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2017 HWA Poetry Showcase Featured Poems


The Horror Writers Association is pleased to present the three featured poems from the 2017 HWA Poetry Showcase.

After four years, the HWA Poetry Showcase has become a vibrant, global poetry competition featuring the best poetry, and the best poets, of the membership of the Horror Writers Association.

This year was the second, and final, year of David E. Cowen being Editor for the Showcase. As such, I asked him to write an introduction to this HWA Poetry Page post about his experiences with the Showcase and dark/horror poetry:

Poetry is dead. Long live the poetry of the undead!

It would be almost cliché to overly lament the contemporary downfall of poetry in American culture. As the president of one of the largest non-university related poetry groups in the state of Texas, the Gulf Coast Poets (approximately 80 members) for the past 5 years, I have witnessed the effects of this American ambivalence, if not hostility to modern verse. Audiences diminish like characters in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s iconic, and perhaps prophetic film Kairo (2001) leaving poets reading to themselves and empty chairs. Paperbound journals published by academic presses seem intent to explore how far they can isolate the craft of poetry from the common man. Ever haughty in the insistence that poetry should not and cannot connect to a general audience these journals walk the path of economic ruin. If you are a non-academic poet you may rise in the eyes of your fellow non-academic poets but you will always be the unqualified outsider to academic publications. The 2012 National Endowment of the Arts Survey on Public Participation in the Arts found only 6.7% of the American population still read poetry. The only major art category less popular than poetry was Opera. This is with the proliferation of MFA programs and poetry convocations such as the one I have been honored to preside over these past few years.

This is the fate of mainstream poetry today. And perhaps this pending extinction of modern poetry as Christopher Ingrahm reported in the April 24, 2015 Washington Post is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The energy of the dwindling few to preserve the art of mainstream poetry is commendable, but we are Canute commanding the waves to cease. The waves ignore us. This is especially true when the commands we shout to the foamy brine seem to be diatribes on the faults of the waves. Why would the oceans listen? Why would any American audience listen?

But this is not a dirge to a long-lost art. Merely because academic Olympians have isolated themselves does not mean that the art must be shuttered in with them. The key has to be to revisit and rekindle the roots of poetry. To go back to its beginnings and purpose when poetry was not therapy for self-indulgent pity but story telling. The early works of Western literature were not novels but narrative poems. Sometimes these stories were passed on for generations until poets such as Homer and Virgil fine-tuned them into literary masterpieces. The reign of popularity of the narrative poem shames the modern novel. But as in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (William Morrow 2001) only those gods who still have believers survive oblivion. The task of the contemporary poet is not to complain about their microscopic world but to transform the macrocosm. To recreate the lost audience; turn the dust of faded listeners into mud and mold new life. A new genesis for the art.

I truly believe this is the calling of the so-called genre poet. The mainstay of a “horror” or “dark” or “speculative” poet is the story. We must craft a story in poetical form that will build an audience. Our themes are not just the slashing or rendering of flesh but the transforming of horror into the ultimate artistic analogy of true life. In the “real world” the gods do not intervene in murders, rapes and terroristic attacks. We face the demons of life alone. Horror allows the reader to see the true nature of the human condition – the predator and the victim and those who walk the line between the two. To achieve this, we have to avoid cliché and a stubborn insistence of the use of archaic poetical form without pursuing the craft of such forms. We cannot imitate Edgar Alan Poe. We must strive to surpass him.

We must tell a story and as with any short story or novel tell it well. There are no byes or passes for genre. We must strive to craft dark poetry so that it can both connect with readers and withstand literary criticism.

The goal of the HWA was to use the HWA Poetry Showcase to both recognize the debt owed by horror writers to poetry and its roots in storytelling and to provide a platform for horror writers to expand their talents. Acceptance in the Showcase is not automatic, it is earned. Also, acceptance is not merely “selling a poem” it is being acknowledged in a highly competitive publication as the best the genre has to offer. The competition this year was large and fierce. For the first time, I presented the submissions to the judges in “blind jury” form. They did not know who wrote the poems and had to judge them by their content alone.

I am very proud to have been asked to be the editor of this year’s Showcase for the second year. Our jurors this year are all at the top of their craft. Dr. Michael Collings, Peter Salomon and Lisa Morton brought diversity and insight to the judging process. They took their jobs seriously and I am very satisfied with their decision process. I highly enjoyed working with them on this project.

The three featured poems by Bruce Boston, Stephanie Wytovich and Clay F. Johnson were highly praised by all judges. They reflect the trans-generational universality and relevance of dark poetry.

While we are featuring only three poems this year a brief explanation of why that is the case is warranted. Beyond the three featured poems several were held at such equal value that to feature them as well would have expanded the number of featured poems extensively. A bright line cutoff for the top three rated poems was agreed upon by the judges while recognizing that several other poems were highly rated.

Those poems deserve special mention here. Alessandro Manzetti and Marge Simon’s Night of Tears beautifully tells the story of Cortes and the horror of his invasion. Ann K. Schwader’s Salisbury Twilight expertly utilized the villanelle form. Robert Perez’ Stranded also exemplifies the use of “traditional” verse. These poets can proudly say they were at the top of this volume as well. Their poems stand on their own beyond genre as good poems. For that reason I have created a separate “Special Mention” category for this year’s volume.

