Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

How to Haunt Yourself

Christine Neulieb

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. It goes back to when I was a four-year-old kid, learning to draw ghosts and witches with a clumsily held pencil. I'd bring the drawings to my mom and she'd indulge me by shrieking and cowering in fright. I was too little to know she was pretending; I really believed my drawings could strike terror into a grownup's heart. The power was intoxicating! Muahaha.

Costumes, dark and spooky atmospherics, the once-a-year chance to flirt with the idea that there might be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy: what's not to like about Halloween?

Looking for a literary way to enhance your celebration of this spookiest of holidays? Visit the Academy of American Poets list of Halloween-themed poems and marinate yourself in some gorgeously spooky language: 

The south-wind strengthens to a gale, 
Across the moon the clouds fly fast, 
The house is smitten as with a flail, 
The chimney shudders to the blast. 

On such a night, when Air has loosed
Its guardian grasp on blood and brain, 
Old terrors then of god or ghost
Creep from their caves to life again; 

And Reason kens he herits in
A haunted house. Tenants unknown
Assert their squalid lease of sin
With earlier title than his own.

(If you enjoy that and you're still craving more, you can move on to their lists of vampire poems, ghost poems, and poems about the underworld.) 

My suggestion, once your head is full of all these creepy words? Wander distracted upon a blasted heath or a lonely moor, wearing a bit of lace at your throat. Listen to the sound of the wind--or are those voices crying? Try not to go mad; but write a poem, either way. 

Don't have a blasted heath or a lonely moor handy? That's okay; you can read "A Sublime Contagion," Sarah Perry's essay on the ancient roots of gothic literature, at Aeon Magazine:

As I walked the green miles of the Undercliff where the French Lieutenant’s Woman met her lover, there came a change of air. The dense undergrowth was obscenely verdant — bees worrying at pink rhododendron, peacock butterflies crossing my path — and now and then I’d burst out and find I stood at the cliff’s edge overlooking the sands of Golden Cap. It was impossible to imagine any other human setting foot where I’d set mine. When the path sank into a darker place and I found myself among the ruins of a great house, I shivered as if I’d grown cold. A high, pale-stoned wall with windows pointed at the upper edge put a black shadow at my feet, and fragments of its foundations were scattered about like broken teeth. A little further on I could see the wet black lip of a well. There was a thick silence. (more)

Then? Write a poem.