by Ami Sanghvi.
When the full moon followed him home for the first time since the lycanthropy diagnosis, his mother watched the unholy aching of the shift he foolishly thought he could ignore. She screamed as his back broke and formed again. She tried to hit the beast with a broom. And God, he bared his teeth. And God, he returned to himself, naked as a sapling, as hollow as a hollow boned crow.
In most mainstream media, werewolves are depicted first and foremost as monsters, unfairly labeled by society as tragic “brutes” who are too far removed from their humanity to fathom the context(s) of their own existence. They are so rarely extended the kindness, empathy, and understanding by fiction lovers that all living creatures deserve. We almost never get to see werewolves’ lives outside of their transformations from enigmatic, harrowed, multidimensional people to wild, bloodthirsty, mythologically “accursed” canines. Most of what we know about werewolves is that they supposedly shred the innocent with their beastly claws, leap and run with blood wet upon their snouts, and howl loudly at the moon. Any creature in fiction and media that doesn’t at least slightly resemble the human form (ex: vampires, centaurs, sirens) or exude sex appeal to readers is often pushed to the wayside, condemned instead to the title of savage, unfeeling “beast.”
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. This depiction of the werewolf isn’t just devastating in the fictional sense. These damaging, agonizing, and utterly alienating depictions of the werewolf also serve to shed an extremely harmful light on the disabled community. The parallels between how werewolves and disabled people are [very wrongfully] perceived by the media and in society are equal parts uncanny and horrendous. Fortunately, Jared Povanda’s story, “Hot Blood, Cold Snow,” provides the righteous counternarrative this topic strongly merits.
“Hot Blood, Cold Snow” upholds and uplifts the humanity of the werewolf rather than continuing to degrade it. Povanda simply refuses to build upon these old, irredeemable tropes, directly contradicting them instead. Basically, “Hot Blood, Cold Snow” has quickly become my favorite werewolf narrative of the moment. It not only showcases Povanda’s brilliant handle of language, but it also refuses to feed into typical, misrepresentative stereotypes. The speaker does something different by stepping away from the usual external, dehumanizing, monolithic judgment of the werewolf, and instead opts to illuminate the mind, heart, and soul of the exiled werewolf child. In this, Povanda’s werewolf is extended the voice and compassion long overdue to his kind.
Additionally, Povanda takes things a step further by invoking the grief that follows the story’s werewolf child from his previous, pre-lycanthropy life, and then proceeding to pair it with the subject’s complex longing to depart from the land and become a “werecloud” instead.
Hot blood on cold snow bounces: the opposite of rain. He wishes he were a werecloud… If he were a werecloud, he could drown the whole world in his grief; instead, he has to hunt. Instead, he has to run. There’s a compulsion there, a compunction, dragging on him like a hook in the pelt.
Is there an animality to Povanda’s werewolf?
Does Povanda depict this animality as crude, or else inferior to human personhood?
These passages belong not to the cruelly stereotypical, supposed “menace” of the werewolf, but rather to a certain tenderness, innocence, and tragedy of the grappling self that is hardly unique to the presumed human existence.
by Will Medeiros.
(photography pictured is by Bobby Miller)
“Carol’s soul can withstand transplanting into the soil of my brain because, even thought I didn’t grow up in her family and in their various houses, I know, to some degree, all the key elements of her earliest years. In me robustly live and survive her early inner roots, out of which her soul grew…And so I can ‘be’ Carol, albeit with a slight Doug accent…”
- Douglas Hofstadtder, on his memories of his deceased wife Carol
Hofstadter’s I Am A Strange Loop spends many of its pages on a beautiful, thoughtful argument that the dead literally live on inside the people who knew and loved them. The broad strokes of the reasoning are that to live is to be a rich tapestry of patterns woven into a human brain, and if you know someone else well enough, then your brain will be capable of replicating their patterns with not insubstantial accuracy beyond their brain’s death. This argument is woven rather deeply into my own psychological tapestry, and “Front Porch Kathy” provides it with magnificent embroidery.
