Interview: Walking in the Mad Shadows of Garth von Buchholz

Repost of interview by Cara Madison, August 25, 2010. Edited for length.

Garth von Buchholz is one of those evocative, unpredictable authors who explores the light and dark of the human condition. His work is refreshingly bold when exploring uncharted lands at breakneck speeds, yet as subtle as a summer breeze when pondering over the beauty and majesty of the unknown. Garth is an author of dark fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction who lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and raised in Winnipeg, Montreal and Vancouver.

Garth is the owner of a digital media company and also the publisher of Dark Eye Glances. He is also the producer of the Edgar Allan Poe 200 Project, and the founder of Poe International. I had the great pleasure of being able to poke and prod at him with some questions about his creative process and future projects, all of which he was kind enough to answer.

CM: Can you tell us a little bit about “Mad Shadows,” the collection of your poetry published in June by Black Sun Poetry?

GVB: Mad Shadows is the first book-length collection of some of my previously published poetry that has appeared in various magazines, journals and books over the years. There are only 15 of my published poems so it’s not a complete collection, but the ones selected have a very personal meaning to me in some way. It’s also different because on the flip side of each page, after each poem, Black Sun included some revealing notes from me about what inspired the poem. For example, F L A T L A N D was inspired by someone I know who had experienced tremendous physical and psychological abuse in her life.

CM: Did you feel that providing the author’s notes to each piece opened a window to your mind, and revealed the real you?

GVB: I guess I opened the window just a crack, but can you ever believe what a writer writes about his internal condition? I mean, we write fiction, right, so how much of it is fiction and how much fact? We’re expert liars. Read the subtext and maybe you’ll find the truth revealed somewhere in the spaces between the words.

CM: How important is putting a little piece of your soul into a poem?

GVB: I can write a poem on demand. I’ve done it before for greeting cards, wedding tributes, children’s verse, obituaries and so forth. There’s a certain mechanics to it once you know the craft. But the best stuff always arises from the darkest depths. That said, I think the 20th century had too many navel-gazing poets, and I always urge myself to write outside my own personal realm, or to at least speak to the more universal implications of what I am experiencing. That’s why poetry should be evocative rather than literal. I mean, there’s a place for literal poetry that is well-crafted, but the more evocative, intangible words are the ones that really reach inside your readers. They’re not reading about Garth’s world, they’re reading Garth’s words that evoke something from within their own world. I’m not saying I always achieve that, but that’s what I’m striving toward.

CM: What is your favorite poem in this book?

GVB: Probably one of the newer ones. I really like Mad Shadows because it’s a very Poe-ish poem about someone who senses the presence of ghosts in his home. I think my favorite is The Knight, Death and the Devil even thought it isn’t my most well-crafted poem, just because it connects a medieval painting by Albrecht Dürer to a dream I had about my father before he died.

CM: If you could go back and “relive” any of the experiences that inspired any one of your poems, which one would it be?

GVB: Silence Ascending. It was a shared moment of oneness and elation with a special friend in my life.

CM: Do you feel that writing poetry is an eternally evolving art, or will traditional poetry always have its place in mainstream society?

GVB: You know, I wrote a rant about this on Goodreads once. Fucking poetry. I love it and hate it. I hate poetry when it becomes so precious and geeky that only an elite few can understand and appreciate it. And I also hate it when song lyrics are taken to be great poetry when most of them are poorly constructed and use clichés and trite expressions.

On the other side, I love the poetry of the ages, some of it almost forgotten now, that is so incredibly potent and sublime. And I love reading a new poet who knows shit about how poetry is “supposed to be” written and simply writes brilliant stuff from his or her heart. Personally, I think there will be a small revolution in the next generation led by today’s babies who will grow up to reject tech-speak, bad grammar and uninspired vocabulary.

They’ll be the new poets who love language and passion and expression.

CM: Many publications refuse to accept, or look down on, rhyming poetry. Why do you feel that so many people are against it?

GVB: Ha! There’s my pet peeve. I blame the boomer generation who rejected old world rhyming poetry in favor of beat poetry, sight poetry, blank verse, etc, because they wanted poetry to speak the language of the people rather than what they felt was a stale, stilted, old-fashioned and formulaic school of poetry. That’s bullshit.

There’s good non-rhyming poetry and shitty non-rhyming poetry just like there’s good and bad rhyming verse. We’ve lost some of the craft and technique of writing quality rhyming verse but I hope I can foster its development.

CM: You obviously have a great love of poetry. Who are some of your favorite poets?

