I’ve never really been one for poetry. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I guess I’ve just always associated poetry with some hippy-dippy peace-love-and-nature kind of prose. That warm, sunny, positive world-loving lit has its place, but I like my reading dark and frightening. I prefer to be taken out of my comfort zone into the deep, dank cracks and crevices of everyday life. I didn’t think poetry could provide that to me. That and truthfully, I was intimidated by the format. I assumed that poetry would introduce a quirky collection of words that would dance circles in my head without really coming together in a cohesive way to properly evoke the writer’s intended image. Despite being a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan (who isn’t, right?) and familiarizing myself with his poems – “The Raven” is arguably one of the most famous poems in the English language – I was never motivated to pursue this age old literary art form any further. I also had no idea that many of my favorite horror fiction authors have a passion for this format.
All that changed for me after reading At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned & the Absinthe-Minded by Maria Alexander (Burning Effigy Press, 2011). It’s discoveries like that which gives me a renewed sense of awe for the horror genre. The dark landscape of horror fiction is so vast and diverse that you could find something for every type of reader in every format imaginable. I wonder now how I could ever doubt there is poetry grim readers will find delectable.
The last several years have seen notable fan favorites nominated in the category of poetry. Rain Graves was nominated for her 2009 poetry collection Barfodder, a book I picked up recently with my newfound interest in the format, and Tom Piccirilli has been nominated several times in the category. Last year, Wrath James White was nominated for his 2010 collection Viscous Romantic. As it turns out, White, a writer best known for his extreme style of horror fiction, considers poetry his first love. This year, Alexander is up for the coveted Bram Stoker castle for At Louche Ends.So, in short, there is plenty of material for readers of the macabre who want to branch out from the standard novel format and I have Maria Alexander and Burning Effigy Press (for publishing her collection) to thank for setting me on this path of new discoveries.
Getting back to the collection at hand, I admitted to Alexander that I was ignorant when it came to poetry and asked her advice for how to approach reading in this format. Alexander likened it to listening to music. “If you like the music of the words—the sound, the lilt, the emotions that the images evoke—you don’t have to understand every word. And even if we do understand every word in a song, we often take away different meanings than the composer intended.” So, that’s exactly what I did; I let the music of the words be my guide and found that poetry wasn’t as intimidating as I originally suspected.
In Jill Tracy’s introduction to Alexander’s collection she describes the underground world of decadence and absinthe before its legalization when there was still a “mystery and allure that has sadly been stripped away in modern society.” Tracy recalls the atmosphere of the absinthe bars; “These gatherings were strict invite only, formal dress, drawing a serious collection of aesthetes.” Those who experienced the sweet, stinging kiss of the Green Fairy when it was a secret, illegal indulgence likeTracy will be reminded of that intoxicating spirit. For those unfamiliar with the substance, Alexander offers a glimpse into that obscure world without the bitter aftertaste.
The intoxication of love and a yearning to be complete are common themes in Alexander’s collection. Exquisite pleasure and pain coexist in her nightmare world of sinful decadence. The reader is thrust into the abstruse plain of suffering where there is no bliss without grief and longing remains unsated.
From “The Beast:”
“Ignore the insatiable flame
that consumes the blood
between my thighs.
Die every night
to the memory of his bare skin
gorging that flame like kerosene.”
Alexander’s meditation on longing continues in “The Mistress of Lautreamont” which is concerned with a completeness that if unobtainable.
“I am only narrow strips of fabric
in a bosun’s flag.
I will never be
a whole piece of cloth.”
Again in “The Vein” Alexander expresses an unending anguish for a search that can never elicit results.
“I’ve found it all
but the one precious vein
And further into the poem:
“The walls will collapse
and I will suffocate in solitude,
In one of my favorite pieces, “Divinity Dust,” Alexander shares an angry and resentful side. She took my impression of poetry as a sunshiny positive prose form, chewed it to a pulp, and spit it right back in my face.
“God’s a jackal,
a roly-poly pervert
who leads you down
so he can get you high
behind the dumpster
and fuck you in the ass…”
That’s a beautiful excerpt to counter my completely misguided assumptions.
For horror fiction readers who are already fans of poetry, At Louche Ends is a no-brainer. If you’re like me and not sure this style is for you, I would highly recommend cutting your teeth on Alexander’s collection. I hope you appreciate her raw, vulnerable approach as much as I did and will join me on this journey to discover the dark, but equally beautiful, side of poetry.
Pick up At Louche Ends from Burning Effigy Press and be sure to cheer her on for the win at the Bram Stoker Award banquette this weekend.
Visit Maria Alexander’s website here.
It’s so nice to see I’m not the only one who visibly cringes at the mere mention of poetry. I have high school English class to thank for that reaction (I still have nightmares about those classes.) Endless arguments about how my interpretation of particular pieces was way off base, simply because it didn’t agree with the teacher’s interpretation, yada yada yada.
I think the only poetry I escaped with a liking for was Master’s Spoon River anthology. Of course, how hard was that to love, a bunch of corpses dishing on each other from beyond the grave. And it left little for interpretation, since it was pretty much to be taken at face value.
So recently, SOMEONE hounded me to read a particular anthology, and Ms. Alexander had the lead story, THE ANGEL’S LAIR. I remember thinking after I finished it that the word it brought to mind was “lyrical.” (In addition to the other stories in that volume, I discovered that I have at least 5 other anthologies containing her work!)
Couple my initial reaction to her story with the fact that I have never been disappointed with a book put out by BURNING EFFIGY (and I have nearly all of their fiction) and I can see myself giving in and giving some (dark) poetry a second chance.
I may also have to go back and revisit Wrath’s 2010 Stoker nominated book, which I had dismissed out of hand despite my love for his other work, simply because it was a book of (yech!) poetry.
I’m so glad you commented to admit that you felt the same way about poetry! I struggled with whether or not to make that confession and as I admitted, it was a but embarrassing, especially now because I realize how wrong I was. But, again, I see the error of my ways and hope to discover / review some other poetry titles here.
Quick correction, “The Angel’s Lair” was a Loren Rhoads title, but Alexander’s stories have that lyrical quality you mention as well.
You say you will revisit VICIOUS ROMANTIC by Wrath James White… so you already read it previously? I’m greatly looking forward to that collection. Another reason I love that writer. Full of surprises!
OOPS, I stand corrected, and my mistake has negated the compulsion to give poetry another try. What was I thinking! I almost walked down that road willingly! 😉
[Apologies to both Ms. Rhoads and Ms. Alexander. But I do stand by my “lyrical” assessment.]
As to VICIOUS ROMANTIC, it’s one of the few White titles I don’t have in my possession, and I was going to perhaps grab a digital copy and give it a try. Maybe just a Kindle sample at first. Baby steps…