Author Erin Schallmoser skillfully and empathetically explores every bittersweet facet of the fact that the only true link we have in this world to our loved ones who have passed away is our achingly detailed and tragically incomplete mental models of them. We as readers are invited to perform a “not-a-séance-but-close” along with Hannah and Kathy, and by the time Hannah has in fact summoned a soul from beyond, our version of the ritual in the real world is already complete. Instead of cedar and crystals that we bring along ourselves, our talismans are expertly selected by the author: the fragrant herbs of the details of the Floridian summer setting and the polished sea-glass shards of Hannah’s memories and fantasies.
Using these reagents and a touch of inborn magic, we give Mick a version of life inside our own skulls from beyond the grave and through the page, and like the story’s living characters, we feel a multilayered grief. We live as Mick (with an accent) inside ourselves and so we are able to understand the details of what it means that he is gone, and at the same time, we recognize that this version of Mick is a transient simulacrum and has irreparable holes that will only expand over time. This is all compellingly paralleled in the literal layer of a ghost story with a wonderful eye for heartwrenching character beats and disquieting moments of horror alike. Summoning the ghost provides Kathy and Hannah with a chance to say goodbye; it is also a painful, traumatizing near-miss with utter supernatural catastrophe that Schallmoser is wise to only hint at.
We leave the story certain that Mick was brash and bold and liked a good Danish, but both because he is dead and because it is not on the page, we will never know for certain if or how he thought of his mother as he breathed his last on Kilimanjaro. All we can do is share the pain with Kathy and Hannah and attempt to probe the miniature version of Mick’s soul that, for a time, cohabits with our own.
by Ami Sanghvi.
Behold the greatest central thesis for an assessment of The Picture of Dorian Gray you’ll ever read in your life:
Dorian is a femboy.
Yes, you read that correctly. Oscar Wilde fans, people who dye their hair a different color every week, and my fellow darling queer folks—rejoice! 婕 Venus Cohen’s “Dorian Dyes His Hair” is a poem that not only officially exists in a world that quite desperately needs it, but also serves to dismantle the heteronormativity forced upon the troubled yet famously glamorous queer-coded protagonist of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Here, Cohen examines the Victorian literary classic under a far more queer-focused lens and draws the story’s corresponding implications directly to the surface.
Dumb and witless, between his ears? Air!
Shelf-stable trophy boy,
Dorian poses, blonde,
“Floodlit, the glossy kiss-pit”
Those of you who have read the novel know that Dorian Gray is aesthetically lovely. He is a man so conventionally beautiful that societal stereotypes demand he be entirely devoid of original thought and any indication of intellectual prowess—in other words, a “bimbo.” Consequently, other men in The Picture of Dorian Gray recognize how pretty Dorian is and, in true patriarchal fashion, proceed to objectify him.
In the book, the painter of the famous portrait of Dorian, Basil Hallward, and his friend, Lord Henry Wotton, are both essentially obsessed with Dorian’s beauty in a way that can honestly only be described as deeply homoerotic. Of course, as readers existing in a suffocatingly heteronormative society, we’re supposed to deny this and assume that there is no blatant queerness to this otherwise curious dynamic Wilde has created. Cohen, however, simply isn’t having it.
Pretty Dorian was wanted, once.
Odalisque, posing, crafted by the hand of Basil
Consumed by the arms of Lord Henry.
Dorian the pretty.
Shortly after locking in this brilliant foundation of the poem, Cohen blatantly slaps the soul of it out onto the page in a way that is so effective it smacks, shocks, and stings you all in the same instant.
How heterosexual can we warp Dorian?
Read that line. Now, read it again. The key word here isn’t heterosexual—it’s warp. That, right there, is the essence of the primary violence inflicted not only upon Dorian Gray, but also queer and trans folk everywhere, every day. This is the atrocity of warping.
Just in case this line didn’t pack enough of a punch (even though it totally did), Cohen then proceeds to follow it up with other, equally agonizing, warp-adjacent phrases. Still, they’re nowhere near finished. By the bottom of the first page, Cohen has already established their momentum. By the top of the second, they are fearlessly wielding it.
Several back-and-forth lines greet us here, shining light on the traditionally feminine nature of Dorian’s beauty. This is a moment of sheer loveliness in the poem, made terribly melancholy only by the shadow heteronormativity insists on casting upon it and, in turn, the subjugated character of Dorian Gray. This description of him, highlighted strategically by Cohen, quickly becomes overwhelmingly but necessarily tragic in the context of this poem. It not only speaks to the devastating reality we all live in, but proceeds to instil fury in its readers for all the suffering this patriarchally heteronormative society causes those who fail to adhere to its unrelentingly cruel constraints.
