Saturday, April 3, 2021

Guest Post: Decant Your Chaos—The Power of Poetry by Sara Tantlinger

The first tattoo I ever had inked on me several years ago ended up being lines from Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”—a poem that is thought to have been written about his father, so it’s no wonder that I found myself continually drawn back into those lines. I decided to get “Do not go gentle into that good night / rage, rage against the dying of the light” permanently etched into my skin as a way to deal with my own grief at losing my dad when I was younger. I’m not sure how much we can ever really deal with grief; I mean, sixteen years later I’m still trying to figure it out, but poetry helps.

April 1st is actually my dad’s birthday, too, and it was a perfect birthday for someone as quietly mischievous as he was. My connections to poetry, to grief, to April, they’ve been these things always hovering in my atmosphere, but sometimes it takes a while to see them for what they are, and to understand just how deeply words can move you. So much changes as you get older, as you grow and learn to accept how messy human beings are. Poetry is a constant that I come back to because it makes room for the mess. The rhythm, the lines, the stanzas, the careful word choices. . . You can begin a poem and decant your chaos without rules, and you can share it just the way it is, or you can take the time to organize the mess. Either way, poetry is cathartic in ways that I don’t think people realize until they’ve tried writing their own poems.

National Poetry Month first began in 1996 and was established by the Academy of American Poets. As far as I know, April was chosen mostly because of the convenience it held for those who planned to run and celebrate things, but I think the month works perfectly as we shift from winter to spring, as the skies open up and bring forth rain to nourish the decaying world into something blooming with life and color. I am thankful for a world that has poetry, and while my love for classic poets like Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, William Blake, and Sylvia Plath run very deep, today I wanted to highlight some contemporary women in poetry who have inspired me over the years, who inspire me still, and who I hope you will read if you have not yet. I’ll only be mentioning a few here, but please know there are so many others out there, and I hope you take the time to research more living poets and support their work all year long.

I love all poetry, but as a horror writer, poetry that paints images of the darker scenes and ideas from life does have a way of creeping into my heart the most often. I feel so incredibly honored to be surrounded by amazing contemporary poets who are not afraid to push boundaries. Take for example Jessica McHugh’s Stoker-nominated collection A Complex Accident of Life—a stunning assemblage of blackout poetry created from pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. McHugh’s work shows careful selection and arrangement of each word; it’s evident just how much thought and passion were put into each poem.

Also nominated for Stokers this year are Cynthia Pelayo and Christina Sng. Pelayo’s Into the Forest and All The Way Through is a heartbreaking but important work. The extensive research on the cases of missing women told through poetry format is a poignant combination that clearly shows Pelayo’s power as a writer. It’s an incredible book.

Christina Sng is such an inspirational voice in poetry. Her poems and collections always display such deep dedication to the craft. A Collection of Dreamscapes is a gorgeous escape into magic and darkness, fairy tales, and mythos. Sng has such a strong way of transporting the reader into the world she creates—a truly enchanting collection.

Another poet who has been one of my biggest inspirations is Sierra DeMulder. A phenomenal voice in poetry, DeMulder’s work perfectly captures that “messy human” idea I mentioned earlier, but in the most poignant of ways. She isn’t afraid to write about sexuality, complicated friendships and families, trauma, and just learning how to be a human. All of her collections are stunning, thoughtful books. Horror fans especially will appreciate her poem from the point of view of Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother, which you can listen to here.

Lang Leav, novelist and poet, is both an inspirational writer and person. According to her bio, Leav “was born in a refugee camp when her family were fleeing the Khmer Rouge Regime.” Her collections are very readable with a beautiful simplicity that I think can reach a lot of people, especially for readers who are newer to poetry.

My last mention, though there are so many other amazing women in poetry out there, is Linda Addison who is one of the most wonderful people you can hope to meet. I’ve told this story before, but at my very first writing conference, I attended an open mic hosted by Linda and it was one of my first times reading poems to other people outside my peers from graduate school. Linda was so encouraging, asked me to submit one of the poems she loved to Space and Time Magazine, and helped me feel confident in something that is terrifying to do when you read your work aloud to a room of strangers. I can’t recommend all of Linda’s work enough; How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend is one of my all-time favorites.

For anyone who thinks poetry isn’t for them, I’d argue you haven’t found the right poem yet, but I promise it’s out there. You might not end up with it tattooed on your skin like I did (or maybe you will!), but you’ll find a poem that feels like home. It’s waiting for you, and when you stumble across those lines and stanzas, those images that cut so quickly and deeply into your heart, you are going to grasp onto that poem, curl around, protect it. While you wait for that poem to come along, I hope you join me in writing new work for National Poetry Month! I’ve created a prompt list below for each day in April. Have fun!

  1. What do clouds dream of?
  2. A place you miss
  3. Inspired by these terrifying animal facts
  4. Haiku
  5. What slithers beneath your skin?
  6. Final Girls
  7. Something is scratching from the shadows…
  8. Create an acrostic poem
  9. Use Gothic imagery
  10. A chilling historical figure like Rasputin, Elizabeth Bathory, or Mary I of England
  11. There’s something in the attic…
  12. Create a blackout poem
  13. Inspired by a fairy tale character
  14. Use all five senses in a poem
  15. Begin a poem with a sentence that someone said or texted to you recently
  16. An unusual ghost or haunting
  17. From a monster’s point of view
  18. Write an ode to a favorite memory of yours
  19. Mythology-inspired or create your own myth
  20. A poem to your past self
  21. A poem to your future self
  22. Earth Day! Nature fights back…
  23. A poem that’s a spell
  24. Use onomatopoeia throughout a poem
  25. What kind of flowers grow on Mars?
  26. Horoscope-inspired poem
  27. Personify lightning, wind, or thunder in a poem
  28. Use one (or some or all!) of these words in a poem: crackle, rupture, crisp
  29. What stories do the trees tell each other?
  30. Write a poem using only the titles of books (like a title collage)

Sara Tantlinger is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and the Stoker-nominated works To Be Devoured, Cradleland of Parasites, and Not All Monsters. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraTantlinger, at, and on Instagram @inkychaotics

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