Tapping into the Horror Poet
By Cina Pelayo
One took us down the unassuming hallways in H.H. Holmes’ murder castle. Another marched us into war. I was told of exquisite artifacts and vampire fortunetellers. I heard whispered promises of bleeding saffron. Then, I was invited to kiss and dance with the witches.
The nominees for the 2018 Horror Writers Association award in Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection are Bruce Boston for ARTIFACTS (Independent Legions Publishing), David E. Cowen for BLEEDING SAFFRON (Weasel Press), Donna Lynch for WITCHES (Raw Dog Screaming Press), Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti for WAR (Crystal Lake Publishing) and Sara Tantlinger for THE DEVIL’S DREAMLAND (Strangehouse Books).
I spent a few days reading each poetry collection nominated and taking in not only the beauty of their words, but the fear and terror they generated. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t know that horror poetry was an awarded category. I’m sure a lot of people probably didn’t even know that horror poetry was a category of writing altogether. I honestly never thought of myself as a poet. I began writing as a journalist and then it took me a few years working through a Master of Fine Arts in Writing at The School of the Art Institute at Chicago to discover what kind of writer I was. I didn’t know any of the formal mechanics of fiction writing at that time. All I knew is that I wanted to write about the terrible things I had seen while working as a journalist, but I did not want to write journalism or non-fiction any further. I wanted to communicate pain through story.
In some classes we of course read poetry. I remember reading the works of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and others, but it wasn’t until I started reading some genuinely painful poetry that I finally connected to poems. The first time I read Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Five in the Afternoon” I think I cried hysterically. I felt it hit me in my core, because I knew he was writing about injustice and death. Then, when I read Jorge Luis Borges’ collection POEMS OF MY NIGHT I recall very vividly closing the book when I had finished the last poem and then opening the book again and rereading the entire collection again in that same sitting. I felt like I had discovered electricity or even another sense beyond sight, feel, touch, taste and smell. I had found artists who were able to communicate pain and suffering and beauty with words. And don’t even get me started on how many times I have read and shouted at the top of my lungs the words of Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary.” Those words cut, they slice, and they express the pain of a people who work themselves to blood and bone, and that alone is horror.
Again, I don’t think of myself as a poet, mainly because I just hold poets on such a perfect pedestal that I do not think I am quite there yet. I am a horror fiction writer who happens to write horror poetry. I feel like poets have to be skilled, not only as a writer, but as a visual artist, have a good understanding of sound and music, and understand psychology and emotion and texture and love and light – and darkness – all of these things that you just can’t reach out and touch.
The poetry I have written is in the style, I would like to think, of Lorca or Borges. I write of human suffering, our personal failures, or paranoia, the monsters we think we see and the monsters that are really there. Perhaps there’s something about us Latin American writers and poets, something about the unfortunate instability our countries and regions have seen, the suffering we have experienced through various regimes and socio-political shifts that allows us to tap into that language of pain, of poetry, and it is a language.
Poetry isn’t validated by rhyme, or by iambic pentameter. Poetry is validated by what the artist is able to express in words, how the artist is able to position the words across the page, and I would say how the artist is able to make you feel.
Each of the words that I have read nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in poetry are exquisite examples of horror poetry. They are beautiful, and tragic. They are the calming strings of a violin and the panicked beats of a drum. I’m looking forward to being present when the winner is awarded and of course looking forward to both reading and writing more horror poetry.
About Cina Pelayo
Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT. She is an International Latino Book Award winning author, and an Elgin Award nominee. She is represented by Amy Brewer at Metamorphosis Literary. Check out her website at www.cinapelayo.com.