April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more by writers I admire and adore, and also some new poetry writers as well, so stop by often. Tuesday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here and yesterday we read some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich, which you can enjoy here.
Today, Sara Tantlinger joins us with a poem from her Bram Stoker Award nominated recent collection The Devil’s Dreamland, which features poems surrounding serial murderer H.H. Holmes. We are able to read the poem below as well as a discussion by Sara about the themes and locale of the piece – the 1893 World’s Fair – and H.H. Holmes and his involvement in it. As some of my historical fiction friends know, I am a World’s Fair and carnival fanatic. I love anything revolving around it!! Mix that with my obsession with true crime, you’re making me shiver in delight. That means I really enjoyed Sara’s poem and article – I hope you do too!
An H.H. Holmes Poem Analysis
by Sara Tantlinger, author of The Devil’s Dreamland
Thank you so much to Erin for hosting some poetry fun on her website for National Poetry Month! I am excited to contribute with a poem from The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and to provide a little backstory and history on the poem. The piece is titled “World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)”, referencing the very fair that helped make serial killer H.H. Holmes famous.
Without further ado, please enjoy the poem!
World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)
1893, we celebrate the 400th anniversary
of the barbaric slaughtering
Christopher Columbus brought
unto a new world,
but you will find no anger
toward his history here
as the fairgrounds take form, as visitors
flock in droves to taste the excitement
flickering in the air like pixie dust
People keep dying,
workers falling from buildings
accidents in the form of skull
fractures and electrocution
all this death contained within
designing the great fair,
yet a madman paces inside
his castle, creating spaces
where supposed accidents
will swallow visitors whole
a madman forges his dreams
into piping hot realities
where his World’s Fair Hotel
promises spectacular service
so very close to the fair itself
Opening Day comes upon the city
in jovial bursts of color,
mouthwatering scents of exotic
pastries and delicacies from themed
exhibits stationed around the park,
thousands of visitors holding their
breath for President Cleveland
to push a button that ignites
a hundred thousand
glowing lamps across the fields,
illuminating neoclassical figures,
the work of men named Tesla
Dr. Holmes turns away men at the door,
citing reasons of already being booked
to capacity, yet the young women
stroll right in, are welcomed,
intoxicated by their own freedom
blushing at the handsome doctor
who offers great prices,
who offers warm touches
they do not see how excitement alerts
trembles into his fingertips,
eager to taste innocence, summon
screeches from their tender tracheas
lick away saccharine death from dying lips,
listen to the snapping of a windpipe,
hungry to snuff out light from
hungry to cut the lights open,
sever the heart to see how it beats
beneath such fine skin,
glowing like the thousand lamps
across the enchanted fairgrounds
(Originally published in The Devil’s Dreamland, StrangeHouse Books, 2018).
About the Poem –
The fair of 1893 was a magical time. The undertaking and thus construction of everything the fair needed to be successful was an exasperating project. I wanted the poem to reflect the enchantment this exposition offered. After all, people arrived in the thousands during the fair’s run – people from all across the globe. Over 20 million people ended up attending the fair altogether!
This was Chicago’s chance to show the world how beautifully they recovered from the Great Chicago Fire. Gone was the soot and wreckage of the fiery aftermath, and in its place stood a gleaming white city, warm and inviting. However, the poem also needed to honestly reflect what the fair organizers and architects didn’t want anyone to see….
While the shine of the fair easily put forth its best face, a true darkness lingered beneath the food, exhibits, new buildings, rides, and everything else the celebration displayed. Construction workers died during the assembly of the fair. A fire broke out in July killing over a dozen fairgoers and firefighters. The White City was a fairytale. Outside the fair, animal corpses rotted on the streets. Stockyards and factories filled Chicago with smoke and filth. Garbage piled up along roads. Poverty and disease were no strangers here. And of course, a madman paced inside a castle fit for Bluebeard himself.
While it’s unlikely H.H. Holmes is responsible for hundreds of murders, he evolved into a tall-tale of someone who invited hundreds of women to stay at his hotel where he supposedly killed them all. This has never really been proven. While the fair showed great strides in science (like Tesla’s work), forensic evidence was not quite evolved enough to give us the solid facts we need to know everything Holmes might have done. However, we are quite sure he did take Minnie Williams and her sister Anna to the fair (I have more poems about their fates in my collection). So, for this piece, I took both fact and fiction, truths and exaggerated ideas, and spun them into a version that fits the Holmes of my book. Either way, this is one fair I think we should all be glad is far in the past.
Sara Tantlinger, Biography –
Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of Love For Slaughter and the Stoker-nominated The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, both released with StrangeHouse Books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA.
Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be published in July 2019 with Unnerving. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com
The Devil’s Dreamland, Info –
H.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.
In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.
There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.
“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner
“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead
“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares