Women in Horror: Jacqueline West

WiHM11-Scalples-wvWhen did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I discovered poetry as a kid, when I spent many hours browsing the narrow aisles of our little public library. Shakespeare and Poe and other classics came first, and then I moved on to T.S. Eliot and e. e. cummings, and around age thirteen I found Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and fell madly in love. Because I couldn’t afford all of those books myself (and because the internet wasn’t really a thing yet), I would copy all of my favorite poems down by hand in a blank book, so I could keep them and reread them again and again and again.

Why do you write poetry?

Because I can’t help it, I suppose. These days, I spend far more time writing fiction, but I began with poetry, and I think I’ll always return to it. A novel is a giant, sprawling construction, and I love wandering around in the worlds that I get to create that way, but I’m not sure there’s anything more satisfying than a finished poem. The rhythm and color and magic of words is put on such perfect display in poetry. Everything else is pared away.

Seven Whistlers

The Whistlers are six spectral birds who circle the world in search of a seventh. When all seven fly together, the world will end.

Close as papers in a book
they nest, now and then,
though they do not sleep.
Their open eyes glister
like slag in the dark.
Four, five, six keep watch
restlessly, settling wings
that send a dry wind
knocking cornstalks,
distant shutters.
They are family;
they are one body.
They love one another like bones.

Listen—
in the darkening sky
the whistle of breeze
through hollow things.
They are passing over.
The moan of breath
in an empty bottle;
a storm, miles off,
cut on the crest of a hill.
The chill of rain
without water.
They pass on.
They are searching still.

They have no call.
They only stare.
The pitch of air
through skeletons
and featherless wings as broad as sails
carries over miles, over mountains
and seas. Seven seeds,
holding secrets
that will split and swell,
while somewhere
the lost one waits.
Someday the pieces
will fall into place.

##  from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

In my most recent novel, I got to write both prose and poetry. The book is my modern-West CandlePinsCover600day, Minnesotan, metal re-imagining of the musician who may have sold his soul to the devil, so I got to write lyrics for my protagonist’s songs—which was incredibly fun.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The line between ambiguity and too-obviousness can be pretty fine. Often what seems perfectly clear in your head doesn’t actually make it onto the paper—so then you revise until you’re afraid that all the mystery and richness is gone, and then you have to go back and start all over again.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

A lot of my work is inspired by folklore, myth, and fairy tales. My collection Candles and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, is obviously rooted in superstitious beliefs and lore. Each poem explores a different superstition; some are whimsical, and some are very dark. I’m West LastThings Final Coveralso often inspired by history and location. My chapbook, Cherma, is not speculative, but it was inspired by rambles around a historic cemetery…

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Like many people have said, dark literature gives us a safe way to confront our fears as well as our other deep, dark emotions—to examine them, make sense of them, play with them. And a lot of us just find the dark and strange to be beautiful.

A Few Rules

Young people who fall in love while dressed in mourning clothes are doomed never to marry.

No flirting at the funeral.
No caressing near the casket.
No hand-holding behind the hearse,
no giggling at the grave.
Don’t parade your liveliness, your loveliness,
your youth, your certainty that you
will never be the ones shut up
out here, beneath the neat green hills
where every party peters out.
Don’t be too smug.
Don’t snuggle down among the tombs.
Don’t wink behind the preacher’s back,
steal a bloom from the bouquets.
You’ll be tempted. You’ll be sorry.
Don’t think that just because
the dead are dead they can’t be petty.
That just because they’re underground
they don’t begrudge you that quick kiss,
don’t hear and covet your fluttering heart

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’ve got a short story coming out in the anthology Nox Pareidolia: Volume II later this year, and I’m at work on my next fantasy/horror middle grade novel, which should be released by Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2021.

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and several other West2017 croppedmiddle grade and young adult novels. Her most recent novel, the YA horror/fantasy Last Things, is a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards and has been selected for the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Liminality, and Star*Line, and she has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and two Pushcart Prizes, and received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her first full-length poetry collection, Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions was published by Alban Lake in 2018 and was selected for the preliminary ballot of the Bram Stoker Awards. Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.

www.jacquelinewest.com

Escaping the Dawn

On Halloween, all souls in hell are released for twenty-four hours.

Their hunger builds in the last hours.
Streetlamps flicker, the small storms
of moths and mayflies long departed.
Gradual as a freeze, the liquid dark
turns white, ice trapping the moment
in anesthesia. Stars dull their corners.
The moon dissolves, a brittle skull
swirled to the edge of a seashell.
This is their warning. Dragged back
into closets, to the dust under beds,
to dark corners, to graffiti-spattered
holes, they mutter, unsatisfied, licking
their fingers. Day takes its first breath
on the horizon as they stagger slowly
back toward the darkness, always just
out of reach of those long, bright hands.

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

The Collectors #2: A Storm of Wishes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Last Things (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Digging Up Danger (Rodale Kids/Penguin Random House, 2019)
The Collectors (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018)
Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions (Alban Lake, 2018)
The Books of Elsewhere (Dial/Penguin, 2010 – 2014)

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Filed under entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Writing

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