What is domestic fabulist poetry and how did this all start? I recently asked and then shared in a conversation between anthology creators Stacey Balkun and Catherine Moore. Read the complete interview below and then send in your poems! Submission guidelines are below.
HOPKINSON: Tell us first, how did this anthology come about?
BALKUN: Over the last ten years, domestic fabulism has become an increasingly popular genre, especially among women writers, and yet no critics have attempted to map it in regards to poetry. Of course, much has been written about magical realism, but we see domestic fabulism as slightly different—myth and magic are somehow much more subtle in these poems, living right here in the real world.
MOORE: In women’s literature I think myth and magic easily co-exists with domestic concerns; indeed it often amplifies the drama of the ordinary. An appreciation for the blending of real and surreal elements has existed since Flannery O’Connell’s accolades, through contemporary poets of today. This is the cross-road where Stacey and I met in our early discussions of the genre. Though many times, it is domestic elements that cause women’s writing to be swept under the proverbial literary carpet. With this anthology we choose to honor the southern tradition of not hiding crazy away but instead parading it on the front porch and giving it a cocktail.
BALKUN: Yes. We love the work speculative anthologies like Rose Lemberg’s The Moment of Change have done, and we want to celebrate this specific genre of fabulism.
HOPKINSON: What exactly is domestic fabulism, and what sort of examples can you provide?
MOORE: I’ve received this question a lot since our call for submissions went out and one trend what I can quickly point writers to is the use of Animorphism. An example can be found in “Fox-Girl Before Birth” by Anna Journey. One of my favorite moments in the poem stresses the oneness in nature—between human and beast— “before she lost her body/ that was every creature.” Perhaps meta-metaphor for what we seek in the anthology.
With many contemporary offerings, like Journey and others, Animorphism may seem like a trend, although it is an old tradition in terms of folklore and myth. Along with the narrative dread of what may live and lurk at home.
BALKUN: Definitely. I also think of poems that place unlikely characters in familiar spaces. For example, Janet McNally’s “Eurydice and Orpheus Stay Up Late” places the characters of a Greek myth in a New York City diner, where “Eurydice orders/ a chocolate milkshake and fries” and has “seen Orpheus try to pout like Jagger.” Somehow, this blending of two worlds escalates the drama of their relationship, yet the mundanity of the scene downplays it at the same time. Domestic fabulism works to create a spectacular tension (and a lot of fun) within the small space of a poem.
MOORE: Stacey, in your interview with Clare .L Martin, “Using Fabulist Elements to Write the Difficult,” APRIL 5, 2016 at MockingHeart Review, you expressed “Fabulist elements allow a different kind of pretend by letting a writer look her subject in the eye, but from a distance that is comfortable enough to let the writing happen.” Can you share how you’ve used this in your own writing?
BALKUN: Sure. In that same article, I talk about my chapbook Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak (dancing girl press 2016) which is largely about adoption. I was adopted from birth, and though my parents never lied to me about it, they were also pretty selective in what they would share. I know virtually nothing about my birthmother except that she was in Texas when I was born. Any attempt to write about her felt inauthentic; any attempt to write about my feelings, too difficult. Creating the characters Jackalope-Girl and Antler-Girl gave me the distance I needed to approach the topic. Their intrusion into the real world also amplified the feelings of isolation and weirdness I sometimes felt as a kid.
MOORE: In speaking of using fabulist elements to write the difficult, I am reminded of Shelley Puhak’s “Letter to the Gnome Who Stole My Firstborn” which is both elegy and epistolary. Puhak describes her choice of fabulist elements for this grief poem as an extension of “the institutionalized magical thinking we all engage in after a loss.” In the poem instead of bargaining with an expansive spirit in the sky, its speaker creates an epistle to a dwarf that lives underground.
My dear rumpled-sheets,
I would have written sooner,
had I the flour and fat
to make the words. Yesterday
it rained the primordial
roux, the A C G U proteins,
base of the mother sauce,
The poem continues in negotiating with a gnome to make better sacrificial offerings, thus the speaker’s grief is literarily rooted in the earth, and readers sense the futility of such bargains.
