In the latter half of 2004, three outstanding horror poetry books came out that deserve a look because each is an example of a horror writer working at the top of their game. In this review, I want to look briefly at one hardback, one trade paperback, and one underground chapbook. Each one satisfied my horror appetite on a different level.
The first is Tom Piccirilli’s Waiting My Turn to Go Under the Knife, a limited hardbound book from Fairwood Press’ new book line, Darkwood Press. This collection of verse by the author of the notable novel, A Choir of Ill Children, is a great example of just how good horror poetry can speak to the human condition. I dare say this is a “literary” book because Piccirilli investigates death and pain in a way that cuts close to the heart. You feel sorry for his narrators, who are universally traumatized by their very real pasts or suffering deeply from the existential horrors of everyday life. There’s a lot of twisted humor in this book, too — as is always evident in Pic’s flair for long titles which are virtually whole poems in and of themselves (consider “When the Proper Spelling of Nietzsche Becomes a Metaphor for Age, Love, Loss, Mercy, and the Rage That Wants Out (with Pigeons)”). I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that this is one of Piccirilli’s most creatively playful and deeply dark poetry books, and if you call yourself a lover of poetry it’s the must-read of the year.
An equally accomplished book in every way is Charlee Jacob’s The Desert (Dark Regions Press), which also features 100 pages of excellent verse by a poet whose work always strikes me with dread. Like Piccirilli, Jacob is one of few writers in the genre who has a voice so distinctive that you can recognize it without a byline. She writes the way a spellcaster conjures evil and she’s one of the few who can utterly creep me out in ways I can’t quite explain. Things sneak up on you when you read a Charlee Jacob poem — it’s as though there’s something truly horrible roiling beneath the language and wriggling between the lines as she wrings the words for every drop of darkness they’re worth. She isn’t afraid to go over the top. She’s so good at terror that there’s no other way to put it: Jacob disturbs. The Desert features both new work and familiar reprints, but it’s got more range and maturity than her other poetry books and this is surely the best body of dark fantasy she’s produced. Definitely one of the top poetry books of 2004. Dark Regions has been quietly publishing some of the best poetry books for the past two years, in fact, so I recommend you take a gander at their website.
And finally, if you’re not afraid of extremes or are looking for something akin to punk rock, I recommend taking a look at Kurt Newton’s new chapbook, PerVERSEities II. You don’t need to read the first edition; it’s not like there’s a PerVERSEity saga or anything. This is just a companion volume to the first collection released by Naked Snake Press much earlier in the year (and also recommended). Which is another way of saying that Kurt is up to no good again. This book features the same outrageous ingenuity from the mind of Kurt Newton that we got in the first volume. PerVERSEities II is an excellent collection, revealing Newton’s mastery of balancing extreme gore against social issues and psychological traumas. It isn’t sexually perverse — well, maybe a little — but it’s mostly a perversion of verse itself, pushing the boundaries of poetic convention to generate some truly grizzly images and freaky frissons. I like Kurt Newton because he uses a simple style, one that always manages to catch me off guard. In the PerVERSEities collections, Newton goes for the throat and you get the sense that these are some of his more disgusting poems. But even when he’s waxing poetic about roadkill or probes the erotics of wounds, he is on a never-ending quest for originality, and there are a number of unique concept pieces in this volume, from the silly “Mad Cow Patty” to wholly twisted love letter, “Letterhead.” Illustrated by the very disturbing pen drawings of Chris Friend, this book deserves to be an underground hit.