I received news yesterday that my debut poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin, won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2015 Elgin Chapbook Award! The award honors the best speculative poetry chapbook published in 2013-2014. I was honored to be nominated, and I’m just plain thrilled to win! I’ve been writing speculative poetry since I was a kid, and I’m amazed to have my work recognized by this wonderful organization whose grandmasters include luminaries like Ray Bradbury, Jane Yolen, and Bruce Boston. Read more about the chapbook here, and order a copy here.
I was excited to find the latest issue of Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism in the mail today. This issue includes two of my poems, “Instructions for Letting the Stranger into Your Bed” and “Ahab’s Sister-Wives,” along with poems by Ki Russell and Gregg Murray, a story by Stephen Langlois, and more! Phantom Drift is always delightfully weird, and this issue’s theme is “navigating the slipstream.” I’m sitting down with my coffee to read it cover to cover now! Order a copy here.
I have been traveling on and off, since early May, so I only just got the chance to be amazed by this wonderful new review of Wolf Skin in the latest issue of American Book Review! Huge thanks are in order to Saara Myrene Raappana for her insightful close reading. Here’s an excerpt:
Reaching beyond the simple retelling or recasting of the myths that compose our culture’s symbolical landscape, Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin (2014) weaves brave, dark versions of the Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel tales into the emerging identity of a textual version of the poet. In doing so, she creates a new myth about mother- and daughterhood, contrasting the mortality of self and body with the immortality of love. What’s most impressive about this collection is the way that it builds a mere twenty pages into a single composition that illuminates and complicates both the individual speaker and mythical characters, each informing the other… Before any myths have even been mentioned, the book’s central symbology is established: mothers, children, and flying creatures that mediate the connection between the dead and the living… Wolf Skin catches the reader in its snare, personalizing the universal girl of myth and universalizing the individual woman/poet/speaker by blending them together, and in so doing invites readers to identify as closely with the poet-voice as we’re meant to identify with the cautionary figures of our most basic myths.
The latest issue of Ninth Letter features two of my poems, “The Sleagh Maith: A Nocturne,” part of my series on folklorist Robert Kirk, and “Open Letter to the Frog Princess,” a poem retelling the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Frog King or Iron Heinrich, popularly known as The Princess and the Frog. Also in the issue is new writing by Dawn S. Davies, Ander Monson, Terrance Manning Jr., and more, not to mention some pretty wild visuals, as usual. I love this journal!
I just finished a month-long writing residency at Vermont Studio Center, where I spent each day writing in a beautiful studio with a view of the Gihon River and attended readings, slideshows, and talks almost every night. Especially fascinating was visiting poet Sherwin Bitsui‘s seminar on translation and the way language carries culture, and visiting novelist Matt Bell‘s talk on revision, which was exactly what I needed to hear as I worked on my novel-in-progress. I was impressed with the level of conversation during Q&As after readings and the conversations about craft I had with other residents and visiting writers. Overall, there was a wonderful sense of community, and the campus itself is beautiful. Best of all, I completed the first draft of my novel while I was there! And now, to revise it…
My short story, “Primrose, Or Return to Il’maril” (originally appearing in Apex Magazine, Oct. 2014) is currently being featured by Drabblecast, an award-winning speculative podcast, for Women and Aliens Month. You can listen to the story here (scroll down for the link to audio). Host Norm Sherman makes an intense Vierro Casstratil, and Gabrielle deCuir’s voice acting for Virginia Booth is out of this world. There’s even original art, based on Il’marillian mythology, by E. C. Ibes.
In honor of Women’s History Month, today, I’m posting about one of the medieval women I’ve been researching for my novel in progress. Relatively little is known of Beatrice of Burgundy (c. 1143-1184) compared to what is known of her husband. She was about thirteen years old when she married the German king and Roman Emperor Frederick “Barbarossa,” but she was no stranger to royal titles even at that age. She had become the Countess of Burgundy at five when her father died and somehow managed to keep the title despite her uncle trying to take it from her. Imagine that–becoming Countess at five and Holy Roman Empress at thirteen. Imagine what such a woman would be like, what she would be capable of.
In most of the allusions I’ve found to Beatrice, she is mentioned for the land she owned, her childbearing, or her beauty. In Alfred Haverkamp’s Medieval Germany (1992), she is indexed three times as “Beatrice, w of Emperor Frederick”: first, with a description of the properties she owned upon their marriage; second, with a description of what happened to those properties after her death; and third, with a list of the twelve children she bore him and the marriage negotiations Frederick completed on their behalf. In Umberto Eco’s speculative novel, Baudolino (2000), she appears as the protagonist’s beautiful and unattainable love interest. A Latin poem, Carmen de gestis Frederici I imperatoris in Lombardia (1162), compares Beatrice’s beauty and brilliance on her wedding day to Venus, Minerva, Juno, and the Virgin Mary. About six hundred years after the wedding, the event would capture the imagination of two Italian painters.
Eight-hundred years after her death, these images are all that survive of Beatrice in the popular imagination. Images that focus on her beauty, her possessions, and her wedding day. Images that view her as a tool for securing land, a lasting legacy, or sexual fulfillment.
The truth, of course, is that Beatrice of Burgundy was a conscious human being with thoughts and desires of her own. In the twelve children with whom she is so frequently credited, I see a determination to maintain her position where her predecessor failed; Frederick had annulled his childless marriage to his first wife. In reports that she traveled extensively with her husband and heavily involved herself in the culture and politics of court, I see a political mind. A miniature in a 14th century Venetian manuscript depicts her arguing with Pope Alexander alongside her husband. Long after the wedding, the Emperor was accused of being “under her influence.” Such a legacy is far less likely to be the product of chance or others’ designs than it is to be the product of her own carefully constructed political decisions. Although Beatrice has most often been depicted as a pawn in Frederick’s strategy game, it’s interesting to think about what she gained from their union. He may have obtained control of the county of Burgundy with their marriage, but she gained access to the world.
