Horrorku #5

"Wiertz burial" by Antoine Wiertz - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Wiertz burial” by Antoine Wiertz[1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

dressed up
for a bon voyage party
wooden overcoat


Terence, Mephisto, and Vicera Eyes by Chris Kelso – A Review

The following is my review (as Kurt MacPhearson) of Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes by Chris Kelso, which appears in the latest issue of Tales of the Talisman.

Terrence Mephesto cover

In Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, the reader is thrust into a bizarre world where nothing is quite right, and it almost seems as if it should be that way. This world, known as the Slave State, unfolds in nine short stories that are not for the faint of heart. The opening story, “The Family Man,” is only a page and a half, yet the sheer brutality described therein sets a tone for the rest of the stories. The title story is told from the point of view of a mistreated dog who, after being castrated, is overcome with the desire to be a writer. “Baptizm of Fire,” set in surreal version of Lagos, Nigeria, descends into a nightmare of both love and murder that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the horrors of the Slave State. And when the reader finally reaches bottom, the incarnation of the bestial Slave State stares back with eyes dripping with viscera.

Few books have disturbed me. And of those few, none have disturbed as Chris Kelso has in this collection. From the bizarre atmosphere evoked from the first page, all the way to the final, horrific transformation in “Birth, Sex, Death, Stigmata,” I could not stop the mental cringes. The dark imagery, the emotional punches to the groin, the utter emptiness of the loss of control… Dread lurked on every page, yet I had to have more, as if I were searching for hope, though all the while knowing I would never find it.

“Baptizm of Fire” was the blood-curdling and thought-provoking standout of an amazing collection of bizarre fiction deserving of five talismans. If the lasting, disturbing impression this collection has made on me is any sign, Chris Kelso will soon be a major presence in the genre. One that should be feared.

(Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, published by Bizzaro Pulp Press, is available here. It’s been a few months since I’ve read it, but I still get shivers when I recall certain scenes in “Baptizm of Fire.”)

For the Record



Please, Honey, don’t run away.
I swear I can explain.

Tentacles are more useful than thumbs.
Really, they’re not so strange.
Think of pachyderms;
their trunks are misnamed.

And with these extra limbs
with which to cuddle you…

Such disgust is what’s kept me
hidden in this flesh-toned suit.

Do I complain about the
shortness of your tongue?

No, wait! Don’t go!
My anger’s sheathed,
just like the cilia that pass for my teeth.

Perhaps one day you’ll realize
we’re all the same inside.

Meanwhile, you need not fret.
The suction-cup hickies will fade.

Horrorku #4


opening door
to the woodsman’s cellar
a dryad screams

2014 Rhysling Award Winners

Rhysling2014CoverLast week, the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) announced the winners of the 2014 Rhysling Awards. The SFPA awards the Rhysling in two length categories for the best science fiction, fantasy, or horror poem published during the previous year.

Short Poem Category (less than 50 lines):

First Place: “Turning the Leaves” by Amal El-Motar, Apex Magazine 55

Second Place: “Rivers” by Geoffrey A. Landis, Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2013

Third Place: “Music of the Stars” by Bruce Boston, 2013 Balticon Program Book

Long Poem Category (50 or more lines)

First Place: “Interregnum” by Mary Soon Lee, Star*Line 36.4

Second Place: “Hungry Constellations” by Mike Allen, Goblin Fruit, Fall 2013

Third Place: “I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz” by Rose Lemberg, Goblin Fruit, Summer 2013

Congratulations to the winners, runner-ups, and all the nominees. Looking forward to another year of great speculative poetry.

Horrorku #2


oblong boxes
beneath a dewy tablecloth
corpses pine


rusty gate
squeals with the coming dawn
oblong box slams shut

A Review of Twisted in Dream by Ann K. Schwader

TwistedInDreamCoverTwisted in Dream is a collection of weird poetry, mostly Lovecraftian pastiche or drawn from his work. (One need not be overly familiar with the master’s dark prose and verse, but some knowledge would make these poems more enjoyable.) Ann K. Schwader takes you far down into the bowels of Egyptian tombs in poems such as “The Ghoul-Queen” to outside the far-flung stars in “The Wind Beyond.” And no matter where she takes you, her words echo the master’s.

Not only has Schwader written poems after H. P. Lovecraft’s own poems and stories, but she also retells a number of his stories in the form of long poems like “Charles Dexter Unwarded,” and “In the Yaddith Time.” Yet, with all the focus on the Lovecraftian verse, I found the last section of Twisted in Dream, Private Shadows, the most enjoyable. Here, Schwader unleases herself from constraints. Poems such as “In the Night Garden” and the prosy “Coming Forth by Twilight,” are both dark and disturbing to say the least, yet the first stanza of “The Laughter of Small Bones” does best to sum up the entire collection:

Consider the laughter
of small bones just under
this friction of grass

If you’re a fan of weird poetry, especially in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, I recommend this collection. Weird poetry may not be for everyone, but Twisted in Dream may very well be the collection to spark an interest in such things as squamous creatures, blasts of eldritch power, and trips through darker planes.

A version of this review originally appeared in Tales of the Talisman 8.3.

