Review: The Gravity of Existence by Christina Sng

cover of The Gravity of ExistenceThe Gravity of Existence by Christina Sng
Intersteller Flight Press (December 5, 2022)
96 pages; $14.90 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Christina Sng is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares (2017), A Collection of Dreamscapes (2020), Tortured Willows (2021), Elgin Award runner-up Astropoetry (2017), Elgin Award nominee An Assortment of Sky Things (2016), and haiku chapbooks A Constellation of Songs (2016) and Catku (2016). Her poetry, fiction, essays, and art appear in such venues as Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Interstellar Flight Magazine, Penumbric, Southwest Review, and The Washington Post, and received many accolades, including the Jane Reichhold International Prize, The Pula Film Festival International Haiku Award, multiple nominations for the Rhysling Awards, the Dwarf Stars, the Pushcart Prize, the Elgin Award, and the Ladies of Horror Fiction Award, as well as honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Best Horror of the Year. Her newest book is The Gravity of Existence, a collection of minimalist horror poetry. 

The Gravity of Existence starts with known tropes and works towards creating short narratives of implied horror. Sng seems to be taking previously published speculative short form poems — scifaiku, horrorku, tanka, etc. — and making a narrative out of them. This would make them rensaku, a series of haiku in which meaning is dependent on previous poems and a title, and that concept could work if the individual poems are well crafted. That being said, more often than not, Sng has mixed weaker poems with stronger poems or, alternately, simply put a title on a short form poem, and the resulting collection is uneven. 

Take, for example, the poem “Body Parts.” The opening stanza, presumably a previously published tanka, is

the wine
much sweeter
this year
all those corpses
in the vat

Not a perfect horror tanka, but certainly one that has the shock and horror that one would expect from a Japanese short form poem. However, the next stanza is

root cellar
the bodies age

which is a weak poem on its own with limited imagery or horror, and while the subject of cannibalism moves the poem forward, the individual parts detract from the sequence as a whole. This approach, combining four or five previously published poems into one longer poem, has potential, but it’s not fully realized or well-executed in this collection, and a lot of that has to do with understanding of the scifaiku form and how it works. 

At other times, it seems like Sng is breaking away from the scifaiku form, but still working with stanzas of three lines, which makes for some confusion for the reader. This is particularly true for the section “Childhood Tales,” which features poems based on darker fairy tales. The first poem in the section is “Little Red in Haiku,” which labels itself as a haiku series. The rest of the section doesn’t label its poems as haiku or a series, but they are in three lines. So a poem like “Puss In Boots,” which reads

a cat walking upright
down the street wearing boots
now I’ve seen everything

appears to want to be a scifaiku with a fantasy/folklore slant, but it features none of the craft techniques of haiku, so it’s more of a humorous three-line poem. This could work, but the presentation is a bit off-putting and makes for a confusing and disconnected read for the reader. 

Overall, The Gravity of Existence by Christina Sng is an interesting experiment by a talented writer that occasionally works. Sng is recognized as one of the premier horror poets, and has won awards both for her speculative poetry and her haiku and senryu. This book blends those genres together, attempting to make rensaku from them, but when the individual poems that make up those stanzas aren’t well-crafted or well-formed scifaiku or horrorku, then the resulting rensaku are uneven, as is the rest of the book. On top of that, Sng has included poems that seem to echo a scifaiku external form, but ignore all of the internal rules and aesthetics of scifaiku, resulting in clever three-line poems that draw attention to themselves. This is an important collection by a major author in the genre, and fans of horror poetry will not be overwhelmed, but not completely disappointed either.

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