flesh, Blood, and Bones

It happens at night.
The thin, salty flesh crawls across your bones,
looking for its way home.

It finds, instead, too many mistakes—
grooves and speed bump calcifications,
a poor reward for living.

It doesn’t fit.
If you think about it,
it almost makes sense. Almost.

You told him slowly, carefully,
as the blood drained in haste, that the doves flew away
too soon. The water

still rippled on the lake,
cool, blue steel
shook like a sheet.

The flesh stretches over your face,
holes left for you to see. Hear.
Breathe. Scream. Love. Lick. Lie.

Alone, wishing
you had reached deeper,
that the skin was more…forgiving.

Could you let it go this way?
Allow for a fall
from grace? From higher

up
than you knew they could fly?
Stand aside. It’s moving again.

Shawna L. Bernard


The Critique: 

Sydney Leigh uses tercet stanzas in her poem, Flesh, Blood, and Bones. This three-line form harkens to Dante's Inferno, though the rhymed tercet was used there. But a prose form of the tercet is a welcomed venue for modern poetry as it echoes the traditions of the great authors of yesteryear, while maintaining a new modern approach with its lack of rhyme. But to the theme. Is the unrhymed tercet aptly applied here?

The poem is a philosophical account of the creation. Its theme: The flesh of man is flawed. Thus, the words are suited to the theme. Subtly blasphemous, openly critical. Life is designed for death: "The thin, salty flesh crawls across your bones,/looking for its way home." Home, of course, being the grave. Note that such thoughts occur at night. But the flesh, the symbolically living part of the body, the tactile or tangible matter, finds only the skeleton (the death symbol of the living person), "calcifications,/a poor reward for living."

Further adding to the fragile construct of the human body, Leigh adds, "The flesh stretches over your face,/
holes left for you to see. Hear./Breathe. Scream. Love. Lick. Lie." Note the conflict between "Breathe" and "Scream". Birth and death. Then Sydney questions the reason behind our fated state of being: "Alone, wishing.../that the skin was more…forgiving." But this observation leads only to more rhetorical questions: "Could you let it go this way?/Allow for a fall/from grace?" Yet she has no answers, for she begs the questions and supplies what little explanation she can: "It’s moving again." It, referring to the flesh of the first tercet, returns in the form of infants who are cursed with the same fate as their parents.

Sydney Leigh does not discuss the cycle of life in magical moments, blessed days and nights where sleep, dream, and wakefulness are equal stages of growth. Rather, she sees this cycle as a flawed fatality inherent with our first breath to our last. At night, we will always consider the journey of the flesh, from the "bones" to the boneyard. Lovely turn. Worthy of Shelley and Keats. 

********



Rafael L. Lopez

Mr. Lopez 




Rafael L. Lopez is a poet, writer, actor, artist, knight and more who resides in Southern California when not off crafting magic within his world of Eath. Inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, his favorite author, he first conjured ideas for Eath as the base for a boardgame at age eleven. Recording his visions, he began developing a vast history and culture for the land's kingdoms and inhabitants, then by his eighteenth birthday completed the first draft of Volume One for a book series titled THE LEGEND OF MIRALD, along with short stories about a hero named Lastenberg. Between the ages of sixteen and seventeen he had also composed a collection of poems for Eath, thereafter inventing the names and lives of fictitious poets with different styles and voices. A WORLD OF WORDS is the result, a volume of verse introducing his elaborate fantasy.


A Winter’s Meadow

By Delnia Watterboo

Softly does the leaf fall
When the tree is cold
And there is nothing growing at all.
Yet young she is, not old.
Winter, however, hath no care
For youth or age, both freeze
From her chill air.
'Winter!' I call, 'Please!
Leave me one flower!
A patch of grass!
Or one more hour!'
No pleas are granted to this lass
And Winter comes to claim
Every green, everything.
And the tree where birds came
Displays no stage for them to sing
Only bare coldness.
And the last leaf she falls
Ends the tree's colorful boldness.
Yet with the leaf, Winter it seems she stalls
For it hovers in the breeze
Like a memory
That soon flees.
Like a soothing end to a story
When you know the end is nigh
And indulge in every word
Until it comes and you finish with a sigh.
I hung upon every moment until my eyes blurred.
It seemed Winter's chill would take me too
So I turned as the leaf landed
To meet a blanket's embrace and bowl of stew
But halted as a pine tree before me standed
Green as ever
Brilliant and glistening with flakes of snow.
Was it so beautiful before? Never!
Winter had fallen all green for this show
’Twas the Pine's turn to be admired.


The Critique:

Rafael L. Lopez has created a Science Fiction universe where there are poets who write of their worlds. Of course, Rafael is the persona behind each of these poets. A very promising conceit, and I covered his book, A WORLD OF WORDS last year. Here and now, I wish to look at the poem by Delnia Watterboo, namely, Rafael L. Lopez. I will be referring to Rafael as I discuss the poem, for Delnia is only part of the poem itself.

A Winter's Meadow opens with a focus on a tree dropping its last leaf as Autumn turns to Winter. The tree is personified as feeling "cold" as "Yet young she is, not old." Winter, too, demonstrates a peronified apathy for the trees' dilemma ("Winter hath no care".). We also see the employment of a rhyme scheme similar to the love poems of the Victorian Era. But there's a modern twist that we'll come to soon. Besides the ababcdcdefef, etc., rhyme structure, the story of the winter and the trees seem like a throwback to a older time of poetry.