David E. Cowen
Author of The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press 2014) 
and The Seven Yards of Sorrow (Weasel Press September 2016)
Editor HWA Horror Poetry Showcase Volumes III (2016) and IV (2017)

2017 HWA Poetry Showcase Featured Poems

(in alphabetical order)

Mirror Madness

I don’t look at mirrors
often or for long,
for when I do I always

fasten upon my eyes,
stensibly windows
to the soul, yet when

I look more closely at
my self looking back,
there is the naked id,

wild and rapacious,
yammering to be free.
And in the background

of this stark insistence,
I see a long prehistory
of claw and need,

a collective memory
of ritual and rapine,
myth and madness,

seething back to
the bloody primeval.
I don’t look at mirrors

often or for long,
for when I do,
I feel that I could fall in.

–Bruce Boston

Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks. His writing has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the SFPA. His latest collection, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, a collaboration with fellow SFPA Grandmaster Robert Frazier, is available from Amazon and other online booksellers. www.bruceboston.com

My Little Green Secret

An English-style vial of green pigment
Hides inside my piano, ghostly as
Moon-silvered glass, opal-pale like some witch-
Friendly potion―a Victorian skull
Grins back, mercury-soaked top hat
Askew its bone-vanilla head

Within I pretend are witch’s reagents:
Storm-purpled nightshade, old monkshood, wolf’s bane―
Hecate’s Queen of all Poisons
Blood-red bloodroot juice –pudding form–
Milk-silky yellow bell, unpasteurized,
Flakes of witch-curled wormwood bark –cinnamon–
And sprinkles of stone-crushed yew berry seeds

Its fragrance stings like a necromantic
Effluvium of root-twisted decay

But within this oak-corked vial –age-hazed–
Lies no fleurs du mal,
No floral bouquet from skeletal leaves
And no cauldron-boiled witchcraft scheme―
But instead, the unhallowed science
Of arsenic-laced Emerald Green

Her opulent walls are papered with it
The mid-winter damp moistens its poison

Yet, when finely ground, verdigris pigment
Oven-baked in rustic copper
Becomes an odorless, paste-like glaze:
A cosmetic-inspired Paris Green
My very own inheritance powder

Even better for witch-fever symptoms 
                     Her oozing sores have confounded doctors for months

And though vividly delicious on Victorian-papered walls,
It too can be used for painted smiles and smoke-inspired eyeshadow dyes

Go on, my darling, smudge a little more
–Just a little more–
To conceal your cancered lips and sleep-deprived eyes.

–Clay F. Johnson

Clay F. Johnson is an amateur pianist, devoted animal lover, and incorrigible reader of Gothic literature and Romantic-era poetry.  When he’s not intensely studying the preternatural fascinations of his beloved Romantics, working on new melancholy melodies, or entertaining his monstrously ill-behaved dogs, he can be found tracing the shadows of his imagination by writing poetry or editing his ever-changing novel.

Among other literary endeavors, Clay is currently working on a long poem which will complete his first poetry collection, inspired mostly by the haunting events and supposed laudanum-induced madness that occurred at the Villa Diodati during the “year without a summer” of 1816.  Find out more at http://clayfjohnson.blogspot.com/ or follow him on Twitter @ClayFJohnson.

The Apocalyptic Mannequin

Inside this pile of broken glass
On the edge of splintered wood,
Call my name against the drip-drop of rain on tin,
To the tune of metal grindings and radiation screams;

Wind me clockwise until I start to breathe,
Scoop out the dust in my macramé lungs,
Help me, I’m dead but I’m dying again,
A tortured corpse amongst this toxic waste:

…they named me disappearance
…baptized me, withering,

Still, between the stones that collect in the pits of my eyes
I wilt to the smell of rot and gun smoke,
Cringe at the sound of human consumption,
The tattoo of my ancestor’s serial numbers
Burned into my once-blushed cheeks now stained ashen in their memory;

Please, paint me in the picture of what was once human
Cast me in flesh, build me of skin of bone
There’s death in this camp of dystopian nightmare
A plague house filled with bodies made of dreams:

…they stripped me naked
…burned me to plastic.

–Stephanie Wytovich

Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Shadows Over Main Street: An Anthology of Small-Town Lovecraftian Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 2, and The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 8 (edited by Ellen Datlow).

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, and a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collections, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Brothel earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Her next poetry collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, is scheduled to be released October 2017 from Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her short story collection, Inside the Skin Bouquet is set for a late 2017 release from Dark Fuse.

Follow Wytovich at http://www.stephaniewytovich.com/ and on twitter @JustAfterSunset​.

For 2018, the Horror Writers Association is proud to announce the new Editor for the HWA Poetry Showcase: Stephanie Wytovich. In conjunction with National Poetry Month, the 2018 HWA Poetry Showcase will open to submissions April 1, 2018.

Previous Editors:
Peter Adam Salomon (2014-2015, founder)
David E. Cowen (2016-2017)

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