Angry Villager Vocals

My 2014 collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season consists of two sections gathering 31 selections each. The first, “Miscellaneous Praise,” features various Halloween-themed poems, while the second, “Angry Villager Anthology” is structured as a sequence (think of it as a long, 31-part poem). Here’s the brief introduction I wrote for the second section, along with a sampling of poems from throughout the anthology.

Nearly a century after its first publication, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915) remains the premier collection of American Gothic verse. This sequence of interconnecting and sometimes contradicting monologues (presented as epitaphs voiced by the deceased inhabitants of Spoon River’s cemetery) sheds life on the dark underbelly of everyday life, exposes the secrets and scandals of a small Midwestern town. Angry Villager Anthology forms my autumnal answer to Masters, an attempt to show that when it comes to dark-heartedness, Spoon River has nothing on the community of Grantwood.



The Mob

C’mon Tom, Charlie, Emory, and Frank,
Rupert Daugherty’s caught our October bogy!
That semi-human Quasimodo won’t be tormenting us anymore.
Only fitting the thing’s been snared here on the eve of Halloween,
After it transformed Mischief Night into a month-long campaign.

C’mon Kate, Lizzie, Ellen, and Rebecca,
You’ve just as much right to punish the monster’s wrongs.
Sneaking in our yards, peeping in our windows,
Desecrating the cemetery, smashing Jeb Llewellyn’s pumpkins,
Preying on our animals, fraying our nerves with its elusiveness,
Scaring more than the bejesus outta Cyndi Anders earlier today.
It’s time that wretch met Grantwood’s Unwelcoming Committee.

C’mon Tyrus, Juan, Gunther, and Angelina,
We’re all coming together tonight to celebrate.
Capture puts an end at last to apprehension.
So let’s seize the moment, and march this nemesis through the streets,
The very thoroughfares it made us wary of traversing after dark.

C’mon everyone, come outside and join in.
Grab whatever’s available–knife, pitchfork, lead pipe, wooden bat.
When we get to the town square you can each take a turn.
We plan on lashing the bastard to the Founder’s statue
And then bashing it open like an animate piñata.
Huzzah! Our vengeance is going to be sweeter than all of
The candy handed out to the oddly costumed tomorrow night.



Jeb Llewellyn

Every night for the first third of October
The monster snuck inna my patch and smashed open a pumpkin;
Come morning I’d find the pieces of partially-gnawed rind.
So I rigged a motion sensor, hoping to spotlight the late-night snacking–
Somehow he never set the dang thing off.
I brushed paint thinner on the most attractive-looking specimens–
He kept selecting an untainted gourd.
Rankled to no end, I set up traps all over my land–
And he never came back again.
But neither did my customers, fearing I might’ve forgotten
Where ‘xactly I hid all those toothy steel jaws.



Charlie Ehrenhardt

I never saw who it was that snuck up behind me,
And nothing evermore after the bat struck my head.
But I always figured Len Saunders for the slugger,
For my alleged leering at his wife as she strutted to the bank
Each morning while I painted the mural on Kemp’s storefront.
Now as I sit on my front stoop, sketch pad in my lap,
I can hear Len’s voice in the beehive buzz of the passing crowd.
I imagine flaming torches and bobbing pitchforks,
Some local variation on a Universal horror movie.
I work my charcoal, trying to link mind’s eye and muscle memory.
Yet when I press my fingertip to the paper as if it were Brailled
I detect only smoothness, my creation doomed to vagueness.
Meantime the mob rumbles on, noxious with animosity.
I’m guessing that come morning, I won’t be the only one
Here in Grantwood wondering just what have I done.



Bob Mendenhall

Whether in self-defense or some beastly sense of territoriality
The monster snapped the neck of Virgil’s German shepherd Kendra
Way back when on the fourteenth of this month.
For two weeks straight the dog’d been bent all out of shape,
Barking seemingly non-stop throughout the night.
Virgil and me had been neighbors for nearly twenty years,
But he wouldn’t listen to me when I kept trying to tell him
He’d best bring the dog inside when it got dark out.
“She watches o’er,” he insisted, and look what happened:
One permanently silenced canine.
Now we’re herding the perpetrator toward the town square;
I happily jab it in the back with the steel fingers of my hoe.
Had the damned thing snuffed out the mutt a day sooner
It would’ve saved me the cost of strip steak and strychnine.


