fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review anthology Mike Allen Strange Wisdoms of the DeadStrange Wisdoms of the Dead by Mike Allen

I thought Strange Wisdoms of the Dead would be yet another attempt to convert me into a fan of speculative poetry, but leafing through the pages of this book I found something more massive. This is a comprehensive Mike Allen anthology covering ten years of work, compiling not just his poems but his fiction and collaborations as well.

Allen‘s poetry does dominate this book. Whether he’s talking about time sharks, spiders, or decapitated heads, Allen evokes visceral images that surprise and entice. If you’re just looking for variety, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead delivers as the poet tackles fantasy, science fiction, and horror in an array of tricky and fanciful poems. “Morse Code,” for example, approaches the title through more “natural” means, evoking the buzzing of insects’ wings to replicate what seems like a monotonous sound. “Momentum,” on the other hand, is a real rollercoaster. Don’t worry if it’s not readily apparent how to read or recite it — that’s part of the charm.

Another impressive aspect of the book is its division. It’s broken into four sections, and at the end of each section is a fiction piece. While I wouldn’t identify the stories as the best of the best, they certainly leave an impression. The first story, “Humpty,” for example, is both fanciful and tense, diving directly into the action. When you reach the end, there remains a sense of dread that a longer or more complicated piece couldn’t capture. The fourth section is also interesting because this is where Allen showcases his collaborations with other authors. These pieces are different from the rest of his work and give us a glimpse of the end result of such fusion.

My one regret is that Allen’s poems need to be reread and savored. A hundred-plus page book is already a lot when it comes to poetry, and going through it in one sitting doesn’t do it justice. The format is certainly to be lauded, from the sequencing to the combination of poetry and token prose. If you’ve been following Allen’s body of work, Strange Wisdoms of the Dead features some of his more daring and experimental work and so you might want to check this out for that. Otherwise, this is a splendid collection that you might enjoy for its breadth if nothing else.

FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker for contributing this guest review.