Here the story of the poem depicts a cruel winter, a hapless tree pleading for its last flower to a deaf winter, and finally to the pine tree, whose green needles maintain their color during the cold season. The pine ignores winter just as the season of chills and ice turn its back on the trees of Spring. And just as winter is prideful of its power over the weaker trees, so, too, is the pine proud of its staying power in winter.

The lesson of the poem is for man, who should be more like the pine in harsh times just as we celebrate the good times of springtime. The poem reminded me of Chauncey Gardner from Being There. He often used the seasons to speak for the treatment and care of certain plants during various times of the year. Ultimately, people understood that Gardner was speaking metaphorically of mankind in prosperous and dire times. But Chauncey was really only talking about his garden. Rafael, however, does employ metaphors, personification, and a time-honored rhyme scheme to make his point. Now about that twist I mentioned early on. The last line of the poem is a standalone line. It doesn't have a companion line to rhyme with. It bears repeating here because here is the whole point of the poem: "’Twas the Pine's turn to be admired." No Chauncey Gardner here to be misunderstood.

********


Kim Acrylic


Ms. Acrylic



Biography:

Kim Acrylic, from Seattle Washington is a Poet/ Recording Artist/indie Music Journalist, who dedicated her life to poetry at age 15. Since then she has worked for several online music and poetry magazines and has been published in several anthologies including Little Episode's first volume of poetry "Back In 5 Minutes" She also collaborated post-death with Andy Warhol for the New Britain Museum Of Modern Art by writing a poem inspired by his painting of Manray for the book "Visions, Voices, and verses" As of to date Kim has two CDs out "Fan Fare Melt Down" and "Techno Eyes.She continues to collaborate to this day with artists all over the world.




The Poem: 

In love with decay

In love with decay, you smile with a cocaine flavored nose

farewell to night of class and posh kisses

Merry Christmases in dark Octobers sweat out your
poisons

Climax out your monthly irritable red muse

Over-eat your sullen addiction of euphoria's secret stupor

You color out of the lines of see-through portraits of your
painful image

Taint your ghost before you die, die before you live

Cut your fetish that is imprisoned in your well-being of sour
dreams

Long live your faithfulness to powders and smoke that blind
you from hidden morals

Grave detail of your lips scare away lovers from a future
time of awakening

Shed upon the bed you burned, cry into pillows made of
lost nightmares

Urban romance squirms into your heroin chic frame

Languidly you fall, fail in this star spangled hell of existence

Will you return with the rest of man-kind?


The Critique: 

In love with decay is an extended metaphor about addiction, its past, present and future. The narrator may or may not be the poet (she is either scolding herself or a dear friend). Kim Acrylic has a true poetic voice: angry, frightened, determined. She can't just call an addict a dirty word like "junkie" or "hype"; she must employ the language of poetry to relay her message (when I'm angry, my sarcasm takes on Shakespearean levels). Let's see how Kim approaches the subject of drugs and death with her angry voice.

The strongest metaphor she employs sarcastically and sardonically is the opening line: "In love with decay." How would a nonpoetic person have said this: You're killing yourself. How mundane. Then she uses my favorite line of the poem:  "you smile with a cocaine flavored nose". Or: You use so much coke, your nose is red with busted blood vessels. More mundane. Kin, however, keeps the momentum of her anger moving.

The time frame is askew as Kim captures the warped time zone of an addict: "Merry Christmases in dark Octobers sweat out your/poisons". Wow. How can we have Christmas in October, you ask? The poetic speak for: From October to December, you go through withdrawals. Note that these are the holiday months, the time of the high suicide rates. One either tries to clean up their act or snuffs it.

We learn more of our addict as Kim extends her angry metaphors further: "Climax out your monthly irritable red muse/Over-eat your sullen addiction of euphoria's secret stupor". We now know it's a woman (monthly period; red blood). The addict becomes depressed (secret stupor) after failing at cold turkey or even at succeeding (both interpretations are viable). But the narrator continues to berate the addict: "Shed upon the bed you burned, cry into pillows made of/lost nightmares". Even as the addict suffers from loneliness and pain, the narrator is relentless. But she is angry, remember? Not mean or vicious.

Kim Acrylic is one of my favorite poets today. She exemplifies the word modern. The Beats of the 50s were angry, but they were addicts. They were angry with the straights, the "squares". Kim brings the Beatnik anger to bear on her subject in In love with decay. I don't think she has a mundane bone in her body. I look forward to reading more works from this fine talented poet. Keep the anger alive.
********


Katt Dunsmore


Ms. Dunsmore


Biography:

Tonya "Katt" Dunsmore is an American short story writer and illustrator. Her stories and essays have appeared in Crime and Suspense Magazine, Flashing in the Gutters, Flashshots, Mouth Full of Bullets, MicroHorror, Associated Content, Silver Moon Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Flash Jab Fiction, and in the anthologies, The EX-Factor: Justified Endings to Bad Exes (Koboca Publishing, 2006) Daily Bites of Flesh 2011 (Pill Hill Press, 2011) Daily Flash (Pill Hill Press, 2012), and Daily Frights 2012 (Pill Hill Press, 2012). Her illustrations and graphics have appeared in several print publications and Internet venues.

