Tuesday, February 28, 2023

February '23 Madhouse Recap: Lattes, Friends, and Betelgeuse (Betelgeuse Betelgeuse!)

 February ‘23 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends–

I feel like I blinked and February was over, and to be honest, this month really tested my ability to keep my cool (spoiler alert: I didn’t keep my cool). My sensory issues have been getting worse and it’s making home life a little challenging with two pit bulls and a 1-year-old, but I’ve been using my sensory ear plugs and they’ve been really helping, so I think I’m just going to have to lean on them more. Plus, I don’t think the steady streaming of Elmo’s World and Baby Shark is really helping. I joke with Dennis that we worship at the house of the Red God now. 

Speaking of health, I’ve been trying to get clever with my cooking this month and have been finding lots of vegetarian recipes that are quick and easy to whip up and have on hand for lunches. I’ve been making this kale salad a lot lately that has dried cranberries, walnuts, and wild grain rice all mixed together with some sun-dried tomatoes and chia seeds, and it’s really good (and filling!). I found another one on TikTok that I want to try that uses sliced carrots as a base. Apparently, it’s a favorite of Florence Pugh, so that’s good enough for me! 

I did manage to carve out some time this month to relax and spend time with friends, though. Jennifer came up for the weekend and we surrounded ourselves with book talk, tea, good food, and lots of good conversation. We have so many plans for RDSP that I’m just over the moon excited about, and it’s really inspiring and I can’t wait to start working on some things here soon. Heidi and Jason even joined us for a bit and got to meet Evie, and it felt good to just have the gang over and laugh and make plans for the future. 

Speaking of books, I won a GoodReads Giveaway last month: The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. Eek! Christa Carmen also released the cover and preorder information for her book The Daughters of Block Island, which I immediately preordered–because obviously. 

Evie stayed at my parent's one weekend and Dennis and I got to kind of catch our breath and spend some time together for Valentine’s day. We went downtown and hung out at the strip, reenacting our first date. We tried a new coffee place, played pinball, went to the candy store, and visited some of our favorite shops. I left with my pockets full of antique keys, star mica crystals, and some beautiful rose-hibiscus perfume that Dennis picked up for me at Roxanne’s. We then had lunch at Allegheny Tavern and left full and happy. 

I also got to meet up with Michelle Renee Lane last month, which was way overdue! We met at the Steep Mountain Tea Company in Greensburg (which I’m now obsessed with) and caught up over Chocolate Strawberry Lattes and pastries. Then later in the month, it was my brother’s birthday so he and my sister-in-law came in for the weekend and we all went to go see Beetlejuice The Musical, grabbed dinner at Nicky’s Thai Restaurant, and then got drinks at Con Alma. Wrap that all up with the fact that I finished my Agatha Christie puzzle and made it to spring break in my psychology class and well, all I can really say is onward!

On the writing/teaching front:

  • To see Writing Poetry in the Dark be a finalist in the nonfiction category is a dream. It was one of my writing life goals to edit a collection of speculative poetry essays and I'm so happy with how this turned out and then to see it on the ballot? Honestly, it's emotional. A million thanks yous to Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson for helping me with this vision. Beyond that, Cina Pelayo's essay (from Writing Poetry in the Dark) was nominated in short nonfiction, which is just incredible news, and when you add that hers and Donna Lynch's poetry collection made the ballot, too? I'm just so incredibly proud and excited and honored to continue working with such creative, brilliant people. I know how hard you both worked on those books and it's wonderful to see you getting recognition for that. *hugs* And speaking of kind and brilliant people, Lindy Ryan's anthology Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga is nominated in the anthology category and I could not be more over the moon for her. I love this project with all my heart and it was such a joy to be able to participate it in. Congratulations to everyone nominated, to everyone out there writing, to everyone celebrating and championing horror. I'm happy to be beside you all.
  • I’m honored that my poem "Dinner Plans with Baba Yaga" has made the long list for the Rhysling Award. This piece was originally published in Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga, ed. by Lindy Ryan (Black Spot Books). Congrats, everyone!
  • My undergrad students and I recently finished reading My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. One of the creative assignments I used this semester was for them to select five songs that made them think of the book so that we could construct a reading playlist, and I think it turned out really great. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
  • Last month in The Madhouse, I was honored to host Tiffany Morris and talk about her cosmic masterpiece: Elegies for Rotting Stars. Join us here.

