Tell me: do Krakens eat the souls of women
who never wanted to be sirens?
(The Survival of Fishes)
There is something impossible lurking inside Stephanie M. Wytovich’s The Apocalyptic Mannequin (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2019). A marriage of blood and trauma, a cold water flow of terror and the brittle fear of hopelessness, uniting into a bloody smear of beauty.
Wytovich’s The Apocalyptic Mannequin is a collection of horror poetry, more aptly, apocalyptic poetry that is both deeply felt and richly dark. Themes of immense grief thread through stanzas of a burning world. There is an existential dread written large in Wytovich’s art, painted in remarkable detail by a gifted writer. Each poem hurts to read, the hollow hope and desperate verse cuts into the reader with intention and precision, allowing for a truly emotional experience that I don’t often find lurking inside the walls of a horror story. And a story it is. Poems touching one another, linking arms and themes to remind the reader that the end of the world may happen in any number of ways but the desperate truth in those final moments is personal, always personal.
The Apocalyptic Mannequin is the first collection of horror-themed poetry I have had the pleasure of reviewing. I love poetry but admit that horror poetry wasn’t something I sought out before this writing. Now, I find that I have an itch in the back of my mind. To add to the copious volumes of love poetic expression in my bookshelf, I have cleared a space dedicated to horror and I hope that Wytovich will supply several future additions to my collection.
The Apocalyptic Mannequin is not shy, with touches of blood, detailed gore, or the last fluttering breaths before a narrative voice slips into oblivion. Wytovich approaches these moments clearly, metaphor rich but without the need to soften the horrors of the work. There is something deeply compelling in Wytovich’s use of grief to outline these moments. The narrative voices inside the poetry know they are dead or dying, that the world is beyond saving, and their very soul is threatened. Each voice carries this grief differently, some reveling in the end even as they mourn the loss, some clutching to a moment more before the darkness consumes them. Wytovich has captured elegance in brutality, allowing beauty to root in depravity. I often found myself wounded by the terrors I was reading about but never felt they were nakedly cruel or deprived of the humanity that makes such work worth reading.
Horror is a balancing act. One that requires the recitation of awful things just as it requires the discovery of a beautiful humanity hidden in the debris of a dead world. Horror without humanity is a pornography of despair. Wytovich’s writing achieves a brilliant balance of what truly frightens us and what makes us deeply and beautifully human.