KATHERINE FALLON: Liz Kay’s poems have appeared in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Nimrod, Willow Springs, The New York Quarterly, Iron Horse Literary Review, Redactions, and Sugar House Review. She is the author of The Witch Tells the Story and Makes it True (Quarter Press) the chapbook, Something to Help Me Sleep (dancing girl press), and the novel, Monsters: A Love Story (Putnam). Liz lives in Omaha, NE, with her husband and three sons.
WATCH: Full interview with poet Liz Kay
When I read The Witch Tells the Story and Makes It True, I knew I wanted to interview Liz Kay about the work. What I didn’t know was that she has also written a novel, Monsters: A Love Story, and I decided I ought to read them both in the hopes we might have some conversation about their confluence and divergences.
Released in 2016, Monsters was hailed as the Best Beach Read of the Year by Harper’s with more than a dozen other impressive bylines. The novel is a steamy romance, as they say, but the lead character is, unpredictably, a poet. Her book is being rewritten for the silver screen. The poetry collection within the plot is its own retelling of Frankenstein’s monster, with the monster being female and demonstrating feminism at its most insatiable.
The Witch Tells the Story and Makes It True is poetry, not prose, and is a retelling of the age-old Hansel and Gretel fairytale with a lot of feminist twists. There were many parallels between the books and I am excited to have a conversation today with Liz Kay about them.
Thank you for being here with me. Would you like to read a selection of poems for us?
LIZ KAY: I would love to, and thank you so much for this invitation. I’m really excited to have this conversation as we sort of move on. The books in my mind are deeply related, so I’m excited to talk about that.
So, I’m gonna start with the first poem that I wrote in this collection. I’ve been obsessed with the witch from Hansel and Gretel for most of my life, and I was finishing up a different project, and this poem just sort of arrived for me. I know we all love those poems that just sort of arrive fully formed, and this one did.
The Witch Introduces Herself
Everyone wants to know
about the children,
how they are and if they made it
out. What does it matter
now? Can you see there is no
happy here, not ever
after all? I, too, was a child once
and wrestled my way out.
I was one who was not
devoured. Look who I am now.
This is my victory. If there’s a hero
in this story, I tell you, it’s me.
Spellbound—The Witch Discovers Magic
The first spring lamb was born blind, and before the days grew
full long, three women died in their birthing beds-one
we buried with her belly still large, the babe stuck tight
inside her. Midwife said there must be a witch in our midst,
twisting shut the wombs with some black, black magic.
She made a bottle to ward her off, pissed into the glass,
and added clippings of all our nails and hair. For each of the children
to die since Yule, she dropped in a metal pin, seven
in total. Then through a heart-shaped scrap of leather,
she pushed an iron nail, dropped it into the bottle,
and sealed it shut. They buried the bottle in the center
of the village, and that night as I lay in my narrow bed, I felt
a dampness on my sleeping dress—a tiny hole, a pinprick,
and from it, a trickle of blood spilled out.
So I’ll read just one more, and maybe it gives us a good jumping point to talk about the feminist issues in the book.
Firewood—The Witch Explains the Nature of Men
Mother said I was the best at gathering because I was small
and could slip into spaces the sun and rain couldn’t reach
where the trees were oldest beginning to splinter off limbs
I knew it was less about smallness than it was about ease I’d press
only with my fingers until the forest opened to take my body
in. I watched a man force his way breaking branches and jagged
snags, a window torn in the dark heart of the wood.
They might have swayed to a lighter touch. Instead,
their rough edges caught him at knife-point, ripped at his arms,
his shirt, his face. This is how a man moves in the world,
the friction of him working like a grindstone. He thinks only
of what he can wear down. He is always surprised by the blades.
So, I’ll stop there.
KF: *clapping* Thank you so much. Those were some of my favorites from the collection. So, a lot of these questions kind of bleed together in terms of the two books. So, I had a hard time organizing them, so we’re just gonna go.
