Doses of Darkness: Bram Stoker Nominated Horror Poetry

Earlier this year, the 2021 Bram Stoker Award nominees were announced. In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to take some time to highlight the five nominated collections, their respective authors, and some of my favorite lines from each work. Horror poetry has a special place in my heart. It really kickstarted my love of writing horror in general, and poetry is such a strong medium to convey quick doses of darkness. Poems have the opportunity to showcase nightmares in only a few lines, and as the poets below show us, there are many different ways to accomplish that.

Celebrating dark poetry is something I hope you'll join me in doing all year long!

1. "Apache Witch and Other Poetic Observations" by Joe Lansdale

"Every cloud has a silver lining / but sometimes the silver is / poisonous gas." — "Cloud"

In the book's introduction, Joe Lansdale talks about how he wanted to have fun with this collection and explore poetry in his own way, which I thought was a great approach and might be helpful to anyone out there who feels intimidated by poetry. Sometimes we just have to throw the "rules" away and write stories or poems how we want to write them. Horror and humor so often walk hand-in-hand, and Apache Witch certainly offers up an eclectic mix of dark laughs and imagery, all done in classic Lansdale style, giving us bite-sized pieces of his twisted musings.

Get Apache Witch at The Last Bookstore


2. "Strange Nests" by Jessica McHugh

"I belong to the garden / At first I was too little to understand; / Now I think about it until I cry, / How the garden dug into me, / Spoiled me, / Hid its hex in me." — "Buried"

Using blackout poetry from the pages of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Jessica McHugh transforms the words into a poignant collection that mediates on grief and the messiness that inevitably comes with loss. McHugh's work with blackout poetry is truly art. Raw emotion comes to life in every poem. The earthy imagery aligns strongly with the way grief can make us feel buried, yet the work here is so lovely that it also offers a powerful glimmer of hope and survival.

Get Strange Nests at Bookshop or Amazon


3. "Tortured Willows: Bent. Bowed. Unbroken." by Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn

"Four willows stood bound / in their sisterhood, in strength— / unquiet, waiting." — "Four Willows Bound"

A beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking collection that explores Asian identity, resilience, power, and much more. The voices of these four poets have come together in Tortured Willows in a truly admirable way. It's not easy to write a collaborative collection, especially when the theme features such personal topics, so to see how these ladies came together with such strong contributions is an accomplishment to be noted. Tortured Willows will leave you haunted, bruised, and in complete awe of what has been created here.

Get Tortured Willows at Amazon


4. "Exposed Nerves" by Lucy A. Snyder 

"My saltiness is legend / I'm no marshmallow / though I certainly burn." — "Salty"

Exposed Nerves is the perfect title for this collection. The pieces showcase a range of ideas, and there's a formidable thread weaved throughout that makes every poem hit like an electric shock to the system. There is care put into each line, and Snyder's clever phrasing and ideas are put on memorable display in every poem. There is time taken here to celebrate the craft of poetry. I also enjoyed the way the collection tackles the human condition. There is inherent horror in simply existing and trying to navigate a world rife with social commentary and daily obstacles of certain expectations. Snyder is fearless in addressing those ideas within Exposed Nerves

Get Exposed Nerves at Bookshop or Amazon


5. "Victims" by Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo

"Here's to the women burned on funeral pyres / or Saint Theresa sacrificed to her own virtue / because it was fuck that guy or die / and she decided to die" — "Saint Theresa and the Fuck Me Shoes"

Written by two very accomplished voices in poetry, I knew Victims was going to dive into a place of relentless darkness, and wow, does it deliver. The collection is brutal at times, brave and poignant in the subject matter as it showcases what it means to be a victim or a survivor, and also what it means to be someone trying to exist in a society that fails you. We witness power being taken away from some, power being rediscovered by others. There's a torment explored in these lines, and in the capable hands of Simon and Turzillo, the collaborative collection becomes an extremely effective work.

Get Victims at Bookshop or Amazon

If you haven't explored the work of these nominees, what are you waiting for? Let us know what you think of them. 

Sara Tantlinger

Column by Sara Tantlinger

Sara Tantlinger is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Instagram @inkychaotics.

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