Laura Dzubay: A Halloween Poetry Playlist

Sunday, October 29, 2017 - 4:33pm

It’s that time of year again — by which I mean the absolute best time!

October is almost over and Halloween is officially upon us. We’ve had some truly beautiful autumn days, and the weather is starting to get chillier. "Stranger Things" season two is out, along with fresh scary movies like "It" and "Happy Death Day." Pumpkins have been carved, and theories about potential Halloween costumes are finally coming to fruition.

But if you’re looking to really round out the season, there may be one more thing left to check off the Halloween bucket list: reading some high-quality spooky poetry.

Spooky poetry is fun anytime, anywhere, but Halloween offers many advantages if you want to get really extra about it. You can recite the scary lines around a hearth with your friends, or flip through them during an afternoon excursion to the cemetery. I know what you’re thinking: Where am I going to find good scary poetry at such late notice? Don’t be afraid! (See what I did there?) Here is a list of some of the creepiest verse out there to get you started.

The Homemade Mermaid,” by Matthea Harvey

This poem starts out interesting and becomes downright terrifying, using mermaids and homemade science as a way of exploring gender dynamics. Horror can be a great way of digging into social issues, and Harvey does this brilliantly, especially in her live reading of the poem. She has other mermaid poems, too, like “The Backyard Mermaid” and “The Objectified Mermaid.”

Ghost Q & A,” by Anne Carson

“Ghost Q & A” is deceptively simple, but also inventive, taking the form of a conversation between a ghost (A) and an unnamed questioner (Q). The ghost is surprisingly straightforward and even kind of sassy, but not in an over-the-top way. And the poem invites so many questions that it’s almost impossible not to read it more than one time. (Who is talking to the ghost? And who is the man who does the zeroes?) Note: It’s worth checking Carson out beyond this poem, because she’s done some really terrific work in the past with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation — pretty much everything.

Scary Movies,” by Kim Addonizio

We all know the feeling of lying in bed after watching a scary movie, not wanting to move out of the fear that a monster might be lurking underneath. Addonizio captures this sense of terror and more in “Scary Movies.”

Song,” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Probably my personal favorite on this list, this prose poem is effective in so many different ways. There’s horrifying imagery (a goat’s head is hanging in a tree in the first line), but even that doesn’t cut nearly as deep as the horrors of death, sin and stolen innocence that eventually emerge from the lines. What’s more, Kelly reaches deep into these layers to explore thoughts about the meaninglessness of tragedy and the beauty of life itself.

Schizophrenia,” by Jim Stevens

This is a haunted house poem told from the perspective of the haunted house, in which the building becomes its own presence and the rooms become almost like characters. It’s full of eerie, visual imagery, and the relative absence of humans makes it all the more interesting.

The Session,” by Jeanann Verlee

This poem doesn’t contain any witches or ghosts or Halloween imagery; the horror is a lot deeper and more psychological. It’s also very sad. I will admit, I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I understood it at first, but this live reading was pretty emotional and left me with a stronger sense of what it was about.

Ghost Dance,” by Sara Littlecrow-Russell

This is another one that, while definitely not about Halloween, is hard not to include here because it’s just so haunting. There’s also an undercurrent of hope toward the very end, which is both refreshing in the context of this list and very powerful within the poem itself.

my eyes in the time of apparition,” by Rachel McKibbens

Rachel McKibbens uses a lot of surprising and sometimes even grotesque imagery in her work, but always to deeply emotional and significant ends. This poem is a good example of that, using sirens and witches as a way of exploring anger, grief and personal agency.