This Is Halloween So Let's Write About It – A Poetic Mess
Music Credit: Rose (Prod. by Lukrembo)
Hi Pen Pals, I’m Jyn Arro and you’re listening to A Poetic Mess, the podcast where we turn the beautiful and ugly messes of our lives into poetry.
Happy Halloween! Blessed Samhain! Whatever this time of the year is to you, I hope you are enjoying it, whether that means partaking in good ole trick-or-treating, haunted mazes, or staying home for a spooky movie marathon with ghoulish snacks and candy. I myself have a small Halloween house party I’ll be attending, and I’ll be going as a vampire.
I haven’t gone all out on a costume in a couple years, but this time around I got fake fangs, pale foundation, silver claw jewelry, and a little bit of fake blood to make me look like a beautiful undead who’s freshly fed. I’m quite the homebody so after that I’ll probably return to my hermit cave for another month before venturing out into society again…
Last episode was all about horror, fears, and morbid affairs, areas I don’t usually explore as potential sources of inspiration for my poetry but I deeply enjoyed the challenge, much to my surprise. This time, I think we’ll look for poetic inspiration that has a more general spooky touch and feel; more lighthearted and festive.
Getting Into The Halloween Spirit
Halloween, as it exists today, tends to be a hyper and fun time for people to get up to some mischief and is an excellent excuse to eat way too much candy. Those soft, frosted sugar cookies, which I’m pretty sure I mentioned two or so episodes ago, are the first snacks that I eat too much of; after that my next weakness is probably twix or some type of sugar-coated gummy.
Before candy and costumes became the first things to be associated with the holiday in modern times, it was recognized by many different names in cultures and societies around the world. Commonly provoking myths and legends of terrifying beasts and mischievous creatures, most likely due to the shortening days, falling temperatures, and more time spent in darkness hoping the stores of food last through the approaching winter. These stories were born of peoples worries and fears, and a need to protect their communities with tall tales that served as wise warning, as well as, entertainment. Because even with so much talk of death and darkness, people also needed to be distracted and have their spirits lifted – and if a carved gourd outside their door made them feel safe inside their homes, then far be from me to insult harmless superstitions at worst and folk tales rich with history, culture, and lessons at best.
The very reasons the tradition of dressing up as monsters even started was mainly because of two beliefs: that on Halloween the veil between our world and the spirit world thinned, and that dressing in hideous costumes and masks would trick the evil and malevolent spirits into thinking we were one of them. Even jack-o-lanterns were originally intended to look so fearsome because they were supposed to serve as protectors of the home, like I mentioned earlier.
In the spirit of mythical creatures, both friendly and scheming, let’s go over a poem titled Hallowe’en by poet and scholar Joel Benton who was born in Amenia, New York, in 1832:
Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite All are on their rounds to-night,— In the wan moon’s silver ray Thrives their helter-skelter play. Fond of cellar, barn, or stack True unto the almanac, They present to credulous eyes Strange hobgoblin mysteries. Cabbage-stumps—straws wet with dew— Apple-skins, and chestnuts too, And a mirror for some lass Show what wonders come to pass. Doors they move, and gates they hide Mischiefs that on moonbeams ride Are their deeds,—and, by their spells, Love records its oracles. Don’t we all, of long ago By the ruddy fireplace glow, In the kitchen and the hall, Those queer, coof-like pranks recall? Every shadows were they then— But to-night they come again; Were we once more but sixteen Precious would be Hallowe’en.
Did you know there is a story, or more like a piece of history, that Halloween activities were popularized for children as a means to keep them out of trouble, specifically from committing illegal and abusive pranks like destroying cars, violence, and vandalism? Halloween was in fact considered so dangerous at one point that cities considered banning it altogether… what a terrible dystopian future that would have been! They quite literally just threw candy and sugar at the problem and it worked!
Obviously, there was a lot more to it than that, but I feel as though most traditions of the day went through such a long game of telephone that barely any of us remember or know why we even do what we do. Luckily, Halloween is all the better for it, no matter the original intentions behind why we eat candy or go around wearing cloaks, wings, and horns – it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
And that’s really what this poem by Benton was: good, fictitious, spooky fun. From mentions of pixies and sprites, to hobgoblins, spells, and oracles. It’s another instance of poetry serving as this window into a complete stranger’s mind; I know what Halloween makes this writer think of and where his imagination gets carried off to.
Which is another cool thing about this holiday, you can pull from your favorite ghost stories and monster legends and use them in a poem of your own. If not pixies then fairies, if not hobgoblins then gremlins, if not oracles then witches… whatever you can imagine that fits your idea of spooky season.
The Profound Side of Spooky Season
It doesn’t have to be all fun and games, of course. Halloween can be a time of quiet reflection for many or maybe you just don’t want your poem sounding too cheery. If you read some of the poems in Book of Mirrors, especially those in the Broken Reflections part, you’ll know that my teenage angst never fully left me.
So then here is a poem by Lizette Woodworth Reese, she was named poet laureate of Maryland in 1931 and was a member of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, acting as honorary president from 1922 until her death. This is All Hallows Night:
Two things I did on Hallows Night:— Made my house April-clear; Left open wide my door To the ghosts of the year. Then one came in. Across the room It stood up long and fair— The ghost that was myself— And gave me stare for stare.
A fascinating idea, to come face to face with a ghost that’s a mirror image of you and probably represents your own shadow – the parts of you you’re afraid of or would rather not admit you possess. It’s short and concise, although I think that furthers the mystery of the poem because it leaves you with more eerie questions than it does answers.
I also really like giving examples of this length because sometimes the inspiration for something long and wordy just never comes, but it’s still a good idea to exercise your writing muscles if nothing else. Not every poem has to be as long as an epic or something you consider a masterpiece, I’m sure I’ll look back on some of the things I’ve written spontaneously for this podcast and cringe but if you want to be a writer – you have to write!
And, if you think something you’ve written is really so awful, well, luckily we have shredders for that. I too have a dark past of things I wrote as a preteen, that upon rediscovering them I promptly and anxiously put them through my shredder and am so thankful that no one will ever read them but their memory still haunts me…
Anywho, speaking of off-the-cuff poetry I have one last poem to share that is my personal response to the prompt. I very creatively called it: On Halloween – I know it just oozes originality doesn’t it?
The day of the year when the night be Filled with spirits and monsters so carefree Chants of laughter and shrieks of banshee Swept by broom into a spooky reverie Careful you don't lose your witches key Lest you fall prey to haunting or harpy Linger not near crooked hollow tree Beware there are creatures you cannot flee On the day we know as Halloween
Unlike some other things I’ve written recently I actually quite liked this one. Am I familiar with the mythos of banshees and harpies? No, not particularly but they came up because they rhymed and also harpies showed up in a video game I’ve been playing recently. You can and will find inspiration in the most odd and random of places, and even though poetry still very much feels steeped in elitism and toxic academia the main reason I started this podcast was to encourage listeners to write.
Whether poetry is something you enjoy or merely have a budding interest in, I want more people to feel like it is an art they can participate in because reading and writing were my greatest comforts as a child.
So if Halloween or a video game draws a poem out of you, then that’s still poetry in my book.
Thank you for listening [or reading] and I cannot wait to continue to write with you, my fellow poetry lovers and pen wielders. My first poetry book, Book of Mirrors, is out now on Amazon. You can stay in touch, share your poems with me, or read my poetry and other works @ JynArro across all social media platforms and jynarro.com.
You can support the podcast and my work at paypal.me/ByJynArro.
Till next time, this has been A Poetic Mess.