KF: In your novel, A Monster’s a Love Story (which I will probably refer to in the brief as Monsters as we move forward), you created a poet protagonist. You did not, however, include the poetry in the text. So my questions for you are: first, why not? And second, do you plan to write them? Do you plan to write the bloody feminist Frankenstein monster book that only exists in your imagination?
LK: Yeah, the book that only exists in my imagination. I do not plan to write those poems, and I have a couple of reasons why I didn’t. One, I don’t think that Stacey’s voice as a poet ever really landed for me. I imagine those poems—I don’t know if there’s a collection that is Embryos and Idiots by Larissa Sporlarck which is just so dark and it’s a wonderful work—and I sort of imagined Stacey’s work having that same sort of tone or quality, and I don’t think it’s one that I could achieve. The second reason that I didn’t want to write the poems is that I knew that if I was writing a novel and that I was writing a rather commercial novel, then someday an editor would get their hands on it, and one of the editors that I’m talking with while we were shopping Monsters suggested, “what if we have the poems and we could maybe use the poems to open the chapter?” And I was like, “I am not gonna trust you with my poems. There’s no way. You can edit my prose, that’s totally fine. We can talk about what chapters we need to cut or whatever. You can edit my dialogue, but no, you don’t get to edit my poetry.”
Poets are hard to edit. I’ve done editing of poetry and poets are so resistant and I am resistant to being edited. Certainly, if I were going to take editing it would need to be a poetry editor and not you know, an editor of a big five house in New York. It’s not gonna happen. So just feeling very protective of poetry and my poetry even if it was really Stacey’s poetry. It just wasn’t something that I wanted to do. So that’s the primary reason that those poems don’t exist in that book, and I don’t think I could write her poems.
KF: I am fascinated by the prospect, but I fully hear you, and you just gave me the perfect segue into the next question, which is that another theme is letting go of one’s creative work and allowing someone else to put their hands on it. So, in the novel it was a very extreme change we’re looking at, you know, she literally has to give up control and someone else is writing it for her (a scriptwriter), but I was wondering—especially because this was such a collaborative book and since it was illustrated so beautifully by another artist—I was just wondering between having an editor, having an illustrator, and being a poet, if you ran into any of that in the process of writing this particular book.
LK: I did not. And I have to say, I don’t know that I would have allowed anyone else to touch it, but I trust Chris so much and he has known the witch from her earliest incarnations before she was a full manuscript, she was just a handful of poems, and he’s known her and understood her in a way that I felt very safe giving the manuscript to him. I trusted his vision and I trusted that he respected my vision, and our editing of the book was very collaborative and relatively painless. You know, it was really a question of more the narrative shape moving some poems around pulling some poems from the book and less about individual lines, which is hard for me to do. I remember several years ago one of my very earliest poetry publications in a journal. They accepted the poem and they said, “you’ve written in couplets and we’d really love to see it in tercets,” and it took me forty-eight hours to respond to that email. I was like, “I don’t know.” I had to call my friends and talk it through, I don’t know, tercets, that’s such a big thing, and I have grown as a poet, but I am still pretty resistant to line editing of poetry.
Prose is totally different and like, “oh, you want to cut that chapter that’s fine. I don’t care,” and I felt the same way with Devin’s illustrations. I felt like they were incredible. They exist on their own pages though, so it felt like a response to the poems and not really anything that changed the poems, but Monsters in many ways was inspired by this book because from the very first poems people kind of wanted to get their hands on her as a character, and people would send me poems they’ve written in response, and she was part of a page—I talk about her like she’s a real person—she was part of a page meet stage presentation in Eastern Washington, and they sent me a link of the video and there were people performing the poems and I made it about a line in and I was like “nope, I can’t watch this.” It was so unsettling to hear someone else interpreting the poems, and that really fed my interest in this idea of collaboration. What does it mean to be an artist who has such tight control of her work? Stacey is absolutely such an uptight control freak and because she’s a poet she gets to have that control right? Because there’s no market pressure in poetry, but once you become commercial, once there’s market pressure, once it’s like, “well, we need to make sure that we’re reaching a broader audience.” You know, Tommy is like himself a product right so he’s constantly revising his image even, and what would it feel like to put those two together and make them work together. I felt like that was going to be some interesting tension.
