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Poetic License: Weird and Fantastical Poetry

My case in the exhibit, “Poetic License: Seven Curators’ Poetry Selections from Distinctive Collections,” showcases examples of weird and fantastical poetry from Falvey Library’s holdings. Here, the term “weird” is used not colloquially, but rather in reference to the genre of weird fiction, which emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Owing much to Gothic horror, weird fiction reinvented the creatures and themes of Gothic horror and other forms of speculative fiction, as portrayed by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, H. P. Lovecraft, the most widely known practitioner of weird fiction, considered Poe’s writings the origin of the genre. While writers like Lovecraft are now remembered largely for their contributions to prose, my exhibit case highlights their lesser known, but equally interesting, poetic works. Examples are drawn from Weird Tales, arguably the most popular periodical to ever publish weird fiction and poetry. These poems explore themes that are central to the genre, including the supernatural, the passage of time, and the futility of human pursuits in an indifferent cosmos. Formally, the poems tend to implement consistent rhyme and meter, which amplify the haunting quality of these works.

Case on Weird and Fantastical Poetry from Spring 2023 Falvey Library Exhibit

Case on “Weird and Fantastical Poetry” from “Poetic License” exhibit, on the first floor of Falvey Library

Some poems in the case are quite literally fantastical, like Lovecraft’s “Night Gaunts,” which describes the dreadful flying creatures that first appeared in the author’s posthumously published novella, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kaddath (1943). Other poems adopt a more grounded approach, such as Sudie Stuart Hager’s “Inheritance,” which examines how folklore can pass fantastical notions from one generation to the next. Meanwhile, Leah Bodine Drake’s “The Steps in the Field” uses fantastical motifs to develop a resonant metaphor about the afterlife, but also emphasizes the idea that some knowledge is dangerous and best left undiscovered—a popular theme in weird fiction and poetry. Together, these and other poems in the case paint a vivid picture of weird and fantastical poetry, its primary thematic concerns, and its formal techniques in the first half of the twentieth century.

Sudie Stuart Hager, 1895-1982. “Inheritance” in Weird Tales, v. 35, no. 4, p. 111. New York: Weird Tales, July 1940.

First stanza of: Sudie Stuart Hager, 1895-1982. “Inheritance” in Weird Tales, v. 35, no. 4, p. 111. New York: Weird Tales, July 1940.

The case also displays four covers of Weird Tales issues, illustrated by Margeret Brundage, Matt Fox, and Virgil Finlay. These expressive, colorful images, which depict eerie and otherworldly scenes, nicely complement the similarly evocative poetic works that accompany them.

Lastly, the case includes two works by authors who influenced the poetry in Weird Tales. First and foremost, Poe’s 1845 narrative poem “The Raven,” with its exploration of a depressed man’s desperate attempt to derive meaning from a bird’s repetitive sounds, lays the groundwork for numerous character arcs in weird fiction and poetry. The edition of this poem that is displayed in my case has been digitized and made available on the Villanova Digital Library, and may be read in full here. Furthermore, the case includes the Anglo-Irish author Lord Dunsany’s “A Walk in the Wastes of Time,” a metaphorical poem about communal memory, which was published in The Smart Set in 1917. This title has also been digitized and is available here. (A couple of years after this poem’s publication, Lovecraft would attend a talk by Dunsany in Boston; Dunsany’s influence on Lovecraft’s writings during this period is evident in many of Lovecraft’s works. Comic-book writer Alan Moore portrays the Boston talk in his Lovecraftian series Providence, which serves as both sequel and prequel to Moore’s Neonomicon.)

For more content related to weird fiction and poetry, read our digitized copy of Lovecraft’s personal journal of astronomical observations from 1909 to 1915, as well as this blog article that explains the significance of this rare manuscript. The Digital Library also includes other nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts that explore the occult, including several issues of The Paragon Monthly, a handbook on spiritualism, and other examples.

Cover for "Finding a Fortune, or, The Mystery of the Old Bell Tower / by a Self-Made Man," 1921. Click on image for full text.

Cover for “Finding a Fortune, or, The Mystery of the Old Bell Tower / by a Self-Made Man,” 1921. Click on image for full text.

Cover for "The Paragon monthly", October 1907. Click on image for full text.

Cover for “The Paragon Monthly”, October 1907. Click on image for full text.

Cover for "Saved by a Phantom," [1800s]. Click on image for full text.

Cover for “Saved by a Phantom,” [1800s]. Click on image for full text.

Please join us on Thursday, April 20, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Speakers’ Corner, Falvey Library, for the official launch and introduction of “Poetic License: Seven Curators’ Poetry Selections from Distinctive Collections,” followed by an open-mic poetry reading. This ACS-approved event is free and open to the public. In the meantime, make sure to view the full exhibit on the first floor of Falvey, and check the library’s blog for additional articles on individual curators’ cases!


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When the Comet is Right: Proving Lovecraft’s Astronomical Observations

Astronomy professors pointing at a projection of the night sky.

Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections and Villanova Astronomy Faculty collaborated in order to show that H.P. Lovecraft, famed horror writer, viewed Halley’s Comet in his recently acquired one-of-a-kind astronomical journal, now available to the public online.

“This manuscript—hitherto held privately—has long been a ‘Holy Grail’ to scholars of Lovecraft eager explore connections between Lovecraft’s literary output and his ventures into amateur science and journalism. Villanova University brings a commitment to open scholarship for a global community of inquiry by sharing rare resources,  such as this manuscript, through making high resolution digital surrogates freely available,” says Michael Foight, Director of Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement.

One class of Villanova undergraduate students received a chance to view them in person, as Foight brought Lovecraft’s astronomical journal as well as other rare documents for a special presentation. It was a unique opportunity to look over primary works by prominent figures in the field, including Galileo, and another way Falvey staff reach out to the community to enrich the academic experience.

But the students were also on hand to see history, literature, and astronomy lead to discovery.

Edward Guinan, PhD, Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Frank Maloney, PhD, Associate Professor, Astronomy & Astrophysics, used software to recreate the sky the night that Lovecraft indicated he made a rare observation of Halley’s Comet.

Lovecraft journal page with Halley's Comet

A page from the digitized astronomical journal of H.P. Lovecraft showing Halley’s Comet.

It turns out that, exactly as the author indicated, Halley’s comet was visible on May 26, 1910, 9 p.m., in the exact direction indicated.

Lovecraft’s work, which is heavily influenced by astronomy and mythology, may have roots in this unearthed journal, which was used by Lovecraft from age 18 to 25.

Currently, S.T. Joshi, a leading Lovecraft biographer, is reviewing the recently digitized journal. There are also scholars around the world poring over the work for new revelations about Lovecraft’s work.

Falvey Library is helping write a new chapter in Lovecraft’s legacy*, one which still holds the imagination of authors today, from Stephen King to Brian Lumley to Jordan Peele.

 

* Note: In recent years, Lovecraft has been criticized for his personal views, including strong racism, which resulted in his appearance being removed from the statute given for lifetime achievement in the World Fantasy Awards.


headshot of Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor is Communication and Marketing Manager at Falvey Library. His favorite Lovecraft story is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”


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Last Modified: November 18, 2019

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