Under Her Skin edited by Lindy Ryan & Toni Miller

A Women In Horror Poetry Collection, Volume I

Usually when I read poetry, I read in great big chunks, especially when reading a collection from one of my favorite poets. Even larger anthologies from different writers go by quickly, or at least in big thematic pieces. So I was a little surprised, but not in a bad way, to discover that I couldn’t do that with this themed collection. The horror is so visceral and multi-faceted that I had to take my time, digesting as and when I could these almost uniformly relatable variations on very familiar subversions of day-to-day themes.

Over the course of eighty-eight poems (oh that number so beautiful to East Asians, but coopted and corrupted by modern fascists such that I can understand why it wasn’t trumpeted by the creators here,) the many forms of horror dreamed up by contemporary women and femme poets are put on full, gory display. Much of the work centers on body horror, because much of a woman’s life revolves around the body as a punishment, as an imperfection that we must exert ourselves to make acceptable to some faceless “them” or, worse, to all too familiar faces in our own lives. This struggle is perfectly captured in Amanda Kirby’s Sanctification, whose unnamed speaker lops off parts of herself in order to achieve salvation. Annie Neugebauer’s Pieces later on in the book echoes the same sacrifice, this time in the name of love, as does Nico Bell’s Smile.

Sometimes, the poems imply, violence is necessary, as in Nancy Brewka-Clark’s hallucinatory account of surgery to remove cancerous organs, The Deepest Cut. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, as with Cordelia Harrison’s Medusa In Face And Form. But many times the violence is external, unnecessary and endured, as in real life. It’s almost a relief to find poems that fight back, whether through external forces such as the mysterious creature in Lee Murray’s Shameful, or through an inner monstrousness as displayed by the heroine of Tiffany Michelle Brown’s The Last Woman. And oh the joy of embracing that monstrousness, as the zombie does in Lindsay King-Miller’s almost giddy What The Dead Girl Is Trying To Say Through What’s Left Of Her Mouth.

Those are only some of the really great, diverse poems on display here, written by authors famous and less so from all over the world. It was easy reading for me late at night, as I’m the kind of person who processes darkness easily via my subconscious, but was tougher going early in the day. YMMV, ofc, with the bonus of having this volume cater to all sorts of mileages. Not all of the poems had the greatest impact on me that they might have for other readers, tho I definitely feel like the consistency and quality picked up as the collection careened towards its end. Under Her Skin is a terrific collection all on its own, and a great sampler for readers wanting to learn more about the state of horror poetry today, especially as written by people on the feminine-identifying end of the spectrum.

Under Her Skin edited by Lindy Ryan & Toni Miller was published April 5 2022 by Black Spot Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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