“Serial Killers” by Kathryn Mockler

A poem + an interview

Kathryn Mockler is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, “a stuart ross book,” Spring 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012), and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Her writing has been published in The Butter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Found Press, Geist, and This Magazine. Currently, she is the Toronto editor of Joyland: a hub for short fiction and the publisher of the online literary and arts journal The Rusty Toque.

“Serial Killers” is from The Saddest Place on Earth ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

Kathryn’s other books are available here:

The Purpose Pitch ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

Onion Man ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

Serial Killers

Humanity is stopped in its tracks when everyone is sterilized to eliminate the human race. Basically it’s mass suicide.

Wow that’s a good idea.

They’ve decided to let the plants and animals take over to see if they fare any better.

So in this scenario getting pregnant is the worst thing you could do for mankind.

Yes, it’s worse than serial killers.

This sounds romantic. This sounds too good to be true.

Interview

I read your poem “Serial Killers” not long after reading Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM ), in which he outlines the philosophical history of pessimism and the idea that consciousness is an evolutionary mistake and humans should march into self-extinction. I then watched the first season of True Detective ( Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM ) and recognized wholesale borrowings from Ligotti there, when Rust is going on about the same ideas.

By the time I read “Serial Killers” the idea wasn’t so weird, but when I teach the poem students are shocked by the extreme oddness of the idea. I’m wondering, first of all: how did you come to grasp this concept and write this poem?

First of all, this concept is basically my world view which is the reason I enjoyed the first season of True Detective and Ligotti (which you had recommended to me a while back). I’m not one of those people that think life is good and we should be grateful to have been born.

I think life is pretty much a horror show and no one gets out unscathed. There are moments I enjoy in life and there are things and people I like and love of course especially my husband and my sister and mother—I’m not dead in inside (completely!), but on the whole if someone (or my parents) had given me a choice to live or not exist then my choice would have been, no thanks, I’ll pass on life.

The first line of the poem Serial Killers is screenplay idea that I’m developing. Jason Camlot edited The Saddest Place on Earth and he sent me about 10 or 15 suggested titles and just said go and write a bunch of poems from these titles. He gave me one week to do this, and Serial Killers was one of the titles.

That week I wrote about 15 poems. Of course a bunch were terrible and didn’t make it into the collection, but having the title prompts and time limit put the right kind of pressure on me and I was able to write a lot. In my searching for poems and ideas, I started flipping through my notebooks and pulled out the tag line for a screenplay that I was working on: “Humanity is stopped in its tracks when everyone is sterilized to eliminate the human race.”

I thought this line kind of fit nicely with the theme of the book, so I just used it as the starting point for the poem and just went from there.

But essentially the poem is literal and describes the way I actually feel about the world and humanity.

This poem, like many of yours, can be read either as a monologue or a dialogue. How did you hit on this structure and why did you find it appropriate for this poem?

Many of the poems in The Saddest Place on Earth and my recent book The Purpose Pitch have a dialogue or monologue structure. I don’t try to do it, but it just comes out that way.

You know, I’ve never written a play, but I think I might be a frustrated playwright because almost all my stories, poems, and even my screenplays are more like plays than anything else.

The poem resembles poetry less than it resembles a movie story pitch meeting. In fact, I sometimes use this poem in screenwriting classes to show how you can start developing a story by teasing out the implications of a basic premise (since a premise is not a story). You teach at a film school — how do you find film influencing your poetic writing?

Although I started writing poetry first as a creative writer, the majority of my adult writing life has been as a screenwriter. I went to UBC and my thesis was a feature film which was optioned and went through a long development process but didn’t end up getting made. In 2005, I went to the Canadian Film Centre where I had a couple of short films made.

I started writing poetry again in 2008 after becoming really frustrated with the film world. Having to rely on funding to create something really bothered me, so I went back to writing poetry where I didn’t need a grant or millions of dollars to write what I wanted. But I really identified as a screenwriter and had a lot of trouble when people called me a poet.

I still don’t really think of myself as poet even though I write poetry. I turned to poetry for creative freedom. Although I absolutely love reading poetry and I’m passionate about publishing it, I’m not much interested in the concerns of poets—especially all the infighting. I’m not interested in rules or any kind of poetic purity. I write what I want and I call it a poem if I feel like it.

Partly my attitude towards poetry is a reaction to the structure of film writing and the reliance on other people and money. If you’re a screenwriter and you’re not directing the film you’re writing, you don’t have creative control and that is something I wanted again and poetry gave it to me.

It’s not surprising, given my background, that the poem would resemble a pitch meeting because I had spent so many years pitching scripts and ideas to other writers, directors, producers, and agents.

Image is at the heart of both genres and that’s what makes them not so different from each other. Film writing is really visual story telling and there’s a lot of poetry in film writing because of that. Harmony Korine’s films scripts, for example, read like poems.

The big difference between the genres of course is that filmmaking and screenwriting require collaboration. I teach in a creative writing program, and one thing I really try to help my students develop in my screenwriting classes is their ability to give and receive feedback and to work with others.

I tell them that if you want to be an asshole be a poet because poets don’t need to rely on anyone, but if you want to work in film, you need to learn how to work with others. Not that there aren’t asshole directors and screenwriters, but, wow, it really sure helps a lot when you’re starting out to not be an asshole.

The ending line often shocks and startles readers. Did you have alternate endings for this poem, in earlier drafts? How did you hit on that ending line?

To be honest, I can’t really recall how I came to this ending. Endings are usually instinctual for me. But in dialogue poems, I think I’m conscious of trying to say something unexpected to avoid the poem from getting repetitive or boring.

I guess having a speaker say that the extinction of the human race is romantic is something that one might not expect at the end of a poem.

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“Serial Killers” is from The Saddest Place on Earth ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

The Purpose Pitch ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

Onion Man ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )