by Amy Alexander
This morning, the creepy story I found on Reddit features a giant man--or is it a man?--who punches at an air conditioning unit high off the ground, as told by a woman who sees the figure from inside her house, terrified, naked, beneath a threadbare blanket. By midnight tonight, who knows how many souls, bent before a world of glowing screens, will draw in sharp breaths and take that story with them, weave it into their own histories, and make it into another tale of their own?
This is the process that fascinates frequently published poets and editors Kristin Garth and Justin Karcher, and inspired them to launch Mansion, an anthology, slated for publication by Dancing Girl Press in February 2019, that will be devoted to poetry about internet folklore, true crime, and the Slenderman story.
The Slenderman tale is, perhaps, the most pervasive of internet-generated myths. It began as a story that was created and circulated on the website creepypasta.wikia.com. In 2014, middle schoolers Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser stabbed their friend at a slumber party because they believed, based on the Slenderman stories they collected online, that this would allow them to join the Slenderman in his telltale mansion. In this, internet lore and real time horror intersected to become a highly charged crucible of our deepest held hangups and fears, and a rich source of poetry.
I caught up with Kristin and Justin late at night recently to discuss their project.
Alexander: Take me back to when you decided to embark on this project. What was your motivation?
Karcher: As an avid listener of [paranormal radio program] “Coast to Coast” and a lover of all things spooky, that paranormal flare always finds a way to creep--pun intended--into my own work, but it’s, like, more than just me alone in a dark room listening 80’s synth pop, there’s this deeper connection that needs to be explored all the time.
Alexander: You are specifically interested in featuring poems inspired by internet folklore. How is internet folklore different from terrestrial folklore, if you will, that exists through in-person, person to person contact?
Karcher: The thing that I find different is that internet folklore is the democratization of folklore. It belongs to everyone and we add to or create the tales. It’s a self-editing monstrosity that reflects the paranoia, desperation, and loneliness of a society; of a generation. These days, we’re distracted by so much shit. What you’re scared of yesterday is not what scares you today. The poem you wrote in the middle of the night looks like a stranger in the morning light. Internet folklore, in my opinion, helps us gauge our ever-shifting moods, helps us gauge the social ills that plague all of us. By seeing the monster change in real time, we have a better understanding of how to change the conditions that birthed such a monster. Creepy pasta, YouTube videos, podcasts, Reddit threads; they’re simply arteries pumping blood into the horror all around us. It’s best to take a deep look at it. The abyss. That’s what internet folklore means to me.
Garth: Artists get involved and spread the seeds of it so quickly. It’s very powerful, in that way, I think, to be in the internet age.
Alexander: It strikes me that one thing that is vastly different about internet folklore, compared to real time folklore, is the ability we have to record it.
Karcher: And with internet folklore, you see it change super fast. Like you’re a part of it, more. You get to see the horror change first hand, like a communal Choose Your Own Adventure [book]. But a horrifying one.
Garth: And these characters, like the Slenderman, have a wide range of behaviors and lore attributed to them because there are so many architects of these stories. Like, for example, me, what attracted me to the Slenderman is very specific to my background. I’m into true crime and I watched [the 2016 documentary] “Beware the Slenderman.” But the character became very compelling to me because of a story told in that documentary that says abused children often feel very close to the Slenderman. He represents escape. He represents a savior figure from a bad environment. And I grew up before the Slenderman But I used to fantasize about my own characters like this — being kidnapped and starting over. So when I saw Slenderman he was a natural extension to those fantasies of mine.
Alexander: By creating poetry about folklore that is emanating from the internet, there’s a challenge in place to write about something that is happening, right now, in real time. Do you find that poets sometimes shy away from writing about popular culture?
Karcher: I’d say it’s 50/50. I feel that poets need to stay current, but also create work that’s vibrant and timeless. With internet folklore, like Slenderman, it allows us to operate within ever changing horror, but what ails us is timeless. In this case, Slenderman and creepy pasta-inspired poetry allows us to work in that grand tradition but also stay current.
