Carina Bissett graces the virtual pages for Women in Horror Month. The month is nearly at an end but the poetry continues strong.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I have always been interested in the cadence and presentation of poetry, but it wasn’t until I read Anne Sexton’s Transformations that I realized I could walk the path of a poet. The real turning point for me was when Terri Windling invited me to write a fairy tale poem for Endicott Studio. That was two decades ago, and I’ve continued ever since.
Why do you write poetry?
For me, poetry is the perfect place to explore themes and imagery, both of which tend to drive my work. Not every image pairs well with the narrative drive expected in short fiction or novel-length work, but poetry is perfect for that sideways glimpse into wonder.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
Usually, a poem will take as long, if not longer, to draft than a short story. I like to taste the syllables, shift sounds. I enjoy imposing structure on my poems even if they start out as free verse. That reinforcement often makes me look at lines in a different way. It can be frustrating writing to form, but sometimes it also opens doors to places I never expected to find.
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
All of my work is grounded in fairy tale and myth. The themes that tend to crop up in my work revolve around female relationships, estrangement and isolation, and domestic violence. Fairy tales have been a source of comfort for me since I was a young girl. Even then, I worked through issues in my personal life through the lens of fairy tale. As I grew older, I was introduced to feminist re-imaginings of these stories with The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. There is a special sort of freedom that comes from taking a well-known story and turning it on its head. In my own work, I tend to gravitate towards the fairy tales I hate the most. In rewriting them, I’m also to able to re-envision and explore my own personal narrative.
Swimming with the Shark Boys
I was warned to be wary in water,
especially when swimming with the sharks.
But those were the boys I always liked best,
with their slick-backed scalps, sharp smiles,
and eyes like bottomless pits.
I recognize them by their restlessness,
the subtle gleam as they cut through the crowd,
the shimmer of shadow in a clear sky.
But others also watch them prowl.
Deadly beauty attracts admirers
seeking the sharp taste of fear.
I watch mermaids flirt through a mirror’s lens
as they pout full lips and flaunt dangerous curves.
Scales glitter in a practiced seduction
as they comb hair perfect for binding men.
The shark boys just laugh, teeth bared.
The sirens orchestrate a counterpoint,
chaos conjured from the deep, dark places.
They measure out the notes of seduction,
drowning the protests of the waves
relentlessly breaking upon the rocks
— a requiem for the dead.
My selkie sisters and I know better
than to venture out of reach of safe shores.
We cinch our seal skins tight around our waists,
watching for the warning signs,
the scent of blood on the waves.
But every time one of the shark boys turns,
gliding out of the gloom with graceful ease,
I can’t help but wonder how it would feel
to shed my skin, press flesh on flesh,
smother in a crush of deadly kisses,
falling into the abyss.
## published in Mythic Delirium, May 2016. It also received an Honorable Mention from Ellen Datlow in 2016 for Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 9
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
Once, when I was a young woman, I was caught out in the desert during a particularly intense storm. Once the rain let up, I left the safety of my car to explore the new world that was left behind. When I looked at the ground, I discovered beads of polished obsidian everywhere. The rain had washed away the top layer of accumulated dirt to reveal these beautiful memories created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. I think dark poetry is akin to those obsidian pebbles, otherwise known as Apache tears. That darkness already exists, and the poets who work with this subject matter are simply exposing those gems for readers to discover.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I’m currently working on a collection of poems about monstrous women in myth and fairy tale. I also have a Snow White retelling coming out in Arterial Bloom, which was edited by Mercedes Murdock Yardley and is scheduled for release by Crystal Lake Publishing in April 2020. It features some wickedly gorgeous work, and I’m ecstatic that my story is included in this anthology.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing, horror or poetry?
In addition to writing, I’m lucky enough to work with other writers in my online, generative workshops at The Storied Imaginarium (https://thestoriedimaginarium.com/). These writers have created an incredibly supportive writing community, and many past participants have gone on to publish stories and poems generated in workshop. Just a few of the recent anthologies featuring their work include The Twisted Book of Shadow, Not All Monsters, and Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors. Seeing these writers’ successes gives me great joy. It has been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to seeing what they will write next.
Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and interstitial art. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Arterial Bloom, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Hath No Fury, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V and VI. She teaches online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium, and she is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at Stonecoast. Her work has been nominated for several awards including the Pushcart Prize and the Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Links to her work can be found at http://carinabissett.com.
O MAD ARACHNE: A Folle in Three Acts
Of course she’s bent
back, legs splayed
open for inspection
pride punished, Purgatory
reflected on a monster,
an Infernal tapestry,
secrets spun by sinners
who dared to fly to close
to the sun.
In her Wisdom,
the goddess punished
the girl, a weaver, who needed
to learn a lesson—
as all girls do.
maidens are meant to be seen,
Hubris for humanity,
a tapestry of tragedy
wrought in twisted limbs,
bruised breasts, plundered spoils
of a war undeclared,
Talent?—Never, the matron
The time will come—
an hour-glass counting down
ghosted, shed, obscure
glory days remembered
on cigarette breaks,
red lipstick smeared, feathered
lines, regret drowned,
Remember, the matron says
to the dumpster, remember
she says to the stray
dog-bear, winged beast
remember, she says
to the spider who stares back,
eight eyes reflecting pride
a warped mirror.
Inside the diner, a girl,
so young, so beautiful.
a peer, a student, a child.
Listen, the matron says, stern,
The cycle resets.
## NonBinary Review #19 Dante’s Inferno, Zoetic Press. December 2018. The image above of Arachne is by Gustave Doré and is in the public domain. It was the inspiration behind this poem.