I read a book: Stillborn Gallery, by Axl Barnes

My first encounter with Axl Barnes’ writing was his book of horror poetry, Strangled Epitaphs. It was morbid yet hauntingly beautiful, much like the artwork punctuating the collection. Before Strangled Epitaphs, Barnes published a collection of short stories called Stillborn Gallery. Like Strangled Epitaphs, each story is accompanied by an illustration by Thomas Stetson. His haunting artwork is the perfect accompaniment to Barnes’ brand of nightmarish horror.

This collection starts with a little retail horror story called Numbskull. It’s not a humorous story, but I found myself laughing at the absurdity of some parts. I’ll never look at a watermelon the same way. The retail horror theme throughout the book reminded me a bit of The Night Stockers, by Kristopher Triana and Ryan Harding. It is not the same, but my brain couldn’t help but make the comparison. Come to think of it, there is a lot of retail horror. What does that say about retail work?

I think my favorite of the bunch is A Perfect Day. David was having a perfect day. Everything was going right and all of the annoying little things that usually ruin his day just didn’t happen. Everything was perfect. And then he remembered and fixated on a childhood medical incident. He insists the memory didn’t dampen his mood, but a switch flipped and he went from making plans for a holiday with his loving partner to something darker and more solitary. Sunday Exit was another favorite. It felt like I was sitting in that apartment partaking in conversation and pizza and weed. I knew where this story was going, but I enjoyed the journey. I think it might have been more impactful had it ended with Evelyn, but it’s very good as is.

This collection took me a while to read, not because it was bad, but because it made me confront some difficult thoughts and feelings that I never really outgrew. I guess this is where this becomes less a book review and more me just rambling about the darkness inside my head. Depression is a lifelong companion. Some days are my perfect day and I could be David. I’ve never had cancer, like Evelyn in Sunday Exit, but I have thought about how that would affect my will to live. I’ve always had an exit plan, and while over the years the wanting to die feeling has dulled to just wanting to not exist and coping with a flawed existence through dark humor, I still find myself counting down the years every so often.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This is a solid collection of horror shorts. It’s dark and brutal and peppered with the right amount of dark humor. There are no happy endings here. It is also extreme leaning, so if you’re not a fan of extreme horror, this might not be for you. I love extreme horror.

You can buy Stillborn Gallery, by Axl Barnes on Amazon for a couple bucks, or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. If you’re into bleak introspective type stories, check it out.

I read a book: Strangled Epitaphs: A Poetry Collection, by Axl Barnes

I read a lot of horror and I read a lot of poetry. So when the odd combination crosses my path, I gobble that shit right up. Axl Barnes is an author I discovered via Instagram. His bio describes him as a horror writer, philosopher, avid reader, and metalhead, attributes I sometimes ascribe to myself (horror review writer anyway). He reads authors I love and writes honest reviews, and he writes dark poetry with horror elements. So there’s lots of common ground. I snagged two of his books, Strangled Epitaphs and Stillborn Gallery when they went on sale for 99c. This is about the first one I’ve read, Strangled Epitaphs: A Poetry Collection.

Let’s talk about a few of my favorite poems. The first to really make me stop and think about what I’d just read was The Barren Clock. The first few lines describe vaginas with no bodies growing around a clock giving birth like meat grinders. The imagery is dark yet vivid and takes the reader on a grotesque journey. Is it a world ending epidemic? Who knows, but I’m all in. Human Spill in Aisle 5…well, you’ll never look at a grocery store the same way. Descriptions are graphic yet poetic. Too Late for Suicide struck a chord with me, particularly the last stanza. Here I am, committed to gray skies and empty parking lots…too tired to create something out of nothing. Junked struck that same chord. Her Portrait in Darkness is bleak yet romantic. Andrea broke my heart. Blow and Go got a laugh out of me. It’s not funny, but my dark sense of humor disagreed. Dumpster Love has some serious bizarro vibes, and you know how I love bizarro. My Pyramid of Books does not reach the levels of macabre as the rest of this book, but this book lover loved it all the same. Bury me inside my pyramid of books

The artwork that punctuates this collection is as hauntingly beautiful as the poetry. Check out more of Thomas Stetson’s work on ARTUS Collective.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Rating poetry is always so difficult because it doesn’t follow the same rules as novels. I rate based on how I feel when I finish reading and whether I’m still thinking about it when I’ve put the book down. I finished reading this collection days ago and I keep coming back to it. The imagery in these poems will make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to do that.

Big thanks to Axl Barnes for following me on Instagram and introducing me to his work. You can buy Strangled Epitaphs: A Poetry Collection, by Axl Barnes on Amazon in digital or paperback format. At the time of this writing, the kindle version is on sale for 99c. Go buy it.