Hippocampus Press 2011, 205 pages, $15 .
Reviewed by Wilum Pugmire
One of the highlights of going to Adam Niswander’s incredible MythosCon last year was attending Ann’s reading. I was enthralled as she read from her sonnet sequence, Lavinia. I have long been obsessed by the idea of Lavinia Whateley and the possibilities for her as a character. Lavinia is a product of Lovecraft’s genius—for with just a few strokes he has created a fascinating portrayal, full of hints and mysteries. With her amazing sonnet sequence, Ann Schwader has shewn that this single character has depths that may be plumbed. Perhaps it takes a poet of genius, a woman poet, to understand the totality of Lavinia Whateley—and Ann is such a poet:
“Her father’s books were all she knew of school,
This child of shadows, secrecy, and dust;
But they sufficed her. Girls learn what they must
& as they may, for destiny is cruel
To those unfit to face it.”
And thus this creature rises before us, portrayed in all of her tragic dimension, brilliantly.
And yet Twisted in Dream goes from thrill to aesthetic Lovecraftian thrill. Our favorite characters await us in its pages, in series of poems such as Charles Dexter Unwarded, Pickman’s Progress, and After Innsmouth. The Revisions & Collaborations and tales by the Lovecraft Circle are not ignored: we find poems inspired “…after Z. Bishop’s “The Curse of Yig,” as revised by H. P. Lovecraft”; “—after Frank Belknap Long’s The Horror from the Hills”; “—after Robert Bloch’s “Fane of the Black Pharaoh”; and a number of poems “—after Clark Ashton Smith.”
Here we have the complete texts of Ann’s previous books such as The Worms Remember and In Yaddith Time. There are, of course, many poems inspired by the weird fiction of the Master, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. One of my absolute favorites is Sestina: To the Audient Void:
“He came to us as lean & shadowed stranger
From out of Egypt, ancient root of nightmare
Branching into thousand-visaged chaos.
We did not know him for a messenger:
He spoke of science, seldom of the gods.
We never understood that we were lost.
“His comprehensive grasp of knowledge lost
Before Atlantis drowned was strange—yet stranger
Rumors named him acolyte to gods
Long banished from this planet, star-spawned nightmares.
We scorned such superstitious messengers,
Preferring the technology of chaos.”
Ah—the temptation with reviewing such a book is to quote poem after poem and sigh at their beauty and their splendor.
This is a woman’s book, one who has thought and felt deeply concerning the experience of womanhood. It is a book that rejoices, if at times grimly, the glory of that gender.
The poems are accompanied by amazing interior illustrations by Steve Lines, and Robert M. Price has penned a Foreword. I cannot praise this book too keenly. It has stirred my imagination remarkably. And like the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods that it evokes – it has made me dream.
Praise for Ann K. Schwader’s poetry:
The dark and enchanting verse of Ann K. Schwader weaves layers and labyrinths of wonder and beauty. Her work burns with language perfumed with mighty magic. It is not to be missed!
—Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
It takes more than mastery of rhyme, meter, euphony, and alliteration to preserve the emotional essence of the weird poetry of Lovecraft, Chambers, and Frank Belknap Long. Ann Schwader’s poetical vision re-evokes the same senses of terror based on the weird prose she offers in rhythmical form. It is as though one is reading the dreams of a gargoyle.
—Fred Phillips, author of From the Cauldron
Ann K. Schwader’s poetry fuses metrical precision and horrific imagination in a manner not seen since the heyday of Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. It suggests far more than it states, and its implications of dread menace are underscored by a cosmic pessimism that raises her work far above the level of mere shudder-coining.
—S. T. Joshi
If Yog-Sothoth knows the gate, is the gate, is the key and guardian of the gate, then likewise, Ann K. Schwader’s weird verse opens a gate to lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. Schwader’s verse—haunting, evocative, arresting in both conception and imagery—gibbers like Old Ones’ voices on the wind, and like the earth that mutters with Their consciousness.
—Leigh Blackmore, author of Spores from Sharnoth