KF: Definitely tension. For sure, you pulled that off. Okay, great. There’s also a theme in Monsters that I think translates really well into The Witch, which is the idea of power versus vulnerability (which is a line from Monsters which I’m certain that you know), but I think it’s a little bit of a clear theme in the novel just because we’re dealing with, you know, basic human being. But when you apply it to the witch, I kind of want to know how you see her vulnerability and her power over time?
LK: Well obviously the witch in my retelling . . . I didn’t allow myself any liberty with the story, so she couldn’t change the story of Hansel and Gretel, but I could move outside of that frame, so we revisit her childhood and she’s clearly quite vulnerable as a child and has an abusive father. There’s sexual abuse/physical abuse, and she finds her way into power really to prevent that kind of vulnerability. She wants to be the one who is doing the violence, right? And making other people bear the weight of her pain. So that was really interesting to me. Why would someone need that much power? There has to be some really deep pain there to need that much power. So, that question of power and vulnerability I think is maybe a little different in Stacey’s understanding of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a performance, right? It’s not really true. Particularly when we’re talking about an emotional vulnerability, right? We can be open if we know that we have the power and we’re not really going to be hurt, but if we think that we could get hurt then we simply don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. So, I think for her, she sees it as the person with the least to lose can be the one who’s seemingly so open, but I think she often sees emotional expressions as performative, right? She doesn’t really trust anything.
KF: Understandable, yeah. So, along those lines, do you see that translating at all into the male characters in The Witch like the father or like Hansel?
LK: Do I see the vulnerability?
KF: Yeah. The power, I think, with dad is maybe obvious but maybe not so much with Hansel, so I’m just curious about how you see that dichotomy with them if you do.
LK: I think that, you know, Hansel has a certain gender privilege that the witch is seeing. She’s observing them as their children and their interactions, and she knows that Hansel is going to sort of grow into his power, right? He’s going to take his place as a man in the world, and Gretel is always going to be sort of you know in the orbit of some man’s hearth, I think is a line or close to a line in the book. That there’s a limit, right? She’s tethered, and he is not, and the possibility of taking him when he is still this slightly vulnerable child, but she said she can already see that he’s on the cusp, right? He’s on the cusp of coming into that power, and I think she wants him in part for the fact that he isn’t fully grown into that power yet. And certainly, there are other places in the book where we know she’s killing men, so it’s not even that she’s incapable of taking someone with more power. There’s something about the lure of him still being a little bit vulnerable or a little bit weak or a little bit innocent that is particularly interesting to her.
KF: Yeah, and I think it’s so interesting because we have this scene where, you know, poor Hansel is in a cage, right? And you’re talking about being tethered and Gretel is still just running around in circles, you know, or just to help him, to talk to him, to watch out for him, and everything. So, the idea of tethering is really important there too, and I haven’t really thought about that particular idea. I got the hearth, but just the cage and the running in circles around it just struck me, so I love that. So, you said that you have been interested in the witch from Hansel and Gretel for a really long time but of all fairy tale witches, why this one?
LK: Okay, but that’s a very easy answer. So, my father was in the military, and when I was two and a half, we moved to Germany and I spent many years living in Germany. When I was four, my mother took me to a play. She took me and my best friend Marky to see Hansel and Gretel in German in Germany, and there is absolutely no effort to make it child-friendly. It is dark, it’s terrifying, there were witches—there were multiple witches as I remember it—they were flying across the stage on swings, and I couldn’t understand a single word because it was in German, and there were these bratty children, and in the end, they pushed the witch into the oven, and all I knew was that at that moment I wanted to save her. She was the one I cared about, and I’ve never really gotten past that. So, I feel like this book was an exercise in trying to save her, but I had also decided that I couldn’t change the ending.
KF: And why is that?
LK: That is to do with my process. I like to set rules for myself and real boundaries that I’m not allowed to cross, and I like to make them impossible. So, the thing that I wanted most was to save her, and that’s what I was writing toward, and there was always that knowledge that I couldn’t change the ending. So, I had to write toward the ending that I couldn’t have, and that’s just part of, I don’t know, how I work.