In this poem, Cohen sandwiches their description of Dorian’s beauty between poetic illustrations of his treatment by those in the novel and bold statements encompassing his treatment by real life readers of the same book. This device swiftly releases Dorian’s tormented character from its purely fictional confines and spits him out into our equally twisted world. Immediately, we recognize that the queer, gender nonconforming Dorian is one of us in a way we potentially never did before. And, as if predicting the reader’s likely sudden realization of how Dorian’s dilemma fits into the reality of our modern-day existence, and the sickening rage we feel upon its impact, Cohen skillfully verbalizes that which, in this moment of raw, unbridled emotion for the reader, suddenly feels impossible to articulate.
How meta, that society has created the Dorian
That Dorian spent all 80,000 words escaping from
Older, wittier, chiseled, tall, dark, handsome--
Enforcers of heterosexual complacency!
If you ever want to experience a writer and a reader melding into a single blob of sheer, antiestablishment fury, look no further than this absolute masterpiece of a poem—signed off on by no other than what appears to be Wilde’s formidable ghost himself.
by Robert Hamilton.
It’s summer, and the news is once again full of talk of historic wildfires—on the west coast of North America, in southern Europe, in North Africa—and it hardly feels like we got a break from last year’s apocalyptic conflagrations. Given that this is all happening on top of a pestilence that we can’t seem to elude, there’s no doubt that news broadcasts, and even our daily lives, feel historic, perhaps even biblical. It’s difficult to think of a better summary of this feeling than the opening lines of Lindsay Hargrave’s fine poem “paragloria (Judgment)”: “Every day is judgment day so I’m / not sure what you’re waiting for.”
Of course, the 2020s are not the first time we’ve collectively worried that the world was about to end soon, and Hargrave knows it. “Your hills,” she writes, “have been burning for / centuries.” Medieval apocalypticism was largely religious in nature, and Hargrave’s poem is steeped in religious iconography: “judgment day” itself, “Hades,” “angel brass.” But this is not the whole story: other images arise as if from everywhere and nowhere; I am certain no one has written lines quite like these before, and yet, in their beauty, specificity, and terror, they make perfect sense:
[...] Rise! open your
eyes and feast your bare guts on
a white sun molting to
black dwarf beginning at
If you think you’re in for an ultra-saturated, Baroque poem after reading these furious lines, well, you are—but that’s far from all Hargrave has to offer. She is just as adept at managing bathos in a way that grounds the poem in our own shared spaces of banality, even gives it air to laugh a little. Watch as a high-flown vision of the after-life (not religious, but simply “life after this”) morphs into something far more quotidian, easier to relate to:
Rise rise rise and
draw up a tub for next life’s
bloodletting. You could live in a moon
colony. Find out which friends were
imposters all along and invent
new ones. Finish scrapbooking.
Reducing the old religious judgment day, in which all things are revealed, to petty concerns about friends and unfinished tasks does not in any way dampen the poem’s effectiveness. Rather, it enhances it, and paves the way for a brilliant conclusion in which the quotidian and the apocalyptic perfectly merge: the flames and suffering are quite real, not spiritual; the voice seems to be that of a first responder at a fire, but of course we all know something more is going on: intentional, maybe inevitable destruction; a world steadily growing unrecognizable; all of the lurid trappings of a Dantean inferno, but right here, right now. This is a poem that storms to its conclusion in breathless, heavily-enjambed free verse, that endlessly varies its flexible tone without losing momentum, that by its final lines makes the mythic terrifyingly real.
Still, this is not a poem of pure despair: “Rise!,” it commands, over and over again. There is something for the audience to do; whether we are to rise and flee, or rise like the dry bones of Ezekiel, is left open. Open, too, is that beguiling title, “Paragloria.” In Spanish, “para gloria” is “for glory.” Para- is a common Greek prefix denoting something that is alongside, accompanying, parallel to. And Perixera paragloria is a rarely attested binomial denotation of a rather nondescript moth—something that maybe, just maybe, has the power to flap its drab wings, rise, and get the hell out of all this."
by Will Medeiros.
