National Poetry Month – the Darker Side

National Poetry Month – the Darker Side

Poetry holds a dear place in my dark little heart and as it’s #NationalPoetryMonth – as it is every April – what better time to share the joy of verse with you? Note it wasn’t always like this. Back in the mists of my youth, like so many other bored teenagers, I was forced to study poetry and found it elitist and irrelevant. I didn’t understand it, couldn’t get to grips with form and metre and felt it held no message for me. Fast forward to my late twenties when I was studying for my degree with the Open University and I attended a tutorial on poetry during Summer School. We analysed the poem, Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning and it was the first time I really got to grips with a poem and understood it. To discover that poetry wasn’t just for lovelorn folk batting eyelashes at each other and could be used to tell tales of murder and dark deeds was wonderful. I would urge everyone to read this poem. Its use of language disguises the madness of the narrator with casual, almost throwaway phrases, for example, describing the killing of his lover as it was ‘a thing to do’, an everyday phrase which makes the act more horrifying:

I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;

Extract from Porphyria’s Lover – Robert Browning

This is a perfect horror poem and others by Browning – The Laboratory and My Last Duchess – aren’t far behind. Other poets I enjoy because of their tendency to dwell on the darker side of human nature, include Dylan Thomas and T.S. Elliot (The Hollow Men is brilliant). And of course, the war poets should automatically be included.

To me poems are painting by words, their effect more immediate by virtue of the imagery and careful word choice, which combine to evoke an emotional response. I love language and word play and it has led me to write my own, which in turn has impacted on my prose.

I asked a number of horror poets what poetry meant to them:

Poetry is like mind-soup, flavored by the experiences of life. Pain, loss, love, & regret are common ingredients. Love is rare and used sparingly. More often than not, my poems turn out to be dark delicacies. We all have our favorites…” – Cindy O’Quinn

I think of poetry as snapshots — in that short amount of time, you can set out to capture a moment, a story, or a scene. Each line has the potential to lure a reader deeper into the snapshot, but with poetry we have to do it quickly and effectively since we don’t have as much time to build the scene such as with short stories. That kind of challenge not only sharpens your poetry writing, but it’s an amazing tool to strengthen prose skills, too.” – Sara Tantlinger

For me, poetry has been the best way I can artistically communicate myself in a way that is as close to the pure emotion that I am either feeling or need to convey.” – Cynthia Pelayo

I write poetry for a lot of reasons and it serves many purposes for me. First reason is it’s just in me and I have no choice, always has been. Second, and this addresses purposes, it’s meditation, medication, and therapy for me, and it’s a form of purging the bad shit, of self-exercising my personal demons. And if it makes people *feel* something and they get joy out of it? That’s the ultimate reason. I love sharing my art with the world.” – Shane Douglas Keene

Writing poetry I can create intense images and dramas with fewer words, which resound and resonate, in this compacted form. The final shape of the poem is, I hope, both satisfying to the ear and to the eye. It is a shorthand to our fears, emotions and terrors. I love the challenge of writing poetry and the liberating creativity of it too.” – Alyson Faye

Poetry is how we can communicate a truth beyond just facts. I can tell a story of loss and you will understand the gist of it. Telling of that loss/fear/joy in poetry allows you into my head so you can experience the loss with me. Poetry builds empathy-emotional bridges to connect us. Because of this, it unifies us as well.” – Angela Yuriko Smith

These poets can be found gracing the pages of anthologies, magazines, online zines and in a number of cases, their own collections. In fact, poetry collections have their own category in the Bram Stoker Awards – although it would also be great to have an award for a single poem, much as happens for short stories – and I have an increasing collection of dark poetry on my shelf:

Another place to find and practise poetry, is twitter! There are many micro-poems to be read on this platform, sometimes in response to prompts (I am an avid follower of #horrorprompt) or personal creations. One of the best poets in this category in my view is Shane Douglas Keene. His work is increasingly appearing in print but the poems he produces on twitter are gems. His work is extraordinarily raw and honest, a real gut punch of emotion. This is an example from a few months back which has remained in my thoughts for a long time (reproduced here with his permission)

I am a box of
mother’s broken dishes
gathering dust in a dirty basement;
nobody wants me,
nobody has the heart
to put me out

Nor does dark poetry have to be serious. I have had a lot of fun in recent times twisting nursery rhymes and published them in One, Two, I See You. Here’s my take on Michael Finnegan from this collection:

There was a man called Michael Finnegan
To Sweeney Todd, he went for a trim again,
The razor slipped, another pie was made again
Poor old Michael Finnegan, no begin again.

I’ve also set a challenge for myself for this month and have written a poem every day. The first day was a tweeted poem but the 2nd of April saw me start my bright(!) idea of creating a found poem from the blurbs on the backs of four books in my collection and repeating this each day. If you’re not sure, a found poem is created by selecting words from a source, in this case blurbs, and weaving them together to create something new. To me, it’s like a puzzle to be solved. It’s been a great way of sharing the books I love, with creating poetry.

I’ve even written a found poem using Xbox game instructions in the past (note my daughter is the gamer, not me!) and which can be found in my collection, Dark is my Playground:

Lifespan Cancelled

Maybe you’re psychic
But your iron sight
Does not make you invisible

Imprisoned since childhood
You crouch, a lone wolf
In the forge of your shame

The clock is ticking
As locked in a killing frenzy
You create your own boneyard

A dangerous covenant
Of flesh wounds and dead morals
Disguising the zealot spawned

Your thunderstorm tears
From a pool of unlimited life
For you there is no absolution

Sources:

Inserts from: Xbox 360 Hitman Absolution, Xbox 360 Borderlands2, Xbox 360 Bioshock Infinite, Xbox 360 Halo

The demand for poetry continues, calls are always found on Horror Tree’s pages, and frequently in magazines such as Space and Time (ed. Angela Yuriko Smith). Don’t be scared of it, there’s a form for everyone, haiku, free verse, rhymed – why don’t you have a go and create a painting with your words?

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Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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