KF: Well, ending on the Gretel introducing herself poem, I think, was just a genius move to get away from that moment of her being shoved into the oven so that you didn’t just leave it there. You were, you know, you allowed it to go on and to discuss the jewels and the other parts of the fairy tale. So, I really love that.
LK: Thank you.
KF: So, I think you just answered my next question, though. Is this what your epigraph “For My Mother Who Took Me to See the Witches,” is what you’re referring to, the play?
KF: Yeah. Okay, so, in Monsters, the female monster’s tongue is literally cut out to keep her from communicating. In The Witch, the title lets us know that she is telling the story and that she is making it true which means that she controls it despite society’s efforts to control her. So, I guess my question is what are the differences that you see between the witch’s and the monster’s agency if both are feminist symbols but kind of meeting those very different fates?
LK: Well, I don’t think that we know what happens to the monster after her tongue is cut out. I’m gonna guess that she wins in the end. That’s how I would have written it, and I definitely think they’re just playing with different aspects of those same pressures. So, the few times that we get kind of not really snippets but some insight into what’s happening in that novel, in verse what we’re seeing is primarily the pressure the constructed gender ideals that are being placed on that monster, and in The Witch, she’s sort of broken free of all of that, so she’s maybe the end result. So I just see the monster as being at an earlier stage where she is still feeling the pressures, but she hasn’t been fully formed by them yet or formed in opposition to them.
KF: Okay, so along those lines, the two characters, can you just kind of discuss—I guess you sort of touched on this moment ago—the feminist elements that you see that are different between the two?
LK: So, in the novel in verse in Stacey’s book, there’s a predatory male. There’s kind of always a predatory male, and Tommy is also a predatory male. So, he is trying to turn her into what he would like her to be. He is trying to make her more beautiful. He’s trying to make her more submissive, more pleasing, all of the things that women are told to be, and of course, it’s impossible, right? Because all of the standards are in opposition, right? You have to be really thin, but you have to also not pay attention to what you eat. You have to be really beautiful, but you can’t know that you’re beautiful. You have to be really submissive, but you can’t be weak. So, all of those standards create a world in which you just can’t succeed at being a woman which is sort of how I see Stacey, right? She does absolutely everything right, and I gotta tell you readers hate her. They’re just like, “god, she’s so uptight. She’s so difficult. She’s so mad all the time,” but of course she is. She hasn’t had a decent meal in thirty years.
So, I really see the monster as being, you know, obviously a projection of Stacey in a way but she’s still someone who’s trying to like—she knows the rules are bullshit—but she’s still trying to get there, right? And it’s that game that you can’t possibly win; all of the rules are stacked against you, and the witch on the other hand has decided to upend the game, right? She’s just tossed the board, and she’s going to make up her own rules from here on out. So, she’s definitely a more powerful feminist figure, but you know she’s had to give up so much. She’s had to lose everything. She literally has to lose her own body in the process of winning this game, but she does win so that makes me a little happy. I don’t know if that answers your question.
KF: Yeah, I think you did a great job, but that again segues into—you’re doing a great job because you’re leading to my next questions almost every time, so thank you for that. So, the title of The Witch Tells the Story and Makes It True almost seems to admit to an unreliable narrator because she’s creating a reality. I’m wondering if you have in your mind kind of behind the scenes some kind of idea of what actually happened.
LK: I don’t. That’s a great question. I love an unreliable narrator, and it never occurred to me not to believe every word that she said, but you’re right—it is a construction. It’s her telling of the story and that’s a super interesting question. I’ve never really thought of her as a narrator. I think my experience in poetry and prose are so very different, and it’s just never been a label that I’ve applied to her but obviously, yeah, it fits.
KF: It’s just the idea of making a story true, that kind of conjuring. I think the title is really genius, and as I was reading through it I couldn’t help but wonder where are we straying from the true path, you know? What is she not actually telling us, or what has she fabricated on her own behalf? I didn’t necessarily doubt her in the text, but the title made me think that there might be something happening underneath all that.
