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Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: Interview with Jenny Blackford

Posted by Angie on May 16, 2016 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

On May the 1st, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean was published. Edited by Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad, and published by Futurefire.net Publishing, it is an anthology dedicated to the folkore and mythos of the Mediterranean. This week I’m delighted to share with you all an interview with one of my fellow authors, poet and classicist, Jenny Blackford.

 


Jenny, your poems have been published in Westerly, Australian Poetry Journal, Strange Horizons, The Pedestal Magazine and more. Can you tell us a little about how you discovered poetry or how it found you?

It's so long ago it's hard to say! My mother and her father definitely read me all sorts of excellent poetry when I was tiny. My father, who grew up in Howlong, a tiny Australian bush town on the NSW-Victorian border, insisted on reciting Bush Verse at great length, which as a kid I found excruciating.

I have no idea when I wrote my first poem, though I spent years of my childhood sending poems in to the Sydney Herald kids pages, and occasionally getting published there. When I was 14 or 15, one of my poems won the Hunter Valley Research Foundation poetry prize, which was a pretty big deal for schoolkids around Newcastle, NSW. This wasn't great for my (already minimal) street cred in rough-as-guts Swansea High, but the English master was delighted. The poem was reprinted in Dolly, which was a much meatier (and less celebrity-obsessed) magazine back then. I had no idea at the time how unusual it was to get a paid publication in a mass-circulation magazine – I just took it for granted!

Sadly, I had a hard time with the English teacher imposed on me for my last two years of the fancier high school I had to go to so I could pursue my Latin studies. She managed to sap my confidence in anything Eng Lit-related. I loved my intensive Classics degree at the University of Newcastle, but I was too busy translating Greek and Latin poetry to write anything of my own. Then when I jumped sideways into computer networking, I didn't have the creative energy for anything but literary criticism.

When I left my day job in 2001 and got back to creative writing, I started with short stories, which all my literary friends were writing. Gradually, though, I wormed my way back to my first love, poetry.

As a poet and classicist, can you tell us what inspires or fascinates you about the folklore, myths and legends of the Mediterranean?

That's a hard one! I fell in love with everything about the ancient Mediterranean as soon as I encountered it. I can't remember a time when all things ancient Greek and Roman (and Egyptian, Punic, Syrian, Etruscan et al) didn't fascinate me - including, of course, their folklore, myths and legends. I do remember being tiny, and startling adults by telling them that I was going to study Greek and Latin when I grew up. And I did study them – right up to halfway through my still-unfinished PhD in comparative ancient religion, "The Tripartite Godhead in Indo-European Religion": Mediterranean myth and legend in one far-too-big-to-digest bundle.

3. Tell us a little about your writing process. Did you draw inspiration from nature, music or art for your creative process?

My poetry generally comes straight from my unconscious. I'll be doing something completely different – cooking, or gardening, or talking to friends – and a phrase or a sentence will come into my mind and demand to be written down. The poem then accretes around those words, little by little, coming from all the stored-up baggage in my head. And that includes thoughts and memories of nature, music and art, as well as wide reading in all things Ancient Greek and Roman – poetry, plays and stories, plus any number of reference works. I've read SO much about nymphs over the years!

4. What inspired you to write this poem? Was it based on any historical or mythological source?

Nymphs are big in Greek literature – for example, the beautiful nymph Calypso, on whose magical island Odysseus spent seven blissful years during his slow way home to his faithful wife Penelope back on Ithaca. But they were even bigger in folk belief. Few Greeks would have doubted that areas of natural beauty, especially springs, streams and trees, were inhabited by nymphs – tall, beautiful, immortal supernatural women. Nymphs are even referred to in Socrates' serious philosophical dialogues! In the Phaedrus, he even says he is speaking poetically because he is numpholeptos (or nympholeptus in the more usual Roman transliteration) – he is seized/inspired by the nymphs who obviously inhabit the nearby trees and stream where he and Phaedrus are talking.

In folk belief, nymphs were uncannily like British fairies – the dangerously beautiful fairies of "Thomas the Rhymer" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", not cute little flower fairies. Greek nymphs replaced healthy babies with sickly changelings, and sometimes stole men away from family and friends, taking them somewhere time and space moved differently.

And why, I wondered, was it always men? What if a woman fell in love with a dangerously beautiful nymph?

