Poetry is a Social Disease – Guest Essay by Robert E. Dunn


Poetry is a Social Disease

by Robert E. Dunn

Always remember the warning of Robert A. Heinlein and take heed, “A poet who reads his verse in public may have other bad habits.”

Poetry is a social disease. It’s kind of a literary herpes. It’s all around us but almost no one wants to talk about it. The people that do want to talk about it are pushed aside, ignored, marginalized, all because talking about it is almost as difficult as carrying it around with you. And the only people that do want to talk about it already have poetry in their blood. It’s insidious, carriers either try to hide it or try to point a flashing neon arrow at it. Either way, it is the disease trying to transmit itself.

There should be a law. There should be a requirement that people who love poetry should tell prospective partners. Inform them of the risk. It’s a hard discussion, I know. Imagine telling someone you love, “I have poetry.” It takes a tough person to admit it and an even tougher one to stick with you through that. But they have to know that they will inevitably be exposed. It doesn’t matter the strain, iambic pentameter, haiku, limerick, the rare cowboy poetry, the teen angst darkness-is-a-cold-fire notebook paper variety, or the dreaded Hallmark infection. Poetry infests people and uses them as willing, even eager carriers to transmit itself to the next person. I hate it, the parasite that lives in me. I love it, the words and cadences, the clear thoughts and diamond pointed expressions. I have to admit I’m infested.

Like so many of us with an appreciation of the darker side, I was infected by Poe. It wasn’t a light dose either. Just like the ticks that changed my life, I carry the effects of Edgar’s bite with me still. Even though I try hard to resist sharing my poetry, even a casual reading of my novels will expose you. A current work in progress has a character named Lenore. Another book, THE HARROWING, coming November 2016 from Necro Publications, features Poe as a character in hell. Worse, in that book, a poem plays a major part in the plot. And I will shamefully admit here for the first time, the poem in the book was written by me in impersonation of Edgar Allan Poe’s style. Impersonation and poetry—can you feel my shame?

Before THE HARROWING I wrote a book called THE RED HIGHWAY. You will find a very kind review of that novel right here on Shotgun Logic. In his review Shane failed to warn readers about the presence of poetry throughout. At one point two main characters play a game where one recites a line and the other guesses the poem or the poet. Don’t hold it against the characters. I put the words in their mouths.

It’s not just me. You will find an appreciation of dark poetry, if you ask most horror writers and the followers of dark literature. It has to do with two things I think, the setting of mood (we do love our atmospheres of blood and thunder) and the direct to the brain path of poetic language. Put those things together and you have words that inject a feeling straight past the brain and into that simmering sub soul of darkness we all try to hide. In each of us dwells our Dreamlands, Wonderlands, our Oz or Wastelands. In the UK think of your personal Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. The best way to reach them or to take others to these realms is through words. Not just any words, they must mean something more than what they say on the face. Depth really is the essence of poetry.

If a writer wants to speak of the fantastic, the worlds that live only in the mind but live none the less powerfully for that, he won’t speak to what your mind knows. We will speak to that other part of you, the one that knows without proof. That requires a healthy dose of poetry. A lot of times it’s hidden, poetic more than poetry. But it’s there. I’d guess that 100% of horror writers are infected. Horror readers…

So what I’m taking the long way around to say, is that if you are reading this, if you visit this blog and have a love of the dark stories, you are already infected. You might not have known it but you suspected. Admit it. I know you. The one that sniffs and sneers and dismisses words that rhyme also cherishes the effect of other words. Denial won’t help you. Just be careful to whom you pass it on and remember, you have a responsibility to inform.


One comment

  1. People who know nothing about poetry maintain two misconceptions: 1). Poetry must rhyme. 2). Poetry must be “dark,” or otherwise sad—maybe flowery. Those who harbor these completely skewed perspectives can be cured by reading Arthur Rimbaud, T.S. Eliot, John Ashbery, Yeats, and even Baudelaire (influenced by Poe). Yes, there will be a few rhymes, much sadness, and even flowers of evil. Visionary, i.e., present in the moment and exploring the unknown, verse will evoke awe. Beyond ego, self-indulgence, etc. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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