LK: Yeah, well, she definitely never really admits to weakness, which she must have felt, right? So, she’s completely unwilling to be vulnerable in any way or question her actions, so there’s gotta be something there, right?
LK: I mean, she kills her little sister, who she loves. So, there’s got to be some questions in her mind, but she just doesn’t acknowledge any of them.
KF: Why should she have to? So, still staying with The Witch, you obviously had to dive into the original fairy tale and you’ve been very faithful to the story there, except that you said you added some things, like going back in time. But the actual story of Hansel and Gretel is following the traditional narrative, so you obviously had to do that. But it looks like you also had to research both history and witchcraft to be able to do that. So what was that research process like?
LK: You know, my process just involves a lot of obsession, so whatever it is that I’m working on, I just, you know, obsess over it. I read all sorts of stuff. So, gosh, I read so many books. Any book that had a witch in it, I read it. Baba Yaga, obviously is a darker sort of version of Hansel and Gretel or a similar witch, anyway. And then I read all sorts of anthropology chapters, and I do a lot of just sort of random Google just wherever it takes me rabbit hole adventure where you just have no idea how you ended up on this website and it just keeps digging and digging. And I do that regardless of the project that I’m working on. So, it’s whatever the project is I know so much about it. All these weird little details.
KF: So, kind of the actual mechanics of witchcraft, and you mentioned a number of herbs and rituals and all of those things. All of those are authentic to witchery and the time?
LK: Yeah, well, I actually used folk beliefs from different cultures, so the man that she stuffs is a zombie belief, and I feel like that comes from New Guinea. And then the medieval witch bottles. Then there’s the burial one where it’s really based actually on vampire beliefs and stuffing the brick into the mouth. So, just lots of things like that, and I didn’t really force myself to stay with European witches but just with various witches.
KF: Okay, that makes sense because there was so much, you know, and so many of them were things that I’ve never heard of and that were just these chilling and horrifying practices. So, it’s interesting to read about those, and I don’t know a lot of craft so I didn’t know if that’s just something I had missed, but it sounds like you went around the world with that one which is pretty neat, so…
LK: I love witches. I love them so much.
KF: Do you think you’ll write about more or is this your one witch?
LK: No, she’s the one witch for me. Yeah, I think I’m probably done with witches.
KF: If she were still alive, she’d feel special about that. Maybe she still can. I have no idea. So, we almost feel sorry for the witch by the final section of the book. Some of us might actually feel sorry for the witch, but I guess my question here was, you know you’ve already said that you felt that you needed to stay really true to the story, but in the actual moment of her death you didn’t hold back. You didn’t save yourself from that—and not just the fact that she’s shoved into the oven but the way that you wrote it—you didn’t hold back in that and save yourself from that pain. So, what made you make that decision to take it a step further than being true to the story, but also to be devastated?
LK: Well, I needed her to be present for it because (aside from the final poem), she’s the only speaker in the book, so she’s the only one who could tell us what happened at that moment, and I needed it also to be a moment that she embraced. So, I couldn’t save her from the oven, but I could make it her choice. So, I could give her the agency, and that was the only way that I could come close to in a sense saving her because at that moment it’s not something done to her. It’s something that she has tricked Gretel into doing. I guess I kind of think that she relishes that moment/that poem. It’s her plan coming to fruition. So, it doesn’t feel like a painful poem to me. It feels a little bit like a triumph.
KF: Yeah, I can see that. Yeah, which saves you.
LK: Yes. It does. So, that’s me being the unreliable narrator, right? Like, no, I like this.
KF: It’s fun, yeah. So, that’s pretty much the end of my questions about the books. I have some questions just about being a writer that I like to ask if that’s okay with you.
KF: You know, you’ve mentioned that you are more reluctant to have your poetry meddled with than your fiction, so we’ve gotten there, but which of the genres do you prefer to write in? Do you call yourself a writer or a poet or a novelist? What is your actual identity as someone who writes?
