All Your Favorite Poets, United in Eternal Torment!
Poets in Hell is the first of the Hell books that I’ve read and it is a blast. I was a little nervous starting at number seventeen in the series, but let me assure you that this is a complete volume which you are able to enjoy on its own merits. The stories are all penned by different authors, but there is a grand continuity to each of them. There is certainly a set of rules that each writer is familiar with, and you see references to various common characters that make the book a cohesive unit. Every author was assigned a certain poet who makes an appearance in his or her story so Shakespeare, Coolige, Nietzsche, Li Po, Browning, etc., all appear in various stories. I think English Majors will find this collection especially delightful, and actually I’m surprised that it took 17 volumes to get to poets!
I was especially impressed by the consistency of quality between the stories. All the contributors of this volume are very talented adding their own special twist to the shared universe. Chris and Janet Morris start things off with a couple of tales that are especially lyrical. One of them involves a flayed Odysseus who is on a quest to retrieve his skin—a chilling image to be sure, but worthy of the epic tradition that birthed Odysseus.
I have to say that I enjoyed seeing Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Beowulf making appearances in this tomb as well. Also, although this novel is set in Hell, I wouldn’t call it a “terror” novel by any means. As can be predicted, there are some fairly gruesome scenes, and there are plenty of adult themes, but it’s not any more gory or graphic than a typical fantasy novel.
Many of the stories involve tormenting poets by forcing them to go and either judge or participate in “poetry slams” which is pretty funny. In fact, there is a lot of humor sprinkled throughout this book, which is somewhat surprising in a “Hell” themed anthology.
The more of a background you have in literature, the more fun this novel is going to be for you. It’s frankly delightful to see famous poets and writers depicted in a way that affectionately highlights their specific, identifiable quirks. You can tell that the contributors to “Poets in Hell” picked writers that they were especially fond of. This anthology is unique in that not only does it introduce you to some modern writers you might not have heard of before, it also presents you with some historical ones whose works you might be inclined to explore. This is the kind of book that I’d like to see more available in high school classrooms (haha, imagine that!), because it’s exactly the type of thing to pique the curiosity of 17-18 year olds. Too bad our world is too Hellish to allow functional education tools.
Do check out “Poets in Hell.” I’m off to go and read some of the earlier volumes.
Get your copy of Poets in Hell here!