The Terrors

Nine Arches Press, 2009
ISBN 9780956055927
Illustrated by Emma Robertson
32pp, £5 – SOLD OUT

Download on Amazon Kindle

Shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets 2009

The Terrors is a sequence of imagined emails; poetic missives from the start of the 21st century to inmates at London’s notorious Newgate Prison. The emails introduce a cast of 18th century villains and their gruesome crimes: ‘Half-hanged Smith’; executioner-turned-murderer Jack Ketch; the notorious Waltham Blacks.

Mimicking the tone of its primary source, The Newgate Calendar, The Terrors tacks from horror to humour, from moral disgust to the casual chit-chat of the digital generation, all the time delineating London’s violent urban undercurrent in bold, energetic and sometimes shocking language.



‘Dark London history, dredged and interrogated, spits and fizzes with corrosive wit. Language-receipts sustain the necessary illusion. IT MATTERS. It matters: the weight and pace of delivery, the balance of breath. Tom Chivers understands the risks he risks, the play in a taught rope. ‘I’ll ghost-write, if you ask.’
Iain Sinclair

‘The Terrors is a prose-poetry fusion of 18th-century London and online modernity. It makes for a new kind of street ballad.’
Ali Smith, The Guardian

The Terrors is clever, elegant and troubling […] It flashes across boundaries.’
Alison Brackenbury, PN Review

‘It’s difficult to give an impression of the excitement this collection generates for me. It’s a truly remarkable sequence, alive to the possibilities of what language can do, totally confident in its creation of a hyperreality where past and present mingle and bleed into one another. If all of its meaning is not immediately apparent at first, second, or even third reading, this is no kind of handicap. The verve and energy of the writing is enough to make the leap over any semantic gaps the reader might uncover. This is a very achieved debut, and I see it as something of a call to arms to other young poets: who’s going to top it?’
Simon Turner, Gists and Piths

‘Another of the things I enjoyed most was the tension between the compressed, shorthand form of the typical email, and the poet’s instinct to wax lyrical. It results in a sense of language only just being kept under control (and at times it glimpses freedom and explodes into all sorts of unexpected allusions and associations). That tension, of course, mirrors the knife edge on which the gaol’s inmates are treading.’
Matt Merritt, PolyOlbion

‘Tom Chivers promises – and delivers – anachronisms in these well-presented 30-odd pages of poems – poem-emails, prose-poems, email-musings – with an urban twist well-suited to such disturbing subject matter. […] This is contemporary elegy, then, for the long-dead, the unknown, many of them victims of a clumsy, unjust and barbaric legal system. […] The Terrors is a bold, dark, and deeply unsettling collection which introduces a strong new poetic voice.’
Jane Holland, Raw Light

An exuberant, coherent and original pamphlet […] like all satire The Terrors is ambivalent about its subjects; its moral force is both complicated and reduced by its interest in the criminals and lurid details.’
Tony Williams, Aye Lass

‘It’s powerful stuff – one email says “I attach evidence of your crimes in high res jpeg” followed by descriptions of some nasty physical abuse. But it also has energetic language, knowing irony and the textual sophistication.’
Alan Baker, Litterbug

‘A masterful sequence of poems … [that] draw our attention to the rhythms of modern correspondence whilst constructing a dialogue with the past.’
Phil Brown, Stride Magazine

‘Textspeak and archaic diction mingle. The emails transcend not only distance but time. Past and present horrors are separated by a click. […] Terror and horror (and denials that it has taken place) are as alive in the 21st century as in the 18th.’
Rob A Mackenzie, Sphinx

‘Defoe and Blake stand behind Ackroyd and Sinclair in the frightening underworld Chivers has created. It is a remarkable début, an ambitious, chilling achievement, brilliantly and disturbingly illustrated by Emma Robertson. It offers glimpses of a London gone viral as much of hyperreality has gone viral, a London whose feral streets spread like a plague, infecting the rest of the culture. This is exciting stuff, promising great work in the future.’
William Bedford, Sphinx

‘[The Terrors] is a cracking read. […] Don’t laugh, but it’s made me feel rather jittery walking down narrow alleys and cycling home in the dark.’
Sue Butler, Sphinx

‘This sequence announces a poet awake to the strangeness thrown up by flights of imagination which variously place the snappy media-speak of our information age aside the gratuitous crime reportage of 18th century London. […] a mysterious book.’
Kayo Chingonyi, Eyewear

‘History collides with the technological age – thunderously good.’
Jon Stone, Cut Out & Keep

Also, see article Poets Take Up A New Muse by Hannah Waldram, The Telegraph


Comments by readers

‘I found [The Terrors] very powerful. You created a world and an atmosphere that leaves me wanting to know more. Terrific.’

‘Have just read The Terrors whilst drinking my morning tea. Couldn’t put it down! A great concept.’

‘It’s a rare thing to read something that genuinely feels fresh, but this is one of those rarities. Fascination takes turns with revulsion at the crimes that led the inmates to Newgate, delivered in words that require multiple readings to fully realise what is on offer. Stunning illustrations to boot.’

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