LK: That’s a great question. I really only write fiction these days. I have really focused on… Well, I tend to think of myself as a writer who works on projects, so I don’t work on individual pieces. I don’t write poems. I write books, right? So, I’m either going to work on a sequence of poems—so it’s a project that I’m going to be going into for a long period of time. I mean that comes back to my nature as an obsessive person. I just don’t write every day. I don’t sit down like, “oh I’m going to write a poem today.” That sounds horrible, and I can’t imagine doing it, so I don’t. So, I work on a project. So, it’s like, “this is the thing that I’m doing.” I hate facing a blank page. I really hate it. If you’re working on a project, you always know what you’ve got to work on, and you will always have something to research and something to fill up and feed yourself, and it turns out novels keep you busy for a really long time.
I’m kind of in-between projects right now, so I don’t know what I’m going to write next. I will be as surprised as anyone to see what I land on. Maybe it will be poems, and maybe it will be prose, so it just sort of depends on what shape the project requires and whether I go into it inspired by—sometimes I’m inspired by form, right? I want to write into this kind of structure—what’s a story that will fill it? What are some characters that could live there? And sometimes I’m interested in the characters. Often the characters arrived fully formed. The witch arrived fully formed. Tommy and Stacey did too, and sometimes it’s the sort of the heart of the story. So, I don’t know what’s going to appear for me and what kind of shape I can fill.
KF: I’m in the same place, but what’s the last thing you finished?
LK: The last thing I finished is another novel, and it is in my agent’s hands and we’ll see if, you know, what she thinks of it and if it comes of anything, and so that’s taken me a couple of years.
KF: I sometimes write short stories, but I can’t sustain it.
LK: Do you write poetry then?
KF: I do, and I’ve started to do a little bit with the fiction, and I’ve gotten a couple of things picked up. So, I’m feeling like maybe I should spend some time on it, but you know, you’re saying that this takes you two years to do, what you’re talking about doing, about writing a novel. I’m not talking about writing novels, but I still find that I’m schooled and trained in writing poetry, and my poetry tends to be very terse and so just the act of getting into a headspace and knowing that I’m going to spend that much time on one thing is really hard for me to get my head around. So, I don’t know if you have the opposite.
LK: Well Monsters was really fast. I wrote Monsters in a month and a half, and it wasn’t an intention. I didn’t say, “I’m gonna write a novel.” I just was like, “I’m playing around with these characters who sort of arrived for me.” I didn’t know that there was going to be any sort of relationship between the two of them. I really thought this was all about artists, and the first scene that I wrote was the book fair (where they’re talking about the book and people are asking questions), and it occurs to me that if these two people are sitting next to each other everyone in the room is going to assume that they’re sleeping together, and that meant different things for Stacey than they did for Tommy, and I didn’t know if they were sleeping together. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was like, “okay. Well, now I gotta find out.” So I started on the first page and I just obsessively wrote until it was done, and I just really enjoyed it. It was fun to write.
I don’t get to write dialogue in poetry, so that was fun to play around with these different things, and then I found that I wanted to try other things in fiction that I didn’t know if I could do. I like the idea of taking on a project that I’m sure won’t work, and that was the most liberating thing about writing Monsters. I would try things and I’d be like, “can you do this? Can you do this in a novel?” and then I think, “well, I don’t care. I don’t write fiction. What does it matter to me?” There’s been different pressure now that I officially do write fiction because I feel like I have to stick the landing, you know, to make it work somehow, but there have been all of these different knots to untie and puzzles to solve, and it’s kept me working. So, I think I feel more satisfied when I’m in the middle of a project, and a novel can keep me happy for a longer period of time than a couple of poems can, even a series of poems.
KF: Yeah, it’s nice to have something to really sink into and focus on. I just have not honed that skill beyond a couple of hours.
LK: Yeah. I’ve never written a short story. So that sounds hard. Maybe that should be my next thing. I’m sure I can’t do it.
KF: Well, which is great because one of my questions was, what’s next for you? So, short stories?
LK: Maybe. I don’t know. I have no idea.
KF: So, other questions, kind of fun. Best/worst rejection you ever got?
LK: The best worst rejection? Like the same thing?
