POETS: THE BARDS OF WEIRD TALES
would describe Marvin Kaye's Weird Tales: The Magazine
That Never Dies (1988) as an anthology for people
who hate Weird Tales. Despite his loving intro
where he describes how he discovered the magazine as
a kid, his choices all seem very reluctant or almost
counter to what the magazine really was. No Mythos,
no Jules de Grandin, no Sword & Sorcery, no Hamiltonian
Science Fiction. Despite this there are some great stories
in the book ("Ghost Hunt" by H. Russell Wakefield,
"Eena" by Manly Banister, "The Damp Man"
by Allison V. Harding, "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan"
by Clark Ashton Smith, for example) but Kaye delivers
the coup de grace when he says: "I always like
to include weird poetry in my anthologies, but alas
I cannot work up much enthusiasm for the verse that
ran in Weird Tales. Mea culpa." No poetry?
But the poems in Weird Tales were as individual
as the artwork by Boris Dolgov, Lee Brown Coye or Hannes
Bok or those wonderfully cheesy covers by Margaret Brundage.
To leave it out is simply to rewrite what the whole
WT experience was.
you consider "good" poetry may depend on what
you expect of it. Weird Tales poetry harkens
back to another time, Victorian or older, formal, and
most importantly, weird. To compare it
to anything modern is silly. It was written to create
a chill, to evoke a dark image, to fascinate in the
manner of the John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci",
Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner",
or Poe's "The Raven". These poems were never
trendsetters but as hoary with age as the ghost stories
of August Derleth (who wrote a lot of very old-fashioned
ghost stories, besides Cthulhu Mythos pastiches). And
yet, Marvin Kaye includes one of Derleth's ghost stories,
"Mr. George" (a good one but still, noting
new) without any dismissive slights. Horror is an old
genre, poetry even more so.
of the poets of Weird Tales are amongst my favorites.
Again, a matter of personal taste. Perhaps Kaye prefers
Robert Frost to Robert E. Howard, but I do not. Robert
E. Howard (1906-1936) is best remembered as the
creator of Sword & Sorcery and Conan the Cimmerian.
Despite writing all kinds of Pulp, Howard was a prolific
poet as well. Howard's poems range from heroic ballads
like "Cimmeria" to poems about death and suicide.
These are not surprising since Howard killed himself
at the age of 30. His poetry ran from "The Song
of Bats" (May 1927) to "The Hills of Kandahar"
(June-July 1939). REH summed my poetic leanings up perfectly
in a poem called "Musings" (Witchcraft
& Sorcery #5, Jan-Feb. 1971)
little poets sing of little things:
Hope, cheer, and faith, small queens and puppet kings;
Lovers who kissed and then were made as one,
And modest flowers waving in the sun.
The mighty poets write in blood and tears
And agony that, flame-like, bites and sears.
They reach their mad blind hands into the night,
To plumb abysses dead to human sight;
To drag from gulfs where lunacy lies curled,
Mad, monstrous nightmare shapes to blast the world.
of the best poets to do this in WT were Howard as well
as Clark Ashton Smith, Leah Bodine Drake, Dorothy Quick,
Stanton A. Coblentz, and of course, H. P. Lovecraft.
Let's look at each in turn:
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) has been declared
the most important horror writer of the first half of
the 20th Century. This is largely based on his fiction
but he did explore horror poetry as well. He wrote a
36 sonnet cycle called "The Fungi From Yuggoth"
and many other poems. After his death, in particular,
Weird Tales wanted any Lovecraft they could get
so his poems were an easy way to get his name on the
cover. HPL actually got the cover of Weird Tales,
September 1952 for his poem "Halloween on the Suburbia".
Nobody else ever did that.
Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) began his career
in poetry, being part of the San Francisco crowd that
named him "the Keats of the Pacific". His
acquaintances included George Sterling, Ambrose Bierce
and Jack London. He published his first book The
Star-Treader and Other Poems at only nineteen. The
Great Depression and the need for money drove him to
the Pulps. He wrote about 100 stories for Weird Tales
and other magazines. "A Fable" was his first
poem in WT (July 1926) and his last "Sonnet for
Psychoanalysts" (January 1952), spanning almost
the entire original run of the magazine.
Stanton A. Coblentz (1896-1982) Despite a Masters
degree in Literature, Coblentz is remembered largely
as a Pulp writer of satiric Science Fiction, beginning
with the Gernsback magazines and "The Sunken World"
(Amazing Stories Quarterly, Summer 1928) as well
as Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Weird Tales.
Dorothy Quick (1896-1962) When only eight years
old, Dorothy Quick became friends with Mark Twain. The
writer took her under his wing and there was little
doubt little Dorothy would become a writer. Now I don't
know what Twain would have thought of Weird Tales.
Quick would become the most prolific poet for the magazine,
beginning with "Candles" (January 1934) and
ending with "This Night" (September 1954).
Leah Bodine Drake (1914-1964) began her Weird
Tales entries with "In the Shadows" (October
1935). Writing two dozen poems, she is second only to
Dorothy Quick. She published in many publications including
The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post.
Her poem "Ballad of the Jabberwock" won the
Stephen Vincent Benet Ballad Contest in 1946. She worked
on newspapers in Indiana and West Virginia as well as
the poetry editor for The Atlantic Monthly. She
died of cancer at only 50. In her lifetime she published
three books of poetry: A Hornbook for Witches
(Arkham House, 1950), The Tilting Dust (1955,
which won the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award and was
a finalist for the National Book Foundation poetry award)
and Multiple Clay (1964).