Review: Horrific Punctuation by John Reinhart

cover of Horrific Punctuation by John ReinhartHorrific Punctuation by John Reinhart
Arson Press (July 2021)
34 pages; paperback $3.99; $0.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

An arsonist by trade, John Reinhart lives in Maine. He is a Pushcart, Elgin, Rhysling, and Dwarf Stars Award nominee, and has had over 500 poems published internationally in print and on the internet. He was the 2016 Horror Writers Association Dark Poetry Scholarship recipient. His newest collection is Horrific Punctuation.

The riddle is one of the most ancient of poetry forms in English, and dates back to Ancient Greek and Roman poets. Aristotle writes, “The very nature indeed of a riddle is this, to describe a fact in an impossible combination of words (which cannot be done with the real names for things, but can be with their metaphorical substitutes).” (Poetics, 22) This is exactly what Reinhart is attempting to do with this collection. He takes various forms of punctuation and reinterprets them through the lens of metaphor and riddle, writing some very unusual and experimental poems in the process. For example, his poem about ellipsis, “Abominable Traces,” begins:

mark the sentence left to mystery –
black eyes staring from the snowstorm
twinkling empty promises to all
but the intrepid believers
pursuing their beastly author

These lines create rich vehicles for the ellipsis and, when combined, offer up a darkly surreal poem that leaves the reader unsettled.

This is the way Reinhart incorporates horror into this collection. By making the ordinary marks of punctuation strange and unusual, Reinhart is able to tap into some deeper mythic fears. For example, “Odin’s Other Eye” begins:

Odin’s eye popped
from its bloody socket.
He dropped to his knees
to capture the anguish,
distill its essence
crystallized in a new orb

This is dark, mythic poetry using haunting vehicles in the metaphors for punctuation, and really allows the reader to see these punctuation marks differently, which is the one of the major goals of poetry.

This is a short collection, but fun. While Reinhart will often teeter into abstraction or vague language, overall the chapbook holds up as a solid read of speculative horror poetry. Readers will certainly be able to find something they like in this collection. 

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