Author Mike Thorn (Shelter for the Damned) joins us for a spoiler-filled discussion of the 1843 short story, “The Black Cat,” by Edgar Allan Poe. Before that, though, we each discuss our Week In Horror with brief reviews of John Lees’s latest comic series Hotell, Sci-Fi & Scary’s body horror anthology Twisted Anatomy, Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White, Joanna Koch’s The Wingspan of Severed Hands, John Farris’s The Axman Cometh, and Alessandro Manzetti’s collection of horror poems inspired by Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel Rhapsody.
Alessandro Manzetti’s Whitechapel Rhapsody offsets the deluded grandeur of Jack the Ripper’s psychological world against the vivid despair of his environment. Written as a series of thematically connected, free-verse poems, Manzetti’s collection functions as an interesting exercise in depicting this core dissonance: the serial killer’s self-aggrandizing, romantic view of his own violence versus the true horror of its consequences. By setting these ideas at the center of his book, Manzetti offers a worthwhile study of longstanding tensions and ideas central to the horror genre: namely, the aesthetic merits and problems of braiding beauty with violence, and the destructive potential of artists with God complexes (in an abstract way, this brings to mind Lars von Trier’s excellent and similarly complicated The House That Jack Built ).
The book boasts a breadth of reference that is fascinating and, in line with its central concerns, conflicted (not only key characters from the New Testament and Greek mythology, but also Rembrandt, Poe and Dickens, among others). The book is rich with sensory detail, showcasing Manzetti’s penchant for invoking brutal imagery via gorgeous language. Taking the form of something close to prose-poetry, the collection’s verse is accompanied by evocative black-and-white illustrations by Stefano Cardoselli.
Interestingly, the final poem, “The Dark King,” deviates from the book’s fixation on the Whitechapel district of 1888. Presenting the book’s most explicitly psychosexual elements, this piece dehistoricizes Jack the Ripper and imagines him as a cipher for man’s social rot, transcending time and place: “I am … / … Bukowski’s drunk stomach,” Manzetti writes, before urging the reader to “take between [their] teeth / this ticket to a grotesque Musée d’Orsay / full of iridescent French and Tahitian vulvas.” The poem (and collection) closes with a disturbing final line that implicates the reader in this uneasy marriage between cruelty and aesthetic attraction: “I am your dark side.”
At a slim length of fewer than one hundred pages, Whitechapel Rhapsody is ambitious, richly developed, and well worth your time.
Earlier this year I had a very belated introduction to Marge Simon’s work with Satan’s Sweethearts. Like War (Simon’s newest, co-written with Alessandro Manzetti), Sweethearts (co-authored by Mary Turzillo) is a dense, rigorously researched collaboration in historical horror poetry. Maybe this comparison makes War and Sweethearts sound like extremely particular (even niche) sub-genre pieces, but they benefit equally from clearly defined senses of focus, cohesion and specificity.
War has provided me with another long-delayed introduction, this time to Alessandro Manzetti. Like Simon, Manzetti is an extraordinarily prolific and celebrated force in the contemporary genre field; and like Turzillo’s poetry in Sweethearts, Manzetti’s style in War meshes intuitively and powerfully with Simon’s.
This collection’s title implies a far-reaching, even macrocosmic thematic thread; but Simon and Manzetti wisely choose to lend attention to the tangible, the microcosmic, sometimes even the horrifically banal. Written as a series of free-form pieces (some collaborative, some solo), War is comprised mostly of brutal and uncompromising vignettes and tableaux. Both Simon and Manzetti demonstrate aptitude for calculated and disturbingly descriptive language, making use of poetry’s formal confines to hone exacting depictions of human cruelty.
This focus on the particular does not overshadow War’s considerable ambition: spanning time, place and point of view, this collection approaches its title topic from the terrifying angles of imperialism, post-traumatic stress disorder, misogyny, fear, racism and ignorance. Sometimes slipping into their speakers’ perspectives and sometimes writing with chilling omniscience, Manzetti and Simon offer no reprieves. This book delivers blunt-force impact to match its subject. Fitting for a contemporary world that feels more apocalyptic with every passing day, War demands attention and makes no compromises.