This is the first time I’ve talked about poetry here on the blog. Which is kind of strange when I think about it. Poetry is a passion of mine, arguably my prime passion when it comes to writing and I make a point of reading at least one poem every day. But I’m glad now that I’ve waited because I think it’s appropriate that the first poetry I talk about here is the darkness that flows from the pen of Stephanie M. Wytovich.
I don’t know if “review” is even the proper word for this post because what I’m really going to do is talk about the poet herself and two of the three collections she’s published to date. I spoke with Stephanie the other day about her poetry and about her as an author and a person. She’s quite a candid individual and brutally honest in her poetry and in her life so over the course of that conversation it became clear that Stephanie has amassed a lot of pain in her life. She’s experienced the darkness that is often such an integral part of the human condition. But she hasn’t let those hard lessons break her. Instead she’s let them build her character and shape her as a person and she’s poured all the darkness and the pain into her poetry.
Stephanie M. Wytovich’s first poetry collection, HYSTERIA, begins with an author’s note that starts with the following line:
“I first met Hysteria a year ago. She came to me at night with madness in her eyes and pain etched in the corners of her cheeks.”
And ends with:
“Madness lives inside of us all.
It’s just a matter of finding it,
and knowing how to keep it hidden.”
Those two passages define her theme, her muse if you will, throughout that collection and, in many ways have carried through her following two collections as well. Her poems are blisteringly honest, razor sharp vivisections of life and all it’s tortures and trials as seen through the eyes of a young poet, one who has witnessed the darkness firsthand. They catalog a series of events or experiences both spiritual and visceral, violent and sensual and often difficult to look at directly:
“Perhaps his parents
Should have read the
If tampered with,
Sour language and
A taste for sadism may occur
If so, rinse with regret
And repeat until guilt
Washes it away,
Or you’re poisoned
From the consequences”
(From A Killer Recipe)
But it would be irresponsible not to look at those experiences and Wytovich does so precisely and unflinchingly, offering us a glimpse of our basest desires, of love, loss, abuse, and betrayal:
“I’m running nowhere,
With no destination
No safe house in sight
Just trying to get away
To escape the labyrinth
That has become my mind
The puzzle that traps me
Locks me in hell
In a prison I can’t solve
My way out of”
By the time we come to the–as of yesterday–Bram Stoker Nominated AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS, we find a poet who is simultaneously the same and vastly transformed. Her darkness still runs deep, and she still dips into it with willful abandon, but there are subtle changes to her language and sure signs of her growth as a poet. Her words are still sharp and cutting, but they carry less angst and, while still deeply emotional, take a bolder, more ferocious approach–if that’s even possible–to the things she sees and feels, the things that move her and plague her heart.
She begins with an author’s note again, much shorter but still telling:
“This is my romance.
This is my horror.
This is my love letter to a broken heart.
To an angel and a demon.
And the Hell that they created.”
Her material here deals with the demons that we as human beings struggle with, and it calls our angels into serious question. Wytovich once again is fierce in her depiction of these things, undaunted by the often horrifying nature of her subject matter. In some ways it seems that she is truly exorcising those angels/demons that afflict us in one fashion or another, whether it be external expectations, inner struggles, or personal failings. In the poem “Adderall”, the first poem of the collection, she hit me right in the chest, dealing with an issue I struggle with daily and have since I was five:
“What I need is to trick my body
into being wired, into being alive,
even if it’s only for a couple hours,
a temporary high that lets me breathe,
that lets me dance and smile and run,
run far and away, away from it all,
away from me, away from him;
Just a little blue pill that buys me
some hours, some sanity,
some courage to escape and I’ll pay
it all back when I drink myself to sleep,”
My ADHD is—by choice—untreated but it hasn’t always been. I’ve lived a life of little blue pick-me-ups and crashing let downs and Stephanie chronicles those experiences all too vividly, making you experience them. You feel your breath begin to quicken, your heart to thump faster, your nerves to buzz.
And the poems in this collection continue to get more intense and deeply personal as you continue further into this as you venture further into the book. Stephanie isn’t afraid of her darkness and in AN EXORCISM OF ANGELS she weaves it into a tapestry of pure experience, heartrending beauty, and painful honesty. She has a remarkable grasp–and obvious love–of language that catches you floating on the rhythm of her emotion:
“He told me there was a Hell inside him, a
that he couldn’t escape, but his eyes were
kind as he said it,
and I felt his pain, felt it like a thousand
knives in my heart; I kissed
him then, kissed him knowing that I
would make his Hell my own,
that I would take his pain and assuage
his every sadness, my demons and his,
bound together in this vicious game of
life, of love, two souls brought together
to find some light in all the dark.”
(From An Exorcism of Angels)
Stephanie M. Wytovich’s poetry is as dark as it comes, often brutal, often erotic. Often both at the same time. But there is nothing tasteless to be found here. Her language is as beautiful as a black rose and as powerful as a freight train running out of control. These poems pinned me to the wall with pure emotional g-force, evoking memories of my first experiences with poets like Emily Dickinson and Ezra Pound. I’ve heard it said recently that poetry as an art form has passed it’s prime. That it has become a practice that amateurs, wanna-be authors, and angst-ridden teenagers indulge in. Stephanie M. Wytovich is here to prove that wrong, and she does it with undeniable mastery. If you’re a fan of poetry, and you crave the sensual and the macabre, Stephanie M. Wytovich sings a dark and lovely song that you can’t help but listen to. Follow the links below and treat yourself to something wonderful.
Note: I will be talking about Stephanie’s second collection, MOURNING JEWELRY, during National Poetry Month when I will also be talking about her forthcoming collection, BROTHEL. In the meantime, let me just leave you with this small excerpt from MOURNING JEWELRY:
“It came to me screaming,
smothering its children like
post-partum mothers drowning
their sorrows in fresh
baptism two days after birth
I cringed at the minor-key
siren song it wailed in the
ink-spattered sky, poisoning
my eardrums with an inviting
brutality that blanketed
me in suffocation and
stabbed at my heart song”
About Stephanie M. Wytovich:
Stephanie M. Wytovich is an Instructor of English by day and a horror writer by night. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine, and the assistant to Carlow University’s international MFA Program for Creative Writing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated poetry collections, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, and An Exorcism of Angels can be found at www.rawdogscreaming.com, and her debut novel, The Eighth, will be out in 2016 from Dark Regions Press. Follow Wytovich at stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com and on twitter @JustAfterSunset