I posted this Wall-o-Text on Chad Helder’s blog.  Figured I might as well move it here and own up to it!

The state of “horror poetry” reminds me of the state of National Poetry Month, wherein everybody groans and quotes TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, “April is the cruelest month…” Much derided, often the subject of scorn, but for some reason it never fully goes away. But, here are my two cents in random ordering….:

–Sturgeon’s Law applies to everything. Sure, a lot of horror poetry is crap, but so is a lot of poetry, a lot of horror fiction, a lot of science fiction, a lot of fantasy, and a lot fiction in general. It’s for this reason all writers should be voracious readers in the medium/genre that they’re writing in. You have to pick through a lot of crap to find what personally speaks to you.

–A lot of poetry written, and especially published on the internet, blogs, or a Lulu storefront, is crap because of what I stated above. The poets themselves don’t voraciously read poetry, and the poetry they have read is likely centuries old and written by a centuries dead white male — who, incidently, is writing in an outdated, antiquated form of English that roughly resembles the language we’re speaking today. I am not knocking Shakespeare, Keats, Poe, Shelley, Chaucer, or any of that gang as writers though. Their skill and brilliance is evident. Plus, I am not knocking form, either. People still write in iambic pentameter these days, but they’re doing so using contemporary language, idioms, and metaphors. (As an aside, if a writer is using “thy” or “thine” in a poem, they really shouldn’t complain if people point and laugh at their work). So, you have people who don’t know much about poetry who try to write it.

–Horror poetry is often, and rightly so, shown to be abysmal because of the above. But, in this case, it’s further complicated by the market place. Of the few journals that accept and publish poetry within the genre, most of what’s being published have all the red flags of what I mentioned above. Take Weird Tales, for example. They have never, ever published a poem I liked. There have been rare instances where Asimov’s has published a few interesting works — usually by Bruce Boston or Marge Simon. Much of it, however, is in sloppy rhyme, or it’s written like prose that’s been chopped into lines.

–Like it or not, we live a for-profit, commodity based society. People want to make money. And, for the large part, you cannot make money writing poetry. The money in writing usually comes from writing screenplays, non-fiction, romance, mystery, and so forth. Poetry is near dead last, next to scholarly monographs (where the writer is usually compensated by his University, not his publisher, in the form of merit pay or another professional notch on the belt, during the long slog towards tenure or getting out of adjunct hell). You will hardly ever find contemporary poetry on a best seller list. I’m not bemoaning that fact either; I’m just pointing out reality.

So, some newbies approach writing poetry, find out how tough the market place is with very little financial reward, and then they move on and try writing a screenplay or novel. Even worse, after receiving umpteen rejection notices from The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, lesser journals, and presses like Graywolf, Ecco, Sarabande, or others, they run all butthurt to iUniverse, Authorhouse, or create a Lulu marketplace.

Basically, if we live in a for-profit society, poetry offers no financial incentive to keep talented writers around. To write poetry is to largely languish in obscurity, even if you made it with a high profile book from Ecco or Scribners. It’s more than likely that you still have a day job to pay your bills. To write fiction is to at least have a glimmer of hope of becoming a full time writer.

–“Academic Poetry” is never the problem or the solution, either. If you take the above couple of paragraphs into mind, most high profile published poets these days end up in academia. Teaching poetry becomes their day job. However, there’s this weird false conception that “academic” equals “pointy head” or “Language Poetry” or “Post Modernist.” This is wrong, too. That’s just one little corner of the great, vast poetry world. Not everybody writes like Jorie Graham. Not every writes like Mary Oliver or Sharon Olds, either. Poetry coming out of academia is very, very diverse.

Which leads me to final point….

— “Horror” is only a content description. This is why Sylvia Plath can be termed a horror poet, but if you’re talking about contemporaries, many fit the mold. For instance, how is the following Frank Bidart poem NOT horror?


Which makes me come back to my central point. Poets of any content type should be voracious readers. Nothing is ever truly new, when it comes to subject matter.