Twitchy Kids & Dungeon Synth: An Interview with Justin A. Mank


Austin James: So word on the street is that you write books?
Justin A. Mank: Yeah man, guilty as charged. Done more poetry than prose up to this point, but I just had a novella come out so I’m taking the full stab at prose.
Oh yeah? When did you start writing poetry?
I started out like a lot of people writing embarrassing poetry when I was 15. I’m pretty sure all of that stuff has been destroyed. But I occasionally still messed with it in my early twenties and decided to put the work in and give it a real try.
Did you start reading other poets in your early twenties as you continued to play around with it?
Yeah, when I was real young I hadn’t really read much poetry—I only really knew lyricists. So I didn’t really know my shit. Later I started reading some of the classics. Samuel Beckett’s poetry had a big effect on me. His poetry is really underrated.
I’ll have to check him out. We actually have similar backgrounds in this sense. Who are some of your favorite lyricists?
Leonard Cohen, GG Allin, David Tibet, Ronnie James Dio, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch. When I was younger, I was especially into the lyrics from metal bands like Evoken, Emperor, My Dying Bride, things of that nature.
Very cool. Have you ever had any of your poetry published?
Yeah, I’ve had three collections published. The last one The Outhouse is my City of God was self-published. The first two, Sigmoid Colon and The Hammerheaded Shark, were published by the Dynatox imprint Black Dharma Press.
Oh shit, so you’ve got a good chunk of poetry out there. What made you decide to publish Innermind Musclebound, which is fiction/prose?
Well I have a couple short stories out there, plus a novelette, but this one was a little more involved. I really wanted to do a disturbing book with a social commentary element, so I felt like a character study type book would be the way to go.
Wanna give it a plug?
It’s written sort of as the memoir of a scumbag who cares about one thing in life and that’s beating people up. He ends up developing this sort of code of conduct about it and has to figure out what to do after he gets injured. Gets weird at the end, but at its heart it’s an exploration of the mind of a terrible person or maybe a non-murderous sociopath.

Sounds great, and it’s a beautiful book…can’t wait to dig into it! What inspired you to write it?
I think just the fact that I read a bunch of messed up books in the last few years had me thinking of trying that out. Once I got going with it, other stuff started falling into place and I got really into the idea of doing a book that would make a mockery out of violent douche bags. But then, of course, I wanted to add some weirdness, so there’s some mystical shit in it, and then just the fact that there’s no dialogue in the book.
You mentioned a novelette earlier?
Yeah man, I did this weird fantasy story for Sleazy Viking Press called The Trickster and the Goblin King. Kind of a sexually explicit fantasy comedy with some dada influences.
How did your fans receive that, being that you were mostly a poet up until then?
I think pretty good, the dada thing might have freaked people out, but I like throwing people for a loop. But that was still the thing I did that was the closest to bizarro.
Sounds like you’re a fan of weird fiction?
You mean like Lovecraft or weird in general?
I dunno, Mank, where do you wanna take this?
Well you know, I like all manner of screwed up. From the literary stuff that’s fucked to the pulp stuff that’s pretty out there; funny shit, disturbing shit. I don’t like to put my eggs in one basket.
You brought up Lovecraft…is he one of your big influences?
I probably wouldn’t say he’s one of my biggest direct influences, but he’s still one of the writers who got me interested in digging around for unusual stuff in writing. You know because I read him when I was sixteen or whatever. But also his idiosyncrasies with the world building and all that. But I also like fucking with voice and writing style a lot which he was kind of against.
Good point. So who would you cite as direct influences?
I think probably Samuel Beckett and Antonin Artaud. Just the way they were striving for some seriously deep shit, practically destroying the language to do it, but there’s still a poignancy and humor. But definitely some contemporary writers who I’m friends with have had a big impact, especially Justin Grimbol, Philip LoPresti and Jordan Krall. There’s no denying that those guys’s books kind of reeled me in a different direction than where I was at before.
Now that you’ve put out some fiction, are you still writing poetry or have you basically changed over?
Hard to say really. I definitely don’t think I’ll decide to switch totally over to more traditional narratives. But I’m also working on some stuff that’s not quite traditional poetry either, trying to go weirder in the future.
What about “the weird” draws you when you create your art?
I was a twitchy weird kid and I guess that laid the foundation for me to naturally drift towards these things. During my angsty phase I was more interested in things that were disturbing, but as I lightened up, I moved more towards just unusual stuff. In terms of weird writing, I feel like a good and crazy book has the potential to warp the internal monologue, and that’s just damn cool.
Ha! Ha! True. So basically, twitchy weird kids = disturbed teens = adult miscreants…
You could say that. At least in terms of an interest in off the wall films and books and stuff. I’m probably not too unique in that sense if you look at our colleagues. Just guessing.
My kid is weird. And twitchy. I’m just hoping he avoids rehab and/or incarceration.
Oh man, well I don’t know if I’d worry that much. It was tough being the weirdest kid when I was younger but now I’m glad about it. Learned to put it in a different perspective.
I was an outcast as well, for the most part. And my kid’s probably not any twitchier than other weird kids. Anyway, tell me about your other passion: music…
Been doing music a little longer than writing. I’m still kind of the new guy in the writing world. But my main project lately has been Ranseur which is a harsh noise-influenced dungeon synth project. So like metal oriented fantasy synthesizer stuff.
Yeah? Forgive my musical ignorance, but care to dumb that down a bit for me?
It’s a style of synth playing that came out of black metal. If you take metal with keys and take out the metal that’s pretty much dungeon synth.
Alright, so what instruments does it take to create this specific art form?
Just keys essentially. You can add a little dash of other instruments or vocals but a lot of it is straight up just keys.
One man band style?
Yeah for the most part, there’s exceptions though. But I was doing a one-man black metal band before this so it goes with the territory.
Oh, cool. Again, forgive the naivety, but does that make you a DJ?
No, I only play instruments, never used that sort of gear or tried that approach. I pretty much sit down at the keys and let the weirdness flow. But this is totally from a high fantasy kind of perspective, in terms of what the songs are about.
Vocals as well?
Yeah I sing a little, not in that particular project. Have sang in a few noise rock bands, used to do a little folk.
You get many gigs?
I used to do more solo gigs, did a couple lately but not so regularly. But I gig a fair amount with a noise rock group Human Adult Band. Might as well mention that we just had an LP come out called Sonic Enlightenment on Third Uncle Records.
Hell yeah man! That’s exciting news—plug away! Being that you have a bit of “performer” in your blood, do you also get out and do a lot of poetry readings or anything?
Not too much. I have done a couple readings and I do try to sell books at gigs for music. But I’ve been kind of nervous to even try to show up to a more literary poetry thing or whatever. I feel like I’d get thrown out the door. Maybe stand up people would like it better, who knows?
If I were to try to live readings of my poetry, I’d need to book it at a comedy club. Ha. So you’ve sold books at gigs? That’s badass!
Yeah I have a little. I don’t do too much of the con thing, so it’s another to try to get the stuff out there.
It’s brilliant, if you ask me.
Just something I randomly tried while selling albums. People like to leaf through stuff. You see some funny reactions just because of the content, but I’ve had a few people get excited about it. Some musicians I didn’t even know were also writers have checked it out, so that got the conversation going in the direction of writing which is cool.
Next thing you know, you’ll be slinging albums at book readings
I have.
Yeah? So you’re just out there making music and printing words and getting that shit out in the street…what’s next?
I have no clue really. Tried comics but I kind of gave up, the formatting stuff is hard and I got lazy. I’m working on a really strange fantasy book, if all goes well it should be a bigger project. But I’m leaning heavy on some experimental techniques for that one so we’ll see what happens. Not much nonlinear fantasy out there, but this is kind of more prose poetry anyway.
Sounds cool, to be honest. What kind of “fantasy” are you talking about?
Some kind of high fantasy, and I might cut the transgressive thing for this. But I’m still not sure how traditional it’ll be. Trying to fuck with some world building here and not just rest on the pure Tolkien thing.
Are there vorpal swords?
Nah I kind of want to make up my own weird swords and stuff. But there’s gonna be like gnomes and elves in it.

