Mourning Jewelry by Stephanie M. Wytovich.
2014, Raw Dog Screaming Press, rawdogscreaming.com. 118 pp. Print $12.95.
I’m a wuss. This is not the first time I’ve written that I’m not really a big fan of horror. I’ve also qualified that statement on several occasions and acknowledged that I don’t dislike horror in all its myriad incarnations. It’s the horror of the more graphic sort, replete with blood and guts or gruesome in a more explicit way that I can’t abide. I’ve also discovered that I don’t like dwelling on death. It is a natural thing, to be sure, but I don’t care to wallow in it. Mostly, because I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I guess I prefer to feel things in my heart rather than the pit of my stomach. Not so for Stephanie Wytovich.
Stephanie M. Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine, and a well-known coffee addict. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and a graduate from Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her debut poetry collection, HYSTERIA, is a finalist for the Stoker Award and was nominated for the Elgin Award for best poetry collection.
Who would’ve thought that there were so many ways to describe and enact death and dying? Well, I suppose most writers and poets could come up with hundreds of ways off the top of their heads. Stephanie Wytovich’s collection Mourning Jewelry at times feels like an attempt at creating and collecting the most diverse death poems possible. These are poems about death and dying and all the ways there are to do it, look at it, experience it, feel about it. These are poems seem to be written by someone who loves death and dying, and thus there is a macabre feeling of joy or satisfaction within them, which, for someone like me, is not easy to grasp. They are quite unlike someone trying to work through pain and loss to come out the other side intact, hopefully sane. These are poems which veritably revel in the insanity and the psychopathy within.
I hesitated to publish this review because the collection so rubbed me the wrong way, but then I thought, many people might not feel the same way, so I’ve soldiered on and tried to see something positive as well.
Most of these poems are first-person POV. Some, like “Exception #1”, personify Death:
There are no exceptions.
Everyone dies: some when I tell them to,
Others when I don’t.
I found myself having difficulty with most of the poems simply because they were in first person. I felt a distinct aversion to identifying with the content of the poems, some being quite revolting.
But then I couldn’t leave him.
I wanted him with me everywhere I went, so I cut off one of
his thumbs and stuck it in my jacket pocket. I’d finger it
then I wanted more of him with me, on me….
…. I yanked out
one of his molars and sucked on the tooth when I missed his taste.
(from “Dare I Keep the Body”)
That’s the sort that’s not for me. And while I appreciate that not all people grieve in the same way (or at all), this, from “Grieving in Diamonds” is also not for me:
… She wasn’t sad he was dead, wasn’t
even troubled, but she cried like the saddest
of wives, mourned like the grieving widow
she should have been. And people believed her.
Now, if this is your thing, you’ll love this collection. Despite being monothematic, there’s a good variety in specifics. The poems themselves are of varying length and form so as not to become monotonous and they are quite successful in the variety of tone the POV takes with the subject, as well.
“Nightingale” is a well-crafted and horrific poem which didn’t repulse me. Which surprised me, made me empathize with the “protagonist,” even. Listen to my reading in its entirety:
The bird sings to me,
it makes the scars go away, makes them fade.
… Its voice soothes my
angry skin, erases the light pink bump that runs from my
eye to the tip of my lips, connecting the dots in serial-killer
There are precious few poems that don’t focus on death. Personally, I enjoyed those much more. Like “I Do,” of a spell gone wrong:
But spells have a way of backfiring when your intentions
aren’t clear, so when I plucked those couple of hairs from his
head and wove them into my braid, the words that I said did
not match the feelings that I felt, and emotions are so much more
than just bottled up secrets that we pretend our heart likes to keep
from our brain. They are portals and charms and they bound him
to me that night, bound him physically, but not emotionally.
If you have a preoccupation with death and its endless iterations, and you appreciate dwelling on it, then I believe you will enjoy this collection. Personally, I’m not in a place where I can take it in and contemplate what it must be like to feel these sorts of things. I’m sure there are plenty who feel these sorts of things and perhaps being able to empathize could help them, but it’s just too difficult for me.
You can follow Stephanie Wytovich at her blog http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com and on twitter @JustAfterSunset.
This review first appeared without the audio content and abridged in Star*Line 37.4 and the full version on the SFPA’s webpage for Star*Line Reviews. The version you’ve read here is slightly adapted and expanded to include audio and images.