Tome Reader

Heyward “Stacks” Calhoun

Here in the shadowy bowels of Grantwood’s Library
Lie the various volumes to scandalous for circulation,
Such as Ben Thompson’s incendiary slave diary,
And a highly unauthorized biography of Jeremiah Healey.
Not to mention a certain kid-skinned grimoire,
Whose curious lore served as a perfect lure for a lone bibliophile.
That perusal had been on the first night of October,
And so now I shiver as I overhear the shivaree outside.
I take no joy in the passing crowd’s raucousness,
Because I have to wonder if it was my own clumsy pronunciation that
Unwittingly summoned the town’s cthonian antagonist to begin with.



Abigail St. Clair

“Miss Abby? Whatcha doing over there?” Phil Wheatley calls from his car
When he spots me setting up shop in the middle of the town square:
Thin-legged card table, carafe of cider, plastic cups and cinnamon sticks,
Basketful of the pumpkin muffins I just happened to have been baking.
“Oh, just figured the people in the parade would appreciate some refreshments.”
“Parade?” he echoes, incredulous. Distance and darkness eclipse
Everything but the whites of his teeth, tiny floating ghosts.
“Ma’am, do you understand what’s going on here in town tonight?”
“Well,” I tell him, “I gather there’s going to be a public ceremony held.
So you best move that jalopy outta the way before everyone gets here.”
“Daffy old bat,” he proclaims before stomping the gas pedal.
But I pay him no mind, just settle into the lawn chair I’ve unfolded,
And sit here waiting, anticipating the start of the festivities.
God, it’s been ages since Grantwood hosted a good lynching.


Seize the Season

At long last, the calendar has flipped to the most important time of year in the Macabre Republic: the High Holiday season, in the merry month of mayhem. These thirty-one days always seem to fly by faster than a witch late to a sabbath, so I encourage you to start celebrating early. Here’s hoping that your October is stocked with autumnal treats and attractive haunts, and that your Halloween proves a harvest of horror.

Speaking for myself, I am to be in the spirit all month long here on this blog. There will be plenty of Halloween-related posts to follow. Thanks to the recent release of the second cinematic chapter, this isn’t just the season of the witch but also the season of IT. I accordingly have a lot of items planned relating to Stephen King’s epic novel that should float the boat of Constant Readers.

First, for all those who can’t get their fill of fall, here’s a poem to kick off the season. It is from my collection Autumn Lauds (for a closer look inside this book, click the designated heading in the menu above).



Apple cider
Perfectly perfumery bottle, eau de orchard

Candy corn
Fairy horde of sweet tricolor bicuspids

Yankee Candle
Flaming aromatic–earthy wood, sere leaves

Pumpkin pancakes
Limited time: we all bound to IHOP

Decorative hay bales
Squarely redolent of rural remotes

Cinnamon-sugared doughnuts
Dessert worthy of the Van Tassel banquet table

Not just of mists and mellow fruitfulness
(as Keats asserted)
But a season of scents and tastes to savor


Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage

Here on the fourteenth day of October, I present “Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage.” This autumnal one-upping of Wallace Stevens was first published in my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season (available on Amazon).


Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage

By Joe Nazare


Nature emblazoned.
An unguttering, golden-orange torch
Mitigating the lengthening nights.

Beacon to New England.
A regional tourist trap
Sprung by the shortage of chlorophyll.

The outdoors brought online.
Photographic alchemy uploaded,
The transient rendered eternal.

Splendid deciduous calendars.
October oaks counting down
The days remaining until Halloween.

Gloriously performative.
Furnishing a synonym for the season
In silent, scattershot descent.

Unabashed divesting.
The methodically discarded apparel
Of exhibitionist boughs.

Democratic in downfall.
Rolling out a red carpet
That anyone can walk.

Cemetery lethargy.
Leaves lying like scratchy blankets
Drawn over cold sleepers.

Rain-pasted to windshields.
Clinging to the hope of mobility,
Driven by autumnal wanderlust.

Dead but wind-borne.
Brittle skittering across macadam:
Shucked insect husks activated.