How far are you into this project?
It’s been a long work in progress for a while. Main idea is using hypnotic repetition in writing. But it more recently occurred to me that it needs a more serious world building element to really work. It’s about figuring out how to use these techniques for results that really matters.
One thing I like about poets who start dabbling in prose is how they look at word play as something to challenge and run with. I really dig the idea of “hypnotic repetition in writing”.
I probably shouldn’t say too much about this, because there’s always a chance it won’t work. But I’ve been working on this on the side for five or six years. Trying to do these kind of mantras but instead of being religious they’re related to fictional things. But I really want to bring that kind of Avant Garde thing into speculative fiction territory.
Can you share an example?
I’d rather keep it mysterious for now. It’s the kind of thing that seems really easy to do, but I’ve found it hard to do in a way that makes me feel like it’s ready to be out there publicly. I guess I feel that way about all minimalist writing. But reading Alfred Starr Hamilton has helped a lot. Way out there poet who used some really odd repetition.
I completely understand, bro! Can’t blame me for trying though—I like to pretend I’m a cutting edge journalist. I’ll have to check Alfred Star Hamilton…any suggestions on where to start?
A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind is pretty much his only book. He was a mentally ill poet from New Jersey who haphazardly sent poetry around and a lot of times he never made a copy. So most of his stuff is lost. One of those poets who might be famous in two hundred years but not so much now. But there’s a short book of letters that’s unbelievable.
I certainly dig that your constantly pushing the boundaries of how/what you create. But let’s get down to brass tacks…with a name like Mank, you should be a short, bull-doggy kind of guy. Yet a meager amount of social media stalking reveals that you’re a tall and skinny stoner looking dude. Explain yourself!
Yeah I’m skinny as hell, fast metabolism kind of shit. But stoner no, I’m more of a magick kind of guy. Mank is a strange German name, comes from my dad’s side. Old puritan kind of lineage from Maine. But I identify more as Irish in the American sense anyway. There is, in fact, another Justin Mank who is an artist which is why I started using the middle initial.
Well, that and Samuel L Jackson. I always thought it was cool how he writes his name out formally but he’s like this really badass guy.
Haha, fair enough. Alright bro, anything else you’d like to bring up or plug before we wrap this thing up?
I guess I might plug one more thing, this tape that’s about to come out on the Brave Mysteries label, Boggart’s Field – Sidhe Folk. Kind of a fantasy / occult synthesizer album. Real weird side music project, might be a good primer for possible fantasy books in the future.
Right on man, it’s been fun chatting with you a bit. Thanks for your time!
Thanks for having me man, appreciate you taking the time.

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