PAUL: (Spoken in a very bad imitation of Boris Karloff) Good evening, every body!
Welcome to our very special Halloween-themed edition of the Virtual Poetorium which we are calling tonight the Scaretorium. As I scan the audience I spy the usual suspects, but there is one unfamiliar face who I surmise must be our special visitor all the way from scary old England, but I’ll talk more about that later. Unlike our regular editions, tonight there will be no featured poet, but instead we’ll have an extra-long open mic to be divided into two sections, and since we have eight people on the sign-up sheet, there will be four poets in each. We are also lifting our usual one piece per person limit, so everyone can read up to three poems or stories. But before I call the first poet to the stage to read, I will kick off the show with one of my favorite poems by America’s 19th century master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe:
The Conqueror Worm
Lo! ’t is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
—Edgar Allan Poe
And now please welcome to the podium, a long-time regular of the Virtual Poetorium, and our featured poet from last Halloween, Meg Smith…
MEG: Inspired by two crows I saw perched on a balcony in Cobh, Ireland, this first poem really speaks to the grief of the pandemic, through the Irish observance of Samhain. Being first-generation, I’m speaking of the authentic cultural context — rather than the pop culture notion that Samhain, Beltaine, and other Celtic holidays are whatever the observer imagines…
I praise you, overlooking Cobh
from a wrought-iron balcony;
the bones of trees at Hampton Court;
pumpkins in their rows of snarls in
the dry grasses of Simeone Farm,
I love you in your laughter,
and gossip, and flashes of night
in a year’s worth of Octobers.
Call back the lost. The year
is filled with wailing.
Call back the lost,
through the falling veil.
I participated in the “Ghosts of Pawtucketville Night” tour offered by the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival. Jack Kerouac’s Lowell of his upbringing is filled with ghosts, and the haunted presence of those lost before their time. This includes a neighbor of the Kerouac family, who now has a square named in his honor…
At last, a sign, to mark
the crossing in the blue
street lamps — shouts
in nighttime basketball games,
but only one poet
will catch every shade,
every spirit walking, shouting
in the twilight of the floodplain.
My final poem of the night was inspired by Valda Hansen, who was an actress who appeared in Night of the Ghouls, a film by Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famous for Plan 9 from Outer Space. In the film, she masquerades as a ghost as part of a con artists’ scam. But she is actually quite ethereal and poetic, a muse of horror camp…
In memory of Valda Hansen
Enough to frighten the kids
making out in the sedan
by the edge of the marsh —
but more, still to love
your dance without breathing,
through your shadow house —
not of this world, but
casting threads through
PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Next up is our Virtual Poetorium’s featured poet from last November, Howard Kogan…
HOWARD: Halloween is not a topic I have written about, so here is an October poem instead:..
On an uncommonly warm October morning
mist-shrouded mountains dream of the Song Dynasty
crows stand in mid-air conjuring Canada geese,
who appear and disappear along ridgelines
apricot-colored leaves drift from quaking aspens
Last night an immense moon rose
through the trees like a spaceship
glazing the world silver
by morning it was gold.
—Howard J Kogan
PAUL: Thanks, Howard! We actually have three previous Poetorium featured poets with us tonight (the third, Diane Puterbaugh, will be reading in the second section), but now I’d like to read a wonderfully charming Halloween poem written by a fourth, Carl Sandburg, who you may recall we brought back from a hundred years in the past using a time machine I borrowed from my cousin Dwayne so he could feature for us this last June (more about that time machine later)…
Theme in Yellow
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
Now please welcome a good friend of the Poetorium, and the host of the monthly open poetry share at the Booklover’s Gourmet in Webster, Massachusetts, Bob Perry…
BOB: Hello Poetorium. Everyone knows that Halloween is when the computers become little gremlins. Caught this one on camera…
Both my parents passed on in early October, 11 years apart. On the second anniversary of my dad’s passing I sat down at work and this became an insistent poem. It felt like they were there when I was writing it. What a gift…
In October my ghosts don’t wait for Hallows Eve
They come early to check out this year’s foliage
To talk of times that were, reinterpreting memories
As we walk through the forest, each moment
A grace I could not see while they were alive
They tell me nothing is ever wasted, ever lost
Pay attention to the way things come back to you
Spend yourself extravagantly, like these trees
Let everything go and you will discover
You have had everything you needed all along.
