Emperors of Dreams: Some Notes on Weird Poetry

Emperor of Dreams: some notes on weird Poetry

a review by  Steve Cameron

P’Rea Press

I’m an English teacher and I’ve been known to teach poetry, both writing and critiquing it. I can’t, however, write the stuff myself. All my attempts end up sounding like “Roses are red/violets are blue/”, which I find frustrating and keeps me in constant awe of those who can write poetry.

Most of us are aware of the canon; everything from Keats and Wordsworth, through to Blakeand Nash. Some of us even read (and love) Australian poets, such as the vastly under-rated C.J. Dennis. Almost everyone knows of Poe and Lovecraft. Heck, even my students are aware of the Simpsons references.

But what most of us don’t know, and indeed I wasn’t fully aware of until a year or so ago, is that weird poetry is not only an important genre in its own right, but is alive and well and thriving in this modern age. And, to top it all off, it is very well represented on the worldstage by fabulous Australian poets such as Leigh Blackmore and Kyla Lee Ward.

Charles (Danny) Lovecraft (yes, that is his real name – he once showed me his driver licence to prove it) is the brains and muscle behind P’rea Press, a small independent publisher specialising in weird poetry. He’s no slouch as a poet himself, passionate about the genre and publishes wonderful titles that are respected and collected around the world. Not only does he release works by poets such as Blackmore and Ward, but also collections by international writers like Richard L. Tierney, a Lovecraftian bard of fifty years standing.

So you love Poe’s The Raven, or you are deeply into the Cthulu Mythos…. but where does one go from there? An excellent place to start would be with S.T. Joshi, an internationally renowned critic and editor of weird poetry. Joshi’s excellent Emperor of Dreams is a collection of essays that not only discusses the importance of Poe and Lovecraft, but delves into the little known poets that worked alongside, under and afterwards, poets such as George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, Samuel Loveman, Donald Wandrei, Frank Belknap Long, Ann Schwader, and Donald Sidney-Fryer. Even our own Blackmore gets a mention.

References on weird poetry are incredibly rare in a world where texts can be found on just about any subject, so this small book is a welcome addition. It’s highly readable, and interesting in its own right. I wasn’t familiar with any of the poems, and knew of only a few of the writers, and yet I loved reading their life stories, and discovering them within the context of the weird poetry family tree.

And as a starting map to strike out on your own? I strongly recommend Emperor of Dreams. I’ve made notes on a few writers and poems that I wish to explore. And I can imagine Joshi leaning back in his chair saying, “My work here is done.”

Addendum: I happen to know P’rea Press is always on the lookout for new talent. If you’re a weird poet, contact Lovecraft through the website, www.preapress.com. And don’t be afraid to explore their other titles either. Watch out for a forthcoming publication that will feature the work of international poets Sterling, Smith, Tierney, Bruce Boston, Michael Fantina, and Wade German, and Australians Blackmore, Ward, Charles Lovecraft, and Earl Livings.

Originally published in Dark Matter issue 6, November 2011.  This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.