Under Her Eye: A Women in Horror Poetry Collection, Vol II edited by Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray
Black Spot Books (November 7, 2023)
200 pages; $14.95 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
In her introduction, Regina Yau writes “The Pixel Project is a global virtual volunteer-run 501c3 anti-violence against women non-profit whose mission is to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women (VAW) through activism and advocacy at the intersection of social media, new technologies, and popular culture/the Arts. In 2022, Black Spot Books proposed putting together a poetry collection in benefit of The Pixel Project’s anti-VAW work. Co-editors Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray rallied 112 female and non-binary poets from across the world to contribute poems to the collection that would become Under Her Eye.”
This book is, unfortunately, a necessary collection on the shelf of every horror reader, not just because of its cause, but also because of its message.
The poems in this collection tackle violence against women head on through a lens of horror, myth, and fantasy. Some of the poems are rooted in historical truths, such as Jacqueline West’s “Gossip in Salem,” which begins:
It starts small, like everything else.
Two heads bowed, bonnets touching
like two heavy daisies in a field.
Murmurs travelling with the hum of bees…
and ends with a violent lesson in misogyny and rumor. Poems like this, grounded in reality, remind readers that the horrors in this collection are very much real and are to be taken seriously.
Elsewhere, poets use horror imagery and tropes as metaphorical vehicles for the tenor of abuse. For example, “Augury” by Belicia Rhea begins:
Your vampiric gaze spells the herd
enamored by that sagging charade;
tar-black saccharine eyes,
those fists and talons scrape bloody…
Here, the horror tropes are used to heighten the experience for the reader, driving home the extreme seriousness of topic. Reading poems like this, readers are reminded that people who perpetuate violence are monsters and should be seen as such; art is reflecting and hyperbolizing reality in an attempt to raise awareness and affect positive social change. This is exactly how horror poetry is supposed to work.
Elsewhere, the poems are triumphant. While it is important to give voice to the victims, it is also important that they receive justice and victory. There are poems that encapsulate those themes as well, such as “A Map of the Backyard” by Jessica McHugh, which begins “Feminine as the grave,/you are brushing dirt over a bad dream,” and ends “He burned so many holes in you./There are plenty of places to bury him.” Part of horror is that monsters and evil can be, must be, fought against and vanquished. So, too, must the real monsters in this world, and poems like this inspire readers to work towards that reality and gives them strength and hope to believe it possible.
As a reviewer, I wish this collection didn’t need to exist. I wish we lived in a world where violence was not perpetrated, and where all human beings could live in safety. That world does not exist, so books like this are necessary.
The Pixel Project is an incredible organization with an incredible mission. Too often, genre work is relegated to “fluff” or “entertainment,” especially genre poetry. This collection shows that not only does genre poetry have strength and power, but also has purpose and meaning. Any collection like this that gives voice to the voiceless and unheard should be championed. Any collection that raises money to fight the real monsters in the world should be purchased. The fact that the work in this collection is incredibly well-written by a vast array of talented authors and approaches the topic from so many creative and brutally terrifying angles should be the only temptation necessary for every horror reader to purchase this book immediately for themselves and all their friends and relatives.