Tag Archives: witches

Women in Horror: Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert

You will notice a theme with many writers on the therapeutic nature of writing. Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert is my guest today and she talks about the healing nature and the joy of writing.

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

I have been writing poetry since I was quite young. I used to submit to and win poetry contests in my local newspaper. Poetry has always been therapeutic for me, even before I knew what “therapeutic” meant. I’ve always had this need to transform my thoughts and feelings into words.

My earliest influences were probably Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I don’t recall reading a lot of poetry at school, which is a shame. By junior high I’d discovered The Raven by Poe, which remains my favorite horror poem. Later, I discovered William Blake and liked his work, but wanting to read from women poets, I found Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood. Much of their poetry has speculative elements, which dovetailed nicely with my lifelong love of scifi, fantasy, and horror.

Why do you write poetry?

I have said that poetry saved my life, and that sounds melodramatic even though it’s true. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, and sometimes it felt as though putting my thoughts to paper was the only way to ease the darkness.

Aside from that, I love the way poetry can conjure images and descriptions in a way that other fictions cannot.

The Waiting Room in Purgatory

Chair pads of crushed red velvet,
singed;
stained by unknown liquids
over
countless centuries.

Ornate, carved wood backs darkened
with
age, gleaming from layers
of wax,
gouged by nails and claws
and
teeth
and
desperation.

The air is thick
with fetid breath,
and
smoke
and
dire need.

For eons, my tired eyes
have
traced, ev’ry thread; ev’ry
hole and
stain on the moth-eaten
tapestry that reads:

Neither here nor there.

## (Yet again, the wierdness of WordPress has allowed formatting for the second poem and not this one. The lines beginning with “over,” “of wax” and “hole” should be indented.)

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

One of the more difficult aspects of writing poetry for me are when you have an idea—or a sense or mood you want to convey—and want to describe it poetically. You start writing, and you find that the words coming out are not doing justice to what is in your head. Sometimes that can be overcome. Sometimes it just spills out the way you intended. More often than not, for me, I save what I have and try to go back to it later to “get it right.” But usually I fail. The times I succeed feel amazing!

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

I can’t say my poetry has any particular themes. My work does tend to be speculative and dark. And I’d say that a lot of it reflects a woman’s experience, but certainly not all of it. ReynoldsMy one published poetry collection, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light is divided into three sections. The first, “darkness,” has “dark” poetry, including a short poem written from the perspective of a man who is physically abusive to his partner. The middle section, “shades of grey,” has one poem that is not dark or “light,” although it has an ominous tone. The last section, “into the light,” contains a poem about a goblin on his first day of school. It’s one of the few things I’ve written that is suitable for children.

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

I believe that horror-themed fiction is attractive to people generally. Horror-themed movies and books are certainly undergoing a resurgence right now.

Dark speculative poetry is appealing because it can describe the unfathomable, the unthinkable, the grotesque, in beautiful and stunning ways. It makes the true horrors of our world digestible. It’s easier for many to read a horror poem than spend ten-plus hours digesting a horror novel. And to others, seeing horror play out on a screen is too visceral.

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

I’m actively working on two projects: I’m finishing up a horror short story for an anthology call, and I’m in the beginning stages of pulling together a new collection of short stories and poetry. Some of the material will be reprint, but much of it is new. I’ll be looking for a publisher once I have it together.

I also discovered painting last year during a mental health break I took from writing. I’m hoping to explore some darker themes in my painting this year.

That Witch We Dread

       A witch, sometimes,
should be dark. Should wear
a crooked nose,
a frock black like ink;
murky and stale
as the corner of a root cellar floor.

       Some witches exist,
to haunt your thoughts. Dive
gleefully into your mind,
unseat logic;
pulling up shadows
that were well-hidden, placed with reason.

       This witch is not
Wiccan, not Goddess.

       She is horrible.
The pit in your belly,
the earth falling away,
the dread that lives tightly coiled,
dormant; awaiting its moment with
grotesque implausibility.

##

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

I’ll say a word about women and traditionally underrepresented voices in horror. The horror that women often write reflects our lived experiences, and too many of us experience horrific things regularly. Women’s voices in the speculative genres are crucial. I feel that often it’s the underrepresented voices that make you really experience the “otherness” that drives so much of speculative fiction. To provide a concrete example, the experiences of Octavia Butler as a poor woman of color allowed her to write about human-ness, other-ness, and gender and sexuality in a way I don’t think a

Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert writes short fiction and poetry in the science fiction, horror, Reynolds bioand dark fantasy genres. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies The Final Summons, Killing It Softly (Vol.1), and The Deep Dark Woods. Read her poetry in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. VI, the anthologies Beneath Strange Stars and Wicked Witches, the websites Tales of the Zombie War, Eternal Haunted Summer, and Strong Verse; and in The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature. She published a short collection of poetry, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light in 2013.

