31 Lists of Horror: Prepare to Shiver in Poetic Terror!

This is the eve of mon­sters, the night of sham­bling beasts and frozen princess­es and astro­nauts and etcetera, oth­er­wise known as Hal­loween! But before it begins, pre­pare your­self with a lit­er­ary blood-chill­ing via the art of poet­ry!
Today’s special guest lister: Sandra Kasturi

The Animal BridegroomSan­dra Kas­turi is a poet, writer, edi­tor, and co-pub­lish­er of the World Fan­ta­sy and British Fan­ta­sy Award-win­ning press ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions. Sandra’s work has appeared in var­i­ous venues, includ­ing ON SPEC, Prairie Fire, sev­er­al Tesser­acts antholo­gies, Evolve, Chill­ing Tales, A Ver­dant Green, Trans­Ver­sions, ARC Mag­a­zine, Tad­dle Creek, Abyss & Apex, 80! Mem­o­ries & Reflec­tions on Ursu­la K. Le Guin, and Stamps, Vamps & Tramps. Her two poet­ry col­lec­tions are: The Ani­mal Bride­groom (with an intro by Neil Gaiman) and Come Late to the Love of Birds.

She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on two books: a new poet­ry col­lec­tion called Snake Han­dling for Begin­ners, as well as a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Mrs. Kong & Oth­er Mon­sters. She is fond of gin & ton­ics, Michael Fass­ben­der, and red lip­stick.

October 31, 2017

Thirteen Poems that Give Me the Shivers

Normal­ly one doesn’t think of poems as the kind of writ­ing that can be creepy or hor­rif­ic or suit­able for this Octo­ber Coun­try that we are cur­rent­ly inhab­it­ing (unless, per­haps, they are writ­ten specif­i­cal­ly as Hal­loween poems, and then they are often sil­ly and meant for chil­dren). But over the years I’ve def­i­nite­ly found poems that have giv­en me pause, some­times just with one line. Oth­ers have giv­en me a deli­cious­ly shiv­ery feel­ing. Still oth­ers I don’t real­ly like to think about at night. Here’s a baker’s dozen of poet­ry that made me think twice. Espe­cial­ly after dark.
The Gates of DamascusJames Elroy Flecker

This is an old clas­sic. You should read the whole thing (here), but these are the lines that always make me uneasy:

Pass not beneath, O Car­a­van, or pass not singing. Have you heard

That silence where the birds are dead yet some­thing pipeth like a bird?”

Nightfall, Susan A. Manchester

I include Susan Manchester’s “Night­fall” because it gives me a shiv­ery feeling—though it’s not obvi­ous­ly fright­en­ing. It’s beau­ti­ful but it packs a punch at the end.

Nightfall (link here)

Even if chil­dren fall and stars

and ele­phants and dark spaces

from the s.ky, it does not mat­ter

Even­tu­al­ly, there will be

a soft land­ing. Even­tu­al­ly,

they ride the wave of some note

from a gold­en trum­pet sus­tained

loud and long. Even the black

holes form­ing craters on the earth

can­not mat­ter, if the sound of vio­lins

cush­ions the fall. Each land­ing,

no more than a rip­ple on the pond,

final­ly touch­es every shore

at the same time. It is and

always will be all right

for any­thing to fall from the sky.

Trust me,” the Night said.

TransformationsBriar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Anne Sexton

Anne Sex­ton is bril­liant. Her poet­ry col­lec­tion, Trans­for­ma­tions, is some­thing I keep going back to. The final poem in the book, “Bri­ar Rose” pro­vides you with a whole oth­er kind of hor­ror.

An excerpt:

Fur­ther, I must not dream

for when I do I see the table set

and a fal­ter­ing crone at my place,

her eyes burnt by cig­a­rettes

as she eats betray­al like a slice of meat.

A Farewell to Kansas, Dan Robert Brask Sanengen

This poem was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the April 2006 issue of ChiZine.com/The Chiaroscuro. Back when I was poet­ry edi­tor there, and was look­ing for dark, strange poems for our quar­ter­ly zine. This is anoth­er poem that isn’t imme­di­ate­ly fright­en­ing, but it takes a favourite child­hood sto­ry and gives it a nasty twist. Hence, the shiv­er.