Alexander: It’s fascinating, this campfire that the world can circle about, always burning that also brings people to the same brink in themselves.
Karcher: I like this. A new kind of wilderness for us to explore.
Garth: The two teenaged girls who identified with Slenderman and felt so disconnected from the world, they literally stabbed a friend hoping he would take them. They both had undiagnosed mental illness, but there is also just a desperate disconnectedness from society that makes escape and a suited paternal dark figure in the woods so beguiling.
Karcher: Because when you don’t have that, you become out of touch with everything. And with the Slenderman girls, I’m very interested in the socio-economic conditions of the Midwest. Since I’m from the Rust Belt, itself a long line of rusted cities, we become used to honoring and talking about dead things and people, this weird geography of necrophilia.
Alexander: I never thought about the geography of the Slenderman stabbing.
Garth: That’s intriguing. I think I am so into true crime because I live in Florida and we have a lot of it. You grow up with these geographical imprints on your psyche.
Alexander: The ironic thing is that the internet is supposed to be a non-place, or a global place. And yet, people can never really pull away from where their feet are. And that is definitely something that I find to be important in poetry.
Karcher: You know how all these places have their own books? Like weird Chicago. Weird New York. The idea of ghostliness is so American. The internet helps us feel connected, but also forces us to pay attention to our own haunts. Our own hauntings.
Garth: I think geography affects everything. Why I am very tied to where I live — even if I’m not very connected to the people.
Alexander: Let's chat about that invisible, highly gravitational line, where true crime goes from being an individual event to being a type of folklore, with the Slenderman Girls stabbing, for instance. Your book is seeking to feel that line between reality and folklore, it seems. Where does poetry fit into that discovery?
Karcher: Poetry has always blurred the lines between different worlds, art in general does. I, we, I should say, seek to make folklore real but to also inject the supernatural, which is like an STD we just can’t shake, into everyday living.
Garth: Poetry, for me, allows me to slip inside other people’s headspace at times. It allows me to try to make sense of things from a viewpoint of someone inside the story. I wrote [the poem] Slender Secrets from the point of view of one of the teenage stabbers.
Karcher: Yes. Poetry as a way to get into the heads and hearts of others. Poetry is the fastest way to get anywhere. Fuck Google Maps (laughs).
Alexander: So let's go back in time. You're in your jammies. What's the story you fear and also love?
Garth: I grew up in a house where we weren’t allowed to watch horror movies or anything beyond PG-rated. But we had a library of true crime. Books were never censored for some reason, so I read true crime, like books about serial killers or “The Amityville Horror.” If you murdered someone in the early 80s your book was probably in my house. It’s the one thing I got from my mom. She had books on coroners who would talk in depth about the famous cases, the bodies they investigated. I have read, I think, every book about Jonbenet Ramsey, at least that I know of.
Karcher: My grandma was a poet and an agoraphobe, who was obsessed with Fate Magazine, Edgar Cayce, and Ouija boards. She communicated with this one spirit all the time, or so my mom has told me. My mom’s the same way. I’ve inherited that lust and curiosity for the supernatural. My landscape is a 7-Eleven in the bad part of town, a bunch of vampires drinking red slushies, secretly scared of the hunters hot on their trail. In the distance, I see the old psychiatric hospital which is a posh hotel now and if I squint real hard I see shadowy tentacles pouring out the windows, Slenderman in every neighborhood. I refuse to forget the dead. I refuse to ignore the lonely.
If you would like to submit your creepy poetry about internet lore, Slenderman, or true crime to Mansion, send it to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Alexander is a poet, journalist, and visual artist. Recently, her work has appeared in Cease, Cows, Mojave Heart Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Remembered Arts, and more. She lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and their mini-me's. She likes to run, knit, homeschool, and teach creativity to others. Follow her on Twitter @iriemom.