Interview with DJ Tyrer: Duane Vorhees

Duane Vorhees

- Duane Vorhees



DJ Tyrer: I am a poet, author, and the person behind Atlantean Publishing, based in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, UK, and studied History and Welsh History at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. When not writing, I have worked in education and public relations and prefer to relax with a history book, a tabletop game or The King in Yellow (and combined these last two by providing introductory text for the Carcosa boardgame). I made the short and long lists of the Data Dump Award for Genre Poetry in the UK multiple times and was placed second in 2015. Publication credits include California Quarterly, Haiku Journal, The Pen, and Tigershark, and online at Atlas Poetica, Bindweed, Poetry Pacific, and Scarlet Leaf Review, as well as several chapbooks, including the critically acclaimed Our Story. My website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/ The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.wordpress.com/

DJ Tyrer
Duane Vorhees: What got you into the poetry scene?

DJT: I blundered into it through the publication of Monomyth (initially a collaboration with several sixth-form college friends). At the time there was a vibrant small press scene in the UK that I was utterly unaware of, but other editors got in touch and I was sucked into the wider web of publications and discovered just what was out there. Through them I came in contact with American poets and publishers and, later, those online and haven't stopped since.

DV: Were you writing poetry before you found these outlets?

DJT: I'd written a few poems (plus some song lyrics inspired by Weird Al's parodies), but despite an interest in the Welsh and Irish bards and the poetry of Tolkien, it was really only after I came into contact with other poets, and poetry editors, that I really began to write poetry. Back then, I saw myself as a prose author, then a prose author who also wrote poetry, but now it would be the other way around.

DV: Throughout my adolescence and beyond I thought of myself as an aspiring novelist who hated poetry. And then I became a poet. I’m not sure how the transformation came about, but it was instantaneous and complete.

DJT: Interestingly, I've read interviews with a few novelists who started out with poetry and then switched. It's a curious pattern.

DV: I assume that it’s largely a matter of economics. Not many people who write poetry can make a living at it. Do you take a professional approach to it – regular hours, clear goals, work quotas, standards of quality?

DJT: I try to keep to regular hours, it's a lot easier to produce work if it's your routine rather than something you do only when inspiration strikes. Goals are more often deadlines for prose submissions rather than poetry and I don't have a fixed division of time between the two, it just depends upon the mixture of what needs to be done and what ideas I have fizzing in my brain. Quality is always the real issue - there's no direct correlation between length and the time and effort it takes to produce it - a haiku appears deceptively simple but can sometimes take more effort than much longer poems because everything has to be just right to work within its constraints.

DV: Simplicity is complicated! I suppose that, to contemporary minds at least, is the main difference between prose and poetry. Long poems are generally unacceptable, and even short ones need to be focused and precise. Short stories – but especially novels – do not have the same demands (though editors usually tell new writers to reduce their manuscripts by half – again, I think, driven by economics). Novelists probably need a lot of space to develop character, advance plot, establish setting, and so forth, and poets don’t usually need to worry about those things. What about “poetic language”? Is that something that has become passé, along with form, rhyme, rhythm, regular meter, and the other common aspects of traditional poetry?

DJT: It is! And, that's where too many modern novels go wrong - they ramble.... It would be good to see more long poems, longer prose poems and prose fiction that has more poetry in their language. (There are stories that are best told in a more workmanlike or even staccato way, but many would benefit from more beautiful language and construction. It's a shame the two worlds of writing tend to be disconnected today.) Personally, I think there is still a place for traditional styles of poetry. Being unconstrained works for some poems, but others need that scaffolding, and it's good to challenge yourself to try and work within a form (even if it doesn't work out too well - you can always recycle your ideas into something else and bin the mess!). As much as there are poets working in the modern style whose work I enjoy (more so than modern prose), I do enjoy going back to old favourites.

DV: What old favorites do you go back to most often?

DJT: The ones who draw me back most often are John Donne, Lord Byron, John Keats, the Bronte sisters, Oscar Wilde and the British Decadent poets of the Gay Nineties, and Charles Baudelaire, as well as the songs of WS Gilbert. Moving into the early twentieth century, HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and JRR Tolkien, all of whom drew upon older poetic traditions.