A Farewell to Kansas

It’s just a uni­verse away,

No more than a day’s ride on mon­key­back.


Your hands grip­ping the stiff bris­tle of the ape’s neck,

You can feel the sweat of ani­mal fear on its skin

As you race the paths across the cold blue hills

Where the north­ern winds blow clean through your skull.


All at once there you stand

On a vast green plain

Where fun­nel-shaped cumuli rise from the ground

As if the plain were a cloud plan­ta­tion.

The white cot­ton shapes grow rolling into the sky

Like a silent flour­ish of ban­ners in the wind.

From time to time

A cloud grows ripe,

Its dark sum­mit swelling

Into a brood­ing thun­der­head

That top­ples over from its own weight,

Break­ing on the plain in a wet explo­sion,

Sow­ing the seeds of anoth­er cloudy day.


The dew on your skin,

It isn’t sweat

But water bled from the air.

The air is so wet it’s a drink;

With every breath you are drown­ing.


There is no going back on foot.

And where is that smelly beast

When for once you need it?


Your mon­key?

Your mon­key lies dead in the hills.

The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats

W.B. Yeats

This poem is so famous, it almost doesn’t bear men­tion­ing. And yet … and yet … you should read it again. Espe­cial­ly that apoc­a­lyp­tic end­ing:

The dark­ness drops again; but now I know

That twen­ty cen­turies of stony sleep

Were vexed to night­mare by a rock­ing cra­dle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouch­es towards Beth­le­hem to be born?

Outside, Peter Crowther

Pete Crowther is prob­a­bly best known for run­ning the amaz­ing PS Pub­lish­ing in the UK, and putting out gor­geous books by won­der­ful writ­ers. If you haven’t read his own work, you should. And even if you have read his fiction—you might not have read his poet­ry. And you should.


His eye­lids grown sud­den­ly heavy,

he stretch­es his legs on the seat beside his wife.

Rest them, dear,” she says,

plac­ing her hand on his foot and smil­ing at him

as the evening coun­try­side flash­es past the car­riage win­dow.

He smiles back and nods,

mut­ters, “Maybe I will,”

a com­fort­ing mum­ble in his throat.

Just five min­utes,” he adds.

As he set­tles deep­er in his seat, he is aware of some­thing call­ing to him:

he turns and glances at the win­dow.

The out­side,” he says sleep­i­ly to his wife.

Mmm?” she says, lost in a mag­a­zine. “What about it, dear?”

It’s try­ing to get in, he thinks, here… into the car­riage.

A sil­ly thought that frag­ments like air­borne seed on a sum­mer breeze,

cast­ing aside the brief image of a sen­tient patch­work

of fields and mead­ow­land, clus­tered woods and wind­ing farm­tracks,

all watch­ing the train—watching him—pass by.

He shakes his head, dis­miss­ing the notion,

and clos­es his eyes once more.

In his slum­ber, fit­ful with the move­ment beneath and all around him,

he sees the land rise up,

like a green and ver­dant cur­tain… a grassy wave of Bib­li­cal pro­por­tions,

drap­ing and spilling itself along the track

and up against the train.

He wakes.

His wife is not there … a momen­tary pan­ic until she reap­pears

from the bath­room, smil­ing at him vacant­ly,

see­ing his con­cern.

Her smile widens slow­ly.

As she sits down he notices a sin­gle blade of grass in her hair,

like a feath­er.

When he com­ments upon it she laughs—

the soil spilling from her open mouth in a tor­rent of brown—

and stretch­es out her arms,

her fin­gers clutch­ing at him like with­ered twigs.

You Fit Into Me, Margaret Atwood

5–1/2 Inch Zinc Eye/Hook Turn­buck­le. What, you think I’m actu­al­ly going to show you an eye with a hook stuck in it?

Atwood obvi­ous­ly needs no intro­duc­tion, and I’m guess­ing this poem doesn’t either. I include it because it falls into the grue­some are­na of hor­ror tropes, but I also love the jolt of its anal­o­gy on rela­tion­ships. I also real­ly love very short poems that say every­thing in just a few lines.

