Which Poets Will Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Evan J. Peterson

Editor Staff, Poetry, October 31st, 2012

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Intimate Monsters: Examining the Value of Horror in Poetry

In my last post, I discussed how the field of horror poetry can often be divided into two (often overlapping) categories: poetry that horrifies, and poetry about the horror genre. In my less-than-humble opinion, the latter category yields as much strongly crafted verse as it does fan-convention schmaltz, while the former category tends to take itself quite seriously (hit-or-miss to its own advantage).

As an example of the schmaltz, take a brief peek at Ryan Mecum’s Zombie Haiku, which has the audacity to call itself “Good Poetry” in the subtitle.

Ah, haiku. That trusty poetic form for people who don’t read poetry. Mecum is also the author of Vampire Haiku, Werewolf Haiku, and Dawn of Zombie Haiku. Are his haiku clever and entertaining? Often. But they’re clearly aimed at a crowd that doesn’t read poetry. To be fair, Mecum’s writing is much smarter than most of the splatter genre.

I don’t want to tear him down as a writer; he’s obviously good at what he does, and writers need all the support we can get. I want to point out that what he does isn’t actual poetry. It’s a joke. An entertaining, intelligent joke, but a joke nonetheless.

The fault isn’t with Mecum, who puts out a new book of haiku every year, it’s with a culture that only reads books if they’re entertaining and easy.

My main objection is this: kitschy verse is being lauded as “Good Poetry,” while career poets with horrifying and even supernatural work (Baudelaire, Plath, Simic, etc.) are wholly ignored by most horror fans. It’s once again the triumph of entertainment over art. It’s not just that people watch t.v. and don’t read poetry—it’s that the vast majority who would read Zombie Haiku won’t bother to try reading any real poetry. Career poets continue to write for the audience of one another.

Straddling the overlapping ground of well-written poetry books with entertainment is Write Bloody Publishing. While not a horror-identified publisher (despite the images conjured by their title), WBP finds stage poets and slam poets—hard working, touring poetry performers—and rewards them with book deals. Effectively, they’ve spotlighted the marriage of live entertainment value to literature. When a publisher like this puts out Aim for the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry, I listen up.

Granted, I landed a poem of my own in the anthology, but that wouldn’t be a reason for me to drop artistic integrity and praise it if I didn’t find it a great read, which I do. This is a strong poetry book that also happens to be on the subject of zombies. Editor Rob Sturma, a.k.a. Ratpack Slim, has selected an extraordinary  showcase of work. You will not find much in the way of “I eat brains/ it dulls the pain” in this book.

Instead, enjoy poems like Lindsay Miller’s “Apologia of the Undead”: “We are not hungry; we know/ there will always be enough to eat.// You have so many enemies: gravity,/ sharp edges, the skittering vermin/ inside your blood…”

Some are played for laughs, yet lose nothing in the way of craft. Mindy Nettifee’s poem, “The Thing About Having Just Dropped Acid an Hour Ago When the Zombies Arrive at the House Party,” is both hilarious and harrowing: “you will not just be defenseless sometime within the next thirty minutes,/ you will be epically defenseless, vulnerable to loud wallpaper.”

Trends emerge. Several poems engage with the Cranberries’ song “Zombie,” either as a war story or in the context of the undead. Another interesting trend running through the book is the break-up poem, or at least the troubled relationship poem. Many speakers kill/eat or get killed/eaten by their lovers, in ways that extend beyond the page and into the poets’ personal lives. Melissa May writes, “I will always love you./ I can only hope that the zombie apocalypse begins on your wedding day,” clinching the poem by reminding her ex that the bride “shouldn’t have been wearing white in the/ first place” (“Here Comes The…”).

Admittedly, the book has some misfires. A few poems seem suspiciously out of place, as though the authors shoehorned the word “zombie” into the title and were lucky to impress the editor enough to make the cut. One or two poems are barely topical rants. However, from a more embrasive perspective, it could be argued that Sturma has selected a wide range of tones, styles, and interpretations of the zombie concept.

Aim for the Head is plenty zany, usually tongue-in-cheek, and steeped in a subgenre that can be artistic and intellectual but isn’t usually asked to be. These poems have everything that Zombie Haiku does, but aspired to be more. Sturma and Write Bloody sought artistic, intellectual zombie poems. They found them.

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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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Staff

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