Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.
Today Shinjini Bhattacharjee will interview Laura Madeline Wiseman, whose five fantastic prose poems appeared in our Issue 2. Immerse yourself in their awesomeness here , and then come back to enjoy the interview. And once you finish reading it, do check out her recent critically acclaimed poetry collection American Galactic, available for purchase everywhere. It is something you wouldn’t want to miss.
1. Why do you see Death as a woman?
The poems published in HCJ are part of a longer series that I wrote—one forthcoming in my chapbook Threnody from Porkbelly Press. While I was a fellow at a residency program in Taos, I spent some time in local art museums, history museums, and in the general community soaking up the beauty and history of the place. One museum, La Hacienda de los Martinez, a building built between 1804 and 1827, featured restored period rooms of early nineteenth century life in the high desert of New Mexico. One room showcased art, retables, tinwork, and religious artifacts that the family, or a family like the Martinez, would have kept. I was instantly drawn to these creations of death and struck by the description of them, naming death la muetra. I studied Spanish in school and saw that here, death was gendered female. I loved that because it called into question my own assumptions about death that I had picked up from somewhere—the Midwest, popular culture, literature, etc.—death as a lone male, a figure in a black cloak carrying a scythe. I started doing research on death as female and found that a female death was common, even in places I already knew well such as the Demeter and Persephone myth from Greek mythology and the figure of Inanna in the story of her descent to the underworld to talk with her sister from Sumerian mythology. Thus, when I began writing the lady of death sequence, I was drawing from a rich history that genders death as female.
2. If you have to choose any female character from a Jane Austen novel to play the role of Death, who would it be? Why?
To be fair, I do not know my Jane Austen novels well. I have read and/or watched the film adaptions of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Who would you pick? If you had asked me this about another author such as J.K. Rowling and I would name Bellatrix Lestrange.
3. Which dance style out of the following do you think Death would prefer more- Hip-Hop, Jazz or Swing?
Swing, definitely, but death is smart. She would be a maverick in any dance you asked her to perform—Hip-Hop, Jazz, Two-step, Salsa, Waltz, tap. Name the dance and she would decimate the competition.
4. Why do you write what you write?
I write what inspires me. I wrote the lady of death poems because I was inspired by the idea of death as female. My book Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), is a campy, contemporary retelling of the Bluebeard myth, that charts the love of three sisters who each marry the same man upon the demise of the sister who preceded her. Bluebeard is usually framed as a story of blood and gore, but this telling focuses on the love each of his unfortunate wives felt, the first blush of romance and young marriage, the complicated turns of mature desire and the past we bring into our present affections. I wrote the poems in my bluebeard book because I wanted to know what his wives had to say.
5. Do you think that teachers/lecturers make better writers?
I don’t think teachers/lecturers necessarily make better writers, but I do think that many writers must be teachers in order to make a living.
6. Why did you choose sci-fi poetry again to pen your latest poetic collection American Galactic?
A few years back, the state where I live was hit by several storms. For the months of April and May, we lost power several times, tornado sirens became a part of each week’s expected sounds, and surveying the damage of power lines draping swing sets and tree limbs split and fallen around my neighborhood became a common experience when I took my dog for a walk. For some reason that spring Martians walked into my poetry. Martians demanded I write poems about them and so, each time I asked my students to write a poem (I always write poems alongside my students), I wrote Martian poems. Each time I took my students on a fieldtrip to the local art museum or the local history museum, and asked them to select some exhibit about which to write, I did so as well writing Martian poems. What followed was my new book American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014).Opening with an epigraph from Charles Simic, “Lots of people around here have been taken for rides in UFOs,” my book explores the sci-fi realm of Martians, crop circles, abductions, and how the human race faces an extraterrestrial invasion: “I don’t know/ what I’d do if Martians arrived at my door.” American Galactic charts the intergalactic tale right here in my Midwest home. Find out about “The Left Boob of Largeness.” Learn “What do Martians Want.” Understand “Why not to Buy Martians Sundaes Topped with Cherries.” And ultimately enjoy these “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in this fun collection of sci-fi poetry.
7. How would you introduce science fiction to your toothbrush?
Science fiction, meet my toothbrush.
Toothbrush, meet science fiction.
8. Close your eyes for five seconds and take a deep breath. What did you miss?