Suzanne is a freelance content creation expert, editor, and works as a technical services librarian. She writes in between driving her daughter around and meeting the incessant demands of her feline overlords. https://suzannereynoldsalpert.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7394656.Suzanne_Reynolds_Alpert

 

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Women in Horror: Zoe Mitchell

WiHM11-Scalples-wvThe scalpel design for Women in Horror Month may be an apt logo for my next guest. You will see how Zoe Mitchell deftly wields the charge edge of language to expose another layer of meaning.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I was quite young when I started reading poetry, I loved Roger McGough when I was little – I was obsessed with a book of his called Mr Noselighter about a man with a candle for a nose which, looking back, is mildly horrific but at the time I just loved the sound and rhythm of the words and what they added to the story. When I was a teenager I went through a phase where I would read Ted Hughes’ Crow poems over and over, and later I loved listening to Simon Armitage on the Mark and Lard show on Radio One. Other teenagers go through phases with bands, I did it with poets – and I’ve never looked back.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry to make sense of myself and the world. The creativity and various forms give me different ways to explore ideas, process experiences and communicate something that seems difficult to share in other ways.

Shiv

Some women are born to work with knives.
Just as some must sing or stir their words, you

will stand behind them in the dark, their guilty
secret. They need the smallest eye you can cut

from a creature, they need the bloody shanks
to fill their blackened pots with magic.

They’ll say your arched back lacks music.
Your shoulder rotates to penetrate an innocent

or petty accuser on their behalf but they will not
let you dance. They can’t cauterize their disgust

at the ominous shapes you offer up to moonlight.
Your liberty lives only in the darkest corners

everyone else wilfully ignores. You’ll live your life
forever behind a half-open cupboard door –

everyone knows you’re there but no one wants
to acknowledge your steel. The words of women

cut deeper than the most pitiless dagger. And yet,
while men fret over herbs and muttered curses,

you can shatter bone. You will know your sisters
from the blood under their fingernails. Like you,

they have the soul of a surgeon, the eyes of a butcher.
Imagine the stealth of a mother with a sleeping child:

if you unearth our stories to anyone, she will advance
from her kitchen and cut out your tongue.

##

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

Finding the form for each poem can be a challenge – although it’s always a joy when it emerges. When I start writing I never have any idea of the form or even of where I want the poem to go, so the first stage I just have a mass of scribbled text and then as I start editing and refining I usually get a sense of what the poem is really about and from there, the form starts to become clearer and I can start chipping away.

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

I am fascinated by folklore and mythology, so that comes up a lot. I think those old stories have so much to teach us still. My debut poetry collection, Hag, features stories from Roman and Celtic mythology as well as witches and ghosts. I’m not quite sure of the “why” other than it is what interests me and what sparks my imagination. I think the overall theme of my book is survival – through heartbreak, destruction or despair – and it connects those ancient stories to modern lives as a way to express resilience. Although the poems often speak in the voices of supernatural creatures, my focus in the end is on what that tells us about our humanity.

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

Zoe- hag

Hag, nominated for a Stoker Award in poetry

I think it’s for the same reason that people write it – to make sense of the world. The element of fantasy provides a way to explore feelings and challenges that are otherwise difficult to address. After my Dad died, I wrote a long poem about an evil ghost train designer who made a ghost train to another dimension – if you’d asked me to write directly about my grief, I don’t think I could have faced it but I felt safer exploring those ideas in a fantasy world. In fact, at the time I didn’t realise how much I was processing my loss through the poem, I thought I was giving myself an escape and it was only later that I could see what I was doing. For readers, myself included, I think it’s the same thing – an escape in some ways, but also a chance to consider subjects and emotions that can be challenging to face head on. I think also there’s just the love of stories and language, how that sparks the imagination, and poetry can intensify that.

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

At the moment I’m working on a creative PhD about witches in women’s poetry. I’m studying female poets who have written as or about witches and I’m creating my second collection which is all about witches and powerful women. As a female writer, it’s a liberating topic and it gives you a huge breadth of subjects and scope to explore everything from politics to love. I love the mischievous quality of witches, which allows me to play with form and language. I have a year to go before I finish my PhD so that’s my primary focus, and in the meantime I keep sending out the poems I write to magazines to see if I can get my witches to wreak a little havoc!

