The Ghoul-Poet a Guest Post by James Dorr

The Ghoul-Poet

“On a far-future, exhausted Earth, a ghoul–an eater of corpses–explores the ruins of one of its greatest cities in hopes of discovering what it was that made its inhabitants truly human.” Thus began my first answer in Heidi’s interview of me on January 9, introducing my novel scheduled for June from Elder Signs Press, Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth. But let’s hear the word from this ghoul-poet himself:

Death was what ghouls ate.
But was that not itself a poetic thought, the Ghoul-Poet wondered, one based on abstracts? That one that eats corpses–because that’s what ghouls did. Ghouls were the world’s scavengers. That one who does that then in some way consumed death too?
The ghoul looked about him, at buildings fallen, at others still standing but long ago emptied. In what had once been a vibrant, bright city, not like the ruins that ghouls had always lived in. This was the New City, a stronghold of humans, but humans all deceased. . . .
(and, later)
Yet he continued on, reading. Devouring. Another poetic thought, that one might eat words. The abstracts behind them. 
The legends he picked out, the themes repeated in tale after tale, history after history. The power of love. The joinings together. And yet of death also–there was even, here, a legend about ghouls! And of a great storm, but how both human- and ghoul-kind survived it. And of the great world beyond even the river that separated New City from the Tombs, there where all New Cityers strove, in time, to go.  
The above are from the openings of Sections I and II, respectively, in the novel. There are five sections in all, each introduced by more of the Ghoul-Poet’s own tale, joined by an Entr’Acte between Sections III and IV that offers a snippet of an even earlier history. The hoped for effect should be that of an “ubi sunt,” or “where are they now,” story set generations in the future of the “Tombs” stories proper, but interwoven among them to act as a “glue” to bind them together (much as, in the tale of “The Beautiful Corpse,” a chapter-story from the first section, a Curator speaks of a “balance” that binds the parts of the soul and the body together in life, that “That is what death does . . . [I]t sunders this balance, sometimes at the slightest of disturbances”). Thus the unity, first within the sections themselves (that is, loosely by theme), then of the sections into a novel. 
And so the ghoul, who might seem an unlikely choice to be a poet from his own admissions, at least apparently understands one thing, going back all the way to Aristotle. That a work of poetry, or prose, needs a certain unity. In fact that’s something I touched on myself in my discussion here on structure and the “novel-in-stories,” citing Edgar Allan Poe, on  February 9. But there’s another kind of structure alluded to just above, which the poet seems to sense as well. This has to do with the choice of legends to be presented and, equally important, the order they will be presented in.      

​​The themes of each section are patterned on what’s sometimes called “Five-Act Dramatic Structure,” that of classical plays like those of Shakespeare (if the “Contents” page of Tombs itself should happen to look a bit like a playbill, this is the explanation), of “Exposition,” “Rising Action,” “Climax” or “Turning Point,” “Falling Action,” and “Resolution.” Thus in Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth we have (along with our Entr’Acte) “The Founding of Legends,” “Life, Death, and Love in the World of the Tombs” (warning: as decadence is a part of this, some actions may be of an “adult” nature), “Intimations of Future Disaster,” “The Future Becomes Near” (as far-off catastrophes start to impinge), and “Approaches Toward Reconciliation” (as individuals seek their own hopefully satisfactory conclusions), with the Ghoul-Poet helping us out by acting as sort of a guide.
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