Not long ago, Stephanie Wytovich gave me a review copy of her new poetry collection, Mourning Jewelry. My dear friend Jill Tracy had written a blurb for it, so I knew it must be special. I was first struck by Steven Archer’s cover, which sets the tone perfectly for this excursion into the depths of our heart’s horrors.
Wytovich’s style is free form. While that’s not everyone’s cuppa when it comes to poetry, I’m partial to it, as it’s my preferred style, as well, although I can see why some people find it to be lazy writing. Wytovich’s is anything but. Startling imagery and disturbing desires burrow into the flesh of her verse to lovely effect. Whether it’s a woman who pins a patch of her dead lover’s skin to the inside of her bra or another who “sweetens” her morning coffee with the dust of her dead husbands’ gravestones, each poem lifts the coffin lid on a delightfully grim tale of Tiffany-twisted love. I especially enjoyed the clever turn at the end of each piece, a coda that delivers a surprising, even darker revelation about the narrator.
While some might be tempted to liken Wytovich’s tainted romances to Baudelaire, her work reminds me far more of Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont, aka Isidore Ducasse. In Les Chants, the narrator, Maldoror, uses generous doses of black humor in his “poison-filled pages” to explore and even glorify the nature of evil. Mourning Jewelry is similarly rife with black humor, such as in the poem “They Keep Dying” about a woman whose husbands die as soon as they say “I do.” Or in “Urns Make Me Drunk,” where a woman uses her dead husband’s urn and ashes to make a martini.
I keep picking examples about dead spouses, but many of the poems are simply about the deranged relationships. “Xerox His Death Certificate” is probably one of my favorites, where a girl photocopies the man’s death certificate and uses it to wallpaper her place. “It would feel good to stab him again,” she says in the last line, lacing murder with sexual innuendo. Death and sex are the meat of many poems, but Wytovich manages to avoid invoking that cliché of the “little death.” Actually, orgasm in this collection is more like a big, fucking nasty death, thank you very much.
And yet there’s a wrenching vulnerability in these poems. The ache of barrenness, the grief and rage of heartbreak, bitterness that shoots first and hopes later — if ever. Horror is the only genre that can give full expression to this kind of emotional pain. And, man, I’ve been there.
Here’s hoping Stephanie gets the recognition she deserves for this collection of poems. Gruesome yet alluring like the title suggests, these poetic gems are cut with coffin nails and polished to a gleam with a fatalism every dark heart will treasure.