The trouble with poets is that we don’t have any urban myths. No story of the mad sonneteer with hooks for hands sneaking around Lovers Lane. No legend of the cannibal food poet who ate his extended metaphor garnished with his victim’s liver comfit. Try doing a survey of occupations in the horror circuit and you’ll find camp counselors, accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, innkeepers. But you won’t find a single poet.
We’ve been telling the same ghost stories for 4,000 years. Everyone’s heard the endings. For the ones who fell asleep around the campfire there’s a wiki for Chaos and Gaia, and the whole Neptune slash birth of poetry thing. Oh, and that other one with snakes for hair. Turns you into a stone, right? I’d be worried if I weren’t already a couch potato.
Old myths don’t frighten me. Charlton Heston is much scarier playing himself than playing Zeus. When was the last time you opened your door for trick-or-treat hooligans and saw kids disguised as poet laureates? Does anyone ever scream and grab his chest and say, “Christ, you scared the Hell out of me! For a second I thought you were Billy Collins!”
Face it, hardly anything is as scary as it ever was, but poetry was never all that scary to begin with. Throw out Poe and what do you got? You got nothing. If the color is red, I bet it’s not blood. It’s probably a damned wheelbarrow.
Once in a while someone comes up with a decent creepy beginning. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” could be scary if it were read by Jack Nicholson. There’s the big fork of normal expectations, and the smaller fork where anything can happen. Anything. Might even be some casual gore. Instead of Pumkinhead, Bobby Frost gives us the not exactly dark angel known as Difference.
I’m shaking in my shoes, Not!
Poetry can be engaging. It can be genuine. It can be moving. It can even be deeply satisfying. But when something stops making us fear for our lives it stops being real. Isn’t every memorable moment the answer to a bravery question? Even if we scream, the screams are the poetry too.
Go on then, dare to eat that frightening peach, even if you know that peach is wanted for murder. Eat the want. Eat the murder. This is your poem.