by Holly Lyn Walrath
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Pub Date 01 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 30 Jun 2023
From Elgin Award winning author Holly Lyn Walrath, a haunting collection of poetry about grief and the sacred that digs deep beyond a fairytale world into the grave. Told in the circular pantoum form, Numinous Stones is a poetic graveyard littered with horror—from sentient scarecrows to silent skeletons to scorched sacred spaces. As each line repeats, new meaning gleams like bones unearthed in a shattered realm of monsters, dark forests, and dusty ghosts.
“Walrath poetically constructs tombstones (what is poetry if not construction?) imbued with a sacred, powerful, and majestic presence that both attracts and terrifies. They are sacred tombstones that serve the poet, and we will see this in the reading of her texts to celebrate, mourn, cry out, and, finally, accept her father’s death…. The collected poems constitute a journey, a slow path that we could also define as a slow coming to consciousness. A becoming aware of a pain to be understood and experienced to be, finally, accepted.”
—From the original Introduction by Alex Tonelli in Numinose Lapidi
“A rich and layered collection of pantoums, a difficult form to begin with, that taps into mythic, albeit nightmarish, images, twisting and weaving them into dense, multi-layered gems. Walrath is a skilled practitioner at poetry, and fans of horror poetry will thoroughly enjoyed her newest collection, Numinous Stones.” –Joshua Gage, Cemetery Dance
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Enjoyed this short poetry book from Holly Lyn Walrath. The poems were sad, but very good. Will stick with me for some time. #NuminousStones #NetGalley
Luminous Stones gives us a deep dive into Walrath's mind, and what we find there is gorgeous. Utilizing the unique pantoum style gives this volume its own personality, and the way the author spins this format is a wonder to behold, even as the style does wear out its welcome by the end of the work. The imagery and storytelling within each poem are startling, especially as with the repeated lines she has very few words to tell each of these flash stories, but so many left me with chills up my spine. It's not a work for everyone, but it's a thrill for the right audience.
Numinous Stones is a slim poetry volume about death and grief. Walrath states the desire to “place her life into a metaphor” through a “thin veil of ghosts, monsters, and planets.” She’s an established writer of short fiction and poetry, with her works appearing in major magazines such as Analog and Strange Horizons. She writes in a modern pantoum format, where lines are repeated in patterns. The word “numinous” is defined as “having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity.”
Walrath’s poetry radiates with a depth of melancholy that constantly pushes toward something transcendent. As she grieves her father, she has a vision where “in the dream world he could speak and he was crying out.” This dreamlike collection is encapsulated in that image—like Walrath herself is calling out into a strange and unknown land and trying to speak it into existence.
What initially feels like metaphorical distancing of the self from grief quickly propels into a contemplation of the divine. “I have a sordid affair with death.” The paradox of death is built and hammered into the lines, as if our contemplation of death somehow suggests a kind of immortality. The pantoum format works well, making each work feel at once surreal, emphatic, and timeless. Walrath manages to address the topic of death directly and yet without sinking into any cliche or oversentimentality. She seems to take an unflinching look at death and come away saying, “isn’t it strange and terrifying, and aren’t we beautiful?”
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