This month, I read:

On the media front:

  • Don’t Worry Darling (2022), We Have A Ghost (2023)

  • You, Season 4, Part 1: I gotta say, this entire series has become such a comfort watch for me and this season is living up to just that. It’s like a cozy murder mystery with one of my favorite villains, and I’m here for the old English settings and Agatha Christie vibes. However, I will say that I’m so happy Joe is paired with and going after a guy this season. It’s a nice change of pace, even if we do see his old habits break through now and again. I’m looking forward to Part 2 in March, and I’m sure I’ll happily binge it on its release day!

  • Wayward Pines Season 1: I’ve had this show on my radar for a while now, but randomly decided to pull the trigger on it last month. I enjoyed the first season…even if this was nothing like I expected it to be. I made it about halfway through season 2 and lost steam. I might finish it eventually, but I’m not in a rush to do it. 


Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.



Wednesday, February 15, 2023


Hello friends and fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, I'm honored to welcome Tiffany Morris whose poetry collection Elegies of Rotting Stars completely devoured me in the best, cosmic, most amazing way. For those of you unfamiliar with Tiffany and her work, Tiffany Morris is a Mi’kmaw/settler writer of speculative fiction and poetry from Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. Her work has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, and Apex Magazine, among others, and she has an MA in English with a focus on Indigenous Futurisms. She is a member of the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association and the Horror Writers Association, and her work has been nominated for Elgin, Rhysling, and Aurora Awards. You can find her on Twitter @tiffmorris or at tiffmorris.com.

Now when Tiffany first approached me about her work, she sent me this summary: Witches, demons, and grief stalk a blasted wasteland. Pessimism and hope glimmer in odd constellations.  Elegies of Rotting Stars is a harrowing journey through the horrors of apocalypse, climate change, and colonialism. A collection of horror poetry for a world on fire. And with a description like that, how could I say no? I mean, it felt like it was everything I could hope for in a book, and once I started reading, I was taken in by this beautiful grief and violence, this otherworldly fear and terror that seeped through the lines and seemed to grab me by the throat. Truly, I can't say enough good things about this book, and I'm 100% a fan girl now forever more, so please join me in picking up a copy of her collection as you settle down with some Tarragon and Tentacle tea and join us in our conversation below.

With stardust,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

SMW: Hi Tiffany! Welcome to The Madhouse. Since this is your first time joining us here, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to poetry in the first place?

TM: Thank you so much for having me! My name is Tiffany Morris, I’m a Mi’kmaw writer from Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia. I’ve been writing poetry professionally for about a decade, though merging it with my love of horror is more recent and where I feel like I’ve truly found my voice. I love to incorporate Mi’kmaw language into my work to practice my own language reclamation and to experiment with meaning. As Mi’kmaq is a verb-based language and horror is a genre relying upon action and revelation, I like seeing where those elements can exist in tension and harmony.

SMW: What was your writing process like for Elegies of Rotting Stars?

The sources of inspiration in this collection run the gamut from folk horror to giallo to theory that I’d read for my master’s thesis in 2020/2021 and still had on my mind. A lot of these poems channel my anger and anxiety over capitalism and colonialism and the corresponding apocalyptic conditions they create. My editor Sean Malia Thompson helped me bring these poems into greater resonance with each other to provide commentary on loss, pessimism, and spirituality, which is at the heart of the collection and overarching themes in my writing.

SMW: In your opening poem “There Are No Simple Hymns,” you write: “She boils the/amniotic milk: presses/crushed violets/to her mouth.”  You marry ritual with the cosmic so beautifully throughout this piece and this collection, and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about what drew you to that subgenre/approach?

