Poet Spotlight: Melissa Eleftherion on survival and how language reshapes our perception of the world

Melissa Eleftherion is a writer, librarian, and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & seven chapbooks, including the recently released little ditch (above/ground press, 2018). Trauma Suture is forthcoming from above/ground in 2020. Her poems have appeared in many journals including Berkeley Poetry Review, and The Tiny. Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she manages the Ukiah Library, teaches creative writing, & curates the LOBA Reading Series. Recent work is available at www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.

Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being? 

little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.   

As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”

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Poet Spotlight: Michelle Scalise on the horrors of grief

Since 1994, Michelle Scalise‘s work has appeared in such anthologies as Unspeakable Horror, Darker Side, Mortis OperendiI, Dark Arts, The Big Book of Erotic Ghost Stories, Best Women’s Erotica, and such magazines as Cemetery Dance, Crimewave, Space And Time, and Dark Discoveries. She was nominated for the 2010 Spectrum Award, which honors outstanding works of fantasy and horror that include positive gay characters. Her poetry has been nominated for the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award. Her fiction has received honorable mention in Years Best Fantasy and Horror. Her latest poetry has been chosen by the Horror Writers Association for their anthology Horror Poetry Showcase: Volume I and II.

Her fiction collection, Collective Suicide, was published by Crossroad Press in 2012. In 2014, Eldritch Press published a collection of her poetry, The Manufacturer of Sorrow in paperback and ebook. It became a bestseller in the women writers category on Amazon. In May of 2019, her latest collection of poetry, Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning, was published by Lycan Valley Press. Michelle was raised in Kent, Ohio and is married to bestselling author Tom Piccirilli.

Your collection, Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning, delves into the brutal emotional intimacy of loss, pain, and abuse. Can you tell us about the book and the story it’s trying to tell? 

Dragonfly is about the horrors and monsters that find you as an adult and the ones that still haunt you from your childhood. Cancer and child abuse are more frightening than anything made-up. As I was writing about the death of my husband I stumbled upon articles related to WW1 widows in Great Britain and how these women were treated. As the death toll rose and there seemed to be no end in sight, the public began to question the war. The government needed to reassure people that the war was going to be won soon. So they issued pamphlets to the widows who were collecting a small stipend. They were told how long they should wear widow’s weeds and show blatant displays of grief. They were told how to mourn. It was bad for moral for a woman to still be broken-up after three months. A person could lose the small funds they were receiving if they didn’t follow the guidelines.Volunteer ladies would visit homes and report back. I don’t even remember most of what happened in my life the first year after my husband died. I lived in my bed. Never bothered to get dressed, let alone clean the house. I realized I wouldn’t have lived up to the rules they requested these widows adhere to. It has been four years and I still don’t live up to them.

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Poet Spotlight: Sarah Ann Winn on reclaimed fairy tales and the octopus in the jar

Sarah Ann Winn’s first book, Alma Almanac (Barrow Street, 2017), was selected by Elaine Equi as winner of the Barrow Street Book Prize. She’s the author of five chapbooks, the most recent of which is Ever After the End Matter (Porkbelly, 2019). Her work has appeared in Five Points, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, Smartish Pace, and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. She teaches writing workshops in Northern Virginia and the DC Metro area, and online at the Loft Literary Center. Visit her at http://bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling.

Your new collection of poetry is Ever After the End Matter. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Ever After the End Matter is a set of hybrid pieces (although some works in it are traditional looking poems and flash fiction) trying to reclaim fairy tales/strip some of the sentiment away so that we can get to the meat of the stories, their (sometimes ugly) truths about human nature, the characters who deserve more than a glance, and what they have to say about themes of loss, survival and resilience. The sequence started as I was working on the hybrid pieces for Alma Almanac, my first book. The spine of Alma Almanac is a set of imaginary book appendices/plate descriptions labeled as figures, the way that a reference work might describe an actual illustration. My mentor, after reading one of these figures, based on scenes from my childhood, asked “Why tether these to a number at all? Why not label them ‘Appendix Brown” or some other evocative word? While I didn’t end up using her suggestion for Alma Almanac, because I felt the numbers somehow resisted clear boundaries of a title, and anchored each fragment of text in reality/truth, the idea would not let me go, so I wrote the first of these, “Appendix Red” imagining the figures from fairy tales instead of from my childhood, and the heart of the sequence was born.

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Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry

Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective, 2018), Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9, 2019), and Another Set of Ripped-Out Bloody Pigtails (The Poet’s Haven, 2019). She also has two more chaps forthcoming — red circles into nothing (forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing) and the rabbits with red eyes (forthcoming from ethel). Cook’s first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. Her more recent full-length poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, was a collaboration with j/j hastain published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2018.

I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?

For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.

So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.

When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.

It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.

Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my  lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.

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Poet Spotlight: Ashley Miranda on surrealism, pop culture, and navigating trauma

Ashley Miranda is a latinx poet & teacher from Chicago. Most of their work is an exploration of mental health, gender, and trauma. Their poetry collection Thirteen Jars: How Xt’actani Learned to Speak was recently published by Another New Calligraphy. They have a chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl, which focuses on sexual abuse and reclaiming Dolores Haze, published by Glass Poetry. Their work has been previously featured by Yes, Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, MAKE magazine, and other publications. They tweet impulsive poetry and other musings @dustwhispers and you can learn more about their work at agirlaloof.com.

Tell us a bit about your new chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl.  What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

The collection is primarily focused on navigating sexual childhood trauma and how pop culture compresses and complicates dealing with trauma. It’s partly a critique of pop-cultural reimagining of Lolita/Nymphets/Dolores Haze and an attempt to navigate the gravity of sexual trauma, how it reaches out and resonates, ripples into everything you see.

I first started working on poems without a clear idea of a chapbook about two and a half years ago. At first, I started with responses to Lana del Rey’s Lolita and the shop Dolls Kill, which featured a Lolita-inspired collection, both referencing Nabakov’s Lolita. Despite my love of Lana, I had an inherent issue with the idea of inhabiting Lolita in a positive light. And that’s grown. Commercialization of ‘Nymphets’ is growing – from clothes, to songs, to lipsticks. As someone who has dealt firsthand with that trauma, I felt immensely troubled by how normalized and sexualized young children were becoming through the media they were consuming.

From there, the chapbook realized itself. I wrote about trauma a lot, though I wouldn’t call myself a ‘trauma’ writer. It surfaces in my work because it needs to at times. Because I feel that the aftermath, the triggers, the PTSD, the mental health, the way others and I see the world are important. I wanted to voice that in my poems. I eventually began critiquing the novel Lolita, which is a novel that I have a hate-love relationship with and I have immense empathy for Dolores Haze, who is often an afterthought despite being the epicenter of the sensual representation of a ‘lolita’. Some of my poems are directly in response to lines describing Lolita, some poems are response to rape culture, some a response to strength. Whatever strength that those who have survived such events can capture.

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