[This month, we sit down with horror poet, weird fiction author, artist, and gardener K.A. Opperman. Here, he discusses his love of Halloween, his upcoming poetry collections, and his cheesecake-style artwork.]
ev0ke: How would you describe your personal spiritual practice? Are you part of a tradition or is it more eclectic?
K.A. Opperman: My personal spirituality revolves around nature, and the changing of the seasons. Nothing fills me with a sense of a higher power and purpose more than witnessing and observing the turning of this great wheel. And for me—as it seems to have been for the ancient Celts—Halloween, or Samhain, is the culmination of that cycle, the highest holy day, the highest point of fruition ere the oblivion of winter. The harvest, to me, is the year’s dream, manifested.
ev0ke: Most of your poetry falls into the horror, dark fantasy, and weird fiction realms. What draws you to those particular genres? What do you find so compelling about them?
KAO: For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the horror genre, and ‘dark’ things in general. For me, the weird and the unreal have always had a strong attraction that I could not ignore. Perhaps it is because I myself have always been a little unusual … perhaps I felt a sense of kinship with the characters in these genres; a sympathy for the atmosphere and aesthetic. It’s hard to say!
ev0ke: Your poetry is rich with mythology and folklore. Do you find yourself pulling from one particular mythos, or does it change depending on the project?
KAO: I read a lot of nonfiction, and many of my poems are inspired by obscure bits of folklore I pick up during my reading. Of all topics, Halloween is my area of most intense focus. I have a growing library of nonfiction books about Halloween, and I devour them with an endless appetite. So it is the multi-faceted and intermingled lore of Halloween — drawn from and evolved by so many cultures and countries — that serves as my chief inspiration. American Halloween, as we know it today, is an ever-evolving melting-pot of history and folklore with soundless depths ….
ev0ke: Your second poetry collection, The Laughter of Ghouls, is being released by Hippocampus Press. First, congratulations! Second, why that title? Are the ghouls laughing, and should we be concerned if they are?
KAO: Thanks very much! That title is meant to subtly allude to the fact that — for me at least — many of my poems are secretly meant to be funny on some level. I take great delight in describing over-the-top scenes of morbidity — but I do so in as serious and earnest a way as possible, so that not everyone may be laughing by poem’s end. I’ve long had a tendency to think of absolutely ridiculous scenarios and images and treat them as seriously as possible, to see what would result — I think it’s a hallmark of my approach to writing in general.
I also ought to mention that The Laughter of Ghouls will not actually be my second collection — I have a book of Halloween poems being released this October! (Ghouls will come out early 2021.) Keep an eye out for Past the Glad and Sunlit Season: Poems for Halloween from Jackanapes Press [available for pre-order here] ….
ev0ke: How did you decide which poems to include in this collection? How did you decide what the focus would be?
KAO: Basically, I just took almost everything I had written since completing my first collection, and put it all together. Early on, I decided I wanted to focus on classic Gothic subject matter for this collection, so that is the stuff I started to write, going forward. I kept a tight focus on that for a very long time, but eventually broadened my scope a bit, and ended up including some folk horror and dark fantasy — things on the fringe of what might be considered strictly Gothic.
ev0ke: Your first collection, The Crimson Tome, includes work in a variety of forms, including sonnets, quatrains, and rhyming couplets. Which form has been the most difficult, but ultimately satisfying, to master? And what advice can you offer other poets who are struggling with these classical forms?
KAO: The truth is, I used to enjoy the challenge of writing within difficult forms, but nowadays, I find the most simple forms to be the most natural and enjoyable to write — my most favored form being quatrains with 8-syllable lines, in ABAB rhyme. That is about as simple as it gets, and some would find that boring, but once you have really mastered writing in rhyme and meter, I find that the simplest forms can become all the more powerful and satisfying to write in.
