In Octavia Cades’ brilliant collection of poetry Mary Shelley Makes a Monster, the famous author of Frankenstein crafts a creature out of ink, mirrors, and the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after Shelley’s death, the monster searches for a mother to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. Pulling from the biographical accounts of these amazing authors, these poems beautifully examine the nature of art and creation, reading and consumption, and how monsters are really reflections of ourselves.
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
About halfway through the month, the impact of the novel corona virus became clear, with the Bay Area counties where I live issuing a shelter-in-place order in order to limit the virus’ spread. Everyone I know has been impacted by this. For me, personally, this has meant that I’ve been working from home — with a change in how I interact with media. My reading and podcast listening was down last month, movie watching and gaming was up.
I only completed one book during the month of March — Gwendolyn Kiste’s novella Pretty Marys All in a Row. Each night Resurrection Mary wanders a lonely highway, waiting for a driver to come by and pick her up. Once inside the car, she starts the scares and prepares to feed on their fear. When morning comes she returns home to the other Marys, other urban legends who fill the night with terror — Bloody Mary, Mary Mack, Mari Lwyd, and Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary.
As a family bound together in their ghostly state and need to feed, they gather together and share the scares of the night, supporting each other when the scares are few. But when the scares grow further and further apart, they will have to fight for their own deathly existence.
I loved the idea of bringing together these embodiments of urban legends. They each have their own strong personalities and have created their own powerful bonds with the few people who believe in them. In general, I just love seeing women come together as friends and family, women who stand up and fight for their place and bodies and rights to exist in the world. A fun, quick, smart read.
My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.
Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.
This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.
As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?
A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Eliza Griswold about her book If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020).
“Eliza Griswold writes in Snow in Rome, “we hate being human,/depleted by absence.” In her latest poetry collection, If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), Griswold grapples with a world that is fracturing at its foundation. In this series of poems, all at once dark. humorous and questioning, the author moves from the familiar to the unjust to hope with a keen eye. She guides readers through a world that at times strips the humanness from our bones with embedded violence and disconnection, but also calls for us to reconnect by reminding us to be a bridge out among the flames.”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
February was women in horror month, so I focused as much of my reading as possible on this subject area and read some fantastic and fun books. I enjoyed pretty much everything I read, but here are some of the standouts.
I finally got around to reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this book. The stories in this collection explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that.
All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways. Here are a few that I adored the most. In “The Husband Stitch,” a woman relates the story of meeting, falling in love, and living with her husband. She gives him everything of herself, with the only thing that belongs to her being a green ribbing she wears around her neck — which her husband over time grows more and more eager to understand and claim. The story is beautiful, intimate, with a truly unsettling ending.
“Inventory” tells the story of an apocalypse in a series of gorgeous, heartbreaking vignettes, each relating intimate moments and relationships with a variety of people in the narrator’s life.
In “The Resident,” an introverted, anxious writer begins a residency in the mountains near where she once went to Girl Scout Camps. The residency brings up memories of being at camp, illnesses and afflictions to her body, and anxieties about who she’s supposed to be around other people and writers. It’s intense and verges on horror, but mainly focuses on the internal struggles of the character. It’s a haunting, beautiful story.
“Especially Heinous” is an utterly fascinating story which reimagines 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU. In the story, Officers Stabler and Benson each become increasingly haunted and stalked by strange forces in unique ways. The short snippets of scenes are listed as episodes and everything unfolds as a compellingly surreal experience in which the city thrums with a living heartbeat and dead girls ring through the halls of apartments.
“Real Women Have Bodies” is a beautiful story of love in a world where women are loosing substance, fading away. It just about broke my heart.
If you’re into dark and bloody academia stories, then you should definitely consider reading Bunny by Mona Awad. Samantha Mackey is struggling through her MFA program at a prestigious university, where she’s finding herself unable to write and is repelled by the clicky group of women in her fiction writing workshop, who all call each other “Bunny.” Her one comfort is her friend, Ava, who is fierce and doesn’t give a crap what anyone else thinks And yet, when the Bunnies invite Samantha to their infamous Smut Salon, she goes and discovers the group has dark secrets.
The voice of Bunny is biting, the descriptions of the world edged with a sharp irony. It’s funny and brutal and sometimes aching with longing and sorrow. This novel was beautifully and darkly compelling, drawing me into its strange, surreal world. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next. I loved this book.
I went through several audiobooks this month, all of which were great, but I particularly loved The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, which was narrated by Hillary Hubert. When asked to clear out her grandmother’s house, Mouse travels with her dog to rural North Carolina where she discovers her grandmother was a hoarder and the mess is bigger than she imagined. As she sets to work, she’s able to almost ignore the strangeness of the woods around her — but that changes when she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, which relates the story of terrifying things. At first, she chalks it up to the delusions of an old man, until she starts to witness the horrors herself.
The Twisted Ones is a pitch perfect horror novel, made all the better by being filled with a cast of fun, interesting, and sympathetic characters. Mouse herself is entirely relatable, and the neighbors she meets and wonderfully, generous human beings. It makes it far more scary when you care about the characters involved and want them all to survive and return home safe and sound.
I’ve read Emily Carroll’s graphic novel collection of utterly horrifying fairy tales, so I was excited to pick up When I Arrived at the Castle, a wholly original and haunting fairy tale. An eerie fairy tale, in which a young woman travels to a distant castle with the purpose of confronting the lady of the house. As she follows the lady through the house, she learns how truly monstrous she is. The art work is beautiful, with its stark black and white imagery highlighted with pops of blood red color. The visuals switch between being dreamlike and utterly horrifying — and combined with the text, it makes for a compelling tale.
Outside of the horror genre, I read the The Spinning Place, a collection of poetry by Chelsea Wagenaar (which was provided to be by the publisher, Southern Indianan Review Press, for the purposed of an interview). The poems in this book explore the things the body carriers, whether its a growing fetus in the womb with all its demands on existence and the future or the emotional weight of family and relationships. I’m hoping to have an interview with Wagenaar in an upcoming episode of the New Books in Poetry Podcast.