5. Who are three poets you think readers should know about?

I love the great classical Greek poets Sappho and Euripides, and Roman Catullus, but it's close to impossible for anyone to make a translation that really conveys their original meaning while still being real poetry. Their work is just too lyrical and dense with multiple meanings. Closer to our modern times, I couldn't go past WB. Yeats, the Irish master of poetry, but Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas are also wonderful. Closer still to me in time and space, Judy Johnson and Jean Kent right here in Newcastle, NSW, and Melinda Louise Smith not so far away in Canberra, ACT, are amazing poets. (I should add that Jean and Melinda are both published by award-winning Sydney imprint Pitt Street Poetry, which was responsible for the beautifully-illustrated little pamphlet of my cat poems, The Duties of a Cat, in 2013.)



Jenny Blackford is a poet and writer based in Newcastle, Australia. Her poems and stories have been published in Australian Poetry Journal, Cosmos Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine and more. Her poetry prizes include first place in the Humorous Verse section of the Henry Lawson awards 2014, second in the W.B. Yeats Poetry Prize for Australia 2016, and, most recently, first in the inaugural Connemara Mussell Festival Poetry 2016. In late 2013, Pitt Street Poetry published an illustrated pamphlet of her cat poems, The Duties of a Cat. Legendary feminist Pamela Sargent called her 2009 historical novella set in ancient Greece, The Priestess and the Slave, “elegant”. www.jennyblackford.com.



Fae Visions of the Mediterranean - a Reflection on Mermaids

Posted by Angie on April 27, 2016 at 5:20 AM Comments comments (1)


Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, edited by Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad and published by The Future Fire  is an anthology centred around the sea myths and folklore of the Mediterranean. Being a first generation Australian and my parents migrating here from the Mediterranean as adults, I was eager to see what the book would read like. Excitedly, I submitted a story, The Return of Melusine. To add to that excitement, my story of mermaids that frequent the lagoons of Venice was accepted.


When people talk about mermaids, our minds often go to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Many don’t know of the mermaids of the Mediterranean – there are those sirens featured in Homer’s The Odyssey, there is a merman in Abdullah The Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman in the Arabian Nights, and the mermaid Partenope in the South of Italy that people leave ricotta cakes for on the shore.


Growing up in a migrant Sicilian household in Sydney, Australia, I was raised on such stories – particularly by my grandmother who was fond of telling tales. They changed each time they were told and sometimes had different endings but the mermaids and monsters were there. The sea was full of them.


We would go to bay in Brighton Le Sands in summer; it is still a popular seaside spot facing the airport and the oil refineries in Sydney and although far away from the Mediterranean, it is populated by migrants who have come from there. As a child I would immerse myself in these waters, a far cry from the Mediterranean, and imagine myself a mermaid. I would blow bubbles in the water and imagine the secret messages reaching the mermaids in caverns.


Years later I identified with mermaids for different reasons. Mermaids are symbolic for me with duality in nature, personal identity and a sense of self. I think a lot of mermaid myths deal with these themes – how much of yourself do you give in relationships? Do you deny an aspect of your authentic self in order for someone to love you? When Melusina tells her lover he is not to interrupt her when she is taking bath, she is claiming some space for her self, to authentically be. These days, when I want solitude and a sense of reclaiming self, I take a soak in the tub. There are a lot of truths in these tales of scale and skin about authenticity and personal space.


I think this is where the fascination with mermaids for us all lie. Their duality, their deep love and desire for others juxtaposed with their desire for space for self and to authentically be.


I am very excited to know that I am in an anthology centred on the sea of my origin:

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean

An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea


2016, Futurefire.net Publishing

Edited by: Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad

Stories and Poems by: Jenny Blackford, S. Chakraborty, Rhys Hughes, Claude Lalumière, Adam Lowe, Christine Lucas, Kalina Aïch, Vladimira Becić, Kelda Crich, Álvaro Mielgo Gallego, Maria Grech Ganado, Lyndsay E. Gilbert, Hella Grichi, Louise Herring-Jones, Simon Kearns, Mari Ness, Mattia Ravasi, Angela Rega, Urša Vidic and Dawn Vogel

Translators: Arrate Hidalgo, Dunja Ševerdija

Cover art by: Tostoini

comes out on May 2nd, 2016. http://press.futurefire.net/p/fae-visions.html

 

Go! Read!

Posted by Angie on February 22, 2016 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

My lyrically talented and beautiful friend, Queen of the Dominion "Lime Marmalade" and a sister of the Travelling Maxi Dress, Suzanne J. Willis has a story you must read at the gorgeous Fantasy Scroll Magazine.

You can read the exquisite Sundark and Winterling here!

Now GO! Read!



