William S. Burroughs looking dangerous

Six Dark, Unsettling Poetry/Literary Readings

Horror is not just for movies. Sometimes dark themes can be found in poetry and short stories. Below are some great poem and literary readings, often read aloud by the authors themselves. Sure, some may be more unsettling than others, but the contents of any of these readings could send shivers down your spine.

1.  Bela Lugosi Reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart”

When two horror icons combine, it’s often a magical thing. In this case, it’s Bela Lugosi and his spooky reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart. You may have heard this in Raul Garcia’s animated Poe anthology, Extraordinary Tales, or it may be your first time hearing about it. Either way, you can listen to it now.

Obviously, The Tell-tale Heart is one of the best horror stories ever, being a perfect marriage of narrative simplicity and mental insanity. Lugosi captures the story’s darkness, seemingly with a glint in his eye. One could imagine Bela himself flashing the his infamous “vulture eye” as he read this.

2.  Sylvia Plath Reading Her Poem, “Lady Lazarus”

This is some dark stuff right here, and it’s being read by Plath herself. When I say it’s dark, I mean it’s brutal. Perhaps what makes it more disturbing is how beautiful it is. She was a master of language — and yes, she did eventually succeed in killing herself by placing her head in an oven (sorry, but it’s true).  Still, even without that gruesome detail, this poem might make you say, “Jeez, lady, would ya’ lighten up a little?!”

3.  William Butler Yeats Reading His Poem, “The Second Coming”

A largely political poem dealing with revolution, Yeats’ classic, apocalyptic imagery is well-known to horror fans. It’s a poem that largely speaks for itself and, through its origins, can be traced to specific wars and calamitous revolutionary events. It adequately stands as a general statement about the pitfalls and horrors of man. Also, there’s a bit of an Omen/Damien vibe to this poem. On that note, it would’ve been great if Gregory Peck had read this publicly at some point. Oh well.

4.  T.S. Eliot Dryly Reading His Poem, “The Hollow Men”

This one won’t be for everyone, as T.S. Eliot isn’t the most exciting poetry reader. However, The Hollow Men is still an exciting and timeless work. Also, I think the reading is supposed to be dry. Like the poem itself, the poet ends his reading, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

5.  William S. Burroughs Reading His Poem, “Apocalypse”

Known as the outlaw, junkie novelist of Naked Lunch, it’s easy to forget that William S. Burroughs actually had talent and an appreciation for beauty (in addition to sheer ugliness). He could also be funny as hell, as is true of Apocalypse. Fantastically set to music, Burroughs’ Apocalypse is a highly imaginative story about man’s creations coming alive to destroy him, combining with nature in utter pandemonium. What results is humorous, dark, disturbing and oddly beautiful. It’s like poetry gone into Maximum Overdrive (wink, wink).

6.  Robert Frost Reading His Immortal Classic, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

This is one of the greatest poems of all time, as far as I’m concerned. Still, how does it relate to horror? For some people, it won’t at all. They’ll say it’s just a nature poem, and it can certainly be appreciated that way. Others, however, see it as a very dark poem indeed. It could be about facing one’s mortality, or even the prospect of suicide.

Frost himself apparently said, “No,” when asked if it’s about death. Still, the poem is a classic, no matter how it is interpreted. You can either get a chill due to the theoretical dark themes, or simply because you sense the snowy evening. That’s poetry!

Which reading did you like best? Let us know in the comments below!

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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