Review: Numinous Stones by Holly Lyn Walrath

cover of Numinous Stones by Holly Lyn WalrathNuminous Stones by Holly Lyn Walrath
Aqueduct Press (April, 2023)
98 pages, $10 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Numinous Stones is a collection of speculative pantoums, a form derived from the Malay verse pantun berkait, which is a form of interwoven verses of alternating lines. This is a difficult form to accomplish, as the repeated lines need to seem fresh each time the reader encounters them, but also echo back to the previous stanza. The tightly entwined stanzas, when executed well, create a rhythmic and incantatory experience for the audience, hypnotizing them in a sonic spell. 

Readers, if you read Numinous Stones, be prepared to be hypnotized. 

Holly Lyn Walrath has tapped into some dark subjects in these poems, and views them through a distinctly speculative lens. For example, the poem “A Graveyard for Fairytales,” begins with the lines:

A child hangs upside down from the barrel of a cannon
In here, the air is bright and stale or else poisonous
A princess crawls among the flowers and grenades
Everything here is twisting or untwisting into itself

Readers are given a haunting metaphor of childhood and, later in the poem, Walrath even writes “In the deep of the well, death unbraids his hair/But this is the ruthless dream of a frightened child.” The layered metaphors in this poem, combined with the rich imagery, create a haunting experience for readers.

Furthermore, Walrath uses her poetry to weave socio-political critiques that build off the rich imagery that permeates this collection. For example, the poem “The Devil Kisses My Skinned Knees” has lines like

Her eyes are like opals cut open
Men are a sea of dysphoria
Who knew hellfire could be so cleansing?
They paint their skin the color of hate

which is a striking critique of patriarchal systems. The expressionist images unsettle the reader well past the reading of the poem and will gnaw at them well into the night, past the time the book’s covers have closed.

Overall, this is a striking collection of poetry. It’s a rich and layered collection that taps into mythic, albeit nightmarish, images, twisting and weaving them into dense, multi-layered gems. Walrath is a skilled practitioner at poetry, and fans of horror poetry will thoroughly enjoyed her newest collection, Numinous Stones.  

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