Elegies of Rotting Stars by Tiffany Morris
Nictitating Books (November 15, 2022)
65 pages; $13.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Tiffany Morris is a Mi’kmaw/settler writer of speculative fiction and poetry from Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. Her work has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, and Apex Magazine, among others. She has an MA in English with a focus on Indigenous Futurisms. She is a member of the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association and the Horror Writers Association, and her work has been nominated for Elgin, Rhysling, and Aurora Awards. Her newest book is Elegies of Rotting Stars, a collection of dark fantasy and speculative poetry that is sure to appeal to any horror reader.
Morris is already a well-known poet in the speculative field, and Elegies of Rotting Stars merely solidifies her position as one of the top speculative poets currently writing in the field. What makes Morris’s poetry so special are the layers of meaning she imbues each poem with. Reading this collection, readers are forced to slow themselves through her words, fully letting the poems consume them. A lot of these poems are crafted in such a way as to pace the reader through their labyrinthian layers. For example, “Re-Wilding Under Those Conditions” opens with a stanza that sprawls across the page, echoing the Black Mountain poets and Olson’s Projective Verse theories. This format not only propels the reader forward, drawing their eye across and down the page in a tumbling procession, but it also encourages them to be deliberate in their reading, making sure they breathe and absorb the words into themselves as they read.
On top of this, Morris is not merely writing horror or dark poetry for the sake of entertaining or scaring her readers. While these are valid goals, like any true artist, Morris uses her art with purpose. She saturates her poems with Mi’kmaq words and phrases, using the horror and myth in her poems to draw socio-political connections for the reader. For example, the poem “Crossroads” begins:
The perfect mntu, devil
as human, not human,
a thought in the body,
a giant human owl,
an abandoned house,
the subject of applause—
when he arrives
Look for the red ones.)
This poem continues forward, and readers are left wondering if the mntu is hunting and attacking them, or if they, themselves, are the mntu that everybody’s running from. This depth and multi-layered approach to writing is what makes Tiffany Morris one of the strongest horror poets currently in the field, and is something that will draw readers back to this book again and again.
Though it’s not the first book of horror poetry to make statements beyond the genre or to use genre tropes for socio-political means, this is a noteworthy collection of solid poetry that will stand out amongst the crowd. Tiffany Morris is not afraid to elevate her horror poetry to language and content that rises beyond genre or subgenre, gently lulling in unsuspecting readers until they are fully trapped in the embrace of her language. Overall, Elegies of Rotting Stars is one of those landmark books that readers will look back upon with awe, and should be a prominent book in any horror collection.