Poet Spotlight: Sara Ryan on taxidermy and beauty in the uncanny

Sara Ryan poet

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain and others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.

never leave the foot of an animal unskinned-sara ryanI loved reading your new chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned. Can you tell us a bit about this collection and how it came into being?

This collection manifested in a material culture theory class during my MFA. In this class, we contemplated objects in literature and how those objects were handled in these literary worlds. We were challenged to choose our own objects and engage with them critically and creatively, and after a lot of research into my various interests, I found an old book in our library that lead me on a strange journey into the world of taxidermy. This book, Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting: A Complete Handbook for the Amateur Taxidermist, Collector, Osteologist, Museum-Builder, Sportsman, and Traveller by William Temple Hornaday (published in 1891) became the nexus of this collection.

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Building Poetry Community: My Blogging Year in Review

I took part in the Great Poet Bloggers Revival, launched by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, which challenged poets to publish one new blog post per week in order to help everyone feel more engaged in the community.

This year, I managed to put together 63 blog posts — not all of these were put out weekly as intended and not all focused on poetry. But I’m feeling happy and confident about the amount of blogging I managed to do in 2018.

Out of all the blogging I’ve done in the past year, I am most proud of the eight poet spotlight interviews I’ve conducted. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of and learn from the poetry community — and since I’ve been lax on participating or attending readings and open mics, being able to still feel connected through these interviews has been wonderful. Links to the eight interviews are presented below.

Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry:

“It’s hard to describe why I write poetry because it feels somewhat out of my control, but I know I need poetry to move through the world and my life, and I’m extremely grateful that poetry is the form that feels like home to me — even if it’s a scary home that I find riveting and that I feel extremely vulnerable in.”

Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power:

“I was a total tomboy and actively discouraged being perceived as feminine, but lots of horror movies (think The Ring, Carrie, and even Psycho, in a deferred kind of way) reinforce that femininity can be dangerous, which is problematic, obviously, but also weirdly empowering. Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate:

“I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm.”

Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance:

“I’m not someone who sits before the page every day; I do a lot more daily internal work and note taking, which leads me, eventually to the page — but after a while (maybe a year or eighteen months) I had a decent stack of poems. So, I did what I normally do — I looked through them to figure out my obsessions to help guide me towards a new manuscript.”

Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons:

“To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win.”

Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge:

“There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men.”

Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity:

“Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected.”

Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light:

“There is a different kind of knowledge that emerges in the obscured spaces, those shaped by the shadows of what is in the way of our easy reach. The allure of the uncertain, the risk, the hidden, and the dangerous orbit around the notion that risk brings relief, brings possibilities beyond what is easily inspected. Just as we are so accustomed to the image, we tend to crave the comfort of texture or touch, the scent of the unfamiliar as much as the sensation that invites us into staying in the revelry of the uncertain. In this space of darkness, what we see is never really certain, and the secret parts of the psyche find opportunities to come out and play.”

Other than the poetry spotlights highlighted above, I also blogged about my culture consumption (books, movies, TV, games, etc.) throughout the year, shared news about my writing and travels, and hosted a couple of giveaways. Among these, the five that I’m most pleased with are:

    1. As a Single Lady Alone on Valentines Day
    2. The Beautiful Horrors of Junji Ito
    3. Six Things I Loved About Egypt
    4. Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers
    5. Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV

All in all, I think it’s been a pretty good blogging year for me. Thank you to everyone who’s been with me on this journey. I hope you’ll stick around and continue reading in the new year.


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Poet Spotlight: Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power

Chelsea Margaret Bodnar is made of blood, meat, and bones — the usual suspects. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: The Bennington Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Freezeray, Leopardskin & Limes, Menacing Hedge, and NANO Fiction, among others.

You recently published your debut collection of poetry, Basement Gemini (Hyacinth Girl Press). Tell us a bit about the chapbook and how it came into being.

Well, I wrote Basement Gemini at a time when I was thinking very extensively about The Ring. I think it’s a fascinating movie, and no, I haven’t seen the original Japanese version. I’m a straight-up American Ring poseur. Anyways, The Ring is really interesting to me because of the ambiguity of its message. The takeaway is essentially that a little girl has been abused and ultimately murdered, but the twist is that she was presumably inherently evil the whole time, and you end up with this weird message/ethical dilemma about misplaced empathy, feminine power, and nature vs. nurture. At the end of the day, though, no matter how evil and powerful she was, Samara couldn’t get herself out of that well.

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Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity

Holy Lyn Walrath

Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. ​Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath or on Instagram @Holly__Lyn. (Bio from author’s website.)

You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Glimmerglass Girl by Holy Lyn WalrathSome time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.

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Poet Spotlight: Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge

Marissa Crawford

I’m so thrilled to be able to feature Marisa on my site. I met her many years ago when we were both interns at Aunt Lute Books, and it’s been a delight seeing her flourish as a poet in the time since.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible(2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples, 2013) and Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain, 2015). Her poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in BUST, Broadly, Hyperallergic, Bitch, Fanzine, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque (Saturnalia Books). Marisa is the founder and editor-in-chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website WEIRD SISTER. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. (Bio from poet’s website.)

How did you get started as a poet? Why draws you to writing poetry?

I fully credit the movie My Girl for making me a poet — this movie basically destroyed my childhood but also made me the person I am now, and the poem the main character, Vada, writes about her best friend dying made me want to write poems myself. I wrote my first poem in 4th grade when my best friend moved away, and continued writing poems in high school. When I got to college, a few teachers encouraged me to write more and that’s when I started taking myself seriously as a poet. I’m drawn to poetry because I think it’s the way I naturally think — poems can be weird and sad and scary and funny and political and they can about 100 different things all at once. And poetry to me is kind of the pinnacle of valuing emotional knowledge over rational thinking, which is far too often disregarded in our mainstream capitalist culture.

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