My Mentor, Death
by Leslie D. Soule
(Terror House Press, 2020)

My Mentor, Death by Leslie D. Soule was not what I expected. The title of this book of poetry brings with it visions of gloom and doom, but the poetess has used death as a filter through which to explore her life: her past, her present, and to a lesser extent, her future. Most of these poems are grounded in the past and present.

The poet’s present is one of a slow awakening, or slow acceptance of the realisation of being human in our time, and specifically a woman. She describes this acceptance of inevitable loss, but she still acknowledges the visceral pain and anger of that loss.

Having read a bit of poetry and often been confounded by cleverness, I approached this book with some trepidation.

Was the reading of these poems going to make me feel like a stupid outsider, looking upon a claimed wealth of hidden pearls where I could only see sandy oyster shells?


The poems in this book are accessible. Even when Leslie uses literary references, she does so with kindness; she is not trying to write for the select who have had the benefit of a classical education. This poet/poetess/poet-person is a writer for the human on the street. She writes about things we are familiar with in this new world of ours. She even describes our blatant fear of this new life, such as in her poem “A-3, the Cashier Bot,” where she writes of the angry murder of poor Jim the robot.

But she is primarily concerned with the inner life of the every-person, as all good writers should be. She approaches the tragedy of cancer in “Just Some Thoughts” and the modern problem of finding a satisfactory relationship in “Cut the Script.” This poem resonates with the repetitive failures that Billy Pratt describes in his book of repeated failures in love, Welcome to Hell, which I previously reviewed for Terror House Magazine.

It seems to be an overarching problem in modern America, this sense of lacking any real connection. Leslie says in her poem “Silence” that she sends “…a handful of texts to a list of busy friends.” This is a quintessential reaching out to people who are not really there.

I think this is a book belonging to a particular generation, the generation of now.

At this present moment, there is a strange zeitgeist of writers being attracted to the horror genre and the various masks of death as a way to elucidate our disconnection from each other and our lives in general. Leslie uses demons and death as her metaphors. Our old way of life has certainly died in the face of our present digital revolution.

I find this use of horror and the characters of Halloween brought into the everyday life of America an understandable way to read modern life, because my imagination has been shaped, like Leslie’s (and Billy’s) by the world of the Internet, by pop culture, and by the influence of Latin America, whereas my mother’s generation was not.

The tenor and tone of our America has inexorably changed. Some commentators on American culture have pointed out the possibility that the nation’s welcoming of all religious beliefs has been a crucible (no pun intended) for the acceptance of the spiritual.

Even if this is the case, the America of Leslie’s poems is still a markedly different place to what it was a decade or so ago.

The “why” of our retreat to Gothic metaphor in the face of our increasingly electronic world, deserves, and receives, much debate by better minds than mine. It will probably become blatantly obvious to the next generation as they look back on us; providing, that is, that they still have a world to live in.

The fact that our life on Earth is so clearly tenuous, is, to my mind, one of the greatest reasons we have turned back to a world of demons and death to help us navigate our Brave New World. Let us hope that, like the shipwreck in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, referred to in Leslie’s poem “Shipwreck,” that we do have an Ariel defending the ship of our collective souls from wrecking on the shore of the modern world and our own feckless care of it.

This poet has offered up her heart in easily understood, largely free-verse poetry. She gives us interesting glimpses of her world and provides us with an avatar to venture into places we might not explore were we not being guided by her hand.

This woman is a writer; I heard her interview with Matt Forney on Terror House Radio and was struck by the reserve in her interview compared to her revelatory written words.

This is so often the case with poet-people; they need the rhythm and the beauty of language to aid them in the exploration of their souls, they need to have worshipped in the right bus shelter, and I here refer to Leslie’s quirky little poem, “Stand-In.” This is probably my favourite poem of the whole book as it strongly resonates with the weird fictional world of The Skyscraper Throne trilogy by British author Tom Pollack.

This poet-person has taken us for a walk down to Hades with her guitar in lieu of a lyre, but does not bring us to our knees in despair; instead, she gives us an interesting tour, but doesn’t demand our souls. We are allowed to glimpse the underworld, but remain firmly in the land of the living. Well done, Leslie.

Click here to buy My Mentor, Death.