—Robert Eugene Perry
Bodhicitta (Attaining great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the ego)
shards of glass, blue red lights road
slick with rain, viscous river of fluids
wailing sirens; other wailing, others waiting
staring deep not seeing not feeling gurneys
odd angles holding fractured forms shouting
rushing figures smoke inhaling crying out
help is coming just hold on gasping
overwhelming fumes vision
blurring, drift to
ghost or angel
soaking up your pain
bleeding out compassion
remaining present, keeping intention
holding on and letting go
separation is the
grumbling at the logjam, making
the sign of the cross as they pass –
sacred and profane are abstractions
to the dead and dying –
which in fact
—Robert Eugene Perry
Here is something new…
I’m including this next one because it is the Scaretorium and this has the word “Hell” in it. Sorry, that’s as scary as I get…
Roadmap Out of Hell
To look within and own your sin –
your past with all its demons
A fearless search for truth will hurt
but only for a season.
To stay awhile with all the guile
digging through the layers
It may seem vain but from the pain
will blossom earnest prayers.
Beneath the mire your soul respires
despite the suffocation
Dung unearthed will prove its worth
becoming your salvation.
With no regret, you place your bet
and sing your darkest song
The truth will out, there is no doubt
you’re here where you belong.
—Robert Eugene Perry
PAUL: Thank you, Bob! And here is the final poet in the first section of the open mic, the host of the brand new monthly Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading series at the Root & Press Bookstore and Cafe in Worcester, Joe Fusco Jr.
JOE: This is an older piece that I like to put out every Halloween…
My wife never buys enough candy for Halloween.
The family gathers at our house for sandwiches then everyone goes trick or treating except my 86-year-old mother and me.
“She didn’t buy enough candy again,” I lament.
“Just give one piece per costume,” my mother replies.
I feel like a gas attendant during the Carter administration distributing a Twizzler and Snickers to the more mature participants, but only one or the other to the adorable, naive little ones who won’t vandalize our property over my frugality.
By 7 p.m., I’m stuffing my hand into their pillowcases like a penny-pinchin’ Christian at Sunday Mass, so they won’t discover my meager offerings.
(Let me digress: Years ago, when we first moved into the house, on a dark rainy Halloween night, just returning from a cruise of the Caribbean, not a stitch of candy in the cupboard, I was forced to give boxes of store-brand raisins for treats. For years after, kids avoided our house like lice and I received sly death threats in late October with Sidney Poitier analogies.)
By 8 p.m., Mom and I are running on fumes, tossing quarters into their sacks from my son’s silver collection, then Long-Island potatoes, finally just dispensing sound advice from our porch like “Don’t be a fool, stay in school!”
When the family returns, all the house- lights are off. Mom and I are huddled in the back-bedroom over a candle listening to FDR on the radio.
“Is it over yet,” I ask my wife sheepishly.
“Yes, you moron,” she gently replies.
I gather my manhood and shuffle to the kitchen where I rifle the kid’s bags for Kit Kats and Nestles Crunch bars.
Happy freakin’ Halloween.
—Joe Fusco Jr.
PAUL: That was great, Joe! I thought it would be fitting now to close out the first part of tonight’s open mic with a poem I wrote as a sequel to the one I opened it up with — “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allan Poe. The poem is written as a Cascada Viente, a poetry form invented by Brad Osborne, who coincidently was our featured poet for our One Year Anniversary Edition of the Virtual Poetorium last March…
The Return of the Conqueror Worm
(A Sequel Set in Current Times)
Behold! The conqueror worm
Returns again to the stage
In the guise of a vile germ,
Its audience in a cage,
As it heralds in the age
Of Zoom (with us quarantined,
Trapped like words upon the page).
This strutting, villainous fiend
Having our lives guillotined,
Cut off from family, friends
Forcibly being pulled, weaned
From them til this madness ends-
Tragicomedy that blends
Mournful pathos with jest,
A sick farce that all depends
On its denouement. The rest,
Just exposition at best
And a bad plot twist unseen:
This play has no hero, lest
It’s truly Covid-Nineteen…
We’ll be taking a short intermission (something we haven’t done for a long, long while) in a couple of minutes before we begin the last half of our virtual open mic, but now it’s time once again for me to present this month’s Poetorium group poem as well as our final Poetorium monthly form writing challenge. This month’s theme was “This Halloween…” with people being asked to email us one to eight lines starting with that short phrase. All contributions were then compiled into the following poem which I’m afraid is rather short this month since we only received submissions from just Bob Perry and Diane Puterbaugh besides myself:
This Halloween people hope for no snow in Syracuse
and that the temp. is under 80 in Memphis.
This Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis will star in Halloween Kills,
but perhaps after twelve films and four decades
there are some horrors that should just be left behind
in adolescence and others that should be faced head-on.
This Halloween night I will mourn the Halloweens
of childhood past as I wander the streets alone,
passing by trick-or-treaters wearing masks under their masks
beneath stars like pinholes punched in a perfect plum-hued sky.
This Halloween, just buy 2 bags of Snickers, because you know
you will eat through one of them before the 31st.
Thank you both Bob and Diane for contributing to tonight’s Scaretorium group poem!
And now it’s time for me to present, as I mentioned earlier in the evening, our very last Poetorium monthly form writing challenge in which for the last year we invited you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form. I am sorry to announce that this will definitely be the final one due to dwindling interest but don’t worry, we will have something different to replace it starting next month. You might recall that last Halloween, we challenged you to write a six-word story? Well, this month’s writing challenge was a variation on that. We invited you all to write a six sentence story or poem, preferably one with a Halloween theme (it could have included a title or not, the choice was up to you), but unfortunately only my cousin Dwayne Szlosek took up the challenge and submitted the following untitled poem:
Dracula’s a blood-thirsty fiend…
Frankenstein is the first to be the living dead…
Wolfman becomes a gypsy curse…
Mummies can be ruled by evil…
Witches can be ruled by the Devil…
They are all classic Halloween movies…
To tell you the truth, I was a bit disheartened by the lack of responses to this month’s challenge, and almost ended up not writing one myself but since I was the one who issued it, I felt it was my duty to present to you for your approval, the following hopefully chilling brief Halloween tale:
The Open Door
Arkham College photography student George Allenby was walking home from a Halloween photoshoot at Hope Cemetery along Webster Street at dusk when he first noticed the faint strains of “Radar Love” drifting from the century-old brick building in the distance. As he walked closer, he recognized the familiar voice of the early evening disc jockey of a local classic rock station blaring from the wide-open green wooden door of the Whitechapel Chemical Distribution Company. He thought “how strange, this is something you might expect to find on a warm summer evening in July or August, but not in the cool brisk weather of late October.” His first instinct was to call the police and report the incident of the open door, but he had forgotten his cell phone in his dorm room. Although he knew deep within his gut that it wasn’t a good idea, curiosity got the better of him, so he poked his head through the darkened doorway and yelled “Anyone there?”, but there was no answer. As he unwisely entered the pitch blackness of the premises, the last thing George heard was the sound of ‘Stairway to Heaven” being cranked up to an ear-deafening volume as if to drown out any possible screams…
I hope you enjoyed this month’s submissions and want to thank Dwayne for being the lone submitter (besides myself) to our very last form writing challenge. As I said earlier, we will have something different to challenge you all starting next month.
Now I have a bit of a treat for you all. We will be taking a short intermission so you can check out the photos on display courtesy of Diane Puterbaugh and myself in a special Scaretorium photography show. Also, do you remember my cousin Dwayne’s time machine? During the break, you will have the opportunity to use it to travel back 45 years into the past to Edgar Allan Poe’s home city of Baltimore and attend a Halloween poetry reading held on the night of October 31st, 1976 at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Don’t be afraid to dawdle there and enjoy the poetry since you have a time machine and plenty of time to get back here for the second part of our open reading. By the way, you may notice the time machine looks very different since you saw it last June. That’s because while programming it for tonight’s adventure into the past, I accidentally hit a random button on the console and it morphed into a somewhat familiar-looking British blue police call box… Anyway, have fun and we will see you when you get back!
The Scaretorium Halloween Photography Exhibit
Dwayne’s Time Machine
Click Here to Travel 45 Years into the Past to Attend A Halloween Poetry Reading on the Night of October 31st, 1976 at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore Maryland
Welcome back, everyone! Hope you all had fun during the intermission…
When we think of Halloween, we usually think of ghosts, witches, and monsters. And what kind of monsters? Usually the classic ones such as Frankenstein, werewolves, and vampires. Well, I’d like to kick off the second part of the open with one of my previously unpublished poems about one I doubt you ever heard of before…
The Ballad of the Goo Goo Ga Ga Monster
At the age of three, I died
constantly in my sister’s dreams.
Each morning, she would wake
and regale me with her nocturnal
visions of my demise, explaining
how the night before the vacuum
cleaner had ambushed me on the stairs
and thrusting its crevice attachment down
my throat, had slurped my insides out.
