Review: Venomous Words by Jeff Oliver and Gordon Reilly

cover of Venemous WordsVenomous Words by Jeff Oliver and Gordon Reilly
Blurb (May 2022)
126 pages; $148 deluxe hardcover edition (buy direct from Blurb)
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Born in Baltimore Maryland in 1982, Jeff Oliver has been writing from his soul for many decades. Gordon Reilly is a Special Operations Veteran who found macro photography of scorpions and invertebrates as a hobby. Their newest collaboration is Venomous Words, a collection of macro photos of scorpions and other invertebrates combined with poetry. 

From the outset, what grabs the reader are the images in this book. Reilly’s images are beautiful nature macro photos. The images are slick and beautiful, and really bring readers up close to some very nasty and venomous creatures. Furthermore, on the pages without the poems, Reilly provides a bit of information about the subjects of the photographs that will inform and intrigue the reader. On alternating pages, Reilly’s photographs provide the background for Oliver’s poems. There are solo poems and collaborations with various horror authors, all of which make for an interesting hybrid collection. 

While the individual parts of the collection each work for their intended audience, the attempt at collaboration leaves some questions for the reader. There are times when the poems seem to line up exactly with the images, as in “Gunpowder,” which reads:

You must hit me first before my gunpowder ignites.

I’m not about to waste my venom

I still have to eat tonight.

This paired with a close up of a Giant Asian Mantis, so the ideas of feasting on the dead combined with an extreme close up of a predator works. However, there are times when the poems don’t seem to line up with the images, and the juxtaposition between the two seems incongruous and clunky. 

Overall, this is a unique collection of poems and images. The images are lush and gorgeous, and the poems do their best to engage the reader with themes of death and change. While the two occasionally seem too disparate from each other, the idea of this collaboration and the passion of the two artists comes through. This is a fascinating collaboration that is sure to engage and intrigue horror fans.

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