In my last blog post, I featured several poems from the beginning of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Eye to the Telescope #22, “The Ghosts Issue“, which I guest edited. The issue went live October 15th.
Today we continue the series with four poems that explore ghost tropes in skillful and novel ways, ranging from the abstract to the personal.
Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits
by Robin Husen
The grandfather clock in the hallway
Chips away at time.
The heart of this old house
The stairs are the spine
And every step touches a nerve
As you might imagine, the haunted house was one of the most popular themes for Eye to the Telescope #22 submissions (second only to lost love poems). In “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits” we find ourselves within the archetypal haunted house — no context, as if in a dream, no entrance or exit, just an Escher-like unfolding of housely features; the ticking clock, the creaking stairs.
In dream theory, the house represents the dreamer; Husen’s “Upstairs…Downstairs” suggests an eerie sympathy between the “you” that wanders room to room and the house’s bookends and edges, it’s beating heart.
I was particularly enamored with the second-to-last stanza, in which “everything turns on the/corner step” and the poem, too, takes a turn, a shift in perspective, speculating ominous possibilities. It reads like a spiral, inviting you in, and down, again and again…
Robin Husen is a writer from Nottingham, England. He is an Open University graduate, and has an MA in Literary Linguistics from the University of Nottingham, where he wrote his dissertation on the use of negation in creating a sense of unease. “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits” is his first published poem. His short fiction has appeared on Daily Science Fiction and is forthcoming on Far Fetched Fables. When he isn’t writing, you can usually find him walking the dog. You can also find him on twitter @reliant_robin’
A Night at Gran’ma Ginny’s
by Dawn Cunningham
clear rectangles make a stairstep on the front door;
they stare into the changing
moon; the cymbals of oncoming clouds
talk rock music; a light show speaks
Like “Upstairs Watches, Downstairs Waits”, “A Night at Gran’ma Ginny’s” struck me as a delightfully different take on the haunted house trope. In this poem, too, we view the house as if through a dreamer’s eyes; or, rather, one stuck in that moment between dreams and waking, when everything has a quality of unreality, and we’re not sure we can trust what we perceive.
Cunningham uses vivid and sensory language and creative use of space to evoke a fun-house of impressions that make this poem so much more than an accounting of something creepy that happened in the middle of the night. Though what is left unsaid–the reason the narrator is asleep in Gran’ma’s chair, perhaps, with a coat for a blanket–keeps us grounded in real life, in a real place, which makes the encounter all the more uncanny.
I especially love the soft ending of this poem: the sigh of a closing refrigerator door, the quiet snuffing out of a light so as to not disturb those sleeping nearby (and those, perhaps, who have had enough) .
The career of writing stories and poems began with Dawn Cunningham’s Gran’ma Ginny, where the Native American tradition was passed down. Through the storytelling, Ms. Cunningham began to write, first fiction, then poetry, and now nonfiction as well. She earned a BGS and MA through Indiana University. Her recent publications are in Confluence, Flare: The Flagler Review, Misfit Magazine, Shuf Poetry, and the upcoming Dandelions first appearance.
Be My Geist: A Villanelle
by Suzan Pickford
No white glove test for clear
(until there is and “they’re here”)
haunted by remnants hidden deep in your closet.
What a “geist-ing” game communicating
when small blonde children sneak tv time
it’s no wonder you lost it, perplexed by the vortex.
As far as haunted houses go, the cemetery-straddling, portal-pulsing suburban two-story in”Poltergeist” (1982) takes the horror cake. I grew up with this movie, I identified painfully with the straight-haired Carol Ann (gods rest her soul), and what remake, I can’t hear you, lalalala.
One of the perks of being an editor is that you get to pick what you like; so when Suzan Pickford answered my not-really-joking call for Poltergeist-themed poems with this tongue-in-cheek darling, I couldn’t resist. While I suspect that the term “villanelle” is loosely applied, I love how she roped the most iconic bits from the film into the form. Plus I love the internal rhyme and turn-of-phrase in “perplexed by the vortex”. I just want to hug this poem like a scary clown doll.
Suzan Pickford: master of insomnia and java enthusiast. Born in Virginia to two New Yorkers, Suzan has been writing since early primary school when she began running out of accessible reading material and began crafting her own. Most recently featured in the Summer edition of The Cicada’s Cry—a micro-zine of Haiku Poetry, Suzan Pickford brings levity to themes not usually considered comedic in the fields of poetry, fiction, and screenwriting.
Admittance by Cathleen Allyn Conway
Dad calls me and says to come pick him up from the hospital.
“You know they’re trying to kill me in here.”
“But you’re dead,” I say.
“I’m better now,” he replies.
“It’s happened before.”
With “Admittance” by Cathleen Allyn Conway, we move from more abstract ghost poems into the realm of the intimate; personal tales of lost lives and lost loves.
“Admittance” begins with a phone call from beyond the grave, which places it squarely in the speculative genre. However, the details are so relatable (“the nurse/straddled his Buddha belly like a lover”, “the flag was folded and the rifle-cracks in the cold/shocked choking sobs from Mom”), and the voice of the narrator is so insistently normal, this poem strikes me as one of the most realistic of the bunch.
The father’s impossible voice on the line is almost secondary to the voice of loss expressed within, subtle but exquisite. The universality of that grief is what struck me most about this poem. “Admittance” deftly reminds of that we cannot examine ghosts without examining the empty places left among the living.
Cathleen Allyn Conway is finishing her PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the co-editor of Plath Profiles, the only academic journal dedicated to the work of Sylvia Plath, and the founder and editor of women’s protest poetry magazine Thank You For Swallowing. Her collection Static Cling is available from Dancing Girl Press. Originally from Chicago, she lives in south London with her partner and son.
Shannon Connor Winward:
I want to thank you for that generous write up about my poem “A Night at Gran’ma Ginny’s.” I’ve begun a portfolio in my late years (57). Here’s hoping for a job in publishing and a bigger deal for publication in the big world. However, getting my work to the public has been my main goal. Stories through any genre helps create the world, helps to keep the “earth” alive. As my grandmother would say, “Stories write the world.”
Good to hear from you, Dawn, and best wishes for all your writerly endeavors.