BALKUN: Yes—and yet one of the poem’s most stunning, heartbreaking moments takes place in a clothing store.
we met at that dressing room
entrance. I was seeking
a shirt for his funeral and you
were smirking at my deflated
belly: you’re pregnant!
Puhak moves us between worlds, and by the end, the domestic has become mythic.
MOORE: Yes, a powerful combination— in between worlds. Other common elements that are used belong to classic myths or fairy tales. These types of folk tales may have birthed this new genre, but contemporary women poets are raising it. Many poets take familiar domestic scenes and distort the details to reveal the actual nature of the situation. Poems that move towards domestic fabulist elements tend to incorporate themes of loss, frustration, love, and belonging or feeling left out. In “Persephone In America” by Alison Townsend, we explore how an outsider (mythic or human) operates in the modern American coming-of-age narrative. The speaker plucks Persephone from “the pages of the book of myth/ and paste her down here,” which happens to be “in the middle of the country.” As you see, Townsend’s poem also resonates with ‘place’ which is a common element in this genre where language and land are etched together.
BALKUN: Place is so important. It operates like a character in many of these poems—it creates the juxtaposition, tension, and strength that can take a reader by surprise. One of my poetry mentors is determined that all poems must be rooted in place/action: “I can’t see this on stage” is a phrase that often came up in critiques. I agree that yes—a poem’s action can be so much stronger if it can be visualized by a reader, but why keep it in the expected world? Why not put Persephone in America or a hyena-girl in a high school locker room?
MOORE: Then there are the poems with uncategorized magic otherness, like exists in magic realism. It can be a small twist of reality such as “A Woman Loses Her Country” by Emari DiGiorgio where a sense of place, or home, is personified as an object. The type of lost item one can search for in the bottom of a purse or find “Under the fluorescent lights of a 24-hour/ bazaar.” As a reader I connect with the feeling of having lost my country in the public sense, and feeling I have little control of restoring it in my private domestic world. What is a favorite of yours in this juxtaposition between the real and the surreal?
BALKUN: Oh I LOVE that poem by Emari DiGiorgio. One of my favorites is Yoon Ha Lee’s “Art Lessons.” It begins: “witches’ daughters learn to draw/ with blackened hearts and sharpened bones.” I love how in the short space of the poem, we’re thrown into this intersection that feels partly like a darkened, mysterious cave and partly like a kindergarten classroom. And it ends, “of course, it’s the same thing that anyone learns/ growing up a woman” which to me emphasizes a connection between a surreal world and a very real one. We hope to see many more poems like these!
HOPKINSON: “Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Poetry” is open for submission through June 15, 2016. No fee. Send five of your best. They hope to gather work, by women writers, that lives in the magical real, domestic fabulist, space.
DEADLINE: June 15, 2016
SUBMISSION FEE: NONE
OPEN TO: all female-identifying persons
NOTES: The theme for this anthology is domestic fabulism, read the interview above for more information. “Whose work do we see fitting domestic fabulism? Think Amber Sparks, Carol Guess, Ansel Elkins, M. Brett Gaffney, Aimee Bender, or Matthea Harvey. Give us evocative, descriptive language. Spin and enchant us.”
Previously unpublished work is preferred.
Stacey Balkun, author of Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak & Lost City Museum, was a Finalist for the Center for Women Writer’s 2016 Rita Dove Award, her publications include Muzzle, THRUSH, Bayou, and others. She holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches poetry at The Poetry Barn. Visit her at www.staceybalkun.com.
Catherine Moore is the author of three chapbooks including the upcoming Wetlands (Dancing Girl Press, 2016). Her poetry appears in Cider Press Review, Wicked Alice, Blue Fifth Review, Caesura, and various anthologies. She won the Southeast Review’s 2014 Poetry Prize and was awarded a Nashville MetroArts grant. Tweet her @CatPoetic.
Categories: Call for Submissions