Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 3, 2015


Footsteps in the Attic by Stanley McNail (1958)

Forgotten Book?  Not really.  Forgotten?  Yes.  Book?  Well, you decide.

From Wikipedia:  "Stanley McNail (1918?-1995) was an American poet.  Born in Southern Illinois, from 1950 he lived in San Francisco, where he edited and published Nightshade, an occasional broadside of fantasy and the macabre in poetry, and The Galley Sail Revue, which The San Francisco Examiner described as "one of San Francisco's most respected poetry magazines."  He also directed Galley Sail Publications and The Nine Hostages Press, and was poetry editor for Renaissance magazine."

McNail was the author of Something Breathing, a small book of macabre poetry published by August Derleth's Arkham House in 1965 -- a volume I greatly enjoyed, so when I had to a chanceto read his first macabre collection, Footsteps in the Attic, I jumped at it.  Something Breathing contained 32 poems; Footsteps in the Attic contains only ten.  (Poetry books are often very small.  Dunno why.)  Anyway, here are the poems, the longest of which is a mere twenty-five lines:

  • Return to an Old House
  • These Antlers
  • Pursuit
  • The Wino
  • Walpurgis Nacht
  • At the Moment of the Earthquake
  • The Zolzales
  • The Judgment of Fish
  • Three Sisters
  • Elsie's House

The poems are clever, immensely readable, and provide some interesting images.  Dead fish lie on cold beaches "like awkward questions."  During an earthquake, "in the Title and Trust Building there was a ripple of scared little clerks."  Something emerges from a closet, bounces to the kitchen sink,  and goes down the drain, "mocking my poor efforts with a plunger, leaving me weeping and probing with a broken stick."  And the Zolzales (rhymes with "doll sales") are terrifying creatures from the Otherwise Land whose main function is "to mete out a certain kind of poetic justice" with "the clamp of their jaws which can pulverize stones; they masticate tourists and spit out the bones.  They wolf down cats, but they won't touch fish.   Homeric children are their favorite dish.  The blood-red screams as they clobber and clout even jazz and Rexworth can't drown out."  I love the San Francisco-ish "jazz and Rexworth" reference.

Not surprisingly, the book was published by McNail's Galley Sail Press.

There are far worse ways to spend ten or fifteen minutes.  And you may find yourself coming back to some of these poems.

Other poetry volumes by Stanley McNail include The Black Hawk Country (1960), Sorceror's Showcase (1986), and At Tea in the Mortuary (1990).  I hope to get to them sometime in the future.

In the meantime, there's a chance that next week's Forgotten Book might be far more substantial wordwise.


  1. Oddly, at least one of these poems sounds like a Wollheim story...

    1. Several of these poems have Wollheim-like sensitivities, Todd.

    2. Several of these poems have Wollheim-like sensitivities, Todd.

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  3. Alas, only the profiteers are offering this one on Amazon. $150+ a pop...

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    2. Yep. Reminds me of the old joke of a kid who had a lemonade stand. His sign read "Lemonade -- $250,00 a glass." His mother told him, "At that price, I don't think you are going to get many customers." The kid answered, "I know, Mom, but I only have to sell one!"