Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo’s new poetry collection Satan’s Sweethearts recently received a Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection, and the recognition is well-deserved. Spanning centuries, continents and perspectives, the book sees two skilled poets collaborating on a central idea: what Simon describes in her introduction as “Evil Women in history.” It’s an amazingly ambitious collection.
Focused largely around female serial killers but also including criminals of other variations, Satan’s Sweethearts showcases an extraordinary amount of research. The vast majority of the poems’ focal women exist or have existed in reality, with a couple exceptions (most notably two of William Shakespeare’s most notorious villainesses—Lady Macbeth and King Lear’s Regan). Simon and Turzillo’s poetry is sometimes evocative and eerily lyrical, sometimes intent on confrontational language and blunt-force imagery. They play creatively within the free-form range, frequently employing verse structures but also veering into prose poetry and even, on a couple occasions, grisly variations on cooking recipes.
The poems alternate between sketches of entire lives to descriptions of intense, isolated moments in time. Simon and Turzillo bend and adapt their voices with stunning adeptness, using both first- and third-person points of view to relay the perspectives of oppressors, victims and omniscient narrators. The two poets’ styles mesh together smoothly and instinctively, lending the book a sense of real cohesion even in the midst of its scope and breadth.
For me, the cumulative effect of Satan’s Sweethearts is one of morbid curiosity. The book’s brief snapshots and vignettes often led me to conduct my own research. I often found myself asking, What was the context here?, or What led to such extreme actions? As is so often the case with real-world atrocities, many of the answers remain unclear, but Satan’s Sweethearts effectively provides a number of entry points for analysis and discussion. If you’re after a recent release in poetry, the horror genre, or both, I can’t think of a better choice than this.