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Poetry Review: HWA Poetry Showcase Volume V

Summary: The fifth volume of HWA’s acclaimed annual poetry anthology features dark verse by Donna Lynch, R. J. Joseph, Sara Tantlinger, and many more.

Review: Unlike mainstream literary venues, where you hear constant news stories of the rise of poetry thanks to new venues, mediums, and influences, speculative fiction treats poetry like a neglected stepchild forced to clean up the ashes. I find this incredibly sad because poetry is amazing. It’s a form that takes advantage of language and its effects to create a mesmerizing experience for its readers. It can illustrate anything from a story to a mood, a memory from your life or the vignette of another world no one else could possibly imagine.

With all that in mind, it’s easy to see how horror imagery and themes can really thrive in a poetic setting. It makes sense for the Horror Writers Association to showcase the best horror poetry out there to advertise a neglected form that can show the best of the genre.

Unfortunately, this showcase fails in showing the best.

I mean, yeah, there are some great poems in here. Pieces like “The Church Service” by Edward Ahern and “Amalgamation” by Sara Tantlinger are pretty amazing, creating beautifully damned scenarios with gorgeous wordplay.

In between singing and praying
and chanting and preaching
is silence.
And in that stillness we overhear
the rustling of demons uncomfortable
in hypocrisy.
Under the fancy-dressed pieties
are the soiled linens of
our weaknesses
that we fear or relish repeating,
that infiltrate our thoughts even
while praying.
The evils of our being writhe
unearthed on the bare soil of
our devotion.

Other poems such as “Mulch,” “Thirst,” “Alice Escapes the Machinery of the Cosmos by Swallowing the Tongue of Her Unspoken Dream,” and “The Joy of Sewing” also either intrigued or pleased me as I read them. They dealt with their themes in a new way and utilized the language beautifully.

Unfortunately, pieces like this are the exception. A lot of the poems in this collection are either mediocre or just bad. One of the worst poems, technically, is called “Gathered Words,” and boy, that entire, huge poem reads like a big cliché.

My scars…
Gave direction to everything bad that had already happened, and
Lent wings to my suffering — brought to the surface, all at once, with a thundering
Bang — demanding to be heard.

Nothing but darkness, comes from this winter sky. The patient vultures circle
Waiting for me to die. I tore one from flight as it circled in the sky and watched
As it lingered in its death. They play possum, only to skirt away from a blind’s eye.

Woof. Winter skies and vultures as signs of death? Groundbreaking. And the scars described here from our narrator just really state the obvious. Yes, scars can be reminders of traumatizing things. In poetry, they often are. What else can you do with that?

And that’s just on a technical level. Some of the poems breach into very uncomfortable themes and images that directly correlate to bigotry. For example, in the poem “I Am,” African religions like Voudon and Santeria are compared and conflated with paganism and Satanism. I cannot begin to explain how wrong-headed that is? In no way are West African religions comparable to the LaVeyan Satanism, an edgy and atheist counterculture.

Another poem, “My Death,” also has this offensive description of Death:

“I chase Death, the female with long, thin white legs, her breasts just
sketched above anorexic ribs. Death, innocent and mischievous, here next
to me.
She is an underage blonde, a slut always in a miniskirt, who offers
menstrual blood filtered by her nylon stockings, who lying in a pose as a
prostitute child over beds of shadow and temptations.”

I mean, wow, just wow. Again, I’m not sure how to explain to someone that making your personification of Death into a teasing, starving child forced into sex work while including insulting language about the position is just irresponsible writing. I think that’s pretty obvious of itself.

That’s why, despite my own love of poetry, I can’t really recommend this showcase. I hope previous and future exhibitions in the series show off more skill than this selection. Otherwise, we might just need a whole different publisher to take on this task for the horror genre.

Rating: ★★ of 5 stars

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