GVB: Poe. Blake. Cummings. Baudelaire. Donne. Shakespeare. Whitman. Rilke. Eliot. These are a few that come to mind instantly. My Poe International is community site for people to go and express their love for the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

CM: What inspired you to create this group?

GVB: You want to know why? It was a year before Poe’s 200th birthday and no one was talking about it at all, at least online. No discussions, no websites. It was appalling. I started the Edgar Allan Poe 200 Project in December 2007 with my company’s own resources and a few committed creative types, then a few months later after being on social media sites like MySpace and Facebook some copycats started emerging, which was fine by me because I always felt that the Project’s activities online motivated some people to start making plans for Poe’s bicentennial in January 2009.

I’ve been reading Poe since I was a kid, and when I was in university I was so immersed in Poe’s work. I’ve written scholarly articles about him and his work, too. So I was very proud that the EAP 200 Project mad such a big splash, became one of the highest ranked Poe sites in the world (just under the Poe museum in Baltimore, I believe), and attracted interest worldwide. We got some media coverage, too. Poe belongs to the world, not just to the United States.

CM: At an early age Edgar Allan Poe watched his mother “die” repeatedly on stage, and became fascinated with death after she died at a young age of consumption. What drew you to the darker side of life?

My parents divorced when I was very young, which was like a kind of death in our family, and my mother, sister and I lived in a kind of working poverty, very serious. At one point all three of us were living in a cheap, one-bedroom apartment. My own teen years were fraught with a lot of dark stuff, too, and some of my first jobs were in the hotel business where I saw many of the worst aspects of human nature. I saw a man die on the floor in front of me, watched people drink themselves into a senseless rage, and witnessed all kinds of sexual aberrations.

CM: You mentioned earlier that you have worked in the theatre, what roles did you play, and secondly, what was your favorite role?

GVB: My favorite roles were in my own plays. In one, I played an axe-wielding executioner who actually made the audience laugh (intentionally). In another, I did a soliloquy about a man who was abducted and sexually assaulted by aliens, and it turned the audience members’ blood to ice. Loved that. But I was more involved in theatre as a playwright, director and producer, and now I wish I would have done more acting.

CM: Can you offer any advice for all the aspiring actors and actresses out there?

GVB: Yes. Write plays. The best plays seem to be written by performers, not literary types like me. Even Shakespeare was reputed to have been an actor at an early stage in his career. I admire the actors I know, such as the amazing Derek Aasland, who played a role in my play Land of Milk and Honey many years ago and has become one of Canada’s finest stage and screen talents, imho.

CM: Your novel DESCENDANT combines horror, romance and sci-fi, can you tell us a little bit more about it? When can we expect its publication?

GVB: Unfortunately it has no publisher or release date yet because I haven’t finished the manuscript, but I have already received some serious interest from an agent and a couple of trade publishers. DESCENDANT is about a dead man who was a serial killer of children during his lifetime, the man’s great-grandson who starts becoming aware of his evil ancestor through some very unusual, personal experiences, and a woman who falls in love with the protagonist while she is searching for answers about her grandmother’s death. I love this novel but I never have time enough to finish writing it. I am hoping to finish it by the end of this year.

CM: Who are your favorite and the most influential authors?

GVB: Poe (again), Blake, Blatty, Steinbeck, Yeats, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Ondaatje, Salinger, Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor spring to mind.

My sister and I once wrote to J.D. Salinger and received two separate letters from him. If you don’t believe it, I don’t care. I’ve also received correspondence from writers/artists such as Stephen King, Vincent Price and the award-winning poet Margaret Avison. I am thrilled to have made those connections in my lifetime, although I am somewhat pissed that one of my favorite authors, William Peter Blatty, never wrote back to me even though I wrote him two letters–not emails, letters. Ah, those writers….

CM: Between writing books of poetry, running numerous groups and penning novels, are you able to find the time for any hobbies?

GVB: Yes! Playing with my 5-year-old daughter, collecting antique books, inline skating, reading novels and poetry, getting tattoos, visiting historical sites everywhere I travel, exploring new fashions and styles, singing whenever I have an opportunity, studying the paranormal, and appreciating beauty in every form.

CM: Are there any political or social issues you feel passionately about?

GVB: I’m gravely concerned about sexual exploitation, sexual slavery and sex tourism involving women and children around the world. And I’m concerned about unemployment and poverty in the industrial nations as well as in the third world.

I’m also a supporter of the wonderful medical and humanitarian aid for Chinese orphans that is being provided by Love Without Boundaries.

CM: What is your dream job?

GVB: No question about it—writing books full-time.