Katt is married to her beloved husband, Dinny, and they make their home in the Charlotte North Carolina area with their Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix, Briscoe, and their feline companions, Sixx, Psycho, and Misfit.


The Poem:

First Date, Last Date 

Here I sit, petite and pretty 
You think me weak, more's the pity 
Of deep looks and guilty pleasure 
You look at me and take my measure 
You softly whisper your pretty lies 
At end of night, somebody dies.

Not knowing as you make your plan 
What's in store for you, my man. 
You don't notice eyes so clear 
And teeth so sharp as you draw near 
You saw what you thought you knew 
You wanted me but I got you

When claws sink in, I take a bite 
Only then do you feel the fright 
I drink you down until you're dry 
And finish my meal with a sigh 
I take you home and take your head 
And throw you down on my dogs' bed

As I set your skull on my shelf 
I laugh a bit and tell myself 
That you guys never see the clues 
And that's why you'll be on the news. 
You came to hunt and turned to prey 
You should have stayed out of my way

© Copyright 2011 Tonya D Dunsmore. All rights reserved.


The Critique:

Katt Dunsmore utilizes the sestet form in First Date, Last Date: six lines and three rhyming couplets per stanza. She employs four stanzas here. As we've seen earlier, this form harkens to the age of Romanticism, and even earlier, to the Restoration, where Alexander Pope perfected the "heroic couplet." Let's see how Katt utilizes it.

It appears to be a standard poem about potential love, but that last line, "At end of night, somebody dies", has elevated it to a level equal to the Fin de Siècle poets of the 1890s (Oscar Wilde, artist Aubrey Beardsley, Edgar Allen Poe, for example). The popular belief during this age was that the world would end in 1900, just as many believed the world would end in the year 2000), so the art and poetry and novels of the time focused on death. Let's follow this line of logic with First Date, Last Date.

First off, the title is ironic. The "last date" coincides with "somebody dies". The narrator, the murderess, tells us more of her plan. The male believes he is there for a nice time, but the woman is calculating the terms of his demise and how she has gotten him to met his death at her hands: "You wanted me but I got you". Sinister meaning here. Ah, it appears she is a vampire and has made a meal of our poor chap. A practical gal that she is, she removes her victim's head so he will not join the ranks of the undead, and feeds it to her dog. Of course, she keeps his skull for a souvenir. The dog sure must have been hungry.

In the final sestet, Katt's narrator seems to either feign annoyance or anger. No, it's annoyance. Here's what she says: "You came to hunt and turned to prey/You should have stayed out of my way." There is disdain for the victim simply because he was attracted to the female date. Although it seems like an overreaction, it is not untypical for the Fin de Siecle works. Let's keep in mind that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, the height of the Purple Reign, another name for the end of the world by the turn of the century. I suppose if Dracula could snack on his victims, the First Date, Last Date narrator can munch on hers. But then, the sestets really had no raison d'etre other than ornate intentions. I'll settle for that.  But in my future reading of Ms. Dunsmore's works, I hope to find a higher level of use for these poetic devices she so firmly and talentedly controls. 

********


Viggo Mortensen


Mr. Mortensen

Purchase Book Here


About the Book: 

Recent Forgeries documents Viggo's first solo exhibition. It is an extraordinary look into the mind of an artist whose boundless creative output touches a myriad of media, from photography to painting to poetry to acting. Recent Forgeries includes a CD with music and spoken-word poetry. Introduction by Dennis Hopper. Softcover, 7 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches, 110 pages, 83 reproductions

Biography: 

Born in New York to a Danish father and an American mother, Mortensen spent the early part of his childhood in Manhattan. His family traveled a great deal and he spent several years living in Venezuela, Argentina and Denmark. He began acting in New York, studying with Warren Robertson. He appeared in several plays and movies, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where his performance in "Bent" at the Coast Playhouse earned him a Drama-logue Critic's Award. Mortensen is also an accomplished poet, photographer and painter.
- IMDb

 http://www.brego.net/viggo/viggo-art.php


The Poem:


HOME

HE'S GOT A DEEP, ABIDING RESPECT
VERGING ON IDOL WORSHIP
FOR WHERE THINGS END UP.
THERE ARE UNOPENED LETTERS
IN HIS REFRIGERATOR, A FAKE 
FINGERNAIL IN THE SOAPDISH,
SHOES EVERYPLACE.
THESE THINGS, AND MANY MORE
LEAVINGS, FRAGMENTS, BALANCING
REMINDERS OF A BREEZE
FROM A SLAMMED DOOR--
CONFIGURATIONS OF SANCTIFIED LOOSE ENDS--
HAVE BECOME THE LIVING NET
ABOVE WHICH HE PERFORMS
THE MOVEMENTS THAT MAKE
THE CLOCK WORK.


The Critique:

HOME by Viggo Mortensen considers the comforts of home and turns them into surreal images, much as Salvador Dali does in his paintings. There are "unopened letters in his refrigerator", a sign of an old person putting things away or a forgetful person leaving the mail in the icebox when he got a soda to drink while he read the letters. The "fake fingernail in the soapdish" explains the presence of a female, either young and in a hurry, or older and busy with a big family. This is a house in disarray, a home in use. Note how nature (the "breeze") unsettled the order of the house, everything in its place. 

