It’s exciting when a respected press publishes a volume of horror poetry for the first time, and at least equally exciting to discover a new poet who is building powerful, unsettling worlds of eldritch imagery. To our great good fortune, these excitments are set to converge on June 1, 2018 with the release of Joe Fletcher’s The Hatch from Brooklyn Arts Press.
Fletcher, unknown to me before this review, uses The Hatch to limn a universe of intriguing, beckoning darkness and mystery. For me, Borges, Thomas Ligotti, Livia Llewellyn — and just a little Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett — are invoked by the poems within these pages. They are “literary” certainly — whatever that means — yet will also be deeply satisfying to readers who want to feel themselves in the bracing presence of cosmic and mortal dangers.
In “Umbilicus” we meet a narrator who wanders through a forest filled with trees made from dripping meat. In “The Vegetable Staticks” strange, Lovecraftian beings form and re-form themselves (perhaps physically within the narrator; perhaps only within his mind). In “The Dalles” the dark side of life in a small city in Northern Oregon is described in a decidedly True Detective sort of way. And in “Wayne” a 300-lb man who works as a supplier for grocery stores stalks a sleeping dog and attacks it. Has he killed the beast or not? We are not sure. And we are even less sure when the canine seems to make something of a return. . .
These are but a few of the poems from the collection that stuck with me.
I probably read hundreds of horror short stories each year, but seldom horror poetry. Reading The Hatch is like reading a collection of horror fiction, but also not. The imagery is the power. But, like in good horror fiction, the “reveals” when they come, reveal only more mystery, and in precisely the right way.
The poems in The Hatch are also not without a playfulness and verve. In “Hoopoe Balm” Fletcher channels Kool Keith as much as King or Koontz:
Women dreamt of giving birth to dead catfish and rain-wet dogs gorged themselves on the corpses of antelope that had grazed in the hoopoe meadows.
I think that the smile that comes to my lips as I read these lines is a reaction the author has intended. I hope so. (When I was in grad school, Peter Straub visited one of my classes and talked about “Ashputtle.” Though a tale of terror about a subject no less dark than child murder, Straub said something like “I hope it’s clear that when the lady tries to get into the car, but she can’t fit, I mean it to be funny. This is a horror story, but I mean that part to be funny.”)
Straub need not have worried. He had succeeded. So has Fletcher.
The worlds Fletcher builds conjure feelings that will stick with me for a long time. It’s like early Ligotti– Grimscribe or so– but also something else. Something that’s new and powerful and wonderful. And the questions these new feelings raise are harrowing in precisely the right way.
In “The Fiery Trigon” Fletcher wonders:
What appears? What lowers
a milky and sky-wide eye
to the nether end of Brahe’s scope?