Hex

You carry all the eyes
that ever saw a horror
or glanced upon a mirror

and bristle with ears
to catch every whisper
that insists it is about you.

You scent the trail
of smoke, lick the grit
of something rotten.

Everything that goes inside
your mouth is stirred
with sex and violence –

simmering chastity too.
Everything that touches
your insides follows you.

Each stained organ
is accumulating infection,
proof that you are animal.

You are made of skin
and trapped within,
pulled apart and screaming

for someone to rip out
the gristle of your heart.
Your body is a hex bag

and all the things inside
make up this curse:
you, wherever you go

##

Is there anything else you would like to mention about poetry and horror?

I have long kicked against this idea that horror – and any genre fiction or poetry – is somehow lesser than other literary forms. I like to think things are changing for the better now, and I think perhaps horror is finally getting the recognition it deserves because the themes are so appropriate for the sometimes terrifying times in which we live. I would say to anyone who was thinking of studying creative writing but afraid that they can’t write what they love, or that horror wouldn’t be taken seriously by a university, that it’s not been my experience at all. In more than one instance, my tutor has pushed me to make my poems darker and creepier, so you won’t be expected to write in a certain style or genre. I don’t think you need any qualifications to write, but it’s certainly helped me gain some confidence and the experience has transformed and improved my writing to the point where it’s now a career.

WitchZoeZoe Mitchell is a widely-published poet whose work has been featured in a number of magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine and The Moth. She graduated from the University of Chichester with an MA in Creative Writing and was awarded a Distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, examining witches in women’s poetry. Her first collection, Hag, won the Indigo-First collection competition; it was published in 2019 by Indigo Dreams Publishing and is on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a poetry collection.

You can order Zoe’s collection here: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/zoe-mitchell/4594569914

Find out more about her writing on her website: www.writingbyzoe.com 

Or drop her a line on twitter and say hello: @writingbyzoe

 

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Afraid of the Dark

In 2000 I wrote monthly columns for an online magazine titled Fearsmag. I was paid to write whatever I wanted. This was a lot of fun for me. I decided to write on fears and would pick a different one each month. I started in October. Unfortunately, I only wrote four articles before the dotcom crunch swept away the magazine.

As a child were you ever afraid of the dark, of the things that lived in your closet? I was. I would always imagine the devil lurking beneath my bed and I had to try to look under it to dispel the notion without letting the devil grab my hair and pull me under. What of the dark of the great outdoors: I would sing as I checked on my rabbit whose pen was around the side of the house. In the dark where creepy unknowns leered and watched I would bravely sing my way through and thus conquered my fear.

We’re approaching that time of the year traditionally known for facing fears and shadows and for fear of shadows. The dark and night have always been associated with the unseen, both physical and spiritual. It represents fears, hidden desires and the underworld where anything is possible. One never talks of a lover’s sun but a lover’s moon, the brightness that lights the way on emotion’s dark swirling sea. Vampires can’t abide by sunlight, werewolves howl at the moon and roam only at night. All that is feared and evil and able to overpower our rational minds and our frail bodies crawls and creeps and flutters through the night.

It is an old fear, the dying of a season, the coming of the dark months, but one that has hit almost every culture and stayed with us in our traditions to this day. To the ancient Celtic people this time of year was known as Samhain (sow-en)*, or Summer’s End, the turning of the old year and the birth of the new. It was the darkest of times, the sun grew ever more reluctant to show its diminished face, the fruits had long abandoned the trees, and even the leaves fell in their death dances. Cold winds blew over the heath, rain fell like mourning tears and people filled their root cellars with preserves, the sheds with wood and they knitted warm clothing for the oncoming siege of winter. Who knew if the sun would ever return?

What could they do to coax back the sun? Samhain was the turning of the great wheel of time, but was there any surety that that wheel would continue to turn, or like a well worn wagon, would that wheel topple, never to spin again? Sensible people filled their larders, prayed to the gods and did what they could to appease the forces of nature.

From this fear of the never ending darkness came Samhain or the celebration of Hallowe’en (All Hallow’s Eve). As the wind moaned through the standing stones and waves dashed unheedingly into rocks, people knew that the souls of the dead were wandering closer to the land of the living. The underworld was nearer than ever, the veil that separated the living and dead drew apart and souls could once more traverse the land. And woe to the person who had caused a wrong. Everyone dreaded the departed returning for reparation.

