Book Review: Frightful Verses

Chris is hammering these books out of the park and spending his time in quarantine helping me out from a distance. This time he read The Frightful Verses: A Collection of Fearful Poems by Francisco a Ojeda.


Synopsis: A collection of one hundred poems meant to entice the curious and frighten them in many different ways. From the classical and gothic to modern and contemporary, these poems address different subjects seen from the poet’s unique perspective. Aspects of horror, terror, science, religion, politics, philosophy, and even humor fill these pages.

Earlier this year a rather one-sided Twitter debate started when an established author said new authors should read contemporary books if they want to write their own book. A small minority objected saying they could study all they needed from the old classics because those authors knew how to write.

Numerous others pointed out that reading contemporary books help you know which tropes and clichés you should avoid in your own writing. It doesn’t matter if you can write like an old master if you’re writing something that people have seen a hundred times before.

For example, I was reading a science fiction novel written by someone who probably hadn’t read any science fiction novel since the 1970s. It had all the datedness of Heinlein’s bad writing and sexist language without any of the high points of his writing. It didn’t matter that it was well-written. It read like a spoof of bad science fiction tropes from the 1970s.

So, potential authors should read modern books in the genre they wish to write.

That is the advice I would give to the author of The Frightful Verses. In fact, I would advise the author to also study the classics in addition to the modern verses. Nearly every one of the poems (I counted 101) in The Frightful Verses would get at best a C+ mark in a Grade 9 or 10 high school class.

There were 70 poems with four-line stanzas with a rhyming sequence of 2 and 4 (2nd sentence rhymes with the 4th sentence). There were over a dozen with rhymes 1 and 2, then 3 and 4. Sometimes they’re broken up into two-line stanzas and once into six-line stanzas, but they still use similar rhyming patterns and similar metronomy. You could jump from one poem to another and not notice you were now reading a different poem.

For example, see the poem below.

On those rainy gray days

From under the cover, I stay

To keep me warm

And protect me from harm

In a broken mansion

With all the cracks and creaks

You stepped through doors

Not opened in days and weeks

In the long past

A myth had grown

As memories seem to last

A chest was left alone

In a caverned home

Off stagnant Adam’s ale

With pillars shaded gray

And curtains of pale

Entering into the lab

And looking around to see

She was surely ready to stab

Whatever it could be

Neighbors outside their homes

And pointing to the skies

To watch a smoky trail

Behind the thing that flies

That’s actually not one poem. It is composed of the first stanza from six consecutive poems. I could have made it 20 stanzas long from 20 consecutive poems, but six stanzas provide enough example to show the similarity in patterns that is found in nearly every one of the poems. One poem in that style is interesting: seventy to eighty of the same style is tiring.

The other major failing of these poems is that they lack ambiguity in their meanings. Metaphors are mostly absent; the poems are fairly literal and don’t leave much room for altering interpretations. Compare that to T.S. Eliot’s The Wastelands, or The Second Coming (below), which are rife with enough symbolism to fill weeks worth of poetry class discussions.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Or The Hollow Men, also by Eliot.

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

In death’s dream kingdom

These do not appear:

There, the eyes are

Sunlight on a broken column

There, is a tree swinging

And voices are

In the wind’s singing

More distant and more solemn

Than a fading star.

Even many contemporary songs use ambiguity and symbolism to good effect: Hotel California (Eagles), Demons (Imagine Dragons), Ophelia (Natalie Merchant), Mad World (Gary Jules), Behind Blue Eyes (Limp Bizkit).

Good poets know how to tell a story just in meter and rhythm. They know when to stick to a pattern, they know when to suddenly change it; they know when to use the rules and know when to break the rules. While Francisco does sometimes change his rhyming pattern in mid-poem (as is good), he often forces a rhyme when it would be better to also break it. He used “clichés” to rhyme with “away”. And my favourite example,

It slithers over the sand

Grains stick to its skin

Hoping to gather a meal

Digests all by ptyalin

There are several dozen other rhyming “skin” words that could be used instead of “ptyalin”. However, kudos for getting the word “ptyalin” into a poem: I’ve never seen “ptyalin” used outside of my biology books. It’s an amylase enzyme found in saliva that digests starch. A loaf of bread is fair game for the slithering “it”, but proteins, keratin, lipids, and calcium (muscle, skin, fat, bone) or even cellulose (plants) will be safe—saliva-soggy perhaps, but safely undigested.

If you’re going to write poems you need to read poems. You need to google how to write poems. You should read a book on writing poems. You should really take a class in writing poems. This book of poems, unfortunately, seems to have been written by someone who has done none of the above—and that is a shame because there are some rough gems hidden within the poems. They just need a more knowledgeable, experienced, and craftier hand to make them shine.

Book Rating: 1/5

You can buy this book on Amazon and find it on Goodreads.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to us in ebook format by the author to read and give an honest review.

Check out Lisa King’s brand new novel called The Vanishing Hour which is available now on Amazon! She is a Canadian author from London, Ontario and I am super excited to share the love on her new book! If you like post-apocalyptic books, then this one is for you!


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