When the Night Owl Screams by Michael H. Hanson
MoonDream Press (October 2017)
154 pages, $12.95 paperback; $1.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
When the Night Owl Screams is a collection of dark fantasy and horror poetry. It’s a wonderfully designed book with a very appealing cover, and features some very clever ideas. The poems, however, are clunky. Ultimately, this is a weak collection of poems.
When the Night Owl Screams is a very pretty book. The cover art by Chris Mars is disturbing and inviting, and the graphic design of the book, from its ornate borders to the interesting use of drop caps to begin every poem, shows that a lot of care and attention was paid to making this book into something people would want to look at and enjoy. What also makes this book appealing are Michael Hanson’s ideas. He clearly taps into classic Gothic tropes, but twists them into new or clever areas of the imagination.
However, Hanson’s poems are poorly crafted. For the most part, he attempts variations on the sonnet form. A sonnet is a specific form with a clear volta, or turn, when the form changes at the end. At this point, the poem is supposed to shift directions, introduce a new idea, or redirect the reader in some way. However, Hanson’s sonnets do not have this necessary shift in ideas, which takes away from the poem and the pleasure for the reader.
Furthermore, Hanson’s use of meter is awkward at best. Take, for example, these lines from his poem “The Doubts”:
Some days she runs from all the doubts
that persecute and threaten her,
chasing like mobs of village louts
demanding that she surrender.
The first line is in a strict iambic tetrameter, but the meter falls apart from there. I realize that some poets manipulate meter for poetic affect, but that’s not what’s happening here. The stanza ends with a line of trimeter, which is awkward for the reader’s ears, and serves no poetic purpose. The slant rhyme of “threaten her” and “surrender” also reads as off, and takes away from the pleasures that a rhymed, metrical poem should offer the reader.
On top of that, Hanson’s lines often wrench the natural speech of the English language into difficult and awkward combinations, often for the sake of rhyme. For example, the opening lines of “My Every Cell”:
For my survivors if my airplane crashed
on this trip I am reluctant to take
and this long aluminum shell just smashed
into mountains for my pilot’s mistake.
While technically these lines make sense, they are clearly forced into unnatural formations for the sake of the rhymes.
Formal poetry, when it works well, is poignant and lyrical. The sounds flow together over a metrical rhythm to create a pleasurable experience for the reader. Hanson attempts formal poetry, but has no command of craft; the resulting poems don’t flow. Overall, while the ideas behind these poems are good, they could use with either a new form and presentation, or critical rewrites to tighten and strengthen the language and meter.