Book Review: Poets in Hell. Edited by Janet and Chris Morris

The stories in this shared-world anthology were exquisitely unique, and filled with all the things I love.

PoetsWhen I first heard this title, I thought, what could possibly be dramatic or thrilling or frightening about poets in hell? I mean really? I had images of Sylvia Plath chasing someone down Hell’s new London streets with a hatchet, or Billy Collins reciting his famed contemporary poetry to me to a hellish backdrop filled with imps and succubi, until I fling myself headlong off the Santa Monica Pier.  But, I respect so many of the authors that contributed to this work that I figured I had to take a read.

 

I was not disappointed. I should have known.

Every single story has a unique feel to it and every single author’s talents are exemplified in each individual tale. Yet, every single story has a certain consistency to it. I’ve read a lot of shared world stories before, and sometimes they can feel very structured, designed to limit the ability for the tale teller to upset the greater picture—stilted, even.  But, these stories did not have that constrained feel to them at all.  The one thing they did have in common is one of the traits I love the most: this anthology is dark.

And I love things dark.

The poets (and their supporting casts) were wickedly entertaining—I don’t think you have ever seen Sappho or Homer, or Shakespeare or Marlowe or Longfellow or Dante or any of the other poets in the book cast in this light.  There they stand, side by side, upon Lucifer’s stage reciting prose for the fallen angel himself.

Personally, I was shocked to learn that Dante was in hell, given his staunch support of the papacy for much of his life—but there he was, bigger than life—and it was all too plausible.  And Longfellow and Browning, along with a suitably western Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson engaged in a sort-of life-and-death poetry challenge (With just a little more at stake than The Voice or American Idol).   And who knew that Napoleon and the Iron Duke would be working together in the dark afterlife of Perdition?

It was fantastic.

And yet, despite all of the larger than life characters, (great names, like Poe and Pound and Plato to name a few) and all of the unbelievable situations, the stories all maintained a commitment to the underlying hopelessness of hell and the darkness that must be part of the tableau for it to be engaging. It seemed to me entirely plausible that these great characters still strove against the hopelessness, held to the deep values and commitments to the traits that made them giants of their time. All (or most, anyway) of these characters were in their own way heroic, despite, or perhaps largely because of, their situations.

It also seemed to me that Heaven must be severely lacking in culture if none of these folks made the cut!  But, I digress.

I recommend to anyone that enjoys dark fiction, anyone that enjoys shared-world fiction, and anyone that enjoys horror take a read of this anthology. I don’t think you can go wrong and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.


You can find the book here

You can find the editor’s author page

Contributing Authors (Pretty Awesome Group here)

  1. Nancy Asire
  2. Jack William Finley
  3. Deborah Koren
  4. Matthew Kirshenblatt
  5. Bruce Durham
  6. Larry Atchley Jr.
  7. Tom Barczak
  8. Joe Bonadonna

 

I’ll keep the lantern lit.

lantern

 

 

Leave a Reply