Ultimately, I would say to choose the form that best seems to help your voice express itself. If you are forcing yourself to write a sonnet, for example, but the meaning and emotion of the poem gets lost in the heartless rigors of form, who have you impressed? No one. An English professor, maybe — but that’s about it. And anyway, poetry is not about impressing people — it’s about emotion. It’s about touching the heart and soul with ephemeral whispers on a faded page.
ev0ke: Without spoiling too much, what can you tell us about the town of Yorehaven? Should we plan a trip to visit there?
KAO: Yorehaven is a place I invented a long time ago, in imitation of the towns in H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction. He was an important early influence on my writing, so naturally, as a young writer, I couldn’t help but emulate him a bit. Yorehaven is an ancient town whose exact whereabouts are hard to pin down, where it is always autumn — a place where dreamers go, to live, and never be seen again …. By all means, plan a visit — it’s a riot of a town! You can learn all about this place in my first collection, The Crimson Tome, but I haven’t expanded upon it elsewhere.
ev0ke: Art is also an important creative endeavor for you. First, how would you describe your style, and how did it come about? Was it natural or developed over time?
KAO: As of fourteen months ago, I began a serious pursuit of the visual arts. For basically my entire life, I’d wanted to be an artist, but never could stick with it for some reason. I used to draw endlessly when I was a kid, and the very first college classes I took were art classes. I wanted to be an art major, but soon discovered that I was more naturally talented in the literary arts, so visual art fell by the wayside for many, many years.
Now, however, I am back at it like never before, finally making real progress! My primary focus is on pinup art, under the ‘company’ name OpperArt (Insta: @opperart; Facebook: OpperArt). I am a cheesecake art fanatic, so it was inevitable that that would be my own primary artistic direction. Most of the ladies I draw are Halloween inspired — lots of witches and devils. Many people tell me my art looks like tattoo art, which I did study a bit early on.
I think I had my own natural way of drawing things, which I’ve continued to refine over time. To some extent, we artists need to copy others to make progress, but I also like to take note when I do certain things a particular way, and make sure those elements don’t get lost during my continuing development. After all, those little quirks are what make our art unique! There are innumerable pinup artists on Instagram, mostly working in digital, whose work all looks exactly the same — I don’t want to be one of them!
I myself — for now — work exclusively in traditional mediums.
ev0ke: What is your drawing process like? Lots of rough sketches or do you just go where the muse leads?
KAO: Usually — and it’s the same for writing poems — I need to have an idea of what I’m trying to create before I sit down to do it. For visual art, I need to have the pose and/or composition mostly worked out in my head before I start sketching. I have to see a vague picture in my head before I can start to bring it to life. I always start with a rough sketch using basic shapes; then, I go over that with permanent india ink. A few moments later, when the ink is dry, I erase all of the underlying pencils; then, I refine the ink drawing, adding line values and in general touching things up. When that’s all done, I color with alcohol-based markers, first laying down the base colors, then adding shadows and blending. The very last thing I’ll do is add a couple white highlights, such as to the eyes and lips, or wherever something ought to look shiny.
ev0ke: Which how-to books would you recommend to people who are just starting out?
KAO: The single most helpful art instruction book I have come across is Figure It Out! Human Proportions: Draw the Head and Figure Right Every Time by Christopher Hart. If you want to draw people (which is something that intimidated me for many years, and something that I think scared me away from art in general), this is an excellent starting place, which can be supplemented by Youtube videos, and just paying close attention to actual people and the subtle details of how they look!
ev0ke: Where can readers and art lovers find your work?
KAO: Past the Glad and Sunlit Season: Poems for Halloween has just wrapped up, and will be available in early October from Jackanapes Press (follow their Facebook page!). A sequel to this, October Ghosts and Autumn Dreams: More Poems for Halloween, is already finished and will also be released by Jackanapes Press in autumn of 2021. A third volume of Halloween verse is projected to be released in autumn of 2022. And if all goes according to plan, all three collections may be collected in an omnibus volume with a tentative release of autumn 2023.
Thanks for having me!