KF: Best or worst. Although sometimes they are the same thing.
LK: I don’t know. I’ve gotten so many rejections. So many rejections. I don’t know. I don’t really tend to . . . I don’t think I’ve gotten . . . You know, the worst rejections are all form, right? Or it’s just another no. No for no reason. So those are always painful. I think what may be the best rejection is—it’s not really a rejection of publication—but it’s a Goodreads review that says “This book is worse than the Trump campaign.”
KF: You win. You win with that one, Liz.
LK: Yeah, isn’t that absolutely great?
KF: That is great. Mine is . . . I got one that told me that my poems were really really great, that they loved them, that I’m just a little bit dramatic and over the top. I was like, “well, thank you. Thank you for that.”
KF: Lastly, any advice to young writers who are just kind of trying to get their sea legs and figure out how to get their stuff out there?
LK: Are you sure you wanna do it? It’s really hard and there’s not a lot of payoff, right? There’s not . . . Well, first of all, there’s not a lot of payoff. There’s not a lot of money, and you’re being paid mostly or rewarded mostly with just sort of, you know, accolades. People saying like, “oh I liked it.” And you can’t live off that, and in terms of nourishing yourself there’s not enough of it. So, yeah, I mean, have you considered engineering? But that said, if you love the work and actually like the work: you love the characters and you love playing with words and you love the language of it, then give into that and write for yourself because there’s a really strong chance that nothing external will ever come of it even if it is published, right? Even if it does get out there, you get to check it off, right? Your publication day in a journal is that you get an email that says, “our new issue is out, thanks.” You’re like, “oh that’s kind of yeah that’s kind of a letdown.” That’s the whole thing, so go ahead and be as daring and experimental as you want to be, right? Anything you want, right? The things that are destined to fail, right? The things that you’re not sure you can stick the landing. Make it hard. Make it fun, and consider engineering.
KF: In closing, though, I was wondering since we spoke about them and they were such powerful poems if you wouldn’t mind reading a couple more or just the last two in the book?
LK: Yeah, I would love to.
The Witch Describes How the Girl Pushes Back
I bend forward, unplant my feet and balance
my weight on the ball
of one foot, hover just over the hearth.
I can feel her moving behind me, how the air
her wrath. I close my eyes to better feel
her touch, brief as it is, a shudder passing through.
For a moment we move
together, her palms pressed against me
And then she pulls back, the print of her hands
blistering under the flames.
Each amber tongue is a kiss my body
melts into. I open my mouth to take it in.
Each moment I am more
ash than body, more smoke than bone.
I rise with the heat, unravel into the air,
trace my black touch
on the ceiling, the walls, settle as soot in her lungs.
Gretel Introduces Herself
Everyone wants to know
about what came after;
if we found the witch’s treasure
and took it home.
Can you see there was no home
but hers willing
to keep us? In that future,
his place was a gallows,
and mine was a stake, or a press,
or a pit, or a lake.
My hands have touched
her body, they carry her scent.
and my brother, stuffing
his pockets with pearls
and stones. Some habits are hard
to break. Others break like bones.
KF: Thank you. One thing I didn’t get to say (that I forgot I suppose) is that I love when you employ rhyme.
LK: Oh, thank you.
KF: Yeah. Sometimes I didn’t notice it was happening until reading a second time and that’s where I think that you know it’s being done well. So, I really appreciated that, and in that poem in particular.
LK: Thank you so much.
KF: Thank you for talking to me. This has been great fun and I really enjoyed reading both of these and just how wildly different they are in terms of genre, but how inextricably tied they are to one another. Your kind of ideology is really available to readers through these two so I really appreciated that.
LK: Thank you so much. This has been a great way to spend the morning.
KF: Thank you.
KATHERINE FALLON received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is the author of DEMOTED PLANET(Headmistress Press, 2021) and The Toothmakers’ Daughters (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in AGNI, Colorado Review, Juked, Meridian, Foundry, and Best New Poets, among others. She teaches at Georgia Southern University and lives with her favorite human, who helps her zip her dresses.