Intimate Monsters: The Poetry of Horror by Evan J. Peterson

Editor Staff, Poetry, October 27th, 2011

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Examining the Value of Horror in Poetry

I welcome you to this first installment of Intimate Monsters, a new and ongoing column devoted to horror poetry. I feel a bit like Elvira, Vampira, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti all whip-stitched together as one shambling curator (and with smaller boobs).

This is an opportunity to explore the underrepresented themes of monstrosity and the supernatural in poetry. Nonetheless, the very real horrors of the poetry of witness won’t be skipped. Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel” is just as much horror poetry as H. P. Lovecraft’s “Night Gaunts.” In fact, while I celebrate Lovecraft’s dark imagination, Forche’s witness of crimes against humanity is far scarier. I seek poetry that’s creepy, disquieting, and if need be, occasionally revolting. Poe’s raven is kid stuff. Try his “Conqueror Worm” instead (see bottom of this article).

Fear, suspense, and even revulsion provide us with reminders that we are alive and that life is enriched by a grand variety of experiences. The Grand Guignol theater of the grotesque or the paintings of Francis Bacon provoke something within us. We go to the fright show and pay for a ticket to experience suspense—the feeling of being suspended, ungrounded, scared as hell about the threatening unknown.

Lovecraft famously wrote the following in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature“: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” And we need fear and suspense. We need horror. The Halloween celebration is the reverence for this; it’s a festival of both Catholic mysticism and pan-pagan respect for death and the seasons. Is it any wonder that it lasts all month? People need more than one weekend to embrace autumn as summer dies and we face briefer days.

Costumes let us shape shift and tap into the Id (our own fears of what we could become, could already be). Commercial “haunted” houses allow us a controlled experience of shock and terror. October is the only time many folks give themselves full permission to be immersed safely in magic, monstrosity, and death.

The occult is always around, but it comes cartwheeling out for its pagan pride parade at this time of year. So-called “normal” people have an opportunity to indulge in taboos—not just the occult, but erotic costumes in public, cross-dressing, and all sorts of sexuality that is often relegated to the shadows. What are vampires, if not the ultimate expression of sadomasochistic fantasy? Poetry can help us unpack and digest this.

Fear, horror, and the supernatural are such vital human fascinations that it is only authentic and necessary for poets to embrace them. Poetry is the human condition, elegantly refined and seeking to express in words that which is wordlessly primordial.

Science fiction has its place in verse as well, dovetailing quite neatly with horror through the disquiet of experimentation and Lovecraft’s prized fear of the unknown. Western poetry has been experimental for the last hundred and fifty years (just an estimation–correct me if I’m forgetting something). Perhaps it has always been a genre that explores and breaks convention. Like Doctors Frankenstein and Moreau, poets invent chimeras and reshape bodies. Our meat is word: the “new flesh” of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and The Fly. For more about that, read Bruce Beasley’s essay/manifesto, “Toward a Poetics of Monstrosity,” in which he offers the poem as monster, monster as poem.

There’s much to discover in this haunted house. Until next time, I leave you with the words of Akira Kurosawa: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” That’s the indelible, universal value of horror in poetry.

Yours,

EJP

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[Photo Via: RoboJapan]

evan peterson poet poetry writing for nailed magazineEvan J. Peterson is the author of Skin Job, (2012 Minor Arcana Press). His zines include Secular Exorcisms, The Ecstatic Tarot, and Hello Kitty Chainsaw. A poet, fiction and nonfiction author, columnist, editor, performer, and teacher, Evan’s recent work can be found excerpted in the New York Times and in Weird Tales, Court Green, Assaracus, Aim For The Head: An Anthology Of Zombie Poetry. He is the newly appointed creative director/editor of Minor Arcana Press.

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More than one editor and/or contributor was responsible for the completion of this piece on NAILED.