Absent yet manifest.
Colorful trefoil ghost-prints
Recorded on concrete.

Omnipresent models.
Originals of the plastic facsimiles
Decoratively strewn across harvest tables.

Late-season heaps.
Sizable shapes suggesting fairy mounds.
Front lawns given an eldritch hint.

Fiery piles ignited.
Like proleptic pyres
For the waning year.


In Grave Condition

Following yesterday’s Poe post, here’s a poem that suggests it’s not just premature burial we should dread.


In Grave Condition

By Joe Nazare


I don’t rake ragged fingernails against the casket’s lid
Or shriek hysterics into the enshrouding blackness

My skin doesn’t crawl when I imagine
Something centipedal
Getting under my shirt collar

I just lie here
Endlessly pondering a monstrous mystery

Why consciousness lives on
Yet remains trapped in a cranial crypt



Much like the figure in the poem below, I sport a ganglion cyst on my wrist. I can only hope, though, that it doesn’t have the same origin…



By Joe Nazare


Google does little
To soothe his concerns.
“Ganglion” hardly captures
This sudden, inexplicable marble
Pressing from his own flesh like some macabre carpal tumor.

The strange growth
Has the hue of bruised fruit,
Sprouts higher with every hour,
Shoots internal tendrils of dull ache
That scale his brachium and entangle in the roots of his teeth.

His instinct is
To have it out of him.
Excision is all: he seizes his
Keenest piece of kitchen cutlery,
Swallows a half bottle of Jack Daniels as ad hoc anesthetic.

But the surgery is
Promptly preempted when
The butcher knife turns tuning fork,
Striking a vibrant and agonizing chord
The instant the blade-edge even grazes the distended skin.

Woundedly, he
Cradles the affronted
Appendage, which takes on
Mind of its own, sends him staggering
Out of his doublewide and into the desolate New Mexican night.

The insistent cyst
Then inflates, incandesces;
His traitorous arm stiffens, strains
Straight overhead in Lady Liberty mimicry.
Feeling his heels lifting, he thinks perhaps the Rapture’s at hand.

He revises this thesis
When he sees the skies slice open,
Birthing the awful and unearthly thing
That wings itself through the heavens,
A metallic pterodactyl homing in on him.
Himself as
A beacon,
He realizes
This isn’t
But rather
A reaping.

Thought Crime (poem)

My latest poem was published today over at the weekly crime poetry blog The Five-Two. “Thought Crime” considers how the hard knocks suffered by a hard-boiled detective continue even into retirement.

While in grad school at NYU, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on cyberpunk science fiction, a movement strongly influenced by the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I had a lot of fun (despite the ultimately somber tone of “Thought Crime”) tapping into–and extrapolating from–that same hard-boiled formula here with this poem.

The Gunman’s Oxymorons

Reading Joe Hill’s “Loaded” (from Strange Weather, which I reviewed here) led me to look back on, and revise, a poem I had written several years back. The piece was originally occasioned by my personal fear of gun violence.


The Gunman’s Oxymorons

By Joe Nazare


loving wife
adorable children

lifetime achievement
moderate drinking

sure bet
savings account

employee benefits
company loyalty

weapons permit
workplace safety

innocent bystanders
pronounced silence


Ulalume and Ulalume II

Time and again, Edgar Allan Poe showed us that his male narrators were not to be trusted, but are the speakers of his poems any less unreliable in their expression of grief? My sequel to Poe’s most October-centric work was written with this idea in mind. In “Ulalume II” (first published in Autumn Lauds), the deceased female figure finally gets a chance at poetic redress.

This particularly dreary night in the late October (a squall rages outside my window as I type these words) seems the perfect time to pair up the texts of Poe’s original ballad and my own poem.


