Review of: THE THRIST OF SATAN

By Frederick J. Mayer

THE THRIST OF SATAN, "Poems of fantasy and terror," by George Sterling," Edited by S.T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, ISBN 0-9721644-6-4

"...I am not sure that poetry should ever be read or criticized in a perfectly dispassionate mood. A poem is not a philosophic or scientific theis, or a problem in Euclid, and the essential 'magic' is more than likely to elude one who, approaches it, as too many do, in a spirit of cold-blooded logic. After all, poetry is properly understood only by those who love it."-Clark Ashton Smith

Right off, I want to say the above Smith quote found in the book THE THRIST OF SATAN says it all. I have been involved with the poetry/publishing field for over 30 years in about every possible aspect of it "professionally": published and my work/books used as a text within various University courses; reviewer; poetry award winner; book designer and editor/author of several "Introductions" to others' books. Poetry especially should be personally experienced not analized to death in a review for the general public. Hence, I say, if you "love poetry," then you'll love this tome and George Sterling's work found inside it. BOTTOM LINE: Purchase this fine book!

Having said that, what can I say overall about this excellently produced product from Hippocampus Press? Who is the target audience for it? I have been a reader of Sterling's material for quite some time...I grew up in the San Francisco/Bay Area, so as a lover of poetry living in this location within Northern California, it goes without question I was, at least, aware of Sterling et. al.

It is not unusual for a "publisher" to package their release in a way that, among other things, will lure a core audience who is, at least, familiar with the material, and said audience will buy something that they probably already basically have/want to own of it.

One way is to use an illustrator that will help "readers" etc. to release their cash. In the case of THE THIRST..., the using of famed Fantasy/S-F Virgil Finlay's art did it for me. There are several possible reasons Finlay's work makes for a perfect choice for this book. The artist's somewhat erotic/exotic imagery and style has the right feel to both fitting Sterling's "fantasy/terror" work and, in turn, provide a  sense of the "time(s)" the two talented individuals worked in (after all, Finlay was born in 1914, wrote poetry as well and discovered Science Fiction/ Horror/Terror tales around 1927-28, eventually, illustrating pulps like "Weird Tales" by 1935 at the age of 21 years old) and allure the more current age consumers of the art of the fantastique.

Curiously, unless I missed it somewhere inside THE THRIST..., there is nowhere mentioned Finlay or why his art was used in particular by the publisher for Sterling's work in these fields...other than, perhaps, they look good together. The most direct reason might be that in the 1930's, Finlay had been hired to illustrate one of Sterling's more "famous" pieces, "A Wine of Wizardary" (which appears within this Hippocampus publication). The three (3) drawings created by Finlay for that lengthy poem are used inside this collection of verse. It was discovered that there was a fourth one and it is also included in this current book (there are only 4 illustrations now known to exist and all of them are in THE  THRIST...and they are the only illustrations used throughout the whole of this volume). It may even be that the fourth's appearance here may be the very first time that that more recently found illustration has been publically published!

Also, Finlay corresponed with Clark Ashton Smith (check Eldritch Dark's appropriate section) starting around the late 1930's, which is about when Finlay created the artwork for Sterling's poem.

Speaking of Finlay and existence of things, some of the "major flaws" of THE THRIST... are the illustrations and their locations are not to be found within the book's "Contents" listing section; this adds to the confusion already existing as the poetry couplets under the illustrations do not appear within any of the poetry located around the illustrations i.e. "Satan yawning on his brazen seat/ Fondles a screaming thing his fiends have flayed" (the illustration and the poetry lines mentioned are to be found between the poems "The Setting Of Antares" and "The Thrist Of Satan"...all of the drawings' couplets are from the poem "A Wine of Wizardry"). The illustrations usually enhance the surrounding poems even though it and the lines do not come from any of those poems. However, since the lines are not to be listed in the book's "Index of First Lines," the impact of the whole of this book as a well done poetry volume is considerably lessened, not to mention, it takes away any possible strong Finlay affect upon/helping this work and its poetry creator!

Why wasn't there any mention of Virgil Finlay in THE THRIST...? Even a thumb-nail bio on the artist would have been nice, especially for those who may not be all that aware of the importance, much less, who he was, of Finlay. It is fairly commonly agreed that he is "One of science fiction's most prolific and honored artists."

Going back to overall "product packaging" (sounds oh so commercial for poetry doesn't it) and the target audience, the cover drawing somewhat fits for a book focused on George Sterling's work in the fantasy/terror fields (the couplet for it is "The blue-eyed vampire, sated at her feast,/Smiles bloodily against the leprous moon." The drawing was done for and poetry lines found within Sterling's "A Wine Of Wizardry"). But, why THE THRIST OF SATAN used as the title?

