My prose poem, “Wolf Skin,”had its musical debut this week at the Baltimore Composers Forum concert with the original score by composer Elizabeth Skola Davis. Watch the video below to see the performance by Joseph Regan, tenor, and Tim McReynolds, piano!
The lyrics originally appeared as a prose poem in the Los Angeles Review and as the title poem in my chapbook.
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.
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.
Last month brought some good news for Wolf Skin–the chapbook was nominated for the 2015 Elgin Award, an annual competition for speculative poetry collections coordinated by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). And this week, SFPA member Sandra J. Lindow reviewed the collection for Star*Line, the SFPA’s quarterly publication. The review is based on a really close reading of the chapbook, and I’m so grateful to Lindow for it. Here’s an excerpt:
Nineteen elegant poems in this simulated antique handmade edition reflect contemporary insight into fairy tales whose origins are lost in time. Native of south Louisiana, Mary McMyne writes poetry flavored by the moonshine of Southern Gothic and puts them in a butterfly frame. There is a witchy, cognitive connection between “the woman in my head who pinned monarchs to cork” mentioned in the first poem, “The Butterfly Dome” and the poems that follow. ‘Lepidoptera’ reveals that ‘unlucky’ butterflies sleep ‘under glass,’ ‘wings wide open—married to cork’ while the woman who collects them dreams of flight as she transfixes their wings. This dichotomy of love and death, freedom and captivity, power and powerlessness is a reoccurring motif ‘pinned down’ throughout the collection… Much is contained in this small package of poems. Highly recommended.”
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’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.
The interview Tanya Chernov conducted with me about Wolf Skin is now up, over at her blog. Below is an excerpt from the beginning:
TC: Let’s talk about that fantastic title! At what point in the process of composition did you nail it down and know you had the title of your manuscript? What does it represent for you?
MM: Many of the poems in the chapbook explore our preoccupation with putting on a front of invulnerability or fierceness. European folktales as we know them today are violent stories, with clear underlying assumptions about the widespread existence of evil in the world. One of the questions I found myself asking, as I wrote these poems, is do I believe in that evil? Whatever it is, how should we choose to react to it? The title poem follows the huntsman from the Brothers Grimm variant of Little Red Riding Hood as he comes upon the wolf asleep—snoring loudly—in the grandmother’s bed. Because the poem is written in second person, reading the poem, you enter the huntsman’s mind as he realizes what the wolf has done and rushes to save the girl and her grandmother. You become the huntsman, as he “slit[s] the beast open, the word hero stinging [his] tongue.” But Red and the grandmother do not respond, here, as they do in the Grimms’ version. At the end of the poem, the huntsman plans the story he’ll tell his friends, then tries on the “wolf skin” as he walks home. The title shifted several times during the writing process, but when the poem was accepted at Los Angeles Review, I loved your and Kelly Davio’s suggestion that I pull out the phrase “wolf skin” from the final verse and use it as the title, because of the way it brought out the themes of the poem. Ultimately, the poem asks, what really happened at grandmother’s house? Why do men become heroes or villains?
Tanya Chernov earned her MFA in poetry from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Whidbey Writers Workshop. Author of the Kirkus Review’s 15 Excellent New Memoirs, A Real Emotional Girl (Skyhorse Publishing), she is the former poetry and translations editor for the Los Angeles Review. In 2014, she edited the groundbreaking multimedia poetry anthology, The Burden of Light. Tanya lives and writes in Seattle with her dog, Mona, though the roots of her heart remain firmly planted in Wisconsin.
Wolf Skin follows a modern woman whose mother told her dark fairy tales when she was a girl. Many of the poems in the collection retell the tales of the Brothers Grimm from the perspectives of minor characters, such as the huntsman from Little Red Riding Hood, the witch from Rapunzel, and the woodcutter’s wife from Hansel and Gretel. Others look at the stories of popular characters in a fresh light.
Learn more about the chapbook and order copies here.