Well, these things are the ropes that make up the net that represents his family, his reason for his going to work ("performs the movements that make the clock work"). Using a metaphor for chaos, Viggo has captured the life of a family at peace with their messes, lost shoes, lost mail, and misplaced cosmetic fingernails. This is life, loud and proud. To the casual observer, this madness would lack a method, but for Vigoo, the madness is the method that he calls HOME.

********

My thanks to all the poets who contributed to today's poetry column. As I mentioned, Charlie Sheen will be our guest poet for next month. I want to return to the two poems per poet format next month, so contact me if you want to be a part of next month's column. Including Mr. Sheen, I could use about three more poets. I can be reached at servanteofdarkness@gmail.com. 

Till next month, stay cool in the darkness. 


************
Buy RONNIE AND RITA now!
from Deborah Sheldon
Available on Amazon Kindle!
A Servante of Darkness Pick of the Week!

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Ronnie Spooner is middle-aged and single. 
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What Rita asks him to do is wrong. Terribly wrong. 
But compared to the emptiness of Ronnie's life so far, even wrong seems better than nothing. 
Acclaimed author Deborah Sheldon takes you on a twisted love story that detours into even darker territory. 
The things we do for love...




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
CHATROOM (2010) & HER (2013)

Reviewed by Anthony Servante






Sorry, dear readers, but Movie Tuesday is on hiatus. Meanwhile, allow me to revive the Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature. Why the fuss? I'll tell ya. One of the movies for review today I saw a few nights ago; the other movie I viewed today. And guess what? They both had to do with the internet, while the new "JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT" did not. And besides, Keven Costner would have made a better Ryan. But to the point. We wish to address the two points of view of the internet in our two features today. So scrunch up in the darkness, movie lovers as we begin with a look at CHATROOM.




Summary: 

A handful of teenagers make the mistake of baring their souls to the wrong person in this thriller. Eva (Imogen Poots) is a young model whose good looks and poise disguise her aching doubts about herself and her wishes she could be more like others. Jim (Matthew Beard) is still wrestling with the demons brought on by a painful childhood and tries to beat back his fears with drugs. Emily (Hannah Murray) feels plain and unattractive and is filled with resentment towards her ambitious father and mother. And Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) struggles with his sexual desires for children, in particular the sister of a close friend. These four young people are frequent visitors to an internet chat room, where they can talk about their fears and anxieties while being drawn out by the compassionate moderator. But the man who runs the chat room is not all he seems. William (Aaron Johnson) is the unstable and neglected son of a successful author (Megan Dodds); he's grown to hate his more confident brother Ripley (Richard Madden) and has established the chat room in order to manipulate others to his own ends by getting them to share their secrets and using this knowledge against them. Chatroom was the second English-language feature from Japanese horror veteran Hideo Nakata. (from Rotten Tomatoes).

Review:

Chatroom is about the Internet, capital I. Sure, there aren't really any chatrooms anymore, but it's a metaphor, you see, for the new improved cyber gathering sites like Facebook and Google +. And to take the metaphor one step further, the movie depicts cyberspace as a cheap gaudy hotel, the ugly cousin of the Overlook from the novel, The Shining by Stephen King, and the film by Stanley Kubrick. In the less than fancy but well-lit hotel, there are claustrophobic hallways, that represent "internet surfing", and hundreds of rooms, that represent the various social hangouts on the world wide web. William picks an empty room, spray-paints the name "Chelsea Teenagers!" on the door. Four emotionally damaged teens find their way to the room and reveal their vulnerabilities to William, whose goal is to get them to commit suicide so he can record them. 





The film moves back and forth between the Internet Hotel and the real world. You can tell the real world because it is not well-lit. Oh, and on the Internet, we see the teens as they envision themselves or as they would like to look, while in the outside reality, they are normal looking kids without make-up or lighting. There is one particularly shocking scene where an old man walks into the chatroom looking for young girls. When William asks if he is a young girl, the old man becomes a young girl. But he can't sustain the lie, so he flickers from old perv to pre-teen. Then William changes into a young girl and threatens to find the pedophile on the "pedo" registry. The old man vanishes (as in he turned off his computer). This scene is important because it shows William's darker side and foreshadows how he will be treating his chatroom guests.

The teens, however, do not pick up on the Machiavellian William until it is too late. He knows of other chatrooms known for their bullying or manipulations and turns one of the teens to seek help from some nut case whose cure for everything is to kill oneself. It echoes the Suicide Clubs so infamous in Japan ten years or so ago. And by the time the lovely Eva sees through William's machinations, she is in a race to save a fellow chatroom friend from eating a bullet. In the finale, the film flips between the well-lit Hotel and the drab foggy England where the teens live. 


Metaphoric Internet as Hotel Hallway
with Doorways to Groups/Chatrooms.


