Brite sparks. 5

Poppy Z Brite’s sensual prose

brings the notion of tasting , forbidden fruit back to the horror genre, as Alan Morrison discovers.

Transatlantic phone interviews can be a bit of a chore. staying up until the small hours to catch the interviewee at a convenient time in their work schedule. A call to Poppy Z Brite in her native New Orleans. six hours behind. doesn‘t pose a problem however, as she works by night and scurries off to bed when the sun creeps over the horizon. Well. she would: Poppy Z Brite writes about vampires. ghouls and kids half in love with easeful Death.

That's not the only thing that suggests she's a little bit out ofthe ordinary. While her short stories were being published sporadically in horror magazines and anthologies from 1985 onwards. she supported herself as an artist‘s model. gourmet candymakcr. mouse caretaker (I?) and exotic dancer. She likes all types of music from old country to 70s glam metal. She‘s a fan of Japanese dismemberment videos and the lndian goddess Kali. She lives in New Orleans with two cats and two boyfriends.

‘Most ofthe things in there are true.‘ she admits. ‘but i don't think of them as particularly enigmatic it‘sjust my life. The jobs were mostly to pay the

immerses herself in the scene. drawing on all five senses. making the action and emotions more vivid and immediate with touch and taste. If this makes the

1 skin crawl during the spookier moments. it also sends

an electric thrill through the reader when the mood turns erotic.

in a genre dominated by macho bullshit. she fills her landscapes with gay male characters and lingers over androgynous beauty. Anne Rice may have brought the homosexual undertones of varnpirisrn to the surface in her novels. but Brite doesn’t shy away from vibrant descriptions of gay sex. Her first. magnificent. Generation X bloodsucker novel. Lost

Souls. was nominated for both the Bram Stoker Award for best first fantasy novel and the Lambda Award for gay fiction. an honour that pleased this self-confessed ‘gay man inside a woman's body‘.

‘Ever since i was old enough to know what a gay man was. I‘ve felt an incredible kinship with them.‘ the 27-year-old writer explains, .‘and l felt that’s what i was supposed to be. My relationships have borne that out. my difficulties with relationships have home that out. i write about what i know and who i feel i am. l’ve had a strong reaction from gay readers. and some of my straight readers like it as well because they don‘t read rnnch stuff like that; it opens their minds a little. I would hope. And I've also had the inevitable conservative backlash from a certain contingent of middle-aged, white. male. heterosexual American horror writers who have never achieved the success they feel they so richly deserve. They can't stand the fact that l‘m young and ostensibly female, and l'm writing about these queer characters who take drugs. and i'm actually being a success at it.’

‘She’s a fan of Japanese dismemberment videos and the Indian goddess Kali. She lives in New Orleans with two cats and

two boyfriends.’

Her new novel. Drawing Blond. also features gay protagonists Zach. a computer hacker on the run. and Trevor, a comic artist traumatised by the childhood murder of his family. These are real, fragile people. isolated from society and parents. filled with abscesses of pain, incomplete in themselves. As Trevor’s ‘Why am i alive'?’ echoes the tortured cry of a generation approaching the end of the millennium, Brite shows that she is one of the few writers eschewing repetitive genre formulas by tapping into the troubled spirit ofthe age.

Drawing Blood is published by Penguin at £5. 99.

bills, but i also was trying to find interesting experiences. in fact. when I was five years old, i didn’t want to be a writer. i wanted to be a coroner.‘

lf Brite is more normal than the marketing might indicate. her work certainly is not. Other horror writers make do with graphic visuals and a few cliched descriptions of sound and smell; Brite _ 7'

3 '

People 3 poet 5/ While her classmates were thinking of " other things, Glasgow born Carol Ann Duffy took a Saturday job in a local . hairdressers to be able to afford to i buy volumes of poetry. As a teenager, she devoured everything from Dylan Thomas to Allen Ginsberg and the g entire collection of Penguin Modern I Poets in between. ‘I fell in love with 9 words when I was young, and enjoyed i the ways that different poets used , language,’ she says.

She was instinctiver drawn to poetry for its immediacy and ability to I. instantly tap into a feeling or a . memory. Prose always seemed too large and ponderous for the way she wanted to express herself. Since then, she has gone on to become one of Britain’s most acclaimed and accessible poets, with four volumes of poetry under her belt (Mean Time won both the Whitbread Award and the

é \

Forward Prize in 1993). She recently published her first volume of Selected Poems, including her favourite selections from previous work plus work in progress.

Her work is characterised by the ability to convey complex feelings, relationships and situations in an immediate and essential way. The characters in her poems are often radically diverse, yet her skill in

understanding and communicating the

. essence of a feeling or an experience

gives them all-powerful, resonant

' voices. From the sad musings of a t middle-aged woman contemplating

”' her lot in Iiecognitioni‘ltiifainto

. remember a time when my body felt

lighter. Years. My face is swollen with regrets. I put powder on, but it flakes

; off’), to a sleazy tabloid journalist in l Poet For Our Times (‘I like to think I’m 1 a sort of poet for our times. My shout.

Know what I mean? I’ve got a special talent and I show it in punchy haikus featuring the Queen’), to the sensual, erotically charged lesbian voice in Girlfriends (‘Our nightgowns lay on the floor where you fell to your knees and

became ferocious, pressed your head

to my stomach, your mouth to the red gold, the pink shadows’), her characters seem to confide in the reader with their innermost thoughts. ‘l’ve always found that my strength has always been listening to the way that people talk. My primary interest in writing has always been people rather than landscape or animals, and

all the poems I’ve written that involve characters or relationships have been things that have happened to me or that I’ve observed.’

She admits to being ‘slightly puzzled’ by people’s reluctance to read poetry: ‘like any art form, it’s a way of getting in touch with the parts of yourself that you don’t have time for from day to day. Poetry aIIOws you to speak or be spoken to in a different kind of way.’ She is a strong advocate for the demystification of poetry and believes that by making it more a part of the public environment, people will be encouraged to read more: ‘Poems in the workplace, on the bus, in the doctor’s surgery and even in the pub so that it becomes more a part of public life and is available everywhere.’ As long as this means more Carol Ann Duffy, who can argue with that? (lila Rawlings)

National Poetry Day Is Thurs 6 Oct. Call 031 221 1195 for events In Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling. Selected Poems: Carol Ann Duffy ls published by Penguin at £5.99

The List 7—20 October I994 79