Book Review -- 'Halloween: New Poems', edited by Al Sarrantonio


It is now October, and we all know what that means FEARnet readers.  We are now ready to experience things like the leaves changing color and the smells of baked goods wafting from the kitchen to warm our evil little hearts.  With the fall comes pumpkins and scary masks.  With the fall comes...Halloween: The horror-lover's holiday of choice.

Cemetery Dance Publications is known for their releases related to this awesome holiday.  Creepy Halloween covers from Alan M. Clark, Glenn Chadbourne, Alex McVey, and more fill their catalog and delight me every time I see them on my shelves.  Every year I make a special TBR ("to be read") pile just for the month of October for my own little countdown to All Hallows' Eve.  Last year I purchased a book that will be in that pile for every one of my Octobers to come.  In fact, I spent last night re-reading the oversized loveliness of Halloween: New Poems edited by Al Sarrantonio.

This is the book that every horror fan who loves the "Orange and Black" season needs to have.   Ranging from beautiful to horrific, and senses-filling to fun...the poems in this volume are tiny masterworks.  No, you won't find your kid's Dr. Seuss or Jack Prelutsky type of poetry in here.  There are no limericks, very little rhyming (and the rhyming that is there will lure you in with a false sense of security), and only one haiku that has a perfectness to it all its own.  This is the more mature side of poetry, but the fun is still in there. You may even find a few that you'll want to read aloud before letting your little critters go out to Trick-or-Treat (or before they try to sleep the night before)... if they don't scare too easily (Warning: make sure you read them first too because some are not very appropriate for younger audiences).   

I was so inspired by my reading of Halloween: New Poems, that I thought about writing my little column as a poem, but I got as far as "The season of Samhain is upon us" (see below), and then thought better of it.  Ha ha.

I was very excited to get this book last year because it contains a lot of my favorite authors doing something that I've never really seen from them before.  Poetry.  Joe R. Lansdale, James A. Moore, Al Sarrantonio, Peter Crowther, T. M. Wright, David Niall Wilson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Freeman, Elizabeth Massie, Gary A. Braunbeck, Lucy A. Snyder, and all of the rest writing poems about the ultimate time of year, Halloween.  Awesome! 

One nice thing about this book is that you can crack it open anywhere and just start reading (except for a couple of multi-page poems and a 23 page poem toward the end).   Another cool factor is that the editor put the poems into sections.  Do you want to read poems about "Ghosties?"  Turn to page 72. "Pumpkins?"  Go to page 27.  Each section is preceded with some amazing black and white artwork by master illustrator Keith Minnion.  This was a great choice and a lot better than having him illustrate the individual poems, which are art themselves. Any kind of direct illustrations would possibly take away from the reader's own images that the poems create.  The Alan M. Clark painted cover captures the "collection of Halloween" feeling that the book contains.

I don't know if Cemetery Dance asked him, or if he asked them, but Al Sarrantonio was a masterstroke of genius for this collection. He is an award winning anthologist (see 999), and he dwells in the autumn season in his delightful Orangefield Cycle series of books.  His books, like Halloweenland, have sections that describe the sights, sounds, and smells of Halloween like a prose poem.  This made him perfect as a choice to compile and edit Halloween: New Poems.

You will find yourself coming back to this book every year around October 31st.  It really captures the Holiday spirit, and it will re-invigorate your love of the fall season.  If you trust your friends and family, you can even leave it out on the coffee table for their enjoyment.  You will treasure it, and you will love it.  Hopefully, it will be in your October TBR pile every year.  I know it will be in mine.

FEARnet reader bonus: A poem for you from me because I was so inspired by Halloween: New Poems to do so.  No, sadly (ha ha), this one isn't in the book, but it is free for you right now:

"Halloween: A New Poem (inspired by Halloween: New Poems edited by Al Sarrantonio)"
by Robert Brouhard

Sharp icy fingers
prick your spine.
boney bodies
rattle in your mind.

A tome of dark orange pleasure
is read by a crackling fire.
Ghoulish creepies
knock upon your door.
Their cemetery song and dance
of, "Trick-or-treat"
scratches your ears.

And you smile wickedly
For the season of Samhain is upon us. 

Halloween: New Poems is available at Cemetery

Robert Brouhard is a freelance writer and Assistant Editor.  His poetry has appeared in Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims edited by Rich Ristow, and he has additional poetry and short stories scheduled to appear in other anthologies in the future.  You can catch him writing reviews at Mark Sieber's Horror Drive-In, and he also tries to keep a blog about (mostly children's) books going called Book ‘em Bob.