I was quite mesmerized by the film and as a Hideo Nakata (Dark Water 2005) fan, I enjoyed the Neon lit hallways of the Hotel, where internet surfers are seen wearing S&M outfits, using taboo tools, and literally chatting up complete strangers. So, imagine my surprise when I found that the critics panned the movie (it received a sad 10% critics approval on Rotten Tomatoes and a 34% audience approval--not exactly a vote of confidence). But upon reading several reviews, I found that the critics found the "real world" scenes too boring to keep up with the flashiness of the rundown cyber hotel. No big deal for me. The Hotel as Internet metaphor worked fine for me. The other criticism was that there are no longer chatrooms and therefore the film is dated, though only a few years old (and based on a play written in 2005). Again, no problem. I understood that the "chatrooms" could be Facebook groups or private pages. It actually seemed relevant from the kinds of posts I sometimes see on Facebook. It's quite easy to imagine it as a big gaudy hotel.  

So, don't be put off by the bad reviews. CHATROOM is worth a look-see just for the Hotel metaphor. The plot is engaging but not always believable. These teens are damaged, not stupid. But this film presents a view of the internet that is important for people who don't understand social media to get a clue. It's not a great movie, but it's an important lesson to consider when dealing with the new complexities of the cybernet circles of friends. 
********





Summary:

Set in the Los Angeles of the slight future, the story follows Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet "Samantha," a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other. Written and directed by Spike Jonze (from IMDb).

Review:

In HER, the Internet has merged with human life and love, and individuality is not so easy to discern. Humans are losing their connections to each other as the new Operating System One (OS1) has tightened the ties man has to computers. Instead of connecting to the internet, one merely asks their computer to check their email, organize their schedules, or hook them up with a masturbation date. Yes, you heard me right. Our hero, Theodore, can't sleep so he links with a woman who is also having trouble sleeping. So they get each other off sexually, but the joke is that when the woman has orgasmed, she cuts the link before the surprised Theo can reach his own grand finale. There's even a joke about a publisher who still publishes "books".

Enter Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She quickly asserts her individuality to do her job of assisting Theo. But, as she continues to learn how to help the sensitive writer, Sam learns about herself, first in relationship to Theo, but later, in relationship to other OS1s. As humans break up and divorce (Olivia Wilde makes a nice cameo as a desperate single woman looking for a steady boyfriend and is willing to risk giving herself up to blind dates and one-night stands to find one who will call the next day; and that's not Theo), the OS1s bond ever closer to their "masters", the needy humans. 




But Sam in becoming sentient initially wishes to be corporeal. She longs to share her physical love with Theo as she can only love him when they feign sex in the dark together (if you can imagine a computer program masturbating). She brings in a lovely young woman to act as her body so Theo can make love to her via a sort of live feed (think human body instead of a monitor). When that fails, Sam creates an Alan Watts OS1 to advise her. At this point she begins to see humans as imperfect creatures and begins to experience a sort of cyber omnipotence. The OS1s unite and I'll let you find out what they do to gain their freedom.




Throughout the film, Theo walks through and gazes at beautiful panorama shots that can only happen in a fantasy Los Angeles. What we see is what Sam feels. There's nothing new here. We've seen it in a dozen horror movies like I, Robot with Will Smith. But what Spike Jonze does is replace the word "horror" with the word "love" and creates a "robot" that widens our view of our emotional world. It is not so far-fetched to meet something you care about online. What Jonze does, however, is make the internet itself the "her" we grow to love and in so doing reconnect with the human voices behind those cyber posts. It's a nice reminder that it's okay to be sad as long as we don't forget to be happy as well with our Internet experience.     .  


Monday, January 13, 2014

Religion and Horror: Between Heaven, Hell, and Earth

Part One: The Question of Evil.


Introduction written by & Essays compiled 
by Anthony Servante


What is Evil?


Introduction:

Oft-times, the definition of “evil” comes down to angels and demons. We imagine an angel on our right shoulder and a devil on the left. Note: the right side is where our heart is and “right” is “good”, while “left” in Latin means “sinister” or evil.  These creatures whisper advice in our ears, convincing us to make a decision when we are at a crossroads between choosing a good or bad action (e.g., when we want to shoplift a candy bar).


"Ash" Williams caught in the middle



When we choose the bad decision, we did something bad, and when we choose the good, we did something good. We choose between good and bad as if they existed outside ourselves in a tangible form, because if our action had no definition, our decisions would have no meaning and that existence outside ourselves would simply be “chaos” and anarchy. So, where does our definition of “evil” come from, if not from ourselves or “something” outside ourselves? That’s where religion comes in.



Heaven & Hell



Religion gives us boundaries so we know the limits and consequences of our actions. We have Heaven and Hell. We have Karma. We have Reincarnation. We have a set of rules. We have the Ten Commandments. But, as we have seen since time in memoriam, these rules often have various interpretations. This variance exists because science and philosophy give us so many options. Evolution versus Creation, for one. Free Will versus Predetermination, for another. Let’s look at the definition of “evil” through the eyes of William James to start things off.