I have read more than my fair share of poems about hope. I do not remember nearly so many that are about how utterly terrifying hope is, and this is where Tucker Lieberman’s “Melt” distinguishes itself so finely: in being about “a fractured faith in yourself” (emphasis mine) as an artist and as a worthy human being.
Lieberman effectively weaves together the abstract and the physical, the imposingly cosmic and the grittily biological to convey the quivering, explosive potential of a deeply held yet simultaneously self-aware faith in what your own future may hold. There can be a blackened, deadly self-assurance in self-hatred and despair, and in reminding you that “it would not be fair to your art to trash it”, Lieberman shows how this feeling fading away is as bright and burning as lava. A reemerging wonder at your own being and capabilities is necessarily coupled with fear: you are a contingent creature, physically fragile, and by daring to “return to the start of the circuit” of your passions, you become emotionally vulnerable as well. Through a rapid-fire yet focused and crisp series of images and ideas, Lieberman keeps all these ideas at play in remarkable depth.
“Melt” captures what is to realize that you once again wish to not only survive but thrive, that you will weather the eruption of the volcano so that you can witness the island that coalesces from the molten rock. It wields every bit of the power it invokes with the name “Krakatau”.
by David Wasserman.
Picture Dorian Gray sulking aboard the ghost ship in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", then performing magic with Edgar Allan Poe in "The Prestige" and you have some idea of the feeling of Duckworth’s "Black Rose Immortal: A Horror in Verse". The unsettling, otherworldly premise is grounded by verse and a gritty setting—the combination works to pull the reader into the story and keep them there until the glass-shattering end.
Duckworth takes a risk creating such a long verse poem. With modern poetry painting most pages of newer lit mags, "Black Rose Immortal: A Horror in Verse" could feel out-of-place, stuffy and old. Thankfully, the poem is accessible and more along the lines of recent horror like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina than it is to Coleridge. For example, in this section Duckworth creates suspense and a clear plot without sacrificing his poetic language:
Trembling, he lifts a pewter cup of wine
To his lips. By yet another doorway
He stands. “What you shall see inside,” says he,
“No thing living should ever bear witness.”
He drains the cup & turns the key, the door
Creaks open & light into stale dark spills.
In the same way good, modern serial television shows develop characters and build upon narratives episode by episode, each line Duckworth writes invests the reader more, eventually leaving no choice but to binge the entire poem to find out what will happen next. The writing style has an antique feel, but not enough to distract or distance readers from the substance of the poem. The action always wins out over the form, as in this stanza:
By crude power, with iron bar the door
I bash, til oaken timbers bends & gives,
& through the breach light floods the secret store
A chamber obscure where Uncle’s sin lives -
This is perhaps Duckworth’s best achievement with the piece—that not far along into "Black Rose Immortal: A Horror in Verse" the reader stops noticing the rhythm and rhyme and keeps reading solely for the narrative. This is no small feat. Fans of gothic horror, poetic structure obsessives and those appreciative of good, solid stories will all be satisfied with "Black Rose Immortal: A Horror in Verse."
by Jake McAuliffe.
You’ve probably noticed my gloves. They catch my falling fingers.
In this piece, Wasserman creates intimacy, fear, and horror with ease, sweeping the reader into direct dialogue with the character—this poor, poor person who is losing their fingers. I love weird stories and this is absolutely weird, but beautiful too. We feel the depths of empathy through these moments of desperation and pleas directed at the reader.
I’m worried there will soon be too much of me and I can’t stop the
Wasserman tells so much about character in passages with flashing, changing imagery. It reads like montage or a quick-edit reel. In them, we are shown vulnerabilities and desires, but the effect is larger—spinning this story of few words into a lifetime of finger-losing tragedy. The reader is given a taste of the bigger picture and this, in my opinion, is why the emotion of the piece is so strong.
the need to gently run my fingers down the side of someone’s face / to hold a naked hand just once / to fingertip lick the wind
We are left without knowing what becomes of this person. But in short work, Wasserman makes us wonder. It’s a heartfelt, wonderful piece that will leave me suspicious of glove-wearers for a long time.
by Vera Hadzic.