Fairy Tale Friday - Reflection

Posted by Angie on November 26, 2015 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)




Just as there were twelve dancing princesses and twelve fairies invited to Sleeping Beauty's christening, there were twelve wondrous women writers join the discussion on fairy tales and writing for my blog series, "Fairy Tale Friday."

 Angela Slatter, C.S.E. Cooney, Erzebet Barthold, Kate Forsyth, Kathleen Jennings, Kirstyn McDermott, Leife Shallcross, Elizabeth Carroll, Margo Lanagan, Mary Burroughs, Natalia Theodoriou and Suzanne J. Willis participated in this series answering those elusive questions of what it is that makes a fairy tale and how  tales can be used as scaffolds or bring resonance to original works.

Same bones but gnawed in oh so many different ways! Each week I was intrigued with how each of these writers used the skeletons or old bones of these tales and fleshed them into new stories.

This series of interviews has made me more reflective about my own workings with fairy tales and more importantly, what is it about these old tales I love so much. I think that my passion for fairy tales comes from the fact that in these stories magic just exists. It is there, without commentary or explanation. In  the originals tales and in particular, the Sicilian ones I grew up with - magic without explanation exists,  just as darkness and evil does, and  the  downtrodden can and will succeed with smarts and perseverance.

You can slay a dragon if you like or be bold enough to invite her in for afternoon tea and compare scales.

Empowering stuff.

And so like the party ends at midnight, I'm going to stop for now at twelve. It's midnight and before I turn into pumpkin soup, I'm going to bed to prepare for another day of reading fairy tales with  my hesitant teen readers and then writing more in the hours in between,  inspired by all these fellow lovers and writers of fairy tales that appeared in this Fairy Tale Friday series! 



 

 

 

Fairy Tale Fridays Start Tomorrow!

Posted by Angie on September 3, 2015 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Fairy Tale Fridays start tomorrow!

Our first interview will be with the lovely Angela Slatter!

Angela's stories are brewed in the wondrous darkness of myth, fairy tale and folktale to create new stories that resonate long after the reading. 

To get you inspired in all things fairy tale here is a picture of an incredible fairy sculpture created by the artist Robin Wright who says this work of art was created by "an inexplicable real life encounter."  You can see the rest of the sculptures at the artist's website here.


Fairy Tale Fridays

Posted by Angie on August 27, 2015 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)


 ,

Fellow lovers of Fairy Tales,

This blog (has been rarely updated). The details in brackets I'm hoping to change with Fairy Tale Fridays!

I often fall in love with poetry but have a deep committed love to fairy tales. Not only do I enjoy collecting tomes of tales but I also enjoy working with the bones of these stories to re-imagine, rewrite and create new tales.

My aim is to interview female writers about their love of fairy tales and how they work with the bones of these stories. I'm hoping to reveal a little about the writing process and how a writer can use fairy tales for tools to create fiction to enhance their own writing journey.

These interviews will be posted on a Friday because the title “Fairy Tale Friday”  is both pretty and alliterative.

The first interview will be posted next week - on Friday of course!

Suzanne J. Willis

Posted by Angie on April 9, 2014 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

One of the best things about attending Clarion South was the amazing friendships I made. On my very first night at Clarion I was nervous, restless and couldn't sleep.  Afraid I would wake the other roomies, I scrabbled in the dark to the kitchen for a midnight snack. Fellow Clarionite, Suzanne had the same idea and we found ourselves laughing in th dark in front of the fridge door. We have been firm friends ever since. 

Suzanne writes and works with fairy tales. Her writing is layered, luscious and lyrical and I'm so happy to share that my very talented dear friend now has a blog and website! 

http://suzannejwillis.webs.com

GO. READ. NOW.

Catching Up and Crossed Genres.

Posted by Angie on April 5, 2014 at 8:30 PM Comments comments (0)

It's been a long time between posts. I seem to almost always start my blog entries this way of late. 

There was a fork in my path and I took the road I'd never taken before. It took me on a long arduous journey  of which I am just coming to the end of. Now it seems I've come to the end of the road and the path is clear, or maybe it is just that my eyes adjusted to the dark. Either way, I'm moving forwards now and have landed into the next phase of life  after being in what seemed like a long time in a holding pattern. 

So with that comes updating my blog! 

One of the nice things that have happened is that my story, Shedding Skin is now up at Crossed Genres for their Runaway Issue. You can read it here: http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/016-shedding-skin/

I was also fortunate to be interviewed in Crossed Genres New Author Spotlight.  You can read the interview here:http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/016-spotlight/

 



Of Chasing the Spiritual Interiors of Fairy Tales

Posted by Angie on February 1, 2014 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

So I haven’t blogged lately. I got to spend five glorious weeks on staycation and spent most of this time chasing words and catching them for stories.  I’ve also spent some time shaping the story of my own life. Perhaps this has been the hardest story to write or should I say re-write. 