Willaim James, Father of Psychology



For James, Evil is the absence of order. Without rules, there can only be evil actions. Consider that the universe is part of a divine plan, a perfect unity; then evil and good would play opposing roles but fall under the same umbrella, thereby rendering them both equally “good” under God’s divinity. James believed evil could not exist in a perfect or divine order. Therefore, evil had to be the opposite of order: chaos. Good is defined by our following the divine plan, while evil is defined by our following no plan. For instance, a perfect person who obeys all the laws can do no evil; if he accidentally kills a person while obeying a law, then he did no evil. Maybe he was wrong, but wrong is not evil, no more than guessing the wrong answer on a test is evil. But if a perfect person intentionally kills a person, he is disobeying the law and doing evil and wrong. While the former person committed “manslaughter”, unintentional murder, the latter person committed first degree murder, intentional murder (premeditated). For James, the former person is called “healthy-minded”, happy within the rules of divinity, while the latter is called a “sick soul”, happy outside the rules of divinity. Think Hannibal Lecter happy. James sums it up: “Evil is empirically there for them [evil doers] as it is for everybody” (Varieties of Religious Experience). In other words, we can choose evil; we can disobey the divine rules as easily as we can the legal laws of civilization.



C.S. Lewis



Similarly, CS Lewis believed that there exists a “dualism”, good and evil forces fighting for the decisions of man, much as our devil and angel sitting on our shoulders. Our conscience is constantly at odds to make the right choice, but often mislead by bad advice. The divine plan is still in motion, regardless of the choice one makes; the choice was always God’s will. Thus CS Lewis argues, “The moral difficulty is that Dualism gives evil a positive, substantive, self-consistent nature, like that of good.” The contradiction here is then that the Devil, Satan himself, is part of the plan, a predetermined agent of free will, leaning toward evil, just as Christ is a predetermined agent for good. Still, as with William James, we have a person willing to choose evil for its own sake. How often have we heard after a great disaster of death, an earthquake or hurricane that takes many lives, or a small tragedy where one innocent child is killed, “It is God’s will” or “God works in mysterious ways” or “God wanted these victims now rather than later”? It falls that "evil" was always part of the plan. Hannibal Lecter plays a part in divinity.


Lecter an agent for "Good"?

  
But let’s not stop here. We have with us three authors of Horror who will continue this purview of “evil” and help further to define, or, at least, clarify it for us. Let’s welcome Lori R. Lopez, Mark Parker, and Jeff Parish. Each has written an essay on the subject specifically for this article.


THE ESSAYS:


Lori Lopez on Evil:





(On “the nature of evil”)
 by
Lori R. Lopez


          Throughout my horror I have danced with a diversified range of devils to craft the evil described in my books, stories, and dark verse.  It could be complex, a distinct hierarchy of rules and goals and ranks.  It might be incredibly simple or down-to-earth.  “Not all monsters looked scary, Dwayne would discern.  Some looked like a dentist.”  This is a quote from MONSTROSITIES, the tale of a very warped individual who learned about evil from his father, a bully and sadist.  The elder Mumsby enjoyed torturing the clientele of his dental practice.  He also relished tormenting his family.  As another villainous patriarch states in an upcoming ghost story:  “Evil, like charity, begins at home.”
          How many real-life killers had troubled childhoods?  Nothing twists a mind better than a dysfunctional history of abuse or neglect at the hands of a parent from Hell, or another trusted adult.  My protagonist Dwayne Mumsby was taught the finer points of Evil during actual lessons with dear old Dad, who wanted to pass on the tricks of his trade to the same child serving as one of the tyrant’s primary victims.  Not only did Dwayne suffer physically and emotionally at the hands of his father, he was forced to endure psychological misery and woe by witnessing the man’s terrors as a dentist.  Many people are afraid of dentists who do not deliberately make them suffer, who instead wish to cure their suffering.  Dwayne’s father is a very cruel man who fears nothing and no one.  In his mind he is God, wielding absolute power, although his behavior is as demonic as it is depraved.
          Through the ages humans pondered the root of Evil, whether it be religious, supernatural, or manmade.  My horror tales run the gamut.  I myself believe there is evil in the universe, and it is not always derived from the deeds of men.  However, some of the most frightful horror can indeed stem from the heart of humanity.  I grew up in Wisconsin, home to various documented cases of evil behavior including Ed Gein, who inspired PSYCHO and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  As a child I heard tales about him making furniture out of people.  Following his arrest, he would reside in a mental institution a very short distance from my home.  Despite loving horror-themed entertainment since early childhood, this made me a little uneasy . . . especially at night.
          We understand now that some of the sickest minds were created by other disturbed minds, that they were themselves victims in a chain of abuse or violence that passed on generation to generation.  I echo this in MONSTROSITIES, where the son becomes even more twisted than the parent.  In the religious sense, true evil is a force greater than men.  Yet human beings have committed atrocities that rival those of demons.  At times actions speak louder than words or intent, and even the noblest cause can resort to what might be viewed as terror by different perspectives.  I dabbled with such themes in my first story collection, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, while my first novel DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS presents a magical setting inhabited by ancient gods and talking animals that spills over into the modern realistic world, combining mythologies in the guise of religions, similar to the way I tend to blend genres.  Spiritualism is a central current that carries a few of the characters through the wicked mayhem.  My novel AN ILL WIND BLOWS contains an evil storm, a wind deity who swallows a bellyful of good and bad “guys” then puts them through humorous and horrific challenges.  Gods in my tales are depicted as ambitious, often unfair, possessing a quirky assortment of pros and cons.
          In MONSTROSITIES I state:  “Society molded monsters.  Humans conceived more humans, but in the process of supporting them to maturity, the next generation might become less human.”  My evil protagonist Dwayne Mumsby is both victim and villain, raised by a devilish father and an unsupportive mother who could not or would not stand up to her husband and protect her child.  Nobody in his sad life defended him, not even Dwayne himself.  As a result, the poor fellow is quite insane.
          Tragically, fiction is not so far-fetched compared to the ordeals endured by too many in the real world.  Drawing on my own childhood for some of the darkness in my work, I try to speak up against bullying, against abuse and other evils that can and do in certain extremes beget further evil.
          I also like to let my imagination roam loose.  I do not feel bound to a certain trope or type of villain and conjure a number of them myself, basing others on established trends but tinkering with the formula.  Fascination with the dreary and macabre seems to come naturally; therefore, I will continue to examine and explore the vast nature of Evil as I write, seeking answers, providing insight or sustenance, provoking thought.  I have found that the chills and thrills of horror fiction help push back the darkness and give courage for coping with our dreads and actual woes.  I think the darkness makes the light shine all the brighter.
          To quote from my novel THE FAIRY FLY:  “Unfortunately, there will always be evil in the world to balance the good.  But virtues are priceless gems that no quantity of greed or heartlessness can gain.”
          Evil reminds each of us to be better.


