Blood & Spades
Appropriate for this time of year (and last month, in fact), my friend and colleague Terrie Leigh Relf has come forth with a column that will delight, amuse and edify as to the subject of humorous themes in dark poetry! You’ll love it, I guarantee! Terrie is a lifetime member of the SFPA and an active member of the HWA. When she's not resurrecting dead poems, stockpiling blood and other essential provisions for the zombie apocalypse, or hosting Alban Lake Publishing's drabble contest, Relf runs the Ocean Beach Writers Networking Group and works as an NLP & Hypnotherapy Life and Writing Coach and Reiki practitioner. Please visit her sites at tlrelf.wordpress.com, terrieleighrelf.com, and tlrelfreikipractitioner.wordpress.com.
On the Humorous in Horror Poetry
Amusing. Wry. Quirky. Funny. Silly. Comical. Comedic. Ludicrous.
Laughable. Wry. Droll. Sardonic. Sarcastic. Cynical. Twisted. Ironic. Irreverent.
Warped. Whimsical. Campy. Absurd. Satirical.
There's nothing particularly fun—or funny—about banging your humerus so hard (or in just the right spot) that your ulnar nerve starts screaming. Neither is the feeling you experience prior to stating, "I feel funny," which often signals the flu (or just before you hurl). As the saying goes, "opposites do attract," and therein lies irony.
Yes, I tend to laugh at situations where other people don't. Over the years, I've been told I have a wry, or somewhat bizarre and irreverent, sense of humor. I've also been told that my quirky poems—and fiction—tend to be better than my other work. Fun is good as it creates balance, alleviates stress, and yes, feels wonderful. Humor is, after all, the great aerator. Among a host of other effects, it can create space between the objects and experiences we'd prefer to avoid or wish were behind us.
When we laugh, it releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in our brains that circulate through our bodies. There's a sense of relief, too, that comes with laughing or finding a situation absurd. It takes the sting out of the situation, and yes, while some might contend it lessens the horror of horror, perhaps it allows the horrific to burrow deeper within our awareness, an invitation, of sorts, to gestate within our psyche.
While we each have our own unique sense of humor (or lack thereof), there is often an overlap. Take a few moments to consider the last horror film you watched, the last book or poem you read, anything that quickened your heart rate, stopped your breathing—or dare I say it—made you gag.
Now imagine poking fun at what terrified you, spinning it out ad absurdum.
Consider this poem by way of example:
Like a fire hydrant in summer
I gave him my heart, even
showed him where to cut ...
there-on the dotted line.
"Doesn't anyone read the
I murmur more to myself
than him, as he's having
a difficult time
following the diagram
and it really shouldn't be
See, if you section it like this—
yes, now you've got it—
you'll be able to observe
its inner workings ...
but be careful of those
pesky valves and veins—
they're pressurized ...
and might gush out
like a fire hydrant in summer.
What's humorous about this satire on romantic love? In brief, it's a simple play on the proverbial, "You tore out my heart when you broke up with me" or "Go ahead, break up with me. Just cut out my heart." What's funny about someone providing detailed instructions on how to literally cut out their heart? Perhaps it's because the narrator can't believe the object of their affection is having such a difficult job doing it and in providing instructions to do so, forgets the agony of the break-up? Or, perhaps it's the image of a fire hydrant juxtaposed over someone's chest, gushing blood ...
Sometimes, a humorous poem demands to be written given a real-life situation. Perhaps all the elements are there ... setting, characters, props, dialogue, et al. This one is part of an old series of mine that took place at a real bar called The Zombie Lounge. And yes, this is exactly what transpired ... (Or maybe I'm using my poetic license just to turn the corner ... You decide!)
We were at the Zombie Lounge
and it was empty
except for the bartender
and the guy in the T-shirt that read
“rare blood type”
who I knew
was the owner.
We sat in a corner booth
a candle with Jesus on it
his eyes glowing red
through the opaque glass.
You said, “zombie spells
are cancelled out with salt,”
ate a pretzel
placed one in my hand.
“Eat it—then neither of us
will have dominion
over the other.”
I felt the salt sting
like acid marking my skin
stuck it in my mouth
before you noticed
“Not very salty,”
choking it down
with a shot of tequila,
wishing I had a few limes.
“It doesn’t take much,”
After a while
the bartender brought us
another round, “on the house,”
winked at me, said
“when you’re through,
we’ll take what’s left of him
to the kitchen.”
I've included this one as an example of how the identity of a poem's narrator can lend some comic relief to a situation. While this poem would benefit from further revision, I still wanted to include it because of the usual expectations ... We expect zombies (okay, most of them ...) to be brain dead, right? After all, they're just a creeping-crawling-seeping-staggering-disintegrating-mess-of-all-consuming hunger.
Welcome to the Zombie Confessional
It’s not that I’m agoraphobic,
but I don’t go out much anymore.
My team of doctors—shrinks, all bothers—
say the meds should help ...
but it will take more than that
to get me out the door.
It’s not that I’m allodoxaphobic,
as I do care what people think.
The news crews in their jeeps
and copters look for stories,
(and some believe that I am it).
It’s not that I’m atephobic,
but have you looked outside, seen the ruin?
Virologists have replaced our world leaders
and economic breeders profess we'll need decades
to demolish it all, rebuild.
It’s not like I’m bacillo or bacteriophobic
as let's face it ... I'm already dead,
or even that I’m basophobic—as look at me,
I can even stand!
What I am is blenno and bufonophobic
as it’s raining frogs and giant toads;
their slimy tongues and bulbous bodies,
clamoring for me as they burst through the door.
Another category of humor comes from the classic tradition of writing in the style of another poet. When someone you love is suffering from a tragic illness, you would want to do everything you could to save him or her, right? Consider this poem inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43).
How did I prove my love for thee? Allow me to enumerate ...
I emerged from Io’s oceanic depths,
bypassed star and moonlit skies,
traveling precariously forward
by way of an untested trans-galactic portal
to be here by your side.
I read to you from archaic texts,
strolled along the sun and moon-burned shore,
until one day you just collapsed,
accosted by some rare unknown disease
of which you were unaware until it came to be.
When at your bedside in the ICU,
your physician asked if I would gift to you
a kidney, perhaps, or a slice of liver,
but my blood would do for now,
and hopefully deliver you back to me.
And so I offered that and more,
ignorant of what could be in store.
But alas, amid the urgency,
your surgeons didn’t check to see
if we were suitable for love through chemistry.
Antibodies and antigens? Erythrocytes?
These mysteries, the source of our present plight,
as after the transfusions and the surgery,
you exploded before I could share
just how much I loved thee.
If you haven't written a humorous horror poem (or are hesitant to share them for whatever reason), I would encourage you to do so. Consider the possibility that when you're afraid to go to sleep after one of HWA's many wonderful novelists, short story writers, or poets have scared you silly, it can be a welcome anodyne.
(Author's Note: With the exception of "How did I prove my love for thee? Allow me to enumerate ...," all of these poems have been previously published with some edits and/or slight revisions.)