Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads. Continue reading


Poetry: On Being Resurrected in Cleveland

My series on the Worldwide Church of God ends with a poem that was partially inspired by my days in that organization.

Whatever you think of its merits, it was selected by Keith Allen Daniels for his 2001: A Science Fiction Poetry Anthology. There I shared the pages with, among others, Roald Hoffmann, 1981’s co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

On Being Resurrected in Cleveland

Never believed in you

The future of no end,

Man recomplicating.


Revelation has complications.

I stared into the abyss

And nothing happened.


Never a captain or capitalist,

Not a poet or poisoner

But always drunk on Wormwood’s apathy.


Thirty years I listened.

The Trumpet never sounded.

The Seals never snapped.

The Horsemen never came.


Barbed wire of phantom camps

Bound my ambition until I

Took a casual swim in a cryonic sea.


Apocalypse and Rapture

Synonyms for futility.

You stretched my time on telomeres

And brought me into eternity.


And you apologized for this morning

Of testy Turing machines in Turin

And killer bots in Calcutta

And brainbleeding agony from Burundi

With an asteroid on the way.


I’ve seen world’s end

A thousand times. I don’t mind

One more.


But I’ve got plans.

Poetry: “Notes from a Children’s Memorial Service”

No end-of-the-year metrics for me. No New Year’s resolutions. It’s the unexamined life that’s worth living.

Still, in actually catching up on my blog reading lately, I’ve begin to think this blog is a bit too cold, a bit aloof in comparison to others. Maybe it could stand to be just a bit more chatty and less like the awkward uncle who recites prepared dialogue at his one-time social outing at Thanksgiving.

Maybe someday.

But I’ve also been thinking of posting (or republishing) some of my poetry. I make no claims for its worth only that, if I put it up, I think it’s as least as good as most contemporary poetry I see. (And the profile page does claim I’ve published poetry.) And I’m often too lazy to submit my stuff anywhere.

Actually, in this case, someone did think this was good enough to publish, at least in an online venture — in the early days of National Review Online to be specific. It appeared in July or August of 2000 I think. You’ll just have to take my word for that though. All online traces of it have vanished.

For the poetry haters (and I used to be one), I’ll helpfully code these adventures in funny typing with “Poetry” in the title to warn you away. Eventually, I’ll create another index page for them.

And, yes, the first one has a very cheery subject as the year expires.

Don’t come here expecting optimism and good times.

I said more chatty — not more cheerful.

Notes from a Children’s Memorial Service

Death made a present of pain.

Wrapped his gift in

Rioting cells and violent physics,

Life’s architecture carelessly copied.


They brought cards,

Paid to voice

The long, hollow shriek

Of absent years

With Hallmark, Shakespeare

And the King James on cardboard.


Barbies and Poohs

And Boy Scout badges, factory

Tokens of the dead.

Photos, crayon musings,

Crafted fish lures,

Shed skins of the dead.


They huddle on tables

About invisible fires,

Reefs of memories, lives

Grown to stone.


Death does not reap.

Death does not sow.

Death waits.


“Why” is the question everywhere.

“Because” is the first, last, only

Only answer.

Private Perry and Mister Poe

Before reading the Poe tribute anthology nEvermore! (review forthcoming), I decided to read this, the only unread Poe-related book left in the house.

Review: Private Perry and Mister Poe: The West Point Poems, 1831, ed. William F. Hecker, 2005.Private Perry and Mister Poe

As I’ve said elsewhere, the United States Army was the one institution that appreciated Edgar Allan Poe in his lifetime – even if he did get expelled from West Point.

But what did Poe do when he was at West Point and in his days as a private soldier?

The late Major William F. Hecker answers those questions with some unique expertise.

Hecker, before he died from an IED in Iraq in 2006, taught English at West Point. He passes on the folklore surrounding Cadet Poe – stories Hecker’s father and great-uncle heard when they were at the school and that Hecker heard when he was a cadet and from his students. These are stories are drunkenness and wild ill-discipline.

In fact, Poe doesn’t seem to have drank when at West Point and made a conscious decision to get himself expelled by failing to show up for roll call and not going to class. Continue reading


I’m working on some new stuff, so you get old stuff.

Really old stuff this time.

A retro review from St. Patrick’s Day, 2001 …

Review: Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, Anonymous, translated by Seamus Heaney, 2000.Beowulf

For those who have heard the names of Grendel and Beowulf and seen the epic alluded to in comic books, movies and Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, this version of the tale should serve as a good introduction.

The only other translation of Beowulf I’m familiar with is the Burton Raffel one which I’ve read three times and still prefer to Heaney’s. However, not knowing Old English, I can’t say which is more accurate. Raffel does try to preserve the structure of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse while Heaney, as he notes in his introduction, never feels compelled to strictly follow that form though he does quite a bit.

However, I suspect many readers may find that old verse form strange, awkward, and a bit offputting, and, for them, this version of the old epic is probably the best. I always found the last third of the epic the most moving and melancholy, and, there, Heaney’s translation is as powerful as Raffel’s.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.