Diary of a Sorceress by Ashley Dioses
Hippocampus Press (October 2017)
170 pages, $15 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Ashley Dioses has established herself as one of the leading voices in contemporary weird poetry. Known for her meticulous use of rhyme and meter and her melding of the strange and the romantic, Dioses has gathered some of her recent poetry into her first collection—a scintillating assemblage of nearly 100 poems short and long, published and unpublished. Titled Diary of a Sorceress, it is a really exciting collection of weird and dark fantasy poetry sure to appeal to any reader.
Diary of a Sorceress is broken up into four sections: “Atop the Crystal Moon,” “Kiss the Stars,” “Star Lightning” and “On a Dreamland’s Moon.” Each section reads like its own chapbook of poetry, focused around one particular theme. “Atop the Crystal Moon” seems to be focused on fantasy poetry. “Kiss the Stars” seems to be focused on more nature-based poetry. “Star Lightning” is a chapter of love and romance poems. “On a Dreamlands Moon” is the darkest, and more horrific, collection of poems. Each section propels the reader forward into the next, creating a very complex tome of poetry.
“Atop the Crystal Moon” is the most fantastic of the four chapters. It contains poems about creatures like unicorns, Pegasus, gorgons, selkies, satyrs, etc. It really covers a lot of classical western fantasy tropes. However, these poems are not the trite and cliché offerings that one might expect from a new poet, especially one dealing with formal poetry. These poems are rich in imagery and narrative, and create clear pictures in the minds of the reader. The eponymous poem of this section is an eight=page poem that leads the reader through a fantasy-soaked journey. It is an impressive undertaking, both in length as well as in craft, and it really serves to catch the reader’s attention and enrapt them in Dioses’s language.
“Kiss the Stars” continues the dark fantasy ideas from “Atop the Crystal Moon,” but focuses on more natural images and subjects. This is a chapter of plants and gardens, though Dioses still manages to make them dark. For example, her poem “Graveyard Blossom” begins:
The scent of roses sweetens all behind
The graveyard gates, yet graves so far away
Could not send forth a fragrance so refined
Like phantom rich perfumes, without decay.
This olfactory imagery juxtaposed against the setting of a graveyard serves to pull the reader into the poem and really helps to evoke the scene that Dioses is trying to create. Readers of this section will be caught up in the imagery and the dark spells that Dioses weaves.
“Star Lightning” takes a shift and moves into more romantic poetry. Dioses continues with some of the imagery from the previous chapter, but it’s now set in a more romantic setting. For example, in the poem “Lover’s Witch,” we get this image:
Her love, a spell, is wound around
My soul, like lingering perfumes
That emanate from floral crowns
Of belladonna all abloom.
When the poems in this section work, they work well; however, there are many poems in this section that seem too personal, and take the reader out of the fantasy realm that Dioses has created. As such, this is the weakest section of the book, and fortunately not the last.
The final section of this collection, “On a Dreamland’s Moon,” is probably the most horror oriented of the four. Dioses moves between traditional horror tropes to the explicitly raw and grisly, as in the poem “The Rotting Goddess”:
Her reddened fingertips pluck at the strings
Of the intestines strung throughout her loom.
She weaves the fates of fighting men and kings
While severed heads are hanging in the gloom.
This is an excellent section to end the book on, a horror-driven selection of poems with tributes to some of the great names in horror literature.
Overall, Diary of a Sorceress is an excellent initial effort by a promising young poet. While the book has its weak spots and could have been curated more, it stands as a solid first book by a poet who has a lot to add to horror poetry.