(photography pictured is by Adritanaya Tiwari)
Sunny Vuong writes, “The forest is only wary of newcomers. It takes care of its own.”
These sentences capture the inescapable yet unspeakable eeriness of Vuong’s “Silent Blooms: A Cottagecore Horror Choose-Your-Own-Adventure”—where everything seems perfect, yet feels deeply wrong. The deer stare just a little too long—the cottage is a little too comfortable—and a not-so-subtle otherness is rooted far beneath the surface. Vuong’s prose unfolds delightfully as the reader picks their way through an intricate interlace of narrative, making choices and mistakes along with Hoa Tran, the protagonist.
This is a piece written with extraordinary care and attention to detail—from the colour of Hoa’s dress to the smooth melding of story paths to the symbolism of names and places, the shifts and tensions of “Silent Blooms” come together seamlessly. And along with her delicately crafted horror, Vuong’s mastery of image and description creates a world as vividly beautiful as it is unsettling. Just as dark callings reach for Hoa, this immersive story entangles readers and keeps them in its clutches long after they’ve reached the end.
by Anita Cantillo.
Calia Jane Mayfield’s poem, “my hands sit on my throat when I try and remember my name,” offers the reader a series of images that at first feel startling and disjointed. But a closer look shows an astute orientation to natural landscapes and the ecology of the body and the inherent connection between the two. Present within the lines of this beautiful prose is a close observation of the natural world, an intimacy the voice of the poem shares with ants and German Shepherds alike. And yet, there’s also a desire to know more, it would seem, in lines such as this one, where the yearning is palpable: “…the lake is named after my/ hometown and could hold so many of me and i can’t hold any/ version of it.” We find a speaker at once tapped into the very fiber of the universe—a voice that understands her body is part of the natural world, too— and also grappling with the ever elusive essence of creation. How is it that “somedays i don’t know the weather but i’ve relearned the contours of my shoulders a million times over?” How can we remember being eight and the bite of an ant, but forget the sting of getting a body piercing? These ponderings bid the reader to stare at their own reflection in the mirror, to connect the gossamer lines that transcend time and space and link us to the surrounding world. Mayfield’s poem is an invitation to be still, to memorize the lines of our bodies or a blade of grass, to imagine our next life.
by Meredith Phipps.
CW: implied sexual assault, sexual allegories, allusions to fantasy violence
In “passive protagonist,” Isaura Ren creates a sprawling dialogue, both interweaving and contrasting excerpts from “How to Write a Fantasy Story” by N.A. Turner with the speaker’s understanding and embodiment of their own life and their place within it. As each line falls into place, succinctly and spaciously within each tercet, the complexity of the conversation between the speaker and the text grows, creating a tension that never falls. This tension is what gives the final tercet of the poem so much resonance as the speaker declares the story of their body on their own terms, doing away with convention as they arrive at the point of authorship.
The juxtaposition of convention and experience that Isaura Ren accomplishes in such a brief piece is stunningly resonant, leaving the reader to grapple with the implications of understanding and negotiating one's own life within an inherited canon and that canon’s set of rules. Characteristic of their body of work, Isaura Ren manages all of this complexity with a beauty of language and use of space that feels like breathing, deeply, in.
by Alis Hamilton.
CW: implied sexual violence, self-harm/suicide
Tahlia McKinnon’s "origins" feels, to perhaps put it too obviously, wrong. There’s something in the deep stomach flipping violence of human connection that pulls at the brokenness inside us all. This creative nonfiction lends itself to poetry; all rich imagery; a separation of reality to an emotional state. The metaphor breathes life into the narrative like the narrator tries to breathe life into her dangerous lover. The way she pulls in the Garden of Eden and speaks of Eve’s fall as her sacrifice—love as the opening of wounds, the acceptance of hurt to heal another’s hurting.
I loved the softness of sympathy in fingers trailing along cigarette burns, the disturbance in my chest at the scrabbling need to force another to be the voice that screams for the speaker's own hurts. The shared violence of sex brings tougher lovers, and it separates them when outside Eden. The space for hurt, destruction, and love—they are unrecognizable as dressed up beings no longer violent and vulnerable.