Review: Coven’s Hornbook by Frank Coffman

Review by Marie RavenSoul of The Coven’s Hornbook and Other Poems, by Frank Coffman

 

I HAD to read this book. The intriguing title drew me in like a moth to a flame. Knowing that within its pages were poems about the weird and supernatural made my dark heart leap with joy.

In his introduction, Koffman explains that the title was inspired by Leah Bodine Drake’s poetry collection A Hornbook for Witches. The preface is written by Donald Sidney-Fryer and the illustrations are by Yves Tourigny.

There are fifteen sections of the book, including Witchcraft and Warlockry, Sorcery and Summonings, and The Lycanthropicon: Werewolves and Their Ilk. The poems have numerous origins including Welsh, Spanish, Russian, and Korean. Many are sonnets, and others are long, randomly rhymed, and poetic narratives.

It begins with— A Meeting of the Coven.

       “Then, as the balefire glows

       And flames lick at the sky

       And embers crack and fly,

       A summoning is nigh!

       Soon, called forth by their cries,

       A Demon does arise.”

 The second poem called The Witches’ Sabbats has great meaning for me. I can picture the scene where the Witches are gathering in the forest to celebrate. The following lines gave me chills as they remind me of when I was blessed by Satan-Lucifer. 

       “A Circle round the central Fire as Demon’s called advance

        To join us—baptized in the light of Lucifer.”

Heritage: An Old Country Legend is a long poem. It tells the story of Caleb, his wife, and his children. How one-night Caleb’s wife went up to the graveyard to read poetry—or so she said. It became a regular occurrence until Caleb found her dead with the book, along with a note, by her side. Chilling events continued to happen to the family, making me read as fast as I could with anticipation.

Those Days in Salem Town is about the Salem Witch Trials. When accused of Witchcraft by young girls, members of the town were put on trial and then hanged. It is a compelling story and the following last lines are powerful.

       “But some few know the truth, 

        Fallen spellbound, enthralled.

        By the Dark One we’re called:

         And now—We rise!”

Legend: Archer Avenue, Chicago is a long poem and is about a man who sees a beautiful young girl, dressed in white, as he is driving down a long road. He takes her home, but when he returns to visit, he is in for a shock. The author uses description well and I loved how I could see the girl in her flowing white dress and her light coloured hair. It is the perfect ghost poem that also touches the heart.

I enjoyed Neophyte’s Lesson as it speaks of Baphomet, Crowley, black candles, and bloody letters. A story of a man who studied well-known occultists but got no results. Then when he began to practice, he got more than he bargained for. 

I love the poem Halloween. It has fun rhymes and is about goblins, warlocks, pumpkins, black cats, and spider webs. Children will find it enjoyable to read out loud, especially as part of their Halloween celebrations. 

Ring of Horror is a creepy poem which is one of the reasons why I like it. It makes me feel nostalgic as it reminds me of a circle of stones in a park that I visited a lot as a teenager. Just as in the poem, no one seemed to know how long the stones had been there, and it was rumoured that rituals took place there at night.

Nosferatu is about the vampire film with the same title. It describes Nosferatu in a compelling way to where you can picture his hairless head and pointed ears. He states:

       “This is a vampire from a different realm

       Than Stoker outlined on the classic page. 

       Though sepia black and white, in darkly contrast,

       The Mind’s Eye fills, with colourings of Horror

       At the creature’s form, indelibly to last—”

Another poem that I enjoyed was The Ways Poems Come to Me. It talks about how a poem is put together, beginning with the form in which the poem will be written in, parts of speech, verbs, nouns, what inspired it, and more. It is quite long, but it is worth the read. If you are a poet, then you will be able to identify. 

Great poems to read out loud are The Witches’ Rite at Beltane, The Fateful Flower, Vengeance, and At the Gravesite. The words rhyme in a way that makes them fun to say while adding unique expressions to each line.

A ‘Glossary of Forms’ gives detailed explanations of the many kinds of poetry forms that exist in this book. This includes the ‘Cynghanedd Sain,’ which is when two words in a line rhyme and the second rhymed word alliterates with the final word of the line. The Pantoum, which is a Malaysian form that I recently started using, is fun to write. It is a way to strongly express a feeling or idea as the second and fourth lines of each quatrain are repeated as the first and third lines of the next one. I appreciate all the effort that Coffman put into the glossary, and it will be something that I will return to often to assist with my poetry writing.

 An ‘Alphabetical Index of Titles,’ an ‘Acknowledgement—with Thanks,’ and a ‘Colophon’ concludes the book.

The only gripe that I have with the book is that there are quite a few stereotypical references to Satan and Demons. No, Witches and Satanists do not sacrifice babies nor do the Demons desire it. Unfortunately, these are common themes in horror, but I wish that people would stop using these old myths. 

Overall, this was a good book and I recommend it to those who love horror. If you know someone who doesn’t usually like poetry, you might want to use this book to spark their interest. I suggest taking your time reading this by enjoying one poem at a time, not rushing through the book like it’s a novel. 

Frank Coffman has published fiction and speculative poetry in numerous anthologies and magazines. His writing goes beyond the weird, supernatural, and horrific. He founded the Weird Poets Society Facebook group and is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. He is a retired professor of college Creative Writing, English, and Journalism.

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