Phil Barnes gets Jack’d

Annnnnnd we’re back. My Get Jack’d column had been on haitus for a while, but it’s back and this time around I have the pleasure of introducing to you dark poetess and apocalyptic fiction author, Phil Barnes!

JW: Dark poetry is such an overlooked form of art. It’s lyrical nature beckons the reader to dive into ever deeper and bleaker waters than nearly any other art. It’s always so refreshing to come across another spirit that is moved by the form. That poetry can easily infect all other forms – such as apocalyptic fiction. In fact, they go hand in hand. Few landscapes are as bleak as the apocalypse. Which is something I want to address. I’ve read a LOT of apocalyptic fiction. I’ve found there are two types – those that allow the despair of the situation to bleed out into the landscape and those that keep the despair within the human animal. Sure we all deal with the lack of food, shelter, security…blah, blah, blah. But if you really give the apocalypse enough thought, you realize that Mother Nature will have her way with us. She will win. That aspect of the apocalypse alone should have the whole of mankind doing everything they can to avoid an apocalyptic scenario.

m2PB: First off I’ll just say that I hate poetry. I used to get gasps when I would say that on stage, at the weekly open mic night I hosted back in MPLS. Cleary as a poet, I should be standing up for the art form, but in all honesty I find is so self-involved. At one point I was quoted as saying that, “writing poetry is like jerking off to your own baby pictures”. Gross imagery but the point is, what other form of art seeks to explain ones own position in such a way? How much more emerged can one get into their own stink, than by the act of writing poetry? “I feel this…” and “I think this…”, about a place, flower, love affair, whatever. I think it was my ultimate disgust at hearing too much of my own internal dialogue, that led me to try my hand at fiction. I chose the post-apocalyptic genre because this particular peek into human fear intrigues me. The combined desire we share to keep anarchy at bay and our fear that somehow through life’s challenges, we will find ourselves and the world around us, unrecognizable.

JW: That’s about as well described as I have ever heard. I’ve always looked at poetry as a form of song lyric – without the music. Fear is an interesting issue…one that draws people to horror as well as repels others. There are some that feed of fear, they long for the scare. Why? It’s a catharsis you can’t find with any other genre.

There’s another level to apocalyptic fiction that a lot of people don’t address – the desire (almost a deep-seeded need) to see mankind rebooted. We’ve dug ourselves into some really dark and ugly holes that we may never pull out of – at least not without the help of something disastrous. Imagine what the world would be like without our current iteration of global governments? In all countries. Would we fail miserably, as a species, to claw our way back from hell, or would humankind flourish without the mis-guidance of so much bureaucracy?

PB: No matter what, at the end of the day it is adversity and fear that drives us as a species. All of our adaptations have been to somehow distance ourselves from the things that can harm us or move us away from our bottom line.

I think even if there was a situation, zombie apoc, viral plague, natural disaster etc., we would still see people trying to reorganize things back in a similar way. These buildings we build, landscapes we create, jobs and norms we perpetuate, are all part of that need to keep ourselves and the elements in a neat package that does not frighten us.

How does one protect themselves and their carefully crafted world, from a virus that has no cure, from the ravages of the wind or from the reanimation of the dead? That lack of control in the face of the utter annihilation of all that we understand, is something some people just can’t handle.

JW: That’s true. A vast majority of the population simply couldn’t function with rules and laws to guide them. Thanks to human nature, Anarchy doesn’t work. We all know, Anarchy and the appocalypse go hand in hand.

But take a look at the current ebola outbreak. If the apocalypse were to hit, that virus would have a harder time crossing boarders simply because airlines would have (one might assume) shut down. Of course, the order of events would be crucial in defining how and if a virus could become global quickly.

It’s amazing how quickly a discussion like this can spiral out of control, when in the hands of two zpoc writers. This is the stuff I think about all the time. So many “what ifs” to feed the imagination. We can only hope these sorts of “what ifs” remain in in “imagination status”.

PB: I agree. I’m swiftly learning that in the land of horror writers, nothing is taboo. Point made even clearer, as I typed the line “…milk me motherfucker”, in my last book.

We have strange minds and lack the healthy dose of fear needed to keep us from tiptoeing over the edge.

I think that is why I spend so much time trying not to read the news. I literally dodge that shit like a monkey handler. If I allowed my mind to play with all the possibilities that the news throws out, I’d have to buy more alcohol to stay sane and on an indie writers already stretch marked budget…
So Ebola, cirrhosis, global warming, rednecks from Kentucky, are all things I keep in my “no no” box.

JW: On top of that, if we keep our eyes glued to the news, we’d find ourselves saying “I can’t top that shit!” The human race is finding newer and better ways to make Mother Earth a crazy, crazy place to remain. Some days I think “Why am I not living by myself on the Moon yet?”

I kid (somewhat). I love people and try to stay positive. But sometimes ignorance and stupidity (I don’t think they are one and the same) just gets to be too much and you have fold in on yourself to reclaim your sanity.

Ah the Kentucky redneck. It’s a special kinda somethin’, that. One trip to the Kentucky Stare Fare and
you’ll find yourself refusing to leave the confines of your house more and more. 😉

PB: Hmm well the Kroger must be an extension of this fair you speak of. No, it’s not actually that bad, but it is an adjustment from the upper Northwest where I just moved from and the Midwest where I was raised.

I do think though, that it’s exactly that kind of belly flip we get when looking at the world around us, that is why there are more people into horror and post-apocalyptic films and movies these days. We are escaping into our worst nightmares. In most instances, the movies and the books have parameters, lines and of course endings. That helps us feel a sense of control over our fear. We can leave the theater, close the pages and tell ourselves that nothing that far-fetched could ever happen.

That concept is wrong of course and on some level we feel that.

As far as feeling that we “can’t top that”, I’ve seen too many writers who have tried and much to all of our delighted impish pleasure, succeed.

About Phil


I’m a poet turned fiction writer, who also happens to be an avid reader. I’ve had a library card for as long as I can remember and more books than you can fit into a studio apartment.

I have hosted multiple events for poets, musicians and storytellers. I feel most at home with artist because of their quest to have a more profound understanding of things.

As an author I find it hard to escape the perspective of being “the reader”, the observer. In this way, I am able to enjoy the stories as they unfold from my hands. It also means that I am very conscious of the emotions that I cultivate in my readers. I know how to provide suspense and build relationships that bind you to the characters.

What I really love about stories surrounding the post-apocalypse and specifically zombie tales, is that it gets to the crux of all of our fears. It speaks to our desire to keep anarchy at bay and of how scared we are at the depth of our own depravity.
My main goal as a writer is to entertain. That being said, if you learn anything new about yourself or the world around you in the process of reading my work, then I feel like I have succeeded in providing you with something deeper.