"A Collection of Nightmares" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press

Written by Christina Sng
2017, 86 pages, Fiction
Released on July 12th, 2017

Review:

I spent a decade in graduate school laughing at everyone who pretended to fully comprehend thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, and Jacques Derrida. Because I was also forced to deal with their writing, being confused was the last thing I was looking for when turning to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in my free time. Unfortunately, there are plenty of writers in those genres whose main goal is confusing readers or impressing scholars with the impenetrability of their dense, boring writing. For them, telling a story and making readers feel something are at the bottom of the list. In fact, this behavior is so common, I sometimes take breaks from reading poetry because too many poets are obsessed with imagined depth and completely forget to tell me a story. Well, I’m happy to report that Christina Sng’s is the perfect opposite of that. A Collection of Nightmares is a poetry collection that reads like more like a flash fiction collection and a celebration of economy of language than anything else, and those two things are more than enough to make it a must-read even if poetry is not usually on your plate.

A Collection of Nightmares contains poems about strange families, awful wars, post-apocalyptic survivors, aliens, and everything in between. Mixing together horror, weirdness, violence, and even a touch of humor, the poems in this book all share two elements: they are all entertaining and Sng stays away from unnecessary literary filigrees and instead favors a straightforward style that puts all the emphasis on clear, concise, outstanding storytelling.

It’s hard to put into the words the variety of tiny stories that are contained in this book, which comes in at less than 100 pages. Likewise, it’s hard to explain Sng’s style, although there are some easy elements everyone should be aware of. The first one is that these poems mostly read like rhythmic flash fiction stories. The second is that, on every one of these stories, you get the sense that there is much story preceding in and a lot that comes after, but you are left somehow satisfied by the portion you were allowed to know, to see, to enjoy. Lastly, Sng is aware that poetry should pack a punch and make readers feel something, and she accomplishes that time and again. Desperation, loneliness, uncertainty, and brutality abound, and yet there are places where, despite the darkness, readers will be forced to chuckle. The perfect example is “Full Moon in Yellowstone”:

Full moon
In Yellowstone—
The Jackalopes return.


I sit on the porch
In Grandma’s rocking chair,
Shotgun across my chest,


Tor, my gray tabby
By my side, ears perched,
Discomforted.


I hear the wolves howl.
The mountains rattle
As the Jackalopes feast.


Come morning,
The rangers ask, where
Have all the wolves gone?


I shrug and swig
My last whiskey shot,
As I bolt my door


And head to the attic,
Waiting
For the long night to start.

While the writing is great, perhaps A Collection of Nightmares’ greatest triumph is that it manages to pack traditional horror narratives, a touch of Lovecraftian weirdness, some eroticism, a healthy dose of ruthlessness, a few apocalypses, a couple of alien races, survival, and a few other things that add up to a book that demands to be read quickly, and twice. Oh, and Sng does all that while playing around with metrical form with an ease that makes it seems the words come out of her already in those forms. Take, for example, “The Awakening”:

In the heart of the caldera
They hatch under the blazing sun,
Incubated for a billion years
Under salted frost that was once an ocean.


Flailing like saplings,
They reach for the sky
Toward the cotton clouds
That descend, looming


Over their long-awaited offspring.
Gently, the breeze carries
The infants across the dead valley,
Toward the bustling city


Which they envelop
Street by street, consuming
Everything within their reach.
Soon they are as large


As their ancient parents, and
Leaving the dead city behind,
As a single dark cloud,
They cross to the next continent.

A Collection of Nightmares is poignant and disturbing, beautifully written and wildly ranging in subject matter and execution, horrific and wonderfully atmospheric. If a large chunk of contemporary poetry pushes me back into the comforting arms of novels, this collection violently pushed me to seek out more of Sng’s work, and that’s one hell of an achievement.

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Gabino Iglesias
Staff Writer
Gabino lives in Austin, Texas, where he reads an inordinate amount of books and pens down reviews only for the big bucks he makes doing so. When he was about 12, his mother would tell him that reading all the H.P. Lovecraft and Poe would not lead to anything good. Being on the staff page at HorrorTalk is the confirmation of that.
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