TM: Thank you! I’m fascinated by ritual, and how the sacred emerges through the veils of perception – no matter what tradition, translating mystical experiences and/or inducing numinous states is some of the most interesting work that humans do. Add prophecy and witchcraft to that, and it’s absolutely my jam. I wrote “There Are No Simple Hymns” as part of my interest in all things mystical and witchy. I like to use specifically witchy imagery, often thinking of witchcraft alongside women being the traditional workers of death and oracles of different traditions and cultures – both of which provide a deeper glimpse into the machinery of the sacred. Maybe it’s also just me writing about my dream job as a forest oracle who gives cryptic messages to travelers.

SMW: I love looking at poetry as a form of shadow work. Can you talk about how you explore and process darkness in your work, especially in pieces like “I Am My Own Haunted House?”

TM: Oh, me too! I love to bury my emotions in poetry – sometimes it’s the only way the truth of them can be brought to the surface, which is part of shadow work. This book deals quite a bit with both Jacques Derrida and Mark Fisher’s ideas of hauntology - ideas of the “always-already absent present” and nostalgia for futures that died or failed, and the spectral that exists in remnants of memory and desire. This emerges where I’m working through climate anxiety, personal anxiety about motherhood, and mourning my decision to not become a mother, which is where some of the pregnancy loss imagery comes from. While I didn’t personally experience it while writing this book, some people I love did, and it underscored a lot of the emotions I was already working through about failed futures and traces of those futures in the present. That’s why that imagery comes up quite a bit through the collection – and why I included a content warning for it, even though it’s not always at the forefront of the poems where it appears.

SMW: After thinking about it for some time, I think “We Are Born Devouring” might be my favorite poem in the collection. I love the marriage of the body and nature and violence that you have running throughout the piece, and I’m curious about your thoughts on how you approach body horror and where you think its purpose is in the genre, especially with women and queer identities.

TM: As a fat bisexual Mi’kmaw cis woman, I occupy categories in my existence and my body that are devalued by a patriarchal and colonialist society, so it’s always interesting to me to play with monstrosity as a force of empowerment. “We Are Born Devouring” is my Mi’kmaw vampire poem. While vampires are a great metaphor for consumption and greed, I think they are the most interesting when they are approached as boundary-breakers, crossing the thresholds of life and death to occupy spaces where they should not exist. An unliving state recontextualized this way becomes a defiance of social murder – “the dusk that does not burn but breathes” can become a proclamation of Mi’kmaq presence, our breathing despite attempts to make us burn – and in that way, “destroying that which created you” can also be destroying definitions of monstrosity, and/or the idea of monstrosity as disempowerment.

SMW: In “Flag Burning Against a Storming Sky” your worldbuilding is exquisite. How do you approach building landscapes and otherworldly environments in your poetry?

TM: Thank you! “Flag Burning Against Storming Sky” is my anarchist anti-western poem, where I’m speaking against colonialist expansion and emphasizing that land outlives nation-states. Many myths of nation-building – that continue to this day – hinge on exploitation of land, thinking of it as resource and a concretization of borders rather than something with which humans are in relationship. To me, having a good relationship with land is of the utmost importance for all of us. In making landscapes and environments in my poems, I therefore like to look to what is living, vital, and active within it, and what the relationship between the beings in it looks like – how those relationships are sustained, what brings them into crisis.

SMW: When I was thinking about words I would associate with this collection, I got stuck on “sublime,” “existential,” and “revelation.” Would you agree with that? What other words or themes come to mind that you want readers to resonate with?

TM: I appreciate that! Those are things I had in mind while writing, and it’s always interesting to see what elements resonate with people. Some people have said that they find the collection hopeful and I’m always surprised but glad to hear it. I firmly believe that finding and creating meaning can propel us forward through crisis, whether one would call that an act of hope or not – I think even the title Elegies of Rotting Stars suggests catharsis and understanding in calamity and darkness.

SMW: Something I deeply admired about your collection was your line work. Can you talk about how you approach the line and work with breath in your poetry?

