Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads.

The Scots contribute with a number of supernatural writers who also had an interest in preserving Scottish songs: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and James Hogg.

I was surprised that the ballads of Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller were less philosophical than expected and concentrated more on their chills and wonder.

Few interested in reading poetry will be surprised that the big three English Romantics are here: Keats, Shelley, and Byron. The anthology confirms yet again that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the classic English language weird and supernatural poem besting everyone else’s, including Keats and Milton.

The 19th and 20th Century sections are full of familiar names though often not for poetry but prose or verse outside the anthology’s thematic bounds. Thus World War One poets Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon show up with the latter’s “Goblin Revel” being effective. Other surprise appearances were by Robert Frost and John G. Niehardt, the latter best known for his Old West themed The Song of Hugh Glass.

H. P. Lovecraft and his circle are represented. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith get four and five poems respectively. Frankly, I think a slot of Lovecraft’s should have gone to Clark Ashton Smith, the poet here who most consistently worked in the zones this anthology covers.

Besides Smith, many other members of the Lovecraft circle show up so it was interesting to see their efforts. Frank Belknap Long’s “The Goblin Tower” is effective, and the two Robert E. Howard selections confirm his gift for vivid ballads sometimes smuggled into his stories.

It was nice to finally read some work by George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith’s mentor.

I am also glad that there is a poem by the late Keith Allen Daniels, a poet I had a tiny bit of association with and whose name should be kept alive. Ann K. Schwader gets the last entry in the book and confirms, as I’ve said before, her gifts for poetic marquetry.

Each poet gets a little bio sketch and publication history on the included poems.

Not every poem is going to please everyone, but if you like the supernatural and terror in your poems or those English Romantics or creepy ballads or Lovecraft, you should be generally pleased with this one.

You can find a complete table of contents at the title link above.

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