"The Thrist Of Satan", the poem, isn't a "bad" poem (I, personally,love its last three lines,

Then, to the laughter of infernal mirth; The ruined chalice droned athwart the Vast, Hurled in the face of the offended sun.,

yet, I don't believe it is one of the more representative/"better" ones to select from of Sterling's shorter pieces presented in this current collection (this particular poem of his is about on par with the best of lyrics written in the 1980's Gothic music scene by such people as "Sisters of Mercy"'s Andrew Eldritch...but, definitely not the likes of Poe, Coleridge or Swinburne, who Sterling is considered on par with with much of his work). What would I chose for a title? In this all too brief "review," I'm not even going to dare venture into that no win area (coping out you may rightly say)...but, I'll mention a few of my favorites, both as titles and poems, at this moment: "The Muse of the Incommunicable," "The Dweller in Darkness" and "Memory of the Dead."

NOTE: I just thought I mention a person(s)/profession grossly over looked in importance when it comes to creating an overall attractive/appealing book, the "cover designer." I believe that Barbara Briggs Silbert has done an unquestionably fantastic job for this book!

Another means of reaching people slightly knowledgable with the work of someone, one gets a "name" draw to write the "Introduction" to said book. Accepting such a role/"honor" can be like dancing on the edge of a very sharp sword (I know from experience such as when I wrote the Intro to/edited some of Joseph Payne Brennan's poetry material/books). At least, some of the "problems" are avoided (or maybe not) when the person who the Intro is created for is dead.

How far does the invited writer go...do they spell everything single thing out for the reader as if the potential general reader is an idiot  that does not have a mind and cannot understand what they are encountering or have the so-called needed depth to grasp the, let's say, symbolism, meaning , importance et. al. because its "art" or the author is considered in the artist beyond the norm range? One too many intro writers/reviewers/"experts" do this.  THE THRIST... has the respected S.T. Joshi, who has the hard earned reputation for being a man very well versed in this particular field called, at times, "fantasy/terror"... "capable of relishing his poignant  evocations of the wonders and terrors of a  boundless cosmos." Mr. Joshi pulls off a well balanced Intro to Sterling's enclosed poetry that has historical material to help provide the reader with the background needed (considering Sterling only) to have a workable knowledge to appreciate subject/material found within this Hippocampus creation of wonders in a proper contextual text, while offering his own insights and/or opinions.

Sometimes, a "better known" person in the field, who has/had some form of "personal/professional" relationship with the now (time off book release) lesser known individual is brought into the packaging to attract a new batch of readers/fans of the so-called better known person. So it is with C.A.S. and Sterling, thus with THE THRIST's, basically, "Afterword" - "George Sterling: An Appreciation by Clark Ashton Smith" (the opening quote of this review/article comes from there).

It has been said that Sterling was Smith's "mentor" and, in many ways, this is true. Ideally, THE THRIST OF SATAN should be bought with Hippocampus Press' publications of Smith's poetry and the collected letters that were sent between the two men. Partly because when it comes to their epical work,such as "A Wine Of Wizardry" and CAS' "The Hashish Eater," these grand poets are like two peas in a poetic pod, whose lines can be virtually interchanged with each other to the extent most general readers would not even become aware of the change.

These two poets, who many see representing a dying breed of wordsmiths, even in their own day, ("Romantic/Decadent/Poets of the Damned school most notably represented by the likes of Charles Baudelaire) transcend to being much more; and, especially in regards to their more lenghty, to say the least, pieces, George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith are visionaries...they laid the groundwork/were actually 21st century poets/writers ahead of their time for a forth coming literary awareness/approach... "Pioneer(s) of cosmic-astronomic-mindedness in poetry"... and, in this way, these two stand above their ilk such as Coleridge!

When it comes to their work, don't get trapped in structures or even the "words" themselves...read, really read...listen to what their creations are saying. At the beginning of this review, I asked the question, "Who is the target audience for" THE THRIST OF SATAN? An answer comes, in a way, from something the publisher Derrick Hussey said in an interview and it was related to this particular book...I hope that all who positively react to the Sterling volume's packaging end up the same way as Hussey: "...working with the manuscript I became intimately familiar with the poems themselves, and was utterly enraptured. They are of exceeding quality, and Sterling's work is now of much interest to me, beyond its mere associational value."

I would like to end with some lines from the George Sterling poem

"The Oldest Book": Words of iris leap to sight; Then indeed that untaught art Burns deeply in the heart. Shut eyes and see! Ah! Read with me!

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: For those who would like to read more about Sterling/Finlay or experience some of their work, after my own detailed research via the Internet, I would like to recommend the following sites: GEORGE STERLING

Chris Mayou's (Sterling was his great uncle)

Boyd's creation, which is actually quite better than most of what I found out there

VIRGIL FINLAY - "The Virgil Finlay Information Pages"