I first encountered Jeannine Hall Gailey‘s work in The Los Angeles Reviewand Phantom Drift, and since then I’ve read all three of her books. If you haven’t read them, you’re missing out! In Becoming the Villainess, her first collection, Gailey explores the origins, behavior, and fates of the characters of our collective imagination who help to define what it means to be female: from Greek goddesses to wicked queens, television spy girls to video game and comic book heroines. Her next two books are just as inventive. She Returns to the Floating Worldexplores Japanese folklore and pop culture, building a beautiful and strange, eerie poetic world in which “wasps and swallows/build nests from radioactive mud” and we might meet the fox wife, the crane wife, or a “dragon in the garden.” Unexplained Fevers, her third book, contains alternate versions of European fairy tales in which, for instance, Rapunzel returns, alone, to the tower to “run her fingers up and down the cold stone wall” and Snow White complains that “all these huntsman are the same… promising candy and nosegays, planning to cut out your heart.” Each one of these books is a pleasure to read; no matter the subject matter, Gailey surprises. I’m honored that she took the time to read Wolf Skin and excited to share what she had to say:
In these poems, at the nexus of science and mythology, Mary McMyne delicately dissects wolf, butterfly and crocus with the same careful intensity. Wolf Skin entrances even as it invites us into a world of princes-turned-hedgehog, mothers who disappear, and characters skeptical of their stories. One poem begs, “Huntsman, leave us, like stones in the wolf’s belly, without memory…” but this is a collection you will return to and remember.
Thirteen years ago, I took a graduate-level poetry-writing course with Andrei Codrescu at Louisiana State University. He taught me a valuable lesson about the political function of poetry, introduced me to Alice Notley and Anselm Hollo — poets whose writing I still love — and challenged me a great deal to experiment with language and voice. He is an excellent teacher, an intimidating scholar, and a rigorous critic, a writer whose poetry, prose, and commentary I greatly admire. I was honored when he ran the very first nonfiction piece I ever published at Exquisite Corpse, and I am honored, today, to read what he has to say about Wolf Skin:
Who knew that a poet would come by one day and reanimate the ancient, tragic fairytale figures of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel? And that she would not only reanimate those uneasy ghosts stalking the roots of memory, but also the ghostly plants and animals of the world that devoured and mourned them? Well, she has: it’s Mary McMyne, with her flute of life, blowing healing air into archetypal pain. One by one her ancestral victims rise from the cannibal fog of our oldest past to live in these marvelous prose-poetry stereopticons. Stories to be truly chilled by, wolf hair by wolf hair.
So excited! I just received the first blurb for my poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin, forthcoming next year from Dancing Girl Press. I was introduced to Sally Rosen Kindred’s poetry through my work with Border Crossing. I’m fascinated by critical retellings of fairy tales and myths, and her poems were thoughtful and lyrical. In one, “Sleeping Beauty Remembers Why” she pricked her finger on purpose; in another, the devil is humanized through the sorrow of his mother. I loved the density of her language, her attention to sound. I was excited to find that her first collection, No Eden(Mayapple Press, 2011), was just as beautiful. A moving look at Southern girlhood through the lens of Biblical myth — the Virgin Mary, Eve, and Lilith are all there — the book isfull of intense, bittersweet poems that demand savoring. I can’t wait to read her next full-length collection, Book of Asters, due out from Mayapple Press in 2014. Given my admiration for her work, you can imagine how honored I am by what she has to say about Wolf Skin:
“Enter the wood, dark and wild, the trees that bend,” sings a voice from Mary McMyne’s quiet, powerful poems, and the enchantment begins. In the rich textures of her work dwells the terrible beauty of trapped things—a butterfly behind glass; a daughter within her mother’s memory; and a girl, always a girl, in a tower, in a wood, in a wolf. As these figures say their names, they tell, too, the price of liberation from—and into—story. Enter these poems, and know their hungers. Some of them will call to you, like the red-capped child in “The Girl Who Came Before” who says, “It is time for us to drown./ It is time for us to touch the moon.” Some of these poems you may never leave.
My first poetry chapbook will be released next year by Dancing Girl Press, a small press in Chicago that specializes in publishing innovative poetry by women authors!
Through a feminist lens, Wolf Skinexamines how fairy tales shape a person and the way she sees the world. In these poems, a woman reflects on the stories her mother told her and discovers how to move beyond the duality they reinforce. I’m excited to work with series editor Kristy Bowen, whose poetry I very much admire.