Mark Parker on Evil:






ON THE NATURE OF EVIL
Evil: The Result of Freedom Put to the Test?

by

Mark Parker

For as long as human kind has been in existence, the question of evil, and its nature, has been on the minds, and in the hearts, of those in the natural order, created with intellect and the power to reason.  From the beginning of humanity’s inception, the struggle between good and evil—to find an apt correlation between the two—has been wrestled with by men and women, in hopes of finding some semblance of what the actual meaning of evil is.  But, more importantly, what it might mean to our lives; the import and impact it might have on us, both physically and spiritually. 
One might ask, how could any of us rightly know what evil is—or what it isn’t?  As is the same when attempting to define a universal concept such as love, try as we might, none of us really come close to defining what we’re attempting to, in considering such a thing.  Rather, in attempting to do so, we primarily point to the attributes a thing like evil is imbued with—as if doing so might sufficiently explain what our mere vocabulary cannot.
When asked to define evil, we mostly speak around the topic; talking of ghosts and goblins, demons and devils, possession and the possessed, as if each of these things might substantially offer some sort of true meaning to what it is that we’re questioning.  But, of course, to some extent even that fails—or at least falls short.  Humanity’s ongoing struggle to give definition to a concept like evil, only serves to produce a kind of existential, metaphysical tension in our hearts, minds, and souls, causing us to remain frustrated at still having no further clarity on the topic, despite how far we've managed to get in our discussions.  Why must it all be so difficult, we ask?  Can’t the meaning of evil really be as simple or un-convoluted as the playground assertion that evil is merely the word live spelled backwards?
In some ways, perhaps it can be—at least in rudimentary ways.  More often than not, the direst truths are based on a simple crux, inverted or otherwise.  In speaking of evil as the word live spelled backwards, we point to a simplistic rationale that in some ways makes perfect sense when we think about it.  And, why wouldn’t it?  Surely it can be said that evil is the counterpart or opposite of what is termed to be ‘good.’  The contrast to that which is, at the very least, life-giving.
Following St. Augustine and scholastics such as St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, it is suggested that in our attempt to define evil, we must not attribute to evil what is not proper to it, namely a nature or substantial existence of its own.  “Evil has no existence in itself, for it is merely a privation of good in some being, and not a positive being [in itself].  Evil is an absence, defect, a negation, a privation.  Evil is a lack of something in a good which is proper to it and which it ought to possess.”

When we consider what the origin of evil might be, most of us only have what generations of religious teachings or posited moral constructs have taught us.  And naturally so.  Scripture asserts that evil was the natural consequence of man choosing to “eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 3), when he was specifically instructed not to.  That, in fact, evil was the rightful result of man choosing disobedience over fidelity to his creator.  Disobedience inasmuch as our first parents chose to act in a way that was out of accord with what was intended, therefore relinquishing paradise in favor of subjugation.  The moral prison created through their act of betrayal.      
In most Western religious teachings—Christianity, most specifically—the time of man’s fall from grace created a path of diversion for the rest of humanity to follow—or at least, a move from man’s original innocence, to a state of original sin.
In an effort to illustrate this, if we consider a vessel carrying crude oil, should that vessel run aground—through the fault of the one operating it—therefore bleeding a hull of crude into an ecosystem that was pure prior to the vessel’s wreckage—it is clear to see how such an incident of the crude co-mingling with the system around it, forever tainted all that it came in contact with, thereby irreversibly altering the balanced purity of what existed before. 
Scripture would hold that, similarly, when our first parents chose to act in a way that was deigned to be out of accord with what their creator had provided for their sufficient good, they were left to live the result of their action; the same action that altered what was to follow in man’s continuing story.  This assertion speaks to the consequential breach that was formed, between who we were created to be…and who we've become through our oftentimes wrong exercising of the gift of our Free Will.
In studying the Spanish language, one quickly learns the word sin in Spanish translates to mean without, which is both interesting and telling in this instance.  Perhaps it could then be said that “evil” defines those times when humans act in ways contrary to their nature, or the will of the one who created us—outside the embrace of providential love.
Scripture would go on to suggest that in man’s fallen state, we have become consciously aware of our own propensity to choose evil, act in evil ways, or do evil things, and therefore are made all the more desperate for it.  While Christianity would assert that humanity was created with the gift of Free Will in order to choose freely to love our Creator, and love one another.   Simply put . . . when we live separate from this truth—this gift—we are living ‘in sin,’ or under the burden (or problem) of evil.  So in attempting to determine just what evil is, or what its nature is—whether it is cause or consequence—perhaps we might conclude it’s a bit of both.
In Clive Barker’s novel, The Damnation Game, the following quote opens the book, and aptly so:
“Hell is the place of those who have denied;
They find there what they planted and what dug,
A Lake of Spaces, and a Wood of Nothing,
And wander there and drift, and never cease
Wailing for substance.”
                                                        