You Fit Into Me

You fit into me

like a hook into an eye


a fish hook

an open eye

My Last Duchess, Robert Browning

Anoth­er poem about rela­tion­ships. Nev­er has mur­der been so charm­ing! Again, you might know this poem well, but it bears reread­ing. The awful­ness of what has hap­pened is belied by the love­ly lan­guage. Beau­ty + hor­ror = per­fec­tion.

My Last Duchess

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed with­out

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave com­mands;

Then all smiles stopped togeth­er.

House of Mystery, Courtney Bates-Hardy

From Courtney’s poet­ry col­lec­tion of the same name, this poem evokes a dreamy, shiv­ery mood.

House of Mystery

At sev­en, you appear in the hall­way of the same house

Every time you dream. The wood pan­elling is dark,


Like the paint­ings on the walls. You know your fam­i­ly

Is here, trapped in dif­fer­ent rooms, but the doors shift


And lock. A witch awaits with her dogs; she only

Chas­es you when you lose your way, breath­ing too


Hard to remem­ber where you’ve been. At twelve,

You real­ize you’ve nev­er seen the witch: a shad­ow


On the wall with long teeth that recede each time

You dream again but the doors still won’t open


Or let you see where you are. At eigh­teen,

You only dream of the doors, float­ing in air,


Stretch­ing into clouds or fire. At twen­ty,

The dream has stopped but you still walk


Down a hall­way with many doors,

Open­ing one after anoth­er.

Testimony of Anne Putnam, Jnr., by Gemma Files

Gem­ma Files is anoth­er writer who is best known for her fic­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly her Hexs­linger tril­o­gy, and, more recent­ly, the Shirley Jack­son and Sun­burst Award-win­ning Exper­i­men­tal Film. But she also writes poet­ry. Quite upset­ting poet­ry.

Testimony of Anne Putnam, Jnr.

Pins and wax. Skeins of wool,

in diverse colours, wrapped

about my guts. Tracts.

A bro­ken arrow­head, a knife.

All these have I divulged

bod­i­ly, near­ly at the cost of life.


Ask me again: I am well-versed.

I know my cat­e­chism.

Always, this open chasm at my feet

reminds me of the words rehearsed.


Flames lick at my skirts.


You would know who they are? I cry

their names in answer to the pews

of this bare room where neigh­bours sit.

I roll and bark about the floor

and hear you gasp to see such fits

as are thrust upon me here.


They are impres­sive.

my list, too,

is exten­sive.


Goody Nurse, the old mid­wife.

Goody Cloyse. Gen­tle Goody Estey.

Goody Good in her red-heeled boots,

no bet­ter than she should be.


So keep your eyes to the floor­boards, now,

lest you too look up and see

that yel­low bird above my head

which sings them to the hang­ing tree.

a promise fulfilled, Brian Rosenberger

Here’s anoth­er short poem that was pub­lished at ChiZine.com in the April 2011 issue. Actu­al­ly, it’s more fun­ny than scary (at least to me), but once again, it’s got that sting in the tail.


a promise fulfilled

I said I’d be there

until the end

and at the rate

you’re bleed­ing out

that won’t be long now.

Midnight on the Job, John Grey

From the April 2003 issue of ChiZine.com. What is it about April that gives me the creeps? I love the mood and atmos­phere, and then that unnerv­ing moment at the end.

Midnight on the Job

imag­ine this mid­night as a room

where some­thing else is alive

beside the tick­ing of the clock

and the ner­vous twirl of my thumbs.


Win­dow­less, almost air­less,

noth­ing to do but feel the fear

eat­ing its way into the lone­li­ness

like a bug on my skin.


Some­thing is in the cur­tains,

twit­ter­ing the folds,

com­ing into its own busi­ness

at the evap­o­ra­tion of mine.


This mid­night is what another’s heart­beat

would sound like if it beat in me.

It is the chill­ing sense of me becom­ing

what it has replaced me with.

Going to Sleep, Dorothy Livesay

And let us end where as we should, with death. Once again, it amazes me how some­one can con­vey an entire con­cept and give you the shiv­ers, all in two lines.

Going to Sleep

I shall lie like this when I am dead

But with one more secret in my head.

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