Three of my new poems exploring the life, death, and work of Robert Kirk — the 17th century Scottish folklorist, minister, and Gaelic scholar — are featured in the summer issue of Contrary Magazine! Robert Kirk was the author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, a pseudo-scientific study of the folk beliefs of his parishioners about the sleagh maith — that is, the sith or fairies — and all of the other “subterranean and invisible inhabitants” of Scotland. Left in manuscript form at the time of Kirk’s death in 1692, The Secret Commonwealth was published by Andrew Lang in the 19th century. I’m fascinated both by the book, which paints a vivid picture of 17th century Scottish folk beliefs, and by the facts of Kirk’s life. He claimed to have second sight, truly believed in the sleagh maith, and was found dead in his nightshirt one evening on a dun-shi, or fairy hill, in his native Aberfoyle, Scotland. You can read the poems here.
I just finished reading Book of Asters, Sally Rosen Kindred’s haunting second collection (Mayapple Press, 2014). The poems in Book of Asters, like the poems in Kindred’s first full-length book, No Eden, explore themes of motherhood, grief, and spirituality in beautiful, lyrical language. Many of the poems turn flowers into metaphors for womanhood and desire, exploring the fertility, transience, and healing power of asters, zinnias, and weeds. Others explore what happens when the flower of womanhood fails to bloom, using the language of flowers to articulate the secret griefs of infertility and miscarriage. Reanimating a long-ago childhood when carts drifted through Winn-Dixie parking lots, children placed their heads on their desks to listen to records, and a daughter longing for otherworldly talismans stole “fists of quartz” from a neighbor’s driveway, this evocative collection explores the complexities of family life and the relationships of a mother to her children and “all the children [she] will never bear.” Highly recommended.
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?
Read the rest of the interview here.
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.
The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss (edited by Tanya Chernov) is now available on Kindle! The first of its kind, this multimedia anthology weaves together many solitary experiences to create a tapestry of inspiration, support, and hope. In it, you can read my poem, “Irène Joliot-Curie,” watch a short video introduction about my inspiration for writing it, and watch and listen to me read the poem. The anthology also includes inspiring, personal multimedia contributions from eighty-nine other poets, including Jeannine Hall Gailey, Kelly Davio, Janeen Rastall, and many others. Contributions include audio, video, paintings, photos, digital art, and links to books and literary magazines. Best of all, 100% of the proceeds benefit cancer research!