That time of year has arrived where we all deliberately engage with fear—communal, familial grappling with death and nightmare. For October’s PWA, our editors sought out poems that speak to such engagement, that wrestle with violence like Leila Chatti’s “After Reading…”, or consummate the scary stories we tell ourselves like Justin Phillip Reed’s “Ruthless”, or explore the paradox thrumming between pleasure and fear like Emmalee Hagarman “Our Most Cherished Terrors”.
The first time a boy
touched me, he said I could
rape you, if I wanted—I thought pleasure
was that he didn’t. I thought his
from After Reading DJ Khaled Will Not Perform Oral Sex On His Wife Despite Demanding That She Must, I Consider My Relationships
by Leila Chatti in Frontier Poetry
Everywhere we see evidence of a world grappling newly with old fears, not least of all in the space of gender and power. Chatti’s poem here, the runner-up to Frontier’s Summer Poetry Award, tackles this subject with electricity and nerve—the poem begins with a contemplation of DJ Khaled’s confessed marital expectations and ends with a reversal of humanity’s creation in the story of Adam and Eve. Be warned: between those two, Chatti meditates on the violences of her own past, transforming our understanding of language and complicity.
… In the fable, one
version of it, the boy’s vagabondage marooned him here.
He opened like a window where the woods died and the heads
of hay then began to. His mouth requested the caretaker:
by Justin Phillip Reed in Wildness
If you’re on the hunt for some modern gothic, “Ruthless” proudly reveals its antlers from the brush, a trophy prize. Horror, haunted mansions, rust and poison—Reed’s innovative poem layers gothic imagery and language into a diving meditation on our relationship to the ghosts of the past. What do we do with this desire to be possessed? The hunger of the past: pressing, pressing, pressing on the present—is it really us wanting to devour ourselves?
We drove beside a highway
brush fire, didn’t mind
the cling of smoke.
Walked on the beach
to the water that drowned
me as a girl.
by Emmalee Hagarman in Waxwing
Every carefully crafted image of “Our Most Treasured Terrors” reveals paradox, unveils a complicated and all-too-human doubleness. Fear, the poem seems to suggest, can and will lead to pleasure; the memories of our trauma become the lived excitement of our revisiting. For what reason, for what weird joy arises from a confrontation of mortality? Our bones, smirking under our skin, know something we don’t, and may never, but for poems like Hagarman’s.