By Ann K. Schwader
$12.00; 112 pages; August 2015
Science fiction and horror are family members who live and breathe the same air, just one breathes with a punctured set of lungs from a knife wound, while the other breathes from a carefully constructed set of organs made out of dials and clocks. Separately, they work well apart, but when they join hands and walk as one, something terrifyingly beautiful happens: a marriage of fear, fear of man, fear of progress, fear of the unknown and what it entails. Science fiction and horror are two genres who handle the question “can this possibly happen?” with answers that make readers question themselves, their morals, and their beliefs.
Dark Energies, a poetry collection by Ann Schwader, masterfully handles these fears in the vein of cosmic horror with supernatural undertones and allusions to the gothic and the macabre with careful nods to H.P. Lovecraft and the world of nightmares he created. Constructed in formal verse, Schwader made me remember why I fell in love with poetry in the first place, and her pieces are proof that contemporary poetry is not reigned by, or solely made up of, free-verse. She works quatrains and couplets with the ear of a poet who understands rhyme and meter, and her dark vision of celestial and psychological anxiety compliments the style as each word and line-break is carefully chosen with not a syllable going to waste. Here, readers have madness and paranoia, but not in the rantings and ravings of a madman with long, stream-of-conscious thoughts as his/her verbiage. Readers here have order, structure, and the anxiety that comes from a tightly-wrapped package, something that should be safe, but isn’t, is what makes her poems all the more frightening.
The collection starts off with a poem titled “Void Flyers,” a small piece made of up vibrating nights and violent wings. Here Schwader invites readers into her world of darkness where the energy that we feel doesn’t necessarily match the liveliness that the naked eye sees. Her words are woven with careful alliteration within a rhyme scheme that rolls with assonance and pleasures the ear with sharp worms that dig inside the brain and breed questions. What I like most about this poem is that gives off waves of strange and weird vigor that make me question what happens when the lights go out and the stars are the only eyes on me. Cosmic horror, horror that invokes the universal questions of supreme power, questions of existence and purpose, is thematically handled here as readers get their first taste of exploring faith through the personification of crying ravens.
Poems like “Fatal Constellations,” “Deconstructing Night,” and “Thoughts At the Passing Bell” analyze the idea of darkness, the pitch black blanket that wraps the world at night and forces shadows on our walls. Schwader uses darkness to her advantage as she explores that philosophical ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer in that our actions are all a product of metaphysical will. She works her poems around metaphors of nothingness, and in doing so, is able to create these terrifying concepts that play into the Elder world. What I think is brilliant here, is that by the time readers are finished with this collection, they fall into the understanding that “only the dark is real,” and that overarching theme of only being able to count on nightmares and fear, quite frankly is horrifying, and it furthermore plays into the pessimism that Schopenhauer is known for.
The alignment of vengeance and violence to motifs of alienation and isolation is also evident in Schwader’s portrayal of women, however, not necessarily in the way that one might expect. I think our poet brilliantly handles concepts of the feminine in this collection by using elements of the beautiful grotesque and the idea of a seduction in the vein of a black widow. Schwader uses women famous for their murders and acts of passion against men, but she also picks women who felt outcast and alone. She writes of Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer of men, by saying “some broken things don’t heal” to add compassion to the malice. Her women exhibit strength through their weakness, compassion through their mistakes, and it hits empathy in ways that are both new and uncomfortable at times for readers, but in an enlightening way that shows the faint illumination in the darkness. My favorite example of this is Schwader’s poem “Medusa, Becoming,” because it is a perfect example of woman being both monster and victim, strong yet weak. She writes, “…and where/ I walked, small birds fell silent” and in that small phrase, woman has been elevated from fairy tale maiden to something more sinister and complex, something more than the domestic beauty who attracts animals, but rather kills them cold at first glance. It’s a piece of darkness, alienation, and it is my favorite piece of dark energy in Schwader’s collection.
Overall, I was very impressed with these poems, and I highly recommend the collection to readers of horror and dark fantasy alike. The literary allusions on the page are masterfully woven into genre, and are done so in a way that is both literary and popular fiction. Here, readers will quickly fall in love with darkness, even if they know that it might draw a little blood from them at the end.
—Stephanie M. Wytovich