From time to time, I interview poets (and occasionally artists) about their work. If you have a new book/chapbook out and are interested in being featured in a spotlight interview, please contact me at andrea [at] andreablythe [dot] com.
Meg Johnson is the author of the books Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press, 2014), The Crimes of Clara Turlington (Vine Leaves Press, 2015), and Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press, 2020). Without: Body, Name, Country was nominated for the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards. Her writing has appeared in Bust Magazine, Hobart, Ms. Magazine, Nashville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others.
Without: Body, Name, Country is my third book. It was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Vine Leaves Press had previously published my second book, The Crimes of Clara Turlington. My first book, Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press) came out in 2014, and my second book came out in 2015. I had Guillain-Barré syndrome after my second book came out, and it was a long recovery process. I was writing throughout the entire recovery process, but I didn’t stress about writing a certain amount because I was focused on my health. I think because there wasn’t very much time between the first book and the second book coming out, I didn’t feel the need to rush the publication of the third book. I waited longer to submit the third book for publication after finishing it than the first two books.
Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Crab Creek Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. Collaborative work made with Elizabeth Paul has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press). Rebecca is a Women’s National Book Association poetry contest winner and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, Dressing the Wounds, was published by dancing girl press in 2019, and her debut full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in 2021. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and is editor/director of Perugia Press. Find her at rebeccahartolander.com and @rholanderpoet.
Your new collection of poetry is Dressing the Wounds. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
The new collection is also my first collection, and it came into being in kind of an unusual way, at least for me. In sum, I created it with a specific press in mind, and I didn’t get feedback on the manuscript as a whole before submitting it for consideration. To explain further, in the summer of 2018, I was feeling pretty discouraged by the lack of success I was having placing my full-length manuscript. I had finished my MFA program three years prior, and each year I was having a steady incline in individual subs being accepted, but lots of rejections (and a nice bunch of semi-finalist/finalist nods) for the book. I felt like it was high time I had a book in the world, and it began to seem silly that I hadn’t even had a chapbook out yet. Even students of mine were publishing chaps, and I was feeling like I’d skipped a step trying to go from individual publications to placing a full-length manuscript.
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.”
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.
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.
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.