My poems, “The Day the Woman Shed Her Skin” and “The Frog King,” are featured in the Fall/Winter 2014 (34.2-3) issue of The Chattahoochee Review, alongside a review essay by contributing editor Gregg Murray on “Confessionalism and High Modernism in Recent Work by Sampson Starkweather, Mary McMyne, and Okla Elliot.” Here’s an excerpt:
McMyne’s elegant lyricism elevates the verse, giving the fairy tales a weird significance that the many epigraphs in the chapbook (translated, typically from the original German) lack… Her details, such as the Latin name of a plant or butterfly, are authenticating, an important feature of fantastical genres. Such details allow the reader to suspend disbelief and trust the world of the text.
I’m honored to see Wolf Skin get such attention and to see my work included in this issue. One of the highlights for me was “Nathan,” a wonderfully bizarre story by David James Poissant, which reminded me of one of my favorite shorts by Donald Barthelme.
I’m delighted to have five poems featured in the winter 2014 issue of Faerie Magazine alongside fairytale photography by Margarita Kareva, fiction by Kate Bernheimer and Alice Hoffman, an essay by Signe Pike, and more. My poems take another look at the “Snow White and Rose Red” tale as collected by the Brothers Grimm. Look for Faerie in your local Barnes and Noble, or subscribe online today.
I’ll be the featured poet at this week’s Superior Poetry Cafe, tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, 2014, at 7 pm at Bayliss in the Sault. Wolf Skin will be available for sale and signing. The open mic after the reading is always interesting! U.P. poetry folks and fairy tale aficionados, see you there.
My sci-fi short, “Primrose, or Return to Il’maril,” in which a crotchety old woman xenoanthropologist investigates a culture set on dying with its star, is out now in Apex Magazine. This story was a blast to write, and I’m so pleased it has found a home there!
My review of Elizabeth Robinson’s haunting hybrid collection, On Ghosts, is now up at Verse:
Elizabeth Robinson’s fourteenth book, On Ghosts, is indeed a haunting collection. Elusive and difficult to characterize, the book contains poems as well as abstract essayistic passages, floating quotations, anecdotes, an e-mail, mathematical formulae, and descriptions of (absent) photographs. In her “Explanatory Note,” Robinson writes that the collection “is an essay on the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting,” and at first glance, this statement appears to be true.
My short story, “Camille,” has been selected by judge Julianna Baggott as the second-place winner of this year’s Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction! This is one I’ve been working on for a while — it’s the story that opens my novel retelling the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a Vietnam soldier’s wife — so I’m excited it has found a home. “Camille” will appear in the fall 2014 online issue of Philadephia Stories. I’ll post a link here when it’s up. Thanks to Julianna Baggott and everyone at Philadelphia Stories for their work on the competition and the McGlinn, Hansma, and Dry families for funding the prize!
Tonight, I finished reading Shaindel Beers’ second full-length poetry collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt Publishing, 2013). It’s a book in two parts about a difficult subject — the effects of war and violence on children and society at large — but it’s also a book about the healing power of poetry and art.
The first part of the book contains poems based on the artwork of child survivors of war. In one, “After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart,” Beers writes from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old survivor of the Spanish Civil War, imagining the reasons behind the artistic choices her speaker made in this piece:
The plane drops a single black tear of a bomb
that tears a hole in the mountains. The station
bell is mute next to the air raid sirens, and we run.
… [The train] is a ghost train, light gray
and see-through because we never got on. I didn’t finish
the tracks because I never learned where they would go.
Another poem, “Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa,” is based on a drawing of a “family of fourteen hiding in a basement” with the speaker’s cat Pepa, who Little Amira claims “himself was love.” This is why when she draws him, Beers has the girl explain, “his face is an orange heart. He is smiling / with his mouth and his eyes and his whiskers.” Yes, a grenade “blew open the shelter.” Yes, after the explosion, “the world/ became only Lejla and me…” But Amira “draw[s] Pepa over and over” to honor him, and looks to the future with hope, however heartbreaking that hope is: “When I grow up, I will own a pet store./ I will have ten cats named Pepa./ I will do a better job because/ I will be bigger.” Though Beers stares unflinchingly into the inhumanity and violence of war, over and over, she finds humanity and beauty in the artwork it inspires.
The second part of the collection plumbs the same psychic depths in the world at large, beginning with “Me Llamo,” a poem dedicated to Esteban Guerra, a little boy who believes he carries the guilt of the world’s wars because his name means war itself:
At Confession, he recited figures from every
war he could find in the encyclopedias his abuela kept
in the front room. Padre, I killed 500,000 in Spain
In the 1930s. And 750,000 in the American Civil War alone.
From Esteban, Beers moves to victims of domestic violence in the Midwest, a nameless sister who takes the blame for her brother’s death, a girl near Boston who is waiting for a kidney transplant. Scattered throughout these poems about contemporary American people are mythic poems exploring the violent depths of our collective consciousness: there is a poem from the point of view of a raped naiad, a narrative from Daphne of her transformation into a tree. There are poems inspired by art here, too, for example “After Doctor’s Orders,” a poem inspired by a fused glass sculpture by Tom Dimond, which takes as its subject a man-become-bird who “has felt the southern pull on him in fall,/the northern tug in spring…”
By the end of the collection, when Beers describes her son, Liam, staring up from “the orange hammock of his stroller” at the “bright blue field” of the sky, throwing his fists up, his small hands “opening and closing,” we understand exactly what she means when she says he is “trying to grab // the vastness.” Her poems do something similar: they reach into the dark with small hands to capture the vastness of the human spirit.