And as things go, because lots of people are busy trying to capture the intangible, shape their stories both in fictions and the stories of their own lives, I rediscovered a fairy tale from Tajikistan called The Courageous Girl. A fellow lover of fairy tales emailed me asking if I had it. I did. In a collection from Tajikistan called The Sandalwood Box. It made me read it again. And again. And again. And I got a good dose of bibliotherapy for the story of my own life.

It all comes back to why reading fairy tales are so important to me. These are the bones of experiential archetypes. Reading them we can see the parts of inner selves that need work or sometimes coaxing out. And courageous girls become courageous women…even if they forget that’s what they are. It only takes a re-reading for you to remember. The tales we read as children made us look for dragons to slay, want to walk in wild forests, dance until our shoes wore out, and listen to our inner voice when the voices of reason warned against it. There is the magic of all therapies in these stories. So go on and read a fairy tale today. You might find courage there next time you face the unknown and need to edit or do a rewrite on a part of your own story. 


Chasing the Spiritual Interiors of Words

Posted by Angie on November 29, 2013 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

When I was a child I lived in my local library. It was a safe haven stacked with volumes that I could dream and travel in.


One of the books I loved the most was a hard covered coffee table style book wrapped in thick plastic that had images of the Seri people of the Sonoran Desert. I was hooked. One day, I promised myself, I would travel beyond the pages.


Recently, my memory was sparked of that first day I turned the page in that book when I read Vanishing Languages, by Russ Rymer. The article looks at some endangered languages in the world and asks what cultural and spiritual knowledge we stand to lose as languages become extinct. The article resonated with me. 


I, too, was raised speaking a language that has been dismissed, even in it’s country of origin as ‘a dialect’. The Sicilian language now appears on UNESCOs list of endangered languages; its status vulnerable.


  When I visited my family in Sicily for the first time in twenty years, I was surprised to find that many people the same age as me didn’t speak the language I was raised with. It seems that migrants bottled and preserved its words to bring them to new places whilst they were diluted and lost in their countries of origin. 


  Sicilian is a rich language that has it’s roots in Arabic, Spanish, Greek and popular Latin. The language is rich, diminutives and superlatives made from stems abound and meaning, there is a richness and a bawdy and wicked humour that is often difficult to translate into English or Italian.


  When I meet a person that can speak Sicilian, I feel an extraordinary sense of shared knowledge, secrets and humour. I feel a tremendous sense of belonging in that shared knowledge. There is a sense of kinship that ironically cannot be articulated with words. It is more within the spiritual interiors of words themselves. Embedded inside words is how meaning is made, relationships to our cultural and personal histories, to land and to people.


  My travels have taken me to many places, but I’m still to visit the Seri people that ask, “Where is your placenta buried?” When they ask where you come from.


There are only approximately 1,000 speakers of the Seri language left. The language is one tied to a disappearing culture that is connected to land and sea and one that survived Spanish colonization. It is unique and poetic. As a child travelling no further than the pages of a library book, being in ESL classes until I was ten and then told by Italians that what I spoke wasn’t a real language, I somehow understood this.


  Not long ago, I was talking poetry with the amazing Tamryn Bennett from the Red Room organization, when the conversation turned to vanishing languages and the cultural knowledge and diversity that is so often lost. When I mentioned the Seri, Tamryn asked how I knew about them. I talked about Meyer’s article and how it resonated with me. I told her about my childhood interest and how lovely a language is that asks you where your placenta is buried. Tamryn had travelled to the Sonora and visited the Seri. For days after, I was left with the same longing I had as a child about visiting beyond the pages of a book.


A week later, Tamryn returned laden with a beautiful gift. It was a Seri necklace , handmade of shells, bird and fish bones, purchased on one of her visits.


  For a woman who can speak several languages, I always find myself lost for words when I am emotionally moved. In a way, I’ve lost my ability to speak any language fluently now. Growing up in a household where Sicilian, English, Italian, French and German were flung across the room with gesticulations to match, we rarely finished any sentence in the one language. But I understand the spiritual interiors of many languages, the intangible meanings within them. It is meaning that moves us rather than words and I think that is what keeps writers chasing stories – to find the words that unlock these spiritual interiors.


  Is this why we write, why we read – to capture the intangible? The shared cultural knowledge and secrets and yearnings we share, perhaps without knowing?


I think this might be how I live. 

I