Women in Horror: Deborah Davitt

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteWhen did you discover poetry and who influenced you?

Back in high school, I had a great teacher in my senior year who firmly taught us all that there was a clear and distinct difference between good writing and bad, and that poetry could easily be discerned as “good” or “bad” by applying tools to it–tools like looking for double-meanings and ambivalence and metaphor and so on. I took that first set of tools with me through college and grad school, where I focused on medieval and Renaissance literature, from Beowulf and Chaucer through Spenser and Shakespeare.

. . . and then I started writing poetry, and selling poetry, and I’m no longer convinced that there’s “good” poetry and “bad;” I think there’s “what’s to someone’s taste, and being lucky enough to find an audience for your voice” and that the world is a wonderfully more weird and complicated place than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

Why do you write poetry?

Why do I write poetry? That’s a good question. And the answer is manifold. Sometimes, I have an image or a word I can’t shake, and it doesn’t quite have a full story or a novel behind it, so I write the poem to get it out. Sometimes I write a poem because I’m angry or upset, and want to get *that* out. Sometimes I write poems as technical exercises, to prove, “yes, I can actually do a paradelle and have it make sense.”

Sometimes a poem written to a self-imposed prompt won’t leave me, and I wind up writing a longer story out of it. Or, as with last November, I wind up with a collection of poems that tell a narrative, and I find myself as compelled to finish that story as I ever have been with a piece of prose.

But in the end, I also write everything I write, poetry or prose, to communicate a thought or idea. I very rarely go for abstruse in my writing. I was a technical writer for just about twenty years, so my goal in everything I write is clarity and precision.

Hitogata

The world needs scapegoats and sin-eaters;
through which we might cast
our culpability into a doll,
a piece of bread, a slice of godly flesh,

washing them away in running water,
through which no evil spirit can pass,
or watch our sins slide,
sleekly buttered like a crumpet
past someone’s kindly lips,

erased and absolved,
taken on someone else’s shoulders—
oh, if only if guilt could be absolved
instead of perpetuated endlessly
in an endless cacophony online.

I swallowed my opinions,
buried them deep in my own gullet
where no one could hear my
confession and condemn me—
made my own flesh
my hitogata,

until I opened my eyes one night
to find myself surrounded
by a swarm of paper dolls
all wearing my face,
shuffling shiff-shiff, each to each,
as each flattened body slithered
under the door
to seek new homes.

I should have drowned them first.

## First published, Gyroscope Review, Issue 18-3, Summer 2018. Click here to hear Deborah’s reading of it on Gyroscope’s site!

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry? Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why? {note: Deborah sort of answered these together so I have put the questions together as well}

While I was assembling The Gates of Never out of previously-published works, alongside pieces I hadn’t yet had published, I tried to organize them by theme; I think the two weaknesses of many chapbooks and collections are different faces of the same coin–either authors go very one-note, without any contrast of theme or tone, or they’re very scattershot, with wildly different pieces next to each other without any build or theme.

So I approached my first collection as, essentially, sheaves or folios of my work, organized by theme, stapled together. And thus I started with my more mythological and folkloric work, the historical faces of evil, or at least of indifference, the monsters out of the past. Then I moved through the fairy tale retellings, and then into the futuristic and scientific stuff–much of which connects back to the mythic as well.

Some reviewers have asked me, “Why all the monsters?” and the answer is, we learn who we are as humans, by looking at our darkest impulses. All of our monsters are always ourselves, at least in part. Some reviewers have talked to me about the passion in  the poems–it’s there, sure. The desire to drown in another, and find yourself become someone new, when you’re a we, and no longer an I. . . and then the tension between the we and the I. . . all part of Eriksen’s crises, really, and I play in the Generativity column of his crises a great deal. And there’s also the thought that the past and the future are really all a part of the same thing.

Or you can read the poems and decide what they mean to you. I can’t control that. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes reading and writing so much fun!

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

I can’t speak for others, but what attracts me to dark speculative poetry is really how it can illuminate our current mental and social condition, through metaphor, through fractured mythology. All poetry does that, to a certain extent, but dark poetry takes a look at the monsters of our id and ego, drags them out into the light, and lets us see them–and ourselves–for who we really are. And might encourage us to aspire to be more.

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

I have two collections of poems and a chapbook all out making the publisher’s rounds, and looking at my Submission Grinder entries, I have a total of 115 things sitting in various slushpiles at the moment. That’s about average for me, and it includes short stories, flash, poems, collections, and more. There are a couple of larger projects I owe myself work on, but I’ve gotten derailed from for some time–so I’ll be looking to redress that in about April.

Testament

The burin’s edge slants across my flesh,
slicing through the skin
like copper plates, intaglio;
chiseling runes in the ink of my blood,
staining his fingers black.

The lines entangle, enjamb,
weaving ascenders and descenders
in tender embraces,
each word opening me further,
binding me, defining me.

He writes me upside down
and backwards, so that
I hardly know myself yet,
but my hundred newly-open mouths
whisper secret meanings,
and offer atramentum kisses;

he soothes my wounds with
copper vitriol, making the words
holy and incorruptible,
incapable of fading into sepia;

yet as he kisses me, our tongues meeting,
the words spark white-fire
under my skin, the runes writhing
into new configurations,
just as true as the ones he placed there;

I wrap myself around him,
the words press against him,
brand him, surge into his soul;
I pour into him as he pours into me;
I whisper his name against his ear
and bind him as he bound me,
press him as a leaf among my leaves.

## First published in  Panoply, #7, Summer 2017; also appears in The Gates of Never

Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing horror or poetry?

I never thought I’d write poetry; it took my friend Michelle Muenzler mentioning that there was such a thing as speculative poetry, and that you could get paid for writing it, at my first convention back in 2015, to open me to the possibility. I never thought of myself as a “horror” writer; while I cheerfully employ dark elements to threaten and terrify my protagonists in novels and short stories, I’d never have thought of myself as at all akin to the horror writers I’ve read and enjoyed–I’d have considered myself closer to “dark fantasy” authors like Tim Powers, whose work I greatly enjoy. But here we are, which is to say that you’re never your own best judge of anything, so . . . go out and do stuff, and let other people worry about categorization!

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her ddavitt p17 - Copyhusband and son.  Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations and has been published at over fifty venues; her short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s EdgeCompelling Science Fiction, and Pseudopod. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com/bibliography. You can obtain her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, at https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-gates-of-never-by-deborah-l-davitt/ and may contact her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deborah.davitt.3 or on Twitter, @davittDL.

 

 

1 Comment

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

One response to “Women in Horror: Deborah Davitt

  1. A fascinating interview with Deborah Davitt. So interesting when other women in SFPA began as medievalists — as I did.

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