DARK INK: An Anthology of Horror Poems

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Beyond Baroque presented over a dozen poets this past Saturday night who read poems they had contributed to a new anthology edited by Eric Morago. DARK INK is one of the best theme-oriented collections I have run across in the past decade, and I was especially impressed by the work of those who have yet to have a substantial volume of poems published. The best single rendition of a poem, in fact, was by a young poet I’d never encountered before, Nicole Connolly, whose “Self-Portrait as Exactly the Kind of Monster Men’s rights Activists Warn Each Other I Am” was delivered with a subtle, somber pleasure at what she saw in the full-length mirror. On my subsequent reading in the volume, her poem’s three dozen or so couplets seemed shorter on the page than it did when read out loud, though I don’t mean this comment to suggest that the poem dallied unnecessarily on any given image when she read it out loud. If anything, my attention Saturday evening was fully absorbed by its contraventions of patriarchal logic, and I would gladly have listened to an even longer version. Sonia Greenfield’s adaptation of Hemmingway’s “For Sale Baby Shoes Never Worn” was also a triumphant free solo climb of a sheer cliff of trauma, and the one poem in the volume that addressed that most transgressive use of horror, the endangered child. Armine Iknadossian’s “Vagina Dentata” also extended its metaphor with a dextrous plasticity right through its chilling last line: “a wedding band rolling down the marble hallway.”

It was perhaps no surprise that so many of the poems read on Saturday night had cinematic contexts. Frank O’Hara urged the mothers of America to let their kids go to the movies, and it would seem that permission was granted to see “The Sound of Music,” but that a whirlpool of turbulent fascination caused them to duck into another theater instead. However, the pleasure of this collection does not depend upon the reflected glory of the movie screen, and is more comprehensive in its cast of transgressive violence than might be expected for a book coming out of Los Angeles. Robin Axworthy and Terri Niccum, for instance, choose myth and legend in the form of Medusa and Lizzie Borden, with Niccum’s poem being one that wouldn’t be safe for a high school student to tote around as an unattributed, transcribed copy in her or his backpack on campus. The poem is deliciously dead serious, and gives an ax-sharp edge to Borden’s inner tribulations.

A fair number of L.A. veterans contributed some very fine poems: Michael C. Ford (“Sometimes We Provide for Ourselves Our Own Horror”); Laurel Ann Bogen (“Also Frankenstein”); Ron Koertge (“Dear Dracula”; “Mrs. Victor Frankenstein”), and Charles Harper Webb (“Night of the Lepus”) are among the liveliest poems in Morago’s anthology. Missing in action was Jack Grapes’s “The Count,” which is probably as close as any “horror” poem can get to deserving canonical status; and a poem from Edward Field’s collection, “Variety Photoplays” should probably have been included, even if it had required a royalty reprint fee. Not every poem, however, is as successful as it might have been. I would love to see Jennifer Lee Rossman reduce the number of her rhyming couplets by about 40 percent. “The Dog who Walked with Zombies” has more than enough wit to justify additional effort, and I hope she commits to doing so.

Morago’s Moontide Press is starting to become a welcome addition to a region that deserves to have more than Red Hen Press as its primary literary outlet. Moontide, of course, faces a much different retail environment than Red Hen did in its early years. The Borders bookstore chain, for instance, provided much more visibility as a outlet for regional projects a quarter-century ago. One wonders if Red Hen would be able to thrive to the extent it has if it were launching its first titles now.

As grim as the book distribution scene is, I urge you to get a copy of this volume (in which, in the interests of full disclosure, I do have a pair of poems). You will find in DARK INKS many more poems than I have listed that will give you reassurance of your powers to resist and endure, even as you grow more alert to the irony of human projections: “In this world, wild to kill / us all, some things are still too cute to be monsters.”


Eric Morago, Editor-in-Chief
Moon Tide Press #166
6745 Washington Avenue
Whitteri, CA 90601

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