[Note from interviewer Rebecca Buchanan: I have had the privilege of featuring Scott J. Couturier’s work in Eternal Haunted Summer many times. When he invited me to write the introduction to his new collection, I Awaken in October, I was thrilled to do so. Here, he discusses his poetry and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: Your latest poetry collection, I Awaken in October: Poems of Folk Horror and Halloween is due out soon from Jackanapes Press. First, congratulations! Second, how did this collection come about? Why a collection centered around folk horror and the Halloween season?
Scott J. Couturier: Thank you! & especial thanks for writing the introduction to I Awaken In October. I’m honored to have had many of the poems first appear in your excellent publication, Eternal Haunted Summer.
There are a lot of strains in my poetic output. Some are more horrific, Gothic, or outright Weird/cosmic in subject & tone – & there is certainly more than a little of that in IAIO. But entwined with these themes is a brightly venerative effusion towards Nature. The natural world exerts a mystic fascination over me, the focuses of my personal reverence (insofar as I feel drawn to anthropomorphic deities) being Pan, Cernunnos, Gaea, et cetera.
As for “why folk horror and Hallowe’en,” I’ve been strongly compelled by autumn & the rituals of Samhain ever since childhood. Now I understand I was responding to the veiled nearness of ancient pagan ritual, vibrating just under the surface of a fun kid’s holiday; that, & the actual thinning of the veil. I was raised Catholic, but always experienced a profound disassociation from monotheistic symbols & thinking of any kind. Discovering my reverence for Nature was akin to arriving home in my heart & soul. I know Nature is sacred, & it is manifestly present in our everyday existence, as opposed to an obscure god-being located on some other plane. Moreover, we are outgrowths of Nature, & must find our respectful place within it as the anthropocene rolls mercilessly forward. I am compelled to think we need to re-invest our perceptions of the natural world with the “divine dread” of the sacred; that way, we won’t take it for granted & abuse it as we have throughout the industrial revolution, the “gasoline crack of history” as Burroughs calls it, which is now closing.
ev0ke: The collection is organized into five sections, each loosely themed around the seasons and the passage of the year. Did that organization just seem natural, or did it take some time to figure it out?
SJC: Putting the collection together required a lot of time & personal reflection. Originally I had assembled a much larger overview: folk horror, pagan/nature, & autumnal themes forming a sub-category in a wide survey of Weird & cosmic horror. When the publisher (Dan Sauer, at Jackanapes Press) read over the manuscript, he was very helpful in suggesting that I hone the collection’s focus. I then worked at assembling IAIO’s manuscript, writing a number of new poems to fill thematic gaps I found in the material.
As for “why this collection:” I had recently gone through a significant series of upheavals & losses in my life. I decided to focus on the question of what single poetry collection I would leave behind me, if I could choose only one. This is that collection (though hopefully not my only one!). I’ve dedicated IAIO to my grandmother, who passed 2/22/2020, a major link in that chain of loss & upheaval. Many of the poems in the collection were read to her from 2017-2020, & she strongly encouraged me in my writing. So, these are the poems in my broader output that I shared with her, & that also compelled me to focus on assembling this material first.
ev0ke: The poems draw upon not only your imagination, but also folk beliefs about the harvest, the wilderness, and the spirits of nature. What sort of research went into the collection? And which belief or custom did you absolutely **have** to write about?
SJC: My investigations into pagan traditions are always ongoing. Sometimes I’ll read about a practice or legend & feel suffused by it, inspired to the point where the words just pour out. “Year’s Walk,” currently nominated for a Rhysling Award, is an example of that; it’s based on the Swedish divinatory practice of Årsgång, which involves someone observing a series of ritualistic practices all day before either Christmas or New Year’s. That night, the person would wander into the wilderness, heading towards the nearest churchyard. In the process, they beheld a ghastly assortment of visions, from hearses drawn by headless horses (signifying those who will die in the coming year) to the multifarious allures of Faerie, which the seer must resist at all cost. In reading about the tradition, I became overwhelmed by the atmosphere of it; & inspiration is generally quick to follow such immersion.
Re: practices I knew I had to write about from the get-go, “All Fires Light The Wicker Man” is the consummation of many threads in my life. Though I’d long understood my reverence for the natural world, viewing the 1973 film The Wicker Man circa 2012 opened me completely to a new, ecstatic experience of Nature. & so, this poem more-or-less glorifies Sgt. Howie’s immolation as the villagers gleefully sing in the Summertide. Even though the practice of burning people in wicker men is thought to be a garish exaggeration created by the Romans to justify conquering the ‘barbarians,’ it is nonetheless an extremely potent image of sacrifice, of death & rebirth. I like to think Sgt. Howie did reincarnate in Summerisle’s apples, & found the experience quite glorious.
ev0ke: Which poem was the most difficult, but ultimately the most satisfying to compose?
SJC: Hm. Interestingly, the poem that went through the most re-writes (a dozen or more over several years) is “Hexennacht,” which depicts the lurid phantasmagoria of the Sabbat celebration as viewed through the distorting Christian lens (though I draw the line at invoking Satan). So, riotous revelry, witches in flight, human and animal sacrifice, ecstatic rutting, & a “tumid, Pan-like Baphomet” leering at ceremony’s heart. It has an odd beat to it, almost a chanting element, requiring certain stresses that evaded me for years. Finally, though, I can read it out loud and be satisfied with it!
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SJC: Right now, I’m settling into promotion for I Awaken In October & my recently released collection of Weird fiction, The Box, which is newly available from Hybrid Sequence Media. Beyond that, I’m busy writing & assembling manuscripts; I’ve just started work on my follow-up to I Awaken In October, which will also see release on Jackanapes Press. The stand-in title for this collection is The Idiot God & it will have an ethos of pure cosmic horror. I’m also assembling my second fiction collection, titled From Weir, & have my sights set on attempting a novel over the coming winter. Back in March 2020 I set myself a goal of completing at least one short story a month, & so far I’ve stuck by that goal. Also, my band (with my partner Shayne Keen) Nefarious Foodie just released our second album, titled Pretty Black Sun. There’s a lot of pagan influence in our music; some of the lyrics to songs on the album will be featured in my second collection of folk horror & nature reverence poetry, which I only just started writing the body of in August. So, much to be done!