Private Worlds: A Revised Atlas
By Scott Green
Reviewed by Francesca Forrest
This is an intriguing and ambitious concept for a speculative poetry collection: a series of short-form poems that comment on the oeuvre of a novelist in the field of science fiction, horror, or fantasy. This edition, which expands upon an earlier edition of the collection, also contains poems on other types of work (films, artwork) and additional creators in the field.
Unfortunately, although I like the premise, and although I enjoyed looking through the collection to see how Green encapsulates the works of authors I’m familiar with, there were some serious problems.
First, and most fundamentally, many of the poems in the collection aren’t all that strong. Short poems are hard to do well, but the best ones can resonate like a chime struck in a silent cathedral. Mediocre ones, on the other hand, can read like movie taglines or newspaper headlines. Consider the following:
Crime haunts the world
crime haunts London
but the Yard stands firm.
The poem is flat and declarative. I don’t get much out of it, except that I gather that the author must be a British crime novelist.
And this brings up the second problem with this collection, something that pains me to mention, which is typos. My ignorance being great, I didn’t know Creasy, as an author, but when I searched online, I found John Creasey — last name ending in -ey — who was a prolific British crime and science fiction novelist.
It seems likely to me that that’s who Green intended to reference, but he got the name wrong. (There is also a Sara Creasy, but she writes science fiction, and her two novels are set on another world—no Scotland Yard, no London.) Nor was “Creasy” the only title-line typo:
Night muffles the screams
a hunter seeking blood
pride turned to
Here, I can’t help but think that Green means Bram STOKER, author of Dracula. At the very least, if there’s a less well-known author named Stroker whose works also deal with a blood-seeking hunter, I’d say it’s a bad choice for this collection, as readers are likely to assume, as I have, that there’s been a typing error.
Fussing about typos can seem persnickety, but when the typo is in the title of the poem, and is a misspelling of the referenced author’s name, it seems to me to signal extreme carelessness on the part of the author and the publisher, to the point of showing disrespect for the subject material. If you’re writing tributes to these authors, don’t you want to get their names right?
On a more positive note, the Stoker poem is better at evoking a mood. The screams of the first line are terrifyingly silenced, and in the end we’re left with gnawing, relentless need—it’s effective.
I think it’s possible to enjoy this collection as a record of one person’s interaction with a body of beloved literature (and film and art). The poems are fun, when considered in that light, and they might inspire readers to try their hand at similar poetic tributes. But you must be forgiving (or undemanding) of the poems as poems, and you must be willing to turn a blind eye to some very serious typos.