Or how as I ran across the lawn to greet
her home from school, her yellow school bus
suddenly swerved and pounced upon
my measly form, reducing me to just
another oily stain upon the grass.
Much too young to be bothered by the fact
that to my sister these were not hideous
nightmares but pleasant dreams, I waited
anxiously for the next installment of my death,
soon learning that these were not just random
exterminations by machinery gone haywire, but
masterminded by the dreaded Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster.
Yes, the infamous Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster
with a face of pablum mush and breath
putridly sweet like baby burps, patron saint
of sisters with bratty baby brothers,
the Grim Reaper of the toddler set.
As weeks passed, my deaths became less frequent,
my sister’s subconscious slowly ceasing its hostilities
until Mister Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga vanished
without a trace from her morning tales.
So I was forced to scour my own dreams,
hoping to glimpse his festering face,
but he would never show. I was cursed with
sweet dreams of chocolate choo-choo trains,
fuzzy-wuzzy bunny rabbits, and puppy dogs.
The Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster could not be
induced to make a guest appearance amidst
such nauseatingly wholesome company.
So here I am fifty years later, still obsessed with dreams
not my own. Perhaps I just want to stare him in his eyes,
and recognize my own mortality. Every story
I ever heard, every movie I ever saw
has had an ending, either happy or sad,
but my life, so far, has not. I just want
to be assured there will be a grand finale,
a slow fade into blackness, and the credits will roll
because how can you enjoy any story, no matter
how satisfying if you never know the ending.
Each night as I drift into slumber, I continue trying
to conjure up the image of the Goo-Goo-Ga-Ga Monster,
but each night, I fail. Yet one evening in the (hopefully
distant) future, I will not. I will finally grasp
his disgustingly slimy hand and exclaim
like some star-struck fan “I’ve heard so much
about you. I am so pleased to meet you,
pleased to meet you at last!”
As some of you know, I have a poetry blog called “Paul’s Poetry Playground. About a week ago, I wrote a post inviting my readers and fellow bloggers to participate in tonight’s Scaretorium. Our next poet accepted that invitation, traveling all the way from Manchester, England to be with us tonight. So please put your hands together for a big first-time Poetorium welcome for John Ormsby…
JOHN: Hi! My name’s John Ormsby and I’m an aspiring poet with a WordPress account: MrOrmsbyAtLarge. Anyway, here are my poems:
The female spider dines alone
For reasons chilling to the bone
Perhaps more dates would turn out right
If she could curb her appetite
Should I love you
Take hold of you
Our first kiss would be your last
Taking more than I had asked.
This lifeless life out of the sun
Exiled from God’s own plan
Its beastly feast that’s fit for none
Was not how I began.
Still, you near me
Don’t you fear me?
I can pull you down to hell
No I’ll leave you
Let me grieve you
In that place where monsters dwell
Watch Your Tongue
When canny cannibals suggest
You call round as a dinner guest
You’re right to feel suspicious
They’re hoping you’re delicious
And if the book next to the pan
Is ‘How To Serve Your Fellow Man’
It’s time to quit the venue
‘Cause guess who’s on the menu?
All three of these poems appear on my blog: MrOrmsbyAtLarge.com.
PAUL: Thank you so much, John. And now please welcome a long-time Virtual Poetorium regular to the podium…
My First Halloween
My first Halloween started when I was young so very early in life all I ever wanted to do is die like in all of those Halloween movies on FREEKY FRIDAY’s all of us wanted to be that way even if they were all boys, mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers for bringing us too, this planet and I just want you to know good luck and have a safe and Happy Halloween one and all.
Kids passing out candy, kids passing out candy and party’s, parties that we go to always invite us there. Great costumes that I didn’t even know who they were judging the costumes, bobbing for apples, playing ghetto games and Halloween masks that become us.
Trick or treat the smell my feet give me something good to eat. Goes out to every door step for candy and parties for goodies and pizza. Some wear costumes or make-up.
Later at night those who walked home would seal their doom. You could feel the slash felt real good to your sick descended souls. The shuddered screams of Horror as the blade crosses the thoughts of boxes yet to be opened while you finally get home you’re only tired of giving up the fight.
Looking at your goodies in your goodie bags that you got from each and every door. Some surprises and toy’s that you can share with your family and friends. It’s past midnight and you can feel the evil lurking at your own door. You can hear the moon scream while all the while you shudder every thought about the THRILLER NIGHTS.
