Today’s guest is the well-published and award-winning Shannon Connor Winward.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
Do you know—I’m only just making this connection now, but it was probably Shel Silverstein who truly showed me what poetry could be. I remember they had an album of his poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic at our local library (which was pretty much my personal temple when I was a little girl). I must have borrowed that album a dozen times; I loved listening to it at night before bed, with all but the closet’s light off in my room. He had such a powerful, spellbinding voice, and an uncanny ability to tap into the imagination of children—that’s why he was (and is) so hugely popular and beloved. Obviously my tastes evolved (and darkened*) as I grew older, but I guess I must credit him with igniting the spark of my love for poetry.
*(To be fair, though, lots of Silverstein’s poems are pretty freaking dark!)
Why do you write poetry?
I write poetry because I was born a poet. That might sound romantic or grandiose or whatever, but that’s really what it comes down to. 🙂 Every part of my personality is built to observe the world and paint it with language.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
The biggest obstacles to writing poetry are self-doubt, real life, and politics. Self-doubt is the mind-killer, so many of us are kept silent or slowed down for too long. Then, there’s the struggle to find time to write, and to keep that commitment. Beyond that, the many many rivulets of politics and personalities in the poetry world make it extremely challenging to be heard as a poet, to say something relevant or useful, to be a good literary citizen, etc. It is definitely not an endeavour for the weak-of-heart.
Last night I was in a field
under a heavy sun
surrounded by people chipping at the ground
people sifting dirt through a screen
people trying to make tableaus from shards of pottery
though there were never enough pieces.
I told them where to dig.
They uncovered the remains of a woman
and I knew
in the way you know in dreams
that she was me.
I knew also that there were others
so many more
a field of fragments
and they were also me.
I knew that men, like you, would come,
that you would want to bring them up
that you would want to catalog them
ask me what I felt about them
and what I think it means
as if it were only
I think you should look more closely.
Sometimes a cigar is also
The remains tell a story.
See, here, how the skull is not quite fused?
I was a child.
And yet, here, in the space between my hips
(where you measure with your fingers, like this
yes, just like this.)
I bore children. At least one.
Open my mouth, look, and read
what I ate, or, sometimes
what I hungered for.
gnawed and worn down to the root
charred bread and mistletoe, bits
of his hand
bit-back words, here
lodged in the throat.
Take my hand,
arthritic, my hand, useless, my hand
shattered, here; a defensive wound
clutched around my knees and frozen
on bright alpaca blankets, my hands
bound behind my back,
at his feet, my hands
scoured with wine and Nile salt and
laid gently on my breast
courage and rancor encapsulated
in an ivory vase behind my head
(but not my heart. No.
That I keep).
I think that you should consider
the psychology of forensics
the anatomy of history.
Examine the lines on my face
the hollow of my eyes.
Peel back, gently
the layers of my resting-place
I will not fight you.
I will not move.
I am in situ
a testament. See, here,
I lived, here
I felt, here I was broken and here
The remains tell a story
and mine say
I was here.
## first published in The Pedestal Magazine, 2011
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
I explore a variety of themes in my writing, as I’m sure most of us do. Some of what I write is dark, some less so. Personal experience and preoccupation drives that kind of thing. For my part, I tend to be preoccupied with things like: mortality, life after death, the meaning of life, lust and pathos, and the urge to leave the world a better place than I found it. I was the girl scout telling ghost stories around the campfire over a mouthful of s’mores. In many ways, that’s still exactly who I am.
My chapbook, Undoing Winter, is a katabasis—a journey down into the dark places of the spirit and back again into the light. Like much of my work, it combines speculative themes (gods, ghosts, monsters, and so on) with stories of personal experience and reflection.
My full-length collection, The Year of the Witch, is similar in themes and tone but on a broader scale and with more cheekiness. It is structured to mimic a “New Age guide to the lunar ritual calendar of modern witches” so it has a sort-of faux educational, “homage to the seasons” riff, overlying poems both personal and speculative.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
It’s funny, I brought up “pathos” twice now recently. The other day I was talking to my 13-year-old, who is tasked with giving an oral presentation on Dr. King. He didn’t know how to begin, since his go-to narrative voice always skews toward the funny. “There’s nothing funny about Dr. King!” he cried. In my best philosopher-mom manner, I told him that, in my opinion (at least at that moment), the opposite of humor is pathos—a good speaker can capture an audience by jokes, sure, but also by tapping into our love of a good tragedy.
I think pathos is the lure of dark poetry for much the same reasons. There’s something about dwelling on the sad things, slowing down to look at the traffic accident. It’s as entertaining as it is cathartic—a means of coming to terms with the inevitable tragedies in our own stories.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
Right now I’m entering the second year of a medical situation that has severely impacted my day-to-day life. Unfortunately, this includes my professional and creative lives. I’m not involved in much of anything outside of the orbit of my illness. Still, I’m doing my best to stay connected to my literary communities, local and virtual, in the hopes that all of that will still be there if and when I get well again. I’m looking forward to the day that I can pick up a pen or rock a mic, and I am awash with ideas for future issues of Riddled with Arrows.
Shannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-Award winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the Elgin-nominated full-length collection The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018). She has won the SFPA Poetry Contest for speculative poetry in multiple categories, and has a quiver full of other nominations and awards, including an Emerging Artist Fellowship by the Delaware Division of the Arts. Her writing appears widely in places such as Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Pseudopod (Artemis Rising), Strange Horizons, Star*Line, The HWA Poetry Showcase and elsewhere. In between parenting, writing, and other madness, Shannon is also founding editor of Riddled with Arrows—a (sometimes, gleefully, dark) literary journal dedicated to metafiction, ars poetica, and writing that celebrates the process and product of writing as art.