DV: It’s interesting that you would transition from edgy classic poets to mid-20th century horror/fantasy prose writers. Which end of that spectrum seems to be your main source of inspiration? Can you give us an illustrative example?

DTJ: Well, Clark Ashton Smith was strongly influenced/inspired by Baudelaire, and Lovecraft to some extent, so it's a natural transition there. I think it's a toss-up which has the strongest influence (I write a lot of weird poetry and a lot influenced by the Decadent/Aesthetic tradition), and I've written a number that merge the two strands by borrowing Decadent styles and tropes for poems with weird themes (not a difficult thing to do). For an overt example of such cross-pollination, a pastiche of Wilde's The Harlot's House incorporating elements of the Yellow Mythos inspired by Robert W. Chambers, The Prophet's House, can be found in issue 4 of Tigershark ezine.

DV: Can you share that with us?

DTJ: Here it is:
The Prophet’s House
     After Oscar Wilde

We caught the tread of hurried feet,
Striding down the dark, foggy street,
And stopped beside the Prophet’s House.

Within, accompanied by jeers,
We heard the sound of awful tears
That seemed all hope and joy to douse.

Strange life-like clockwork mannequins,
Stiffly miming all human sins,
Silhouettes upon the curtain.

We observed carnal shadows play,
Move and thrust and then jerk and sway:
Passionate, wanton and certain.

Then the figures commenced to dance,
Mechanically began to prance,
To the sound of that bitter cry.

Moving first fast then moving slow,
Past curtained window each would flow;
Now we heard naught but a soft sight.

Sometimes clockwork puppets would pause,
Although we never knew the cause,
And one began to softly sing.

One horrible marionette,
A tall, raggedy silhouette,
Stood still and lordly as a King.

Turning to my True Love, I cried,
“The twin suns set and day has died,
“The dark stars fill the sky above.”

But she – she was tempted by sin
And stepped quickly, my Love, within:
Truth vanished with my only Love.

A phantom on curtain appeared,
As through the dusty panes I peered,
An echo of my one desire.

And down the lonely empty street,
The Stranger crept on nimble feet,
Caused me silently to expire.

DV: This is a wonderful little poem that hints at more than it reveals (like any good ecdysiast – but I digress). The tail-rhyme is the perfect choice, evoking Middle English romances, like Geoffrey Chaucer’s Sir Thopas and his ill-fated quest to win the elf-queen. (Coincidentally, “thopaz” was really “topaz,’ which in the 14th century included any yellowish quartz.) But what strikes me about it in particular is the way it relies on Wilde’s poem (in fact, quietly incorporating many of his lines) without blatantly referencing him, and how it relates to Chambers but without relying on him; by that, I mean anyone can enjoy your poem without having any familiarity with the Yellow Mythos. It beautifully stands on its own. How long did it take you to write it?

DJT: That's exactly how it should be - it's very easy to become so entwined in a source that only those intimately familiar with it can understand what you've written. The inspiration should be something that a reader can optionally explore to gain a deeper understanding of the piece, not a necessity to understand it at all. I'm not sure how long it took me to write it (it's been a while), but I do remember it took a lot of rewriting, tweaking before it worked how I wanted it to. But, I also remember it was one of the most fun poems I've written, the pleasure when a section comes together. It's probably because I like Wilde's original, but this is one of my favourite poems.

DV: Writing poetry can be confessional or aspirational, or therapeutic. But it can also be challenging and fun! Why do you think people should incorporate poetry into their ordinary lifestyle activities (like listening to music, watching movies, or attending sporting events)?

DJT: Education has done a lot to damage poetry in the eyes of many people - reading it is seen as a chore and it is imagined to be somehow too difficult for the casual reader (yet, how many of them enjoy listening to songs or reciting the odd bit of doggerel?) - when it can hit the same emotional notes that other activities do. Indeed, while poetry can exist purely to amuse without any particular depth, and that sort of light entertainment is good relaxation and shouldn't be dismissed, it offers a means of refining thought and emotion in a way that other modes of expression struggle with. A good haiku can provide more power and insight than a novel. Poetry can help us to make sense of the world, our feelings about it, our reactions to it - and, in the current climate, that can only be a good thing.

