It’s Women in Horror Month, where we show the world that women have talent to dig into the deep pits of memory and experience and pull out the viscera. Last year I featured women who wrote dark fiction. This year, I have chosen to feature women who write dark poetry.
If you’re interested in exploring other ways that Women in Horror Month is celebrated, you can check out the site that lists many women in the arts and the projects going on. Just click the link above and check it out. You might find you already like more horror than you thought.
To start, for Feb. 1, I have Jeannine Hall Gailey, tears of the Disney layer on fairy tales. You’ll find information about her writing here, plus several poems to read.
From Field Guide to the End of the World
Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales
The body is a place of violence. Wolf teeth, amputated hands.
Cover yourself with a cloak of leaves, a coat of a thousand furs,
a paper dress. The dark forest has a code. The witch
sometimes dispenses advice, sometimes eats you for dinner,
sometimes turns your brother to stone.
You will become a canary in a castle, but you’ll learn plenty
of songs. Little girl, watch out for old women and young men.
If you don’t stay in your tower you’re bound for trouble.
This too is code. Your body is the tower you long to escape,
and all the rotted fruit your babies. The bones in the forest
your memories. The little birds bring you berries.
The pebbles on the trail glow ghostly white.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
I started writing when I was about ten years old. I liked e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay. In college I discovered Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, Dorianne Laux, Louise Gluck, and Denise Duhamel. I found my true home when I found out speculative poetry was a thing –thanks to editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, who included my work in their early anthology, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (and I will always be grateful!)
Why do you write poetry?
I’ve always liked shorter forms–I’ve tried plays and fiction, I worked as a tech writer, copy editor and journalist, but I’ve always come back to poetry as my one true form.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
The challenge is finding an audience. I’ve never had trouble writing–I tend to write more under stress, not less–but finding an audience for that work, that’s a little harder.
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
Yes, my interests have always included mythology and women’s transformations – fairy tales, pop culture, video games – all have been inspiration. My first book is all about the journey from princess/victim to villainess (hence the title, Becoming the Villainess.) My latest book was all about the apocalypse, about a fiction female survivor of an apocalypse who is constantly posting postcards to people that don’t exist anymore. That’s what Field Guide to the End of the World was about.
From Becoming the Villainess:
Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon
I miss the tropes of Paradise – green vines
roped around wrists, jasmine coronets,
a thousand rainbow birds and their incessant chatter,
the improbably misty clothing of my tribe.
I dream of the land where they celebrated
my birth, named me after their patron Goddess;
they said I would be a warrior for their kind,
blessed me with gifts before my eyes lost the cloudiness of birth.
I still dream of my mother,
Hippolyta, shining golden legs,
the strength of her arms –
before her betrayal and death.
In my dreams she wraps me tightly
again in the American flag, warning me,
cling to your bracelets, your magic lasso,
don’t be a fool for men.
She’s always lecturing me, telling me
not to leave her. Sometimes she changes into a doe,
and I see my father shooting her, her blood.
Sometimes in these dreams, it is me who shoots her.
My daily transformation from prim kitten-bowed suit
to bustier with red-white-and-blue stars
splayed across my bosom is less complicated.
The invisible jet makes for clean escapes,
The animals are my spies and allies; sometimes,
inexplicably, snow-feathered doves appear in my hands.
I capture Nazis and Martians with boomerang grace.
When I turn and turn, the music plays louder,
the glow around me burns white-hot,
I become everything I was born to be,
the dreams of the mother, the threat of the father.
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”
Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?
I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.
Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. Her work appeared or will appear in journals such as American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.
They Are Not Regenerating
We are not zombies, thrown into a pool
of dubious origin and coming back beautiful
unsure of how to live – pretending to swim,
eat yogurt like regular girls.
We are not clones, despite being drawn to specifications
(36-26-36) and bearing bouffants and bikinis
we might hack each other to pieces
but we are not confused about our identities
(living or not living) we continue
in this shape we were given
our cells cannot regenerate and the scientist
names us “Dead”
we are not regenerating we cannot reproduce ourselves we cannot be anything
but the fulfillment of your fantasy, flesh-eating or not.
Books by Jeannine
- Becoming the Villainess, Steel Toe Books, 2006.
- She Returns to the Floating World, Kitsune Books, 2011. Reissued in 2015 by Two Sylvias Press.
- Unexplained Fevers, New Binary, 2013.
- The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, Mayapple Press, 2015.
- Field Guide to the End of the World, Moon City Press, 2016. (Won the Moon City Press Book Prize and the 2016 Elgin Award.)