Poet Spotlight: Meg Johnson on Illness, Persona, and the Performance of Poetry

Meg Johnson

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 by Meg JohnsonYour latest book of poetry is Without: Body, Name, Country. Tell us a bit about the project and how it came into being. 

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. 

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Only 14 Days Left to Preorder TWELVE

The official launch of my new chapbook is only 14 days away! As I sit here waiting for the exciting day, I decided to make a video showing off my author copies of Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale. I also talk a bit about the original “Twelve Dancing Princesses’ story and how it inspired me to start writing these poems.

I continue to be amazed and humbled by the kind things people are saying about Twelve, such as this review on The Biblioshelf:

“In Twelve, Andrea Blythe manages to pull off a modern retelling in spectacular fashion whilst retaining the elements of fairytales and storytelling which all of its fans love. Taking each sister one by one, Blythe dedicates each of the Twelve Princesses with their own unique voice and identity giving fresh substance and purpose to the once subservient, archaic damsels-in-distress in search of their prince.”

Preorders the book are still open at AmazonB&N, and Indiebound. And, if you’re the giveaway loving sort, then you might like to know that Interstellar Flight Press is currently offering a chance to win copies of Twelve over on Goodreads.

Other Good Things

This morning, I wrote about “Dealing with a Sense of Collective Grief” on my newsletter. The world feels heavy right now, and like many people, I’m figuring out how to deal with it.


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Poet Spotlight: Rebecca Hart Olander on the Flaws and Snags of Love

dressing the wounds-rebecca hart olandera

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.

dressing the wounds-rebecca hart olanderYour 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. 

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A Bit of Good News

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale

Days pass strangely of late. I move through the rooms of my house in all the normal ways — eat food, watch TV, work, read, or clean — and yet there’s an oddness in every peripheral.

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

Nothing is normal — and it’s hard to know how to feel when nothing is normal.

Today, I get to announce the wonderful news that Twelve, my chapbook of prose poems based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will be published by Interstellar Flight Press later this year.

I’m delighted — of course I’m delighted. Though some small part of me wonders if, considering everything that’s going on in the world, all the stress and doubt and fear, whether I should be subdued in my excitement, more respectful of those who are struggling right now.

But here’s the thing, I think the world needs good news. It needs victories great and small. It needs celebration in whatever small spades that life can offer.

So, I’m thrilled and excited and overjoyed to announce that I have a chapbook coming out this year. The cover is beautiful with art by Yana Germann and the layout is stunning. In fact, when I first saw the combination of fonts and illustrations combined together with the words I wrote, it was so beautiful I started to cry. It feels like a “real” book. And I’m so grateful for the amazing work that Holly Lyn Walrath and her team has done to make Twelve into the best possible book it can be.

I’m also overjoyed that folks whom I respect in the poetry community have also said lovely things about Twelve.

“Andrea Blythe’s collection of the retold (and often feminist) Brothers Grimm fairytale, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses,’ is a breath of air at the bottom of the ocean. It’s not only fresh, but it’s so different and unique that it deserves multiple reads. One of my favorite lines in the book is also something we should all ask ourselves, ‘Do you mean it?’” — Joanna C. Valente, author of Marys of the Sea and editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault

“Hearkening back to when Grimms’ tales were less fairy, more formidable, Andrea Blythe offers a rhythmic, alliterative retelling of traditional stories that reveal a stark imbalance between genders. An engaging and eerie tribute to the young girls and women who read, dance, and keep things clean, Twelve does exactly what her storyteller suggests of her characters: it ‘see[s] the truth beneath the pretty surface.’” — Christina M. Rau, author of the Elgin Award winning Liberating The Astronauts

Twelve will be published on September 7th. Pre-orders for Twelve will open up around June.

For those interested in receiving a digital review copy of Twelve for review, the chapbook is now available at Net Galley.

I have no idea what the world is going to looks like a year from now, a month, a week, tomorrow — but I do know this: I have a collection poetry forthcoming. It’s a collection I’m proud of, and I’m elated to be able to share it with the world.

Do you have any victories to share? Any good news big or small? I would love to hear about it and join you in the celebration.


More Good Stuff

New episodes are up at the New Books in Poetry podcast. Despite a number of technical difficulties, I had a delightful conversation with Octavia Cade about her book, Mary Shelley Makes a Monster (Aqueduct Press, 2019).

My co-host Athena Dixon also released a new episode, in which she speaks with Sarah Adleman about her book The Lampblack Blue of Memory: My Mother Echoes (Tolsun Books, 2019).

People are recreating famous paintings, and its impressive and stunning.

Artist Ellen Jewett creates a Menagerie of Animals Covered in Surreal Landscapes of Flora and Fauna.

 

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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