Interviews

An Interview with Sonya Taaffe, Author, Editor, Durian-Lover by Jeannelle M. Ferreira

JMF: You open this collection with a Tam Lin variant and move on to streets and shores of all kinds, from New England to Innsmouth. Where do you find the people in your stories? They're not from around here.

ST: They just walk in. Some of them come out of songs, some out of myths and some out of history, and some of them I have absolutely no idea. A very few of them have intentional antecedents: I was invited to contribute to a neo-Lovecraftian anthology, I was writing to a prompt of strange botany, I was asked if I had any fiction on Jewish themes. Other times a friend leaves an enigmatic comment on Facebook about seaweed and Roman emperors and away we go. Some piece of grit gets into my head. Something haunts me. I embroidered a family story and more than a decade later it turned out to be true.


Read the entire interview at In Print. On the Internet. Oh Dear, August 2018.




The Outer Dark: The State of the Weird 2018, A Roundtable Discussion featuring David Davis, Helen Marshall, Stephen Graham Jones, and Sonya Taaffe

Sonya Taaffe joins Scott Nicolay to discuss the Weird Renaissance's extension into poetry including its place in the larger speculative fiction explosion, an introduction to non-English language Weird poets and readings, defining elements of Weird poetry, the difficulty in tracing speculative poetic lineages, processes of rediscovery, Ursula K. Le Guin and Robinson Jeffers, pushing beyond narrative poetry, flash fiction, the need for critical attention to speculative poetry, many "astonishing poets" you should be reading, some poets engaging with contemporary Weird fiction, E.T.A. Hoffmann and opera, and even more Weird opera!


Listen to the entire podcast at The Outer Dark, February 2018.




The Qwillery: Interview with Sonya Taaffe

TQ: You are a poet. How does writing poetry affect (or not) your prose writing?

ST: I never know how to answer this question. I think it makes me very attentive to rhythm and density of images, but someone else might say it just makes my sentences go on forever.


Read the entire interview at The Qwillery, April 2015.




Author Spotlight: Sonya Taaffe by Sandra Odell

SO: With this story you explore themes of love, loyalty, and death in some of their most brutal forms. Much of Western genre fiction has shied away from such intimate studies of real world histories and beliefs, feeling that to do otherwise might alienate readers. Do you have any particular thoughts on the value of mythical history as a stepping stone to building the future?

ST: I don’t know if I think first of myth in terms of its future utility, but I do think it's critical to look at stories as they were and are told (in all their polyphony and contradiction; almost nothing in myth is single-voiced), not just at the simplest or the most comfortable versions. Otherwise all you are seeing is a gloss or an illusion of familiarity: Oh, yes, just like us with different names. Alienation is important, if it’s what’s true. I die inside a little every time I see Athene referred to as the Greek goddess of wisdom, because it makes her sound all judgment and prudence, a dispassionate encyclopedia. She is the goddess of μῆτις—cunning, tricky thought, creative intelligence; the ability to think around corners and into the future. Mētis is the reason Athene is associated with the technically intricate, metaphorically loaded craft of weaving; it is the shared trait that makes her so fond of Odysseus, the consummate trickster hero of Greek myth. You are far and away the best of mortals at designs and stories, while I am famous among all the gods for craft and cleverness. (Songs are woven; so are stories; so are lies.) Μῆτις makes Athene the goddess of war—not the blind berserker violence of Ares, but tactics and strategy. Take the shrewdness out of Athene and what’s left looks like white marble without the paint. It looks the way we all know Greek statues to have looked, abstract and austere, which they never did. Classical statues were loud with color. The idea is very off-putting to some people. Tough luck! You can still see the traces, especially under high-intensity and ultraviolet light. The past is inaccessible enough already; we don't need to fuzz it out further with extra inaccuracy. That was a nonviolent example, but it goes toward the whole idea of romanticizing instead of accepting—brightly painted statues are gaudy and vulgar, virgin goddesses of wisdom are loftier than asexual female tacticians. (And who makes these judgments? What attitudes do they reinforce? What divisions do they uphold?) If the past is what you build the future on, you had better know what it really contained.


Read the entire spotlight at Lightspeed Magazine, April 2015.




ST Body Interviews: Sonya Taaffe

ST: What else would you like to tell our readers about your poem?

ST: Read Mikhail Bulgakov! The poems draws details from his life, but I find I don’t want to explain each reference; I want you to read A Country Doctor's Notebook, Notes on the Cuff, The Master and Margarita, Black Snow, all the ways Bulgakov broke his own life into satirical fragments and reshuffled them for the fevery, nervy protagonists of his shadow-show. They're jagged stories, all of them, even the beautiful ones. You catch their author in them as if in a trick mirror. Plus there's the science fiction: rampaging giant ostriches, skirt-chasing dogs. And the letters and diaries. I am writing at night because almost every night my wife and I don't get to sleep until three or four in the morning. I hear you, Misha.


Read the entire interview at Stone Telling, May 2014.




Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos with A.J. Odasso, Romie Stott, and Sonya Taaffe

Because I dislike the popular dichotomy that fantasy is the past and science fiction is the future, I welcome work that sees no reason to decide for one or the other or even accept the division in the first place. I like to see science treated as evocatively and intimately as a folkway. I like myths with jagged edges. I love things that are not easily classified. I love things that exist in more than one state at once. I don't think any of these qualities are unique to speculative poetry. I think they are actively and increasingly encouraged within the community that identifies itself by that name and may in time point toward a definition rather than a loose collection of clustering traits, although I reserve equally the possibilities that the genre as a formal entity may dissolve or go in some other direction entirely—I find it interesting that we have conducted this entire roundtable without even addressing the question of professional organizations, although many of the poets reviewed, discussed, interviewed, and published in this issue are Rhysling winners or nominees. It speaks, I think, to the uncertain identity of the field—and in that respect, speculative poetry is right there with its counterpart fiction, figuring out which future it wants to be.


Read the conversation and all three manifestos at Strange Horizons, February 2014.




A Cumulative Interview with Sonya Taaffe by Goblin Fruit

GF: Of what poem does the word "cherry" immediately make you think?

ST: By the laws of free association, the word "cherry" causes me to think of Seamus Heaney's "The Haw Lantern." The fruit in that instance is cherry-like only in that it is small and round and red, but it is the poem that first drew me to his work; I recommend it highly. Otherwise, I think of the riddle song my mother used to sing me to sleep with: "I Gave My Love A Cherry."


Read the entire interview at Goblin Fruit, May 2011.




Stone Telling Roundtable: Crossing Boundaries and Blurring Edges by Julia Rios

JR: "Persephone in Hel" is about female rulers of the underworld from two different branches of mythology. Mythpunk in general, and this poem in particular, takes elements from disparate origins, mixes them up, and ultimately applies them to the larger whole of human experience. This piece explores the tangled themes of sex, hunger, life, and death. Can we ever truly separate those concepts? What led you to examine them in terms of these two figures, and how do you feel about the mythpunk label?

ST: I am afraid the answer to your first question may be disappointingly non-theoretical: "Persephone in Hel" was written for Lila Garrott-Wejksnora, occurring to me with the first line and proceeding naturally from there, and I'm only surprised no one else seems to have paired these two figures already. (I haven't checked Yuletide.) They seem an intuitive fit, Persephone with her grain-reaped half-life in the underworld, Hel who is always half blár, the blue-black color of bruised or decaying flesh, neither of them a simple death. I don't in fact identify with Persephone—I have always been the one who offers pomegranates—but the earliest gods I learned were Norse and Greek, and almost all the love poems I have ever written have come out myth. I don't know where Hades is in all this, of course, but I don't think it matters. No one worries about Nergal when they write Ereškigal and Ištar.


Read the entire roundtable at Stone Telling, March 2011.




Sonya Taaffe Walks the Plank (and a Semi-Rant) by Jeff VanderMeer

JV: Why should readers pick up your book(s) as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book(s)?

ST: Oh, they should not, if they value their daily lives. Brief exposure may cause déjà vu, lucid dreams, and the common cold. Continued contemplation of this book, however, will cause one to become progressively isolated from the normal human world. Faces will appear masks, as fragile as the silvered backs of mirrors; there will be other languages in the spaces between speech. Lovers, family, tides and leaf-fall, the setting and the climbing of the moon, all will turn strange until you cannot see where one world rises and the other falls away. Even the slant of sunlight on the pavement may prove a threshold that, once crossed, bars itself against any turning back. And in the years to come, as you look back across the long and haunted measure of your life, the rips and creases of weirdness that scar your hands and sight, you'll know—this book, you should have judged by its cover.


Read the entire interview and semi-rant at VanderWorld, October 2005.




An Interview with Sonya Taaffe by Geoffrey H. Goodwin

GH: Let’s focus on water's potency for you. You spent childhood summers on the beaches of Maine and have studied the sea as a metaphor through various cultures, but there must be more to it than that. How do you think the affinity functions in your short stories and poems?

ST: Oh, just because I have an obsession, I have to explain it? If it's a symbol, it's not a conscious one; but the sea has always fascinated me. Water is transformation. The sea is the home of selkies, mermaids, these liminal creatures that slip back and forth between states as between elements. The film I imprinted on as a child was Splash, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. I think all the romantic-comedic aspects completely bypassed me at the age of eight, but I remembered its sense of metamorphosis. The scene where Madison pours kitchen salt into the bath she's running and slides down into its ripples: immersed in salt water, the skin of her thigh crinkles up into scales; a fin unfurls where her feet were. That stole my breath.


Read the entire interview at Bookslut, April 2005.




A Conversation with Sonya Taaffe by Matthew Cheney

MC: What can you do in poetry that you can't with fiction?

ST: You had to ask that! I think poems lend themselves more readily to single crystallized moments, mood set-pieces, than short stories do. You don't necessarily expect or demand plot from a poem; fiction tends to want more of a narrative. Personally, I also find that the different forms allow different kinds of language, different structures. You can write a poem consisting of one sentence only. It doesn't have to be a short sentence. With fiction, however, this approach tends to result in all sorts of red-ink editorial markings and comments like, "Punctuate, for God's sake!"


Read the entire conversation at The Mumpsimus, November 2004.