Poetic Prose in Horror

Image of poetry book.

It’s National Poetry Month, so let’s take a look-see at some poetic prose. Recently, in two horror novel reviews on Amazon, I claimed both books were full of poetic prose. Did the authors really write with lyricism, or was I just blowing smoke? Let’s examine a couple of text excerpts to find out.

This is a passage from The Unsuitable, a Gothic horror novel by Molly Pohlig. When we break apart the passage so it looks like a poem, it does indeed sound like a poem. Iseult, the protagonist, is waiting on her detestable father to come down for dinner:

The black collar, starched with iron ore,
stretched her neck to unnatural lengths;
the shoes that pinched
but made her an appreciable inch taller;
the stifling air;
the furniture arranged [so] no one
sat in that room with ease;
the seconds ticked off by a clock
that had a grudge against time.
The waiting.
He always made her [wait].

Pohlig’s poetic writing has a rhythm and a tension that fits the passage to a T. Here is the passage untouched:

The black collar that she suspected had been starched with iron ore, considering how it stretched her neck to unnatural lengths; the shoes that pinched but made her an appreciable inch taller; the stifling air; the furniture arranged in a way that signified that no one ever sat in that room with ease; the seconds ticked off by a clock that had a grudge against time. The waiting. He always made her . . . .

(Noooo, I’m not saying every book is better with lyrical prose. Dean Koontz’s Intensity, one of the best and scariest books ever, would be silly if written in a poetic style.)

Moving on, from The Boatman’s Daughter, a Southern Gothic horror novel by Andy Davidson, we have Miranda, the protagonist, in a johnboat at the mouth of a bayou. I deleted the stage-direction sentences, and we’re left with what Miranda sees:

Spiders in the trees, their webs gleaming silver.
A cottonmouth churning in the shallows.
In a stump field, a preternatural silence
descended over frog and cricket and owl.
To the west, purple lightning
rolled thunderless in the cage of the sky.
In the water were the twisted, eerie shapes
of deadfalls. They broke the surface
like coffins bobbing in flooded graves.
“What is this place?” Miranda asked.
No one answered.

Isn’t Davidson’s prose poetry eerie and beautiful? Here’s the passage untouched:

Spiders in the trees, their webs gleaming silver. A cottonmouth churning in the shallows. Miranda held up arms to guard her ears and cheeks from the branches, thinking of Alice down the rabbit hole, one small door opening upon another, and another, each door smaller than the last.
“Push through!” the old witch cried.
Branches screeching over metal, they did, the boatman breaking off fistfuls of dead cypress limbs until the boat slipped free onto the wide stage of a lake. Here, Hiram cut the motor and they drifted in a stump field, a preternatural silence descending over frog and cricket and owl, as if the little boat had somehow passed into the inner, sacred temple of the night itself.
To the west, purple lightning rolled thunderless in the cage of the sky.
In the water were the twisted, eerie shapes of deadfalls. They broke the surface like coffins bobbing in flooded graves.
“What is this place?” Miranda asked, angling her light all around.
No one answered.

A poem a day.

I am writing a poem a day in April and learning how words sound when placed next to each other, so it’s proving to be a good exercise. The fabulous R.K. Russell, NFL player and poet extraordinaire, is going to publish one of my poems on his Weekly Featured Poem series (Mondays), soon I hope, woohoo, exciting!

Free book!

And in other news, my blogging buddy Jonny Pongratz will have his YA novella, Reaper, free on Amazon this Sunday (April 19, 2020). With the sequel coming out soon, now’s a good time for YA horror enthusiasts to grab the first book. I’ve read it. It’s a fun story about young Gregory who, unfortunately, has a very creepy monster in the basement!

Be well.

Feature image by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash.

The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig on Amazon.

The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson on Amazon.

51 thoughts on “Poetic Prose in Horror

  1. Fascinating post, Priscilla. LOL, I can’t help saying it, but my attempts at poetry are certainly horror!
    Thanks for the heads-up about the free book. Have a peaceful coast down the other side of the midweek hump. Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your “attempts at poetry are certainly horror” hahaha, i love your sense of humor, Teagan. I’m sure you’re not a bad poet at all because you’re so creative with your episodic stories. Hugs on the wing back!

      Like

  2. I saw that you managed to do all of NaPo so congratulations on writing thirty poems! I think poetic prose suits horror so well, it is eerie but beautiful… a beautiful nightmare if you will ^.^

    Liked by 1 person

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