Books: Cemetery Nights by Stephen Dobyns

Every autumn I get the urge to pull this slim volume of poetry from my shelf and re-read it. I don't often enjoy modern poetry (outside of song lyrics), am more for the classics, but this collection is something special.

It might be easy to say, "Oh, well, what with the title it must be all for Hallowe'en." But I wouldn't generalize in that way. The collection definitely smells of autumn and decay, and Hallowe'en may be part of that, but this is not the stuff of high school Goth kids or emo angst. Some of the poems are very real; many others are surreal. And the bottom line is: sometimes real life is surreal. Sometimes one finds oneself thinking, Can this really be happening? And sometimes one feels as if they've fallen into a strange negative space.

The title poem (which exists in five separate parts) is not actually one of my favorites. I like, instead, "Spiritual Chickens" and "Missed Chances" and "How to Like It." Dobyns has some interesting pseudo-religious poems and some others that are fun takes on mythology.

I've read other of Dobyns' works, but none impressed me so much as this one. (His novel The Church of Dead Girls was pretty good, though.) In any case, I find myself thinking lines from this collection quite often, which shows what an indelible mark it has left.

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