Book Review – Choking Back the Devil by Donna Lynch

Choking Back the Devil book by Donna Lynch held in front of rainbow bookshelves

Title: Choking Back the Devil

Author: Donna Lynch

Edition: Paperback

Page Count: 94 pages

Rating: 5 / 5 ✨✨✨✨✨

Short Summary: 

Choking Back the Devil by Donna Lynch is an invocation, an ancient invitation that summons the darkness within and channels those lonely spirits looking for a host. It’s a collection that lives in the realm of ghosts and family curses, witchcraft and urban legends, and if you’re brave enough to peek behind the veil, the hauntings that permeate these pages will break seals and open doorways, cut throats and shatter mirrors.

You see, these poems are small drownings, all those subtle suffocations that live in that place between our ribs that swells with panic, incubates fear. Lynch shows her readers that sometimes our shadow selves–our secrets–are our sharpest weapons, the knives that rip through flesh, suture pacts with demons, cut deals with entities looking for more than a homecoming, something better, more intimate than family.

It’s about the masks we wear and the reflections we choose not to look at, and what’s most terrifying about the spells is these incantations show that we are the possessed, that we are our greatest monster, and if we look out of the corner of our eyes, sometimes–if we’ve damned ourselves enough–we can catch a glimpse of our own burnings, what monstrosities and mockeries we’re to become.

So cross yourselves and say your prayers. Because in this world, you are the witch and the hunter, the girl and the wolf.

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“There are so many things that I don’t have a place for on paper / so they float in my bloodstream.” – pg 78, Excerpt From Skinned (1999)

In the last year, I’ve read a lot of horror themed poetry, all of which has blown me away. I never realized such a thing existed until recently, and finding other people that share my love of morbid eloquence has been a great experience for me. Not only have I discovered a new way to appreciate and absorb my favorite genre, but I’m also constantly finding new voices in horror that I hadn’t yet discovered. My personal library is growing, and I’m loving it!

One of my most recent acquisitions in the horror poetry category has been Choking Back the Devil by Donna Lynch. Although I hadn’t read anything by Lynch until this point, the blurb on the back and the cool cover art really sold me on wanting to get this one. I’m very glad I did, and I’ll be checking out more from her in the future for sure! I loved her writing voice; forceful and potent, her words seemed to leap from the pages, pulling me in whether I wanted to or not (I totally did!).

“Name yourself / Let them call you from the mirror / in the dark / Let them set you free / Then rip them apart” – pg 13, Legend

I loved this collection, and enjoyed the ways it stood out from some of the others I’d read recently. Horror can be found in so many different places, and I really liked that the focal point through a lot of these stories seemed to be personal demons, and mental health struggles. Murder and ghosts and things are definitely terrifying, and I love reading about them, but I also enjoy a good be of introspection when its done well; I’m happy to say that Lynch has definitely done it well here! The inside of our minds can be a very unsafe, unsettling place to be – and what better atmosphere for a horror writer can there be than that?

“… And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being held from / the inside” – pg 24, The Horse, The Home

I related to a lot of the different themes throughout the book, and Lynch’s writing is engaging and fluid. Some of the themes that I didn’t really relate to currently, I could easily think of situations or times in my life when they could have or would have been more applicable. Although I don’t know Lynch personally, it feels like she’s someone I knew or know – maybe someone I’ve been. Relatability and the skill it takes to convey specific emotions through a few short lines are a couple of common factors I’ve found between some of the great poetry I’ve loved, and I’m adding Lynch to the ever growing list of authors that I feel good about recommending for those interested in maybe broadening their reading a little bit.

“Don’t breathe her to life / And make her feel real / Just to blink her away / In your sleep” – pg 37, She’s A Dream

There were a couple of pieces that weren’t as strong to me as some others, or that I felt maybe could have been a bit more fleshed out or built up. But the favorites I had vastly outweighed any that I lacked a personal connection with. I used my favorite rainbow sticky tabs when reading this, and out of just 90-something pages, ended up marking over 20 of them, or lines that really stood out to me. I love the visual representation sticking out of my books with how often I was touched by something, or given specific “feels” from a passage or quote. For a writer to be able to do that in a format that can be limiting in terms of space/size is really impressive.

I loved how Lynch’s bold writing tone contrasted with the almost ethereal, fairy tale-like feeling of some of the poetry. Her specific kind of horror is evocative and powerful, and the collection as a whole was compelling and emotional. This was a solid book that I’d recommend and will likely revisit a few more times in the future. My copy is already a little worn from how many times I’ve flipped through it, searching to reread something or other, which is how you can tell I really enjoyed it! I’m very excited for more from the author, and can’t wait to continue on my journey of horror poetry!

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