spooky black and white full-bleed photo of a tumble-down house in trees, with white-shadowed scroll titleThe House in the Forest, anthology — twenty poets

The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020    £7.99

The horror within

The poems in this anthology are all about horror. There’s nothing remotely comforting about the houses in these forests. As The Hedgehog Poetry Press website suggests, they are great poems for Halloween.

Some are run through with the thrill of horror. The youngsters in Mick Yates’s ‘Séance’ are terrified when the Ouija board actually does produce a ghost. We see the boy scouts in Patricia M. Osborne’s ‘Campfire Horror’:

tiptoeing in darkness
through an oak grove
to the derelict mansion
deep in the forest
            Lightening flickers, thunder crashes,
creaking                beams                            crack.
as a blast of rubble

Other poems are much more terrifying. In ‘An Uncanny Forest Discovery’, by Margaret Royall, ‘a dirt track’ is ‘like a punk chick’s lipstick slash’. The ‘shrivelled corpse’ of the victim in this poem

was pulled next day from a quarry, feet tied to
huge boulders, face green with foaming slime,

heart missing, ripped from a pulverised rib cage.
                                                  a quivering,
howling heap, eyes wild like a madman escaped
from an asylum, his forked tongue spitting fire.

The poem ‘The Gingerbread House [Post-Genocide]1’ by Naomi Sterling is prompted by true horror (the genocide in Rwanda, a note tells us). In a ‘thatched hut hardly distinguishable from the soil that surrounds’, the wife prepares ‘a rich stew, scented and spiced’ from ‘survivors’ who ‘wander in, sometimes’. We are told in the first verse:

And besides, you can develop a taste for human flesh.

As we might expect from the horror genre, many of these houses have doors that are locked and whoever has been foolish enough to stray inside does not live to tell the tale. In a sense, perhaps, each poem is a house from which we escape in a changed form, having taken on the horrors within. ‘The House of Dark Hearts’ by Kathryn Alderman begins:

And it happens that you stumble
over that pock in the woods
you’d hoped never to see again.

Anne Bailey