                                                  —W. B. Yeats, The Hour Glass




Jeff Parish on Evil:




CHASING “EVIL”
By Jeff Parish
On the cartoon Spongebob, the geriatric Mermaid Man is famous for shouting “Evil!” and running off in some random direction. The evil may be a true villain, a tree or a water fountain. Some, like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, would have us believe the notions of “good” and “evil” are just as silly, mere abstract terms that have no real meaning. Among the more religious-minded, however, evil is a very real problem.
But what is “evil”?
In English, the word has two basic meanings. One is something that causes injury or harm. This is an archaic usage frequently found in the Bible. After Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he spent forty days on Mount Sinai talking with God and receiving the Commandments. In that time period, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf and worship it. Which understandably made the Lord angry. He decided He would wipe out the nation and start over with Moses (Exodus 32:10). But thanks to Moses’ intercession, “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Exodus 32:14). Or as the New American Standard puts it: “So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
The more prevalent meaning of “evil” and the we understand it is as a force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin. This definition is even more common in Scripture. The account of the Flood begins with, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  Judges 2:11 echoes a common refrain found throughout the book:  “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” In 2 Samuel 12:9, Nathan asks King David, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”
But where does this wickedness come from? Some argue that it must be God since He is the primum movens. Except Scripture says otherwise. Psalm 5:4 tells us the Lord is “not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Neither shall evil dwell with thee.” The New Testament takes it a step further with James 1:13 -- “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” The apostle John perhaps summed it up best in 3 John 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”
God does not create evil. In fact, evil is the antithesis of God. Genesis tells us what the Lord creates is good. C.S. Lewis notes in the ninth letter of The Screwtape Letters that evil lacks the power of creation. It can twist and distort that which God has provided, but it cannot truly make something new. Anything good can be warped and perverted. Take the desire to provide for a family or oneself. Push it a little further, and you get Ebenezer Scrooge.  Patriotism and love of one’s country can drive men to perform great, selfless deeds. They can also be used as an excuse for atrocities and give rise to men like Adolf Hitler. These are not things God created; they are what man has accomplished with what God has given him -- namely, free will.
As far back as the Garden, God has always given the human race a choice as to whether or not to follow His instructions. Life is a pass/fail, sink-or-swim kind of test, but the decisions are ours. We are not robots receiving instructions and mindlessly repeating a task over and over again. We are free moral agents. And that is something we should all embrace. Far from being cruel, God’s gift of free will is the ultimate display of love. As parents, we teach our children and send them out into the world with the ability to make their own decisions. We hope they choose good. We train them to do so, but that does not mean they will not stumble. Even with the best upbringing, a child may well make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences, be they personal, financial, or even criminal. Does that mean we hate our children? Of course not. Any parent who has to deal with a wayward child grieves and hurts like no other, but neither generation has a claim on the sins of the other, whether they were sins of omission or commission. We certainly have plenty of both.
History shows us that evil comes in two forms: Passive and active. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand. Names scream of cruelty and mass murder from the annals of time: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, the Khmer Rouge, the Inquisition. There is no doubt that these people and more did horrible things -- often in the name of helping their fellow man -- but how many of them could have climbed to such horrific heights without the broader population’s help? And how often did that aid come in the form of apathy or a blind eye? As John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” God does not come into this picture, except as an absence.
          Mankind has no one to blame but himself if his time on this earth is more Hell than Paradise. And that is evil, indeed.
********

Thank you to our authors for enlightening us on the subject of Evil. As we can see, our writers echo the main thesis of the introduction with terms like "free will" and "providence", the common elements tying "evil" to mankind's choices to act on anti-social behavior and connecting to God's plan for these choices to fit a predetermined course. 

But we can only delve so deep before we must look to examples to support our thesis. And that's where the second piece of our article will continue the aim of our thesis. 
In Part Two of Religion and Horror, we will look at eight works exemplifying the various views on religious evil as discussed in our introduction and in our essays. 

Here is a list of the works that will be analyzed:

Milton: Paradise Lost

William Peter Blatty The Exorcist

Billie Sue Mosiman Banished

Lisa Lane Myths of Gods

Hank Schwaeble Diabolical

Kat Yares Vengeance is Mine

Lori R. Lopez: Monstrosities

Elizabeth Massie Sineater.


We will announce on Facebook the date Part Two will go live. Check Anthony Servante’s timeline for updates. Until next time, choose the Darkness at least once a week. And thank you for visiting