Today Weston Ochse tells me why poetry and how much wordplay means to him. I know Weston from his military fiction. This departure from his norm reveals his depths—and what a hellion he was as kid.
Okay. Okay. As long as you asked me why I wrote a short story collection, I will come clean. I cut my teeth on poetry. My first published works were poetry. I grew up with the snapping of fingers and husky-voiced women sipping Mogan David telling us bad poetry over a door spread across boxes as our dining room table when I was six. Well, that’s not fair. No poetry is really bad if fueled by the heart.
Plus, I thought I might have an interesting childhood. From drinking turpentine, to biting the heads off gold fish, to chasing old men down the street with dead snakes until they paid me a dime to leave them alone, to making a fake Rutger Hauer cry—all comically juxtaposed with a father who didn’t want me, being sexually manipulated, seeing friends die, and hardly knowing myself.
Just when I think my story is my own, I get emails about how others experienced many of the same feelings of inadequacy and valuelessness, only under different circumstance. For instance, I doubt many of the people I know bite the heads off goldfish, but it doesn’t make them any less fantastic.
When I was four we had gold fish. For some reason, I loved the feeling of biting their heads of-it was so pleasing. The way the flesh parted between my new sharp teeth and the slight tang of the fish-scented water. Then, afraid I might get into trouble, I put the bodies back into the water and the heads into a plant on an end table with poetry by Walt Whitman. My mother was so busy being a single mom, she didn't notice the floating dead fish until the smell fermented properly.
I suppose nowadays I’d be arrested and thrown into a padded cell. They say that serial killers began at home by killing small animals. Do fish count? Was that one of my possible destinies? I never felt like I was going to be a serial killer. Then again, which killer ever thinks they might be wrong?
“Wait. What? Why not simply write a short story collection?”
That’s a good one. I love the immediacy of poetry. I also love the style. Poems don’t need to rhyme, but many readers expect rhyming poetry. Yet, that’s such a small fragment of poems once popularized in the pre-Victorian Age. Now we have many styles such as Villanelles, free verse, sestina, lyrics, epics, narrative, pantoums, rondeaus, tankas, haikus, and all of those limericks your drunken uncle might have inappropriately said at Thanksgiving Dinner. There are many more, but you get the idea. I tend to concentrate on free verse and narrative, although I have dabbled and had published some of the others.
But that really doesn’t answer your question. I suppose I wanted to open my literary aperture so that I might expand on my ability to communicate my inner self to the outer realm in a more dynamic mode. Prose is one way. Creative non-fiction is another, but neither lack the immediacy of a great poem.
I am a disciple of the Beat Poets, especially William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Alen Ginsberg, and Ishmael Reed from whom I have some of his words tattooed on my forearms.
Reed’s Poem “I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra” begins with I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra, I bedded down with Isis, our lady of the Boogaloo. Then there is this section that appears halfway through the poem:
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Lord of the lash,
the Loup Garou Kid. Half breed son of Pisces and
Aquarius. I hold the souls of men in my pot. I do
the dirty boogie with scorpions. I make the bulls
keep still and was the first swinger to grape the taste.
Or Ginsberg’s “Howl” which helped a generation storm forth. It opens with:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through
the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
Can you feel the energy of those poems? The intensity? My god, if harnessed, we could change the world. Then there is my opening salvo in my short story eponymous collection Ziggy Stardust Turpentine Koolaid. It opens with these lines:
Riotous sun cooking my brain
as I sit and stare longingly at the
white liquid resting in a mason jar,
Delicious and deadly on a hard-baked stoop.
Half-crazed from boredom I glare at this world.
Do you know who I am? What I'm about?
Me, grand master of the bamboo rod, eater of
goldfish, head spitter and hider of bodies.
Me, Tow-headed maverick of the Great Plains,
I once even saw a buffalo, flick its tail like a
Great Fuck you to Buffalo Bill
before I even knew what Fuck You meant.
Me, chaser away of fathers, hated of all sons,
five-year-old testament to the fact that love
is a Cracker Jack lotto.
Convicted to a one parent family
Yeah. I dig poetry. Wait? What was the question again? Oh yeah, the reason I didn’t make this a short story collection was simple and selfish. I didn’t want to. I wanted to write a book of poetry. And I wanted to do it old school. Self-published.
And, uh, sorry. I think I might have overshared.
USA Today Best-selling author Weston Ochse has been hailed by the American Library Association as “one of the major horror authors of the 21st Century.” His work has won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won four New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. The author of more than forty books, his franchise work includes the X-Files, Predator, Aliens, AVP, Hellboy, Clive Barker’s Midian, and Joe Ledger. He was one of the founding authors of the NETFLIX TV series V-Wars. Living Dangerously: www.westonochse.com