DV: As a former English teacher (and history teacher, too), I have my own thoughts about how my colleagues have ruined the subject for so many of their students. What do you think they have done, or are doing, wrong? What should they be doing?

DJT: We need teachers who can bring poetry alive for their students, show them that it can touch the soul and offer a release in ways that prose cannot. Before students reach the point where they are analyzing structure and meaning, poems should have been well established in their lives as something that can delight, enlighten or allow us to grieve. Poetry should be at the core of our lives, not something rarified that most are not expected to understand.

DV: In much the same way that young people automatically incorporate music into their lifestyle. I wonder if that isn’t in part because of the modernist turn away from the musical elements of poetry.  We might scorn Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” (Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, / On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: / Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers that famous day and year.) but nonetheless it’s easy to listen to and easy to remember. We may belittle “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (He did not wear his scarlet coat, / For blood and wind are red, / And blood and wine were on his hands / When they found him with the dead, / The poor dead woman whom he loved, / And murdered in his bed.) but this is by far the most popular of Wilde’s poems. Is it the case, then, that the fault, dear poets, is not in the stars but in ourselves?

DJT: Yes, I think that is a large part of it. Again, it goes back to poetry being seen as something difficult and elitist - lyrical qualities pull you into the poem. That's not to say that 'difficult' poems have no value, but when the idea of there being a barrier that must be overcome, a sort of test to become a member of the Poetry Appreciation Club, that this is somehow intrinsic to poetry, people miss out. Beautiful words, beautiful rhythms should draw us in. With so many different types of poetry, there should be something to appeal to everyone and we need to encourage people to experience different types of poem to find the ones they enjoy, without judging their tastes against some imaginary yardstick of worthiness.

DV: The very variety you speak of both liberates and muddles. It opens many possibilities for creativity and discernment but makes it even more difficult to understand what a poem “is.” Lovers of rap may not even realize that other kinds of poetry may also have the capacity to impact their lives (though the anti-rap snobs are probably more likely to be guilty of such blindness or insensitivity). A century on, the great Modernist rejections of traditional approaches to art, music, literature, etc. still divide society between elite and popular taste, neither really respecting (or even apprehending) the other’s validity. But, shouldn’t educators have some responsibility in creating the individual’s capacity for establishing criteria? Instead of insisting that the “classics” are superior to rap, for instance, why not try getting kids to understand why some rappers are better than other rappers and why some traditional poets are better than others (while also understanding that these preferences are personal rather than universal)? 

DJT: Yes, rather than an insistence upon some forms being worthy and others not, we need to introduce people to a wide range of poetry, then help them to evaluate what makes a 'good' poem (whether that is in the context to an adherence to form or in the context of the reaction it inspires in the reader), discussing them without prejudice. Unfortunately, we too often see an insistence upon identifying themes without really exploring the poems themselves and churning out poetry to meet certain tick-box criteria (such as having attempted a specific form or written to a specific theme) without any attempt to engender an interest in the poem they are reading or writing. In too many classrooms, poems could be replaced with a random selection of words or sentences without making any difference to the lessons. But, you are right to say that the sheer breadth of the subject can make it confusing. This is why poetry needs to be present in a child's development, at home and school, from an early age, to give them as much exposure as possible to as many kinds before, by necessity, their more formal later education can restrict what they study in detail. After all, most parents sing to their children and recite nursery rhymes and nonsense rhymes, and slightly older children love to read or be read rhyming picture books. It is a shame that this tends to peter out and they aren't encouraged to continue exploring poetry except as the occasional imposition.

DV: Yes. But rather than further imposing on you, I suppose this is a good place to end our conversation, for now. I really do thank you for the time you’ve given me and for your thoughtful answers.


DJT: It's been an interesting and enjoyable conversation. Thanks. 

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