As the earth grew brittle with cold and streams could numb limbs blue, it was only natural that such souls as had died that year might stop at the hearths of their loved ones to warm themselves before that final departure from the lands above to the underworld. Or perhaps they had already passed through that chilling veil and were stopping by for a visit, some attachment remaining still for the corporeal world.

 Many were the precautions that people used to keep the dead at bay. Some souls were friendly or helpful, yet others were malicious. One could sweep their thresholds, clean hearths, hang strands of herbs or leave something out for the wandering spirits. Not many people would travel on a night like all Hallow’s eve, and if they did, it was in groups. What better way to fool the spirits that might be looking to lick up another live soul than to act like you were already one of the crowd? Some of the earliest Samhain celebrations involved men dressing as women and women as men. Ghosts and skeletons, then ghouls, goblins, witches and nightmarish beasts—these were the first costumes of Hallowe’en.

Hallowe’en was a time of fortunes, to find what the year ahead stored in its larders for you. Who better than to let you know what the year held than those who were no longer snared by time’s net? That which lay barren in the ground would rise up with the soft kisses of the returning sun and would grow in the new year. By having one’s destiny foretold there was at least a certainty that the year would turn and the sun shine once again. Yet, it was with dread, I’m sure, that some people faced their auguries. Who wanted to be told that their loved one would die or they themselves? Yet, that knowledge was tempting. The future’s seductive lure of revealing what was in store has enticed many people to its bedside throughout the centuries.

One could prepare if the future opened its eyes to you. All this to stave back the impending dark, whether it was that of waning days or the black abyss of death that everyone knew lay somewhere “out there” for them.

Always one of the best ways to push back the veil of night was to light Jack o’lanterns, a practice that came in some time after the early Druidic festivals which included lighting large bonfires upon the hills. Jack o’lanterns, originally carved of turnips, kept those spirits or demons that lurked within the folds of darkness’s cloak at bay. Bonfires didn’t hurt and keeping one’s spirits up in large groups helped scare away any fears.

If you had done no wrong to the one who had passed on, you had little to fear from the souls of the dead who would visit at Samhain. Through most of Celtic culture a “dumb supper” would be held. There, people would lay out a meal of bread and honey and perhaps some cider or ale for the departed who were sure to stop by. A good and substantial meal helped one move beyond the world and at the same time made sure that the spirits weren’t slighted.

Gypsies during the Middle Ages used a similar custom. If they could not cremate the dead to pass the soul on its way, they would bury the person with all of their possessions. It wasn’t worth it to keep a treasured trinket only to have a mulo (ghost) come traipsing after you and demanding it back. To further keep the dead spirits happy, Gypsies would party and feast around the gravesite for several days, eating and drinking and leaving enough for the deceased to make sure the soul was appeased.

A guilty conscience might have been the reason many people left food for their deceased, but the underworld was beyond normal senses. It was dark and the unknown. Many people felt it better to err on the side of caution than to become the unwelcome host to the angered dead.

Besides warding off and appeasing the spirits, Samhain marked the time of stillness, of summer’s and sun’s and harvest’s and herding’s ending. Herdsmen killed off the weak, sick and old animals that wouldn’t make it through the winter and salted and preserved the meat.

Darkness left little to do besides mending and repairing and sitting around hearthfires telling tales, drinking and singing songs. When the revelry was done, or couldn’t be sustained the dark time of the year was a time of introspection. When animals burrowed into their lairs, the sap returned to the roots of the trees and sun drew farther away, it was only natural to contemplate life and one’s role, to think out new paths for the year ahead, to plan and to seek one’s fortune.

With all the activity—bonfires, costumes, auguries, dumb suppers and Jack o’lanterns, people had little time to think about their fears or actually encounter them. I bet there were more conversations with the deceased two thousand years ago or even one thousand years ago.

As Hallowe’en and the darkening months approach maybe you’ll have time to reflect upon them. The next time you encounter the ghost and goblins and things that go bump in the night, maybe you will have the sense to be afraid. Maybe you will have no reason to fear anything. If you’ve wronged no one, especially those who have died, then you might be safe. But don’t forget the darkness that can be the most frightening, is the darkness within yourself that can consume you.

 

*Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead. Ducking for apples in water came from souls in the cauldron of regeneration.

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