Reading and Regret

I’ve never been much for telling people that I’m a poet, and I’ve never made an effort to read my poems in front of anyone. I’ve explained the former in my original blog post, and as far as the latter goes, I’ve never thought my poems as the “out loud” sort. Then there is my voice to consider. I cringe every time I hear a recording of it, so I’d be surprised if people didn’t clap hands to their ears by the time I finished the first line.

This past week I was invited to read a few of my poems at a local coffee shop. Immediately, I felt a seed of reluctance germinating in my belly. I wanted no more to read my poems in public than I did to run through the mall naked. I was about to decline when that little voice in the back of my mind told me that I was a coward if I didn’t do it. If I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it, and I might as well stop writing now because apparently my poems weren’t good enough to share.

ReadingShotThis past Saturday I stood up in front of twenty people at Bigby Coffee and read four of my poems. I read with a steady voice, and received polite applause after each one. It was a pleasant experience, and I would do it again, however, next time I won’t hold back.

I held back a poem. I brought the following poem because I thought that I could read it as part of the whole Halloween season. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to read it because I was suddenly afraid that my audience wouldn’t like it. No one else was reading anything of the sort. So I held it back, thanked the audience, and sat down, regretting it ever since.

Threshold of Sleep
by Kurt MacPhearson

In the space between your slippers
and that fuzzy patch
the vacuum can’t quite reach
a monster awaits

Claws clicking, stomachs smoldering,
tentacles toying with the corner of the sheet
as your shuffle begins with outstretched arms,
as if to embrace a prodigal dream:

No shield, sword,
nor white-knuckled charm shall protect you
as you pass through the veil
between consciousness and sleep

When stars wink out like nightstand lamps
and the universe unfolds
in non-Euclidean angles
with a membranous stir

The beat is not your heart in ears
but tom-toms on hilltops,
and the frission across your neck
is the fetid breath of a forgotten god
at the threshold of sleep

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares 93

Unreal to Real

zombie restaurant
live physicist tank

I’d posted that horrorku (horror haiku) on Facebook. I didn’t care if I got a response, I was just doing what everyone else is doing on Facebook – sharing. Two weeks later I accumulated a grand total of three “likes” and one comment, the latter being from none other than my wife. “I never know what he’s talking about,” she wrote. “Lol.” What she was really saying was, “I really don’t care for your poetry, Babe, but I support your love for it.”

She does. From the hours I spend at my desk to the stacks of printed pages lost to revision, she won’t interfere as long as I am enjoying myself. (If I told her I was quitting my job to focus on my body of work… Well, I probably wouldn’t have much of a body left to speak of.) But honestly, as much as I value her support, I’d accept some friction every now and then if she understood what I was “talking about.” It’s not just her. I expect puzzled looks when I share my poetry.

I’ve shied away from explaining my poems because of that same underlying fear I spoke of in Short Answers, that fear of saying the wrong thing. Also, I feel that if I explain one of my poems it will go supernova and then what’s left of its meaning will be sucked into the ensuing black hole. But then again, I guess that can’t do much damage to a tiny poem that accumulated a mere three “likes.”

The first step in understanding my poem is to understand what a speculative poem is. In a Strange Horizons editorial,“The Idea of the Real,” Mark Rich explains that “in speculative poem, the poet presents an unreal world as though presenting a real one.” And according to Grand Master speculative poet Bruce Boston, what separates speculative poetry from mainstream poetry is that “[s]peculative poetry has more to do with the imagination, the world of dreams and the world as it could be. (Read more of Bruce Boston’s interview with John Amen in The Pedestal Magazine here.)

In the context of my horrorku, in the “unreal world” as a “real one,” zombies exist. With that fact established, I imagined that, since zombies do indeed exist in this world, there would be five-star restaurants that catered to zombies with discriminating tastes. And taking my premise one step further, instead of live lobsters, this restaurant would offer a fresh selection of physicists—who, of course, have the choicest brains.

Instead of sucking out all the meaning of the following poem, however, I’ll just conclude by offering a little insight into its premise. It comes from a series of poems I’ve been working in which melds modern astronomy with Greek and Roman mythology. In the unreal world that I present as real, I speak directly to Io (once Juno’s high priestess, now one of the four Galilean moons) about how she found herself in her predicament for having an affair with Jupiter.

Io’s Reality Check
by Kurt MacPhearson

You’ll find no sympathy,
because Juno’s tears were more than irritation
from your stealthy plumes of sulfur dioxide.
It doesn’t matter
if you couldn’t resist Jupiter’s charms.
You were her priestess, dammit!
Yet you still simmer beside your peers,
just because, to avoid getting caught,
he temporarily transformed you into a heifer.
Give thanks.
You could have ended up like Medusa.
Europa surely doesn’t care.
They’ve got enough problems.
Why should they worry about the internal stress

from the command Jupiter still wields
over your heart.

Quit pretending.
We all know its iron.
Your tantrums don’t fool anyone.

Just be content with the fact
that instead of becoming one of four moons
that got Galileo’s attention,
Juno could have turned you

into a sow.

Originally appeared in Dreams and Nightmares #88