10 MORE Poems to Old-School Your Halloween

Last year, some super amazing readers joined me in starting a new Halloween tradition: turning off the TV and going old-school to ring in the creepiest of nights. I love horror movies as much as anyone, but sometimes we need to darken that screen (and all the screens) and get back to what really makes the holiday fun: human connection. Frightened faces circled around a campfire. Scared little ones with big eyes in candlelight. Tasty treats beside the fireplace while everyone takes turns telling tales. Whatever your setting, your company, your tastes, get back to good and read some poetry out loud. You won’t be sorry.

If you missed it last year, it’s the perfect time to check out 10 Poems to Old-School Your Halloween. If you want to double the fun or just explore some new options, I’m selecting ten more poems for your reading and listening pleasure. My aim is to have something for everyone, with quick descriptions so you know what you’re getting into. Reading tips are just for kicks.

So settle in and turn down the lights: it’s time to dredge up some old-school frights.

1. “Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe

To quote last-year Annie: Any list of horror poetry by me is going to be bracketed by Poe. Deal with it. Really, you couldn’t ask for a better opening poem to set an eerie, mysterious mood for a night of Halloween poetry. Just the right length, just the right vibe.

Reading tip: Don’t worry about forcing words to rhyme. Sometimes poets cheat and sometimes pronunciations change; regardless, just read it how you read it and don’t sweat making “pry” rhyme with “secrecy.” You’ll feel less goofy and it will still sound beautiful.

2. “The three witches, casting a spell” by William Shakespeare

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” This scene (Act IV, Scene I) from Macbeth is so famous that even people who have never read or seen the play still know lines from it. So why not revisit it officially and appreciate the source? It will have you wanting to cast a spell of your own. Or maybe that’s just me.

Reading tip: Go big or go home. Get witchy! Evil cackles and ‘my pretty’ fingers practically required for full effect.

3. “The Listeners” by Walter De La Mare

“The Listeners” is a brilliant example of how, sometimes, subtly is more powerful than overt gore or action. There are no fireworks in this poem, but it will follow you home at night.

Reading tip: Slow. Slower. Use your quiet voice so everyone has to hush and lean forward to hear you.

4. “Dead Man’s Hate” by Robert Ervin Howard

Not a big fan of subtle poetry, or poems that wait for the end for a twist or chill? No waiting needed with this one; Howard jumps right into a surprisingly action-oriented chase poem. It also has a satisfyingly morbid conclusion.

Reading tip: Don’t let the old-fashioned language trip you up; just read it straight through at a fairly quick pace and the meaning will come through loud and clear.

5. “Windigo” by Louise Erdrich

If you need a break from the old-fashioned rhyme, here’s a gorgeous, seriously creepy free verse poem for you. A taste: “You knew I was coming for you, little one.”

Reading tip: Walk around behind your listeners as you read this one, forcing them to turn to follow you or feel you pass behind them. Take your time.

6. “The Ghosts” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Okay, how about a more serious one to balance out the macabre fun? “The Ghosts” isn’t terribly original, but it struck me as quite powerful. Most poems about fallen soldiers are largely sympathetic, and this one certainly gives us a taste of that, but it also manages to stay quite unsettling, which is a skillful balance.

Reading tip: This one sounds best in a sad, mournful tone, like ghosts moaning.

7. “To Live in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Burlee Vang

I love a modern horror poem. This one fits the bill. To take something cliché and trope-filled like zombies and turn them into a truly harrowing, emotional, chilling poem. Well, that’s what it’s all about. Free verse for contemporary readers.

Reading tip: The trick to free verse reading like poetry rather than odd prose is to take your time and really let yourself infuse the phrases with emotion. Linger and pause so imagery can sink in.

8. “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti

Here’s your commitment poem; I wanted at least one. “Goblin Market” is a long, looooong poem—perfect if you have a whole night to kill and/or a reader who just loves the spotlight. It tells a complete story and is packed full of cool imagery and lovely turns of phrase, so if you want to sink into a longer poem, this is a great choice.

Reading tip: Take your time. Rushing through it might be the instinct due to its length, but it’ll leave you winded. Listeners need time to absorb anyway, so pause for sips of water and gulps of air as needed.

9. “Fiend” by Annie Neugebauer

I can’t resist including one of my own. “Fiend” is a free verse poem told in second person, which gives it a direct, almost aggressive sense of foreboding.

Reading tip: If you really want to freak out your bedmate, read this one to them right before sleep. Not if you’re trying to get lucky, though, because chances are they’ll want nothing to do with you afterwards.

10. “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I strongly suspect all fear is actually fear of death. Whether you agree or not, it remains a powerful symbol of the Halloween season, and, if you’re morbid like most of us ghouls, the perfect note to end the night on.

Reading tip: This poem is set up like a grand stage performance, so roll with it. Step up on a hearth or rock or what have you and spread your arms out. Gesture away, use your performer voice. The grandiosity of your reading will really drive home the dread of that last line.

Whether you want a quick taste of poetry before heading out for mischief and revelry or plan to spend a whole night savoring the old-fashioned pleasures of sharing poetry aloud, I hope I’ve given you some great options this Halloween!

What are your favorite creepy poems to read aloud?

Annie Neugebauer

Column by Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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Ashley B. Davis's picture
Ashley B. Davis from California is reading In the Woods October 25, 2017 - 9:53pm

I loved Vang's zombie poem. Yours, Poe's and the Macbeth scene were rereads, but I was filled with warm and fuzzies (and chills) to reread again during my favorite time of year (dare I say, the most wonderful...time of the year?). I will certainly be bookmarking Rosetti's whopper to return to; I like the sound of it by the first couple stanzas. Awesome recommendations! This tradition sounds right up my alley.

AnnieNeugebauer's picture
AnnieNeugebauer from Texas is reading Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 5 October 26, 2017 - 8:11am

Isn't Vang's just awesome?! Defintely the most wonderful time of the year! =)~ I thought you might like this traditioin too! Have fun!

Guilherme3's picture
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