Beautiful Little Terrors:
Horror Poetry’s Place in the Genre
By Donna Lynch
I’ve had the honor and good fortune to be nominated this year for a Bram Stoker Superior Achievement in Poetry Award for a collection titled WITCHES, beautifully illustrated and designed by my collaborator Steven Archer.
The most common query, upon sharing the news, has been: There’s such a thing as horror poetry?
I’m not surprised. In the “mainstream” world, it’s been a very long time since people gathered in parlors to entertain one another with these dark, lyrical gems—my younger years as a goth teen hanging with friends in graveyards notwithstanding.
Once we’ve established that there is, indeed, such a thing as horror poetry, the next natural question would be: What purpose does it serve?
As with most art—far beneath the myriad large-scale impacts upon societies—I can only tell you how this particular medium serves me.
I’ve written two horror novels and a novella, and it felt like it took an eternity. I had histories and backstories for every character that never made it to the page. I researched, outlined, dreamed, and fretted over the details of their lives, and though I enjoyed it, that process eventually removed me from the fear and ugliness I was trying to convey. It became matter-of-fact and clinical after all those months, and all I really wanted was to be back in their dark world. In the end, I got there, but it was not a simple journey.
Poems—those brief moments of terror or pain—allow for that immersion. The horror novel may be the long, quiet walk down the hall that you know can’t end well. The horror poem is the shrouded figure with bone-cutting shears rushing at you from behind.
Poetry is that nightmare that didn’t make enough sense to tell a comprehensive story. It was just a brief, unsettling moment of pictures and feelings, your brain desperately trying to find patterns in chaos.
It is the challenge of simplifying trauma and fear, and manipulating it into a sweet-sounding rhyme or a piece no longer than a shopping list.
The horror novel may be hundreds of needles inserted into flesh over the course of days or weeks, but the poem—if done right—can be an ax right to the torso.
And what a power to wield. As a poet I want to entertain you but I also want to make you hurt. I want you to be uncomfortable. I want you to be afraid and unsettled. And I want to do it with the smallest, most unassuming tool possible.
For the horror poet, the possibilities of creativity and villainy are endless, because if you can scare someone with ten words, imagine what you could do with ten-thousand.
About Donna Lynch
Donna Lynch is a dark fiction writer and the co-founder—along with her husband, artist and musician Steven Archer—of the dark electro-rock band Ego Likeness (Metropolis Records). Her written works include Isabel Burning, Driving Through the Desert, Ladies & Other Vicious Creatures, Daughters of Lilith, and In My Mouth. She and her husband live in Maryland.