Book Club Nominees

5 Horror Poetry Books for Your TBR

by @wytwavedarling, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for March’s “What a Line!” category

Before the novel…there was the poem.

And I know, I know, poetry can be scary. But hear me out, okay? I’ve known English teachers who are scared of poetry and feel overwhelmed by teaching it. Teaching fellows who break out in a cold sweat over teaching a poem they don’t have a pre-made lesson plan for and didn’t themselves learn from a professor and scholars’ notes. So many people who are intimidated by it enough to minimize it and avoid and hope to never hear the horrifying word uttered in their classrooms…

But, hey, we’re better than that! We’re horror readers! We thrive on fear and words! We embrace the fear! So…pretty please…come along with me for some poetry, no matter how much you’ve previously said poetry isn’t your thing, or you don’t care for it, or it’s too intimidating. As I’ve said to my classes in the past, it’s all about being open to whatever a poem brings, and finding the poetry that works for you. I’d say some of this horror poetry might be built just for you if you’ll give it a chance.

Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien

Cthulhu meets hip-hop in this book of horror poems that flips the eldritch genre upside down. Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O’Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant. Can You Sign My Tentacle? explores the monsters we know and the ones that hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic. (StoryGraph)


This collection’s cover caught my eye at StokerCon, and I’ve only heard good things about it. @psyche raved about it ages ago, and I’m embarrassed that I’ve not yet gotten around to it, but there’s no question that it belongs on this list. O’Brien isn’t an author I’m (yet) familiar with, but one of his book’s back blurbs is from P. Djeli Clark, and O’Brien has won a number of awards, as well as been published in journals like Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, and Reckoning.

Bookshop* | StoryGraph | Goodreads | Amazon

Escaping the Body by Chloe N. Clark

Chloe N. Clark’s poetry collection takes readers through a catalogue of the speculative body. Escaping the Body is a surreal and profound journey through space, forests, monsters, myths, spells, magic tricks, forests, and the body. Escaping the Body is a collection of dreams of the flesh, exploring the cosmic rifts between the soul and the body, encouraging readers to escape their body in search of the liminal space beyond skin and bones. (StoryGraph)


This book has one of those covers that simply arrested me as soon as I saw it, and from skimming some of the poems in the collection, I can’t wait to read the whole of it. Some of the ‘genre tags’ on Goodreads include “Halloween” “Horror” and “Mental Health”, and there’s very simply something about this book that’s calling me to read it sooner than later. So, here we are…

Bookshop* | StoryGraph | Goodreads | Amazon

Sacred Summer by Cassandra Rose Clarke

In the empty halls of a house on the edge of the woods, a dancer faces the aftermath of a career-ending injury and subsequent divorce.

Twenty years earlier, on the land where her house would be built, two boys died violently and mysteriously while recording a music video for their band, leaving one survivor.Something sleeps in the woods beyond the house, and when the dancer finds the last musician, it will start to wake…

From Rhysling Award finalist Cassandra Rose Clarke comes a visceral examination of dance, music, and obsession told entirely in verse. (StoryGraph)


I picked this collection up on a whim when I attended StokerCon last year, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. Even among poetry collections, it’s a bit of an oddball–a novel told in verse. The one review (one review!) it’s got online describes it as a mash-up of horror, mystery, and poetry, but talks about it in a way that makes me all the more excited to get to it. It’s also part of Aqueduct Press’s Conversation Pieces small paperback series, which ‘celebrates the speculations and visions of the grand conversation of feminist SF’, and the author previously won a Rhysling Award.

StoryGraph | Goodreads | Amazon 

The Afflicted Girls by Nicole Cooley

Twenty individuals were executed and more than 150 imprisoned. The historical body of evidence that remains from the Salem witch trials of 1692 touched the hands, mind, and imagination of poet Nicole Cooley, compelling her to seek entry to an inaccessible past of lies. The Afflicted Girls, so named after the young women who claimed to be victims of witchcraft, spans the centuries to give voice to those both audible and silent on history’s pages–accusers and accused of several kinds: wife and husband, servant and master, congregant and minister, and, not least, bewitched and witch. Piercing, enchanting, Cooley’s poems form a remarkable narrative, one that displays the enormous cultural power the Salem witch trials retain in twenty-first-century America. (StoryGraph)


I’ve got a soft-spot for poetry collections that explore and help bring personal voices to real events and people, and this collection was the one which started that fascination for me. I’m sure most of us read about or studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, read/studied The Crucible, and/or read novels that delved into this territory, but Cooley’s method of exploring the history through a variety of voices and times adds another level of understanding. I’ve been meaning to revisit the collection for a while, so it was a perfect option for the list.

Bookshop* | StoryGraph | Goodreads | Amazon 

Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith

In minute-by-minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full-blown mistress of destruction. From August 23, 2005, the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through August 28 when it became a Category Five storm with its “scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent,” to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on television.

Assuming the voices of flailing politicians, the dying, their survivors, and the voice of the hurricane itself, Smith follows the woefully inadequate relief effort and stands witness to families held captive on rooftops and in the Superdome. She gives voice to the thirty-four nursing home residents who drowned in St. Bernard Parish and recalls the day after their deaths when George W. Bush accompanied country singer Mark Willis on guitar:

The cowboy grins through the terrible din,
And in the Ninth, a choking woman wails
Look like this country done left us for dead.

An unforgettable reminder that poetry can still be “news that stays news,” Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healing. (StoryGraph)


I won’t kid you–this is a tough collection to read, but it is also incredibly powerful, and delivers horror via the every-day as well as the choices Patricia Smith makes. She brings voice to hurricanes, examines the moments we saw on the news, and doesn’t shy away from delving into the (imagined) personal voices of the hurricane’s victims in a fashion that, to me, both honors and brings to life the tragedy and tragedies of this hurricane. It is not an easy collection to read, but it is an important one.

Patricia Smith is, by far, the most well-known of the poets on this list. Seeing her speak and read some of these poems while she was in the drafting stages is a memory I’ll always treasure, and I know she’s capable of converting non-poetry readers to being poetry-lovers. She’s worth giving a try even if this collection isn’t for you.

Bookshop* | StoryGraph | Goodreads | Amazon 

And The Winner Is…

Out of these five books, HOWLers voted to read Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien. This is a throwback category from March 2023, so HOWLS has already read and enjoyed this book! We’re bringing the category back this week since we’re in the middle of discussing a 2-week read, Beloved by Toni Morrison. Check out our past discussion about Can You Sign My Tentacle? and more by joining the Discord!

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