Book Review: The Crows of After by Exsanguine Hart

Synopsis:

Don’t leave the dolls alone…

Set in a classic style haunted house inhabited by dolls, fear and other strange things, this poetry collection accompanied by full-colour art explores the self and a series of childhood horrors in an entwining of lyricism, dark fantasy and disturbing imagery.

Review:

Exsanguine Hart is a new poet to me, but having devoured The Crows of After, they are one I will definitely look out for in the future. In this collection, they have created a banquet to feed both the eye and the mind. The world they have constructed on these pages conjured up memories of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan when the reader is introduced to the castle of Gormenghast – not in the type of building, but in the strange and fantastical atmosphere and landscape within. Interwoven on this canvas are strawmen and automatons, bizarre dreams, and nightmare visions with steampunk edging. The poems imprison you in cages, taunt you with creatures from the ‘crawlspace’, the demons at the door.

The sheer joy of wordplay is evident throughout; ‘Fable’ ends ‘one with the chat/one with death/un with Nine/IX/9.’ The imagery is fantastical and original: ‘They tuck letters of disappointment into/the corners of their lips,’ (‘Accumulated’). And the weird abounds: ‘Her metal arm pulls up the splint. It chafes my/scratches, my fluids pooling in the weave,’ (‘The Waiting Game’).

The crows of the title fly in and out of the poems, dark shadows to disturb, ‘they’re only out to mangle the truth and children,’ (‘Smell of Pies’); ‘A storm approaching, four crows are at the bayonet,’ (‘Falling Apart’). The crows and maggots, scarecrows, and dolls thread the theme of horror throughout the collection to bind it in a lyrical darkness achieved via extraordinary word choice and well-judged alliterative phrasing and slant rhyme.

Dark poetry is having a moment. Recent years have seen some amazing collections appear and this one is no exception.

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