He said:


by Edgar Allan Poe

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere,
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year.
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir–
It was down by the dark tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul–
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll–
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphorous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole–
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere–
Our memories were treacherous and sere–
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year–
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber–
(Though once we had journeyed down here)–
Remembered not the dark tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn–
As the star-dials hinted of morn–
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn–
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said–“She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs–
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears they are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies–
To the Lethean peace of the skies–
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes–
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: “Sadly this star I mistrust–
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Oh, hasten! oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!–let us fly–for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in thew dust–
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust–
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied–“This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight!–
See!–it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright–
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom–
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb;
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied: “Ulalume–Ulalume–
‘Tis the vault of the lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere–
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed–I journeyed down here!–
That I brought a dread burden down here–
On this night of all nights of the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber–
This misty mid region of Weir–
Well I know, now, this dark tarn of Auber,–
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”


She said:

Ulalume II

by Joe Nazare

You describe the skies as ashen and sober,
Establish the leaves as crisped and sere;
You mark the night in the lonesome October
And bemoan a most immemorial year.
Yet one key detail you gloss over–
Oh so conveniently you gloss over:
The smothering love that cost me dear.

In the dozen bloated moons since I died
You have looked out through a veil of gloom.
Copious the tears that you have cried
As you sunk into the role of forlorn groom.
But such utter self-delusion I cannot abide,
Knowing you were the blight on my natural bloom.

So dread not the dark tarn of Auber;
Disregard the ghoul-haunted woodlands of Weir.
Don’t stand atremble like some shocked rover,
Fretting that a demon has tempted you here.
On this ultimate night of October–
This final, eldritch night of October–
It’s only your aggrieved beloved you need fear.

The barrier between our worlds swings wide–
Hearken to the creaking door of this tomb,
And behold the shape of your ravishing bride
Waiting yearlong to escape her funereal room.
This triumphal evening grim truth won’t be denied;
Time at last for your deserved reunion with Ulalume.

The Impotency of Positive Thinking

This poem was originally written for Autumn Laudsbut was ultimately barred from the Table of Contents (it riffs on a classic piece of science fiction, and I didn’t want to violate any copyright laws), but I have decided to post it here in celebration of the Halloween season.


The Impotency of Positive Thinking

Really, they’re too old to be dressing up,
Have no business begging for saccharine treats
On this thirty-first night of October.

But it can’t be helped, they’re compelled
To dare the doorstep of the uninviting edifice.
The House of Usher has nothing on this manse,
Looming, gloom-enshrouded, incredibly decrepit.

A trio sets off down the sinuous, tree-flanked path
While the rest remain nervously stationed at the sidewalk.
Tonight Bill is a straw-spilling scarecrow.
Thelma the image of a fairy princess, and
Pat impersonates monstrosity via a cheap plastic mask.

Carefully, they make their approach, knowing
He waits up ahead inside, hidden but vigilant.
They labor to banish negativity from their brains,
To deny thought of the potential punishment they might incur.
Arriving at last at the dark oaken door, they pause,
Then knock in unison, the raps resounding like gavel bangs.

The occupant’s response is sudden and stern:
Out of nowhere, a murder fells Scarecrow Bill,
The swooping birds hardly alarmed by the man’s costume.
Thelma meantime vaporizes, but the vanishing’s fathomable–
An instant internment, no doubt, in a deep cornfield grave.
And when Pat retreats streetside, fast as his arthritic hips allow,
His mask is absent, his face transformed into true grotesquerie.

Such capricious treatment is terrible to behold, but
No one ventures or even considers any complaint,
Certainly not when the perpetrator is within mindshot.
“The boy’s outdone himself this time,” Pat proclaims,
Forcing his distorted features into a semblance of a grin.
“What a fine trick he’s played,” a prostrate Bill enthuses
Amidst countless thumping wings and cacophonous caws.
“Oh, it’s a good Halloween,” Anthony’s prisoners all agree.



The poetic equivalent of fanfic, focusing on my favorite character from The Nightmare Before Christmas:


This is Halloween, town of the premiere evening,
Where I oversee the grotesque festivities every year.
Yet my head spins nonstop of late, a centrifuge of discontent.
I might have the titular ribbon pinned to my vest,
But what real power here has been vested in me?
And forget about the respect of the constituency;
That is reserved for him, of the mantis limbs and skeletal grin.
He’s fawned over from autumn to autumn, adored even after
His misguided attempt to hybridize the holidays back in ’93.
Me, I play political second fiddle, serve as funnelform puppet.
Little wonder my running for town office always goes unopposed.
Maybe this October I’ll announce: “I’m mounting an insurrection!”
Let’s face it, Mayor’s a dead end in the realm of the Pumpkin King.