You can go to your room just because the sounds you hear canmake it. Watching the screen. While Freddy and Jason take the terror off the screen. And all the while you are watching and you feel something hit you hard.
Freaky friday just before you change the number on your dial “What” Let me take you home. O.K. Micheal just one thing though I’m not like the other boy’s? The shrill of thousands screaming sounds and while you both are laughing you walk through the woods and it is very dark you are suddenly paralized. HA HA HA HA HA.
I hear the dogs howl,
The voices scream,
And all the while
The pitter patter of little feet
PAUL: Thanks, Michele! John isn’t the only poet to come a long distance to be with us this evening. Please welcome our last month’s feature, trekking in all the way from the great state of Tennessee, Diane Puterbaugh…
It’s Autumn now
the sun moves faster
slanting through the back door at 7:03
then the kitchen at 11:11
and finally the laundry room at 6:15
Celebrities ride in rockets
gravity touts itself as a tourist destination
satellites zip across the Corona Borealis-
a rush-hour of shooting stars
Orion, raised in perpetual aim
toward a target orbiting down range
PAUL: Thank you so much, Diane! And now last but not least in the Scaretorium open mic, my cousin and the man who loaned us his time machine for tonight, Dwayne Szlosek…
DWAYNE: I hope you are all doing well and a Happy Halloween to you all! Due to the holiday Halloween, I thought I would give Nine Gun Billy a break this month and give you two Halloween poems on this October evening instead. I hope you all enjoy them both…
MAKE ME RICH
Open your door.
Put a green bottle in the threshold.
Just say these words six times and six times more,
and just to be sure say it six more times
in front of your door:
“I’m not rich, I’m not poor.
I welcome all spirits to my front door.
Make me rich instead of making me poor.
I will let you stay in my home forevermore.
I will cast a spell so no one can break or can
Make you leave my home.
Oh, hear me spirits at my front door,
Make me rich instead of making me poor…”
—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 3\29/2021)
IT IS HALLOWEEN NIGHT
You’ll gasp with delight in every bite
You make on Halloween night.
Because you are a vampire
living in a neighborhood,
Looking out your window,
Seeing those sugar-sucking
Little monsters going to every house
Looking to pluck that sugar-sweet candy
From the bowl and put it into their bag.
They will say “Thank you
And we will not egg your house.”
On this occasion,
As they look up at you,
You look down on them and say
With a snickering laugh
“Thank you, and I will
Not bite you tonight,
My pint-size little snacks.”
And smile with delight,
Making them all wonder
What does that mean?
It means it is Halloween Night…
—Dwayne Szlosek (copyright 8\23/2021)
Thank you all for coming tonight
and have a safe and happy evening..😁🤓🙃🤘
PAUL: Thanks, Dwayne, that was a lot of fun! As most of you know, Ron Whittle, my regular Poetorium co-host and cohort, is battling the return of his bladder cancer and can’t be with us tonight. But before I close out the show with a poem of my own, I’d like to share one of Ron’s with you. The following poem is the one he read to open the Virtual Poetorium last Halloween…
The end of Autumn howls
in the dark of the night
When shadows take flight
to wrap themselves around
tombstones, trees and such
A time for the dead
as ghostly mortals
to haunt the imaginations
of whose who challenge
near the old town cemetery
wind chimes ring out a scary tune
and a fog appears
out of nowhere
An erie sight to see
as caskets lay opened
behind the vail of night
and church bells
ring out a warning
at every step taken
beware the ghouls behind you
and the specters in front of you
As doorbells ring
and door knockers rap
Fear what is on
the other side of that door
as treaters descend onto
sidewalks full of tricksters
in full regalia
planning to trick you
into giving them sweets
for safe passage into the night
The final poem of the evening is one that I wrote many years ago. It is both a 26-word abecedarian and a magic spell. I hope you will enjoy it (and it doesn’t work)…
A Bloody, Creepy, Definitely Evil, Frightening,
Ghoulish Halloween Incantation
A Black Cat’s Dandruff,
Giggle, Higgle, Intestines Jiggle.
Karloff’s Lurking Monster,
Necromancers’ Occult Powers.
Quabala, Rubella, Salmonella.
Tonight, Unspeakable Voodoo, Witchcraft…
Xalabombies, You’re Zombies!!!
Thank you so much everyone for participating in the Scaretorium! Have a good night, a scary but happy Halloween, and see you back here in November!