TM: I love to play with enjambment and space on the page, seeing where gaps emerge and where parentheses complicate meaning – I can spend hours playing with where the eye travels and where the pauses happen! This means taking the poem on a sentence by sentence, stanza by stanza basis. My work tends to be very heavy in imagery, so it becomes important to know when to overwhelm the reader with my word choices and when to pull back so they can make sense of it, especially since the reader may not be familiar with any of the Mi’kmaw words that might appear.

SMW: What poets are you currently reading? Are there any collections you’re looking forward to adding to your TBR list?

I just started reading Writing Poetry in the Dark, which of course you edited, and it’s amazing so far! I’m also eagerly awaiting Jessica Drake-Thomas’ new collection Bad Omens and Jessica McHugh’s The Quiet Ways I Destroy You. I’m planning on reading pretty much any other horror poetry collections come out this year, it’s something I try to keep on my radar constantly!

SMW: What’s next for your readers?

TM: My weird horror novella Green Fuse Burning will be released from cli-fi publisher Stelliform Press later this year! I’ve loved their output for quite some time, so I’m really excited about it. If you like mushrooms, rot, and mysticism you’ll want to check it out for sure.

Wela’lin Stephanie for these amazing questions, and wela’lioq to all for reading!


“Elegies of Rotting Stars by Tiffany Morris is a gorgeous and visceral collection that takes readers down into the depths of a dark, poetic cathedral. Within, stars bleed and ‘flowers drip like meat.’ The spiritual meets the unholy, and clouds dance like ghosts in an angry sky. Lush word choices surround every verse, and Morris does an expert job at evoking emotion, whether she’s navigating the striking cultural influences of the Mi’kmaq language or describing the earth’s sorrow. Readers will delight in the rich descriptions and haunting melodies so carefully crafted within this outstanding collection.” —Sara Tantlinger, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland

"If you own one poetry collection by a contemporary Indigenous writer, it'd better be this one. Elegies of Rotting Stars strikes like a scream; it is a cry in the darkness of a world hurtling toward environmental disaster, a sound felt through the hearts of every citizen of the Indigenous diaspora. Horrific, beautiful, unforgettable, it is as much a love letter to the Mi'kmaq language as it is an exploration of terror when our ties to our languages and Nations are severed. This book occupies the space between devastation and hope, proving that even in the face of genocide and separation from our homelands, we can always find ways to come home.”—Mae Murray, author and editor of The Book of Queer Saints

"The power of Tiffany Morris's words wakes you up with righteous anger, heart-rending shockwaves of recognition, and restorative wisdom in the face of doom. She handles horrors both cosmic and specific deftly, like a magician. Elegies of Rotting Stars is a beautiful, masterful book.”—Joe Koch, author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands and Convulsive

“What Tiff Morris does with language, with form, with imagery, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Somewhere between poetry and prophecy, between ruin and rebirth, Morris is undoubtedly our most clear-eyed witness of the anthropocene and all that comes after.”—Paula D. Ashe, author of We Are Here to Hurt Each Other

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

January '23 Madhouse Recap: New Year, New Semester, New Career Paths

Hello friends and fiends–

Happy 2023!

I started off the new year by drinking hibiscus-peppermint water and doing some cinnamon magic. I pulled my archetype card for the year (The Riddle) and lit my intention candle. I then did some thrifting and went to Barnes and Noble and then ate a bunch of dumplings, because that’s how everyone starts off the new year, right?

I also got a carnelian and rose quartz bracelet to wear this year because 2023 is all about self-love, self-care, and confidence. I even remembered to charge them (along with my selenite wand and a TON of moon water) on the full moon last month, so I already feel like I’m off to a good start there; I’ve also been working with sunflower and reishi a bunch lately, too. I even picked up some actual sunflowers for my dining room (and some pink roses, because why not?) and then I’ve been taking sunflower essence first thing when I wake up every morning. I’ve also been drinking tons of water and working to move my body more with light yoga sessions either first thing in the morning, or later on at night, which I think has been successful so far as well. 

January also brought with it Evie’s first birthday and 1-year checkup–can you believe it? I don’t know how we’re already here–time goes so fast–but my little lady had such a wonderful day eating spice cake, getting showered with presents, and being covered in kisses. She’s also continuing to grow well, standing up on her own, feeding herself (we’re a big fan of yogurt melts these days), and talking up a storm. Lately, she’s been carrying around her baby philosophy books and making me play with her hippo in her princess tent, and like, it’s pretty magical, I won’t lie.

On the school front, things have been busier than ever. I finished teaching a class at SNHU mid-January right before my three graduate classes at WCSU started (reading lists included below). I’m also teaching an undergrad Women Write Horror class at PPU and gearing up to teach Writing the Vampire via LitReactor on the 7th (yes, there’s still time to sign up!). Dennis and I did manage to sneak away and see a Cirque du Soleil show (Corteo), so that was a great time (and a late Christmas present).

Other stuff that’s going on: I’m taking a class on the psychology of sexuality this semester, and we’re about 3.5 weeks in now and I’m really enjoying it. Studying psychology at Point Park–especially through a humanistic, critical lens– has been a really transformative experience for me. I started out taking some classes on a non-degree path because I just wanted more of a foundation in philosophy and psychology, but then it woke something up in me, something I haven’t felt for a really long time: excitement and intrigue. I started reading clinical books, listening to psychology podcasts, and asking myself a lot of deep questions, and as it often does, one thing led to the other, and I have some news to share with you folks. Starting in the fall, I’ll be entering Point Park’s Master’s program in Community Psychology with a focus on gender and sexuality studies. I have a lot of plans and ideas for how I want to merge this with my literature classes and writing paths, but in order to do that, I need some more training and I’m hoping this path continues to be an inspiring journey for me and my intellectual pursuits.

On the writing/teaching front:
  • In my one graduate class, we've been focusing on archetypes and representations of the poet, the witch, and the mother. We talk a lot about inward reflection and memoirs, rage, shame, and vulnerability, and it's going to be a powerful semester. This is the booklist for our upcoming term: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Animal Wife: Stories by Lara Ehrlich, M Train by Patti Smith, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson, Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim, Woman Without Shame: Poems by Sandra Cisneros, Escaping the Body: Poems by Chloe N. Clark, Witch by Rebecca Tamas, and. The Truth is Told Better This Way by Liz Worth
  • In another one of my graduate classes this semester, I'm working with my student on editing and exploring the body. We're discussing different forms and approaches to poetry and then really looking at and dissecting the line. Below is our reading list: Eve by Annie Finch, The Sorrow Festival by Erin Slaughter, Internet Girlfriend by Stephanie Valente, Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim, Woman Without Shame: Poems by Sandra Cisneros, Escaping the Body: Poems by Chloe N. Clark, Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back by Alicia Cook, Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr, and A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line by Emily Rosko and Anton Vander Zee.
  • With my third graduate mentee, we’ll be working on the intersection of horror, true crime, and thriller this time around. Here is our booklist for the semester: The Science of Serial Killers: The Truth Behind Ted Bundy, Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, and Other Notorious Murders of Cinematic Legend by Meg Hafdahl and Kelley Florence, My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel, Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin, Daphne by Josh Malerman, Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey.
  • The reading list for my Women Write Horror class at PPU this semester–which has just been an absolute blast to teach so far!--is: Monster, She Wrote: The Women who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, Bunny by Mona Awad, Sisters by Daisy Johnson, Night Bitch by Rachel Yoder, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
  • Uncover the blood-soaked history and folklore surrounding the vampire while learning how to explore its archetype and leave new bite marks on the modern world. Interested? I’ll be teaching Writing the Vampire via LitReactor in February–class starts on the 7th, so be sure to sign up if you haven’t yet.
  • I was honored to host Jessica Drake-Thomas (@bad_witchery) in The Madhouse today where we talk about poetry, the occult, and her upcoming collection Bad Omens, which is available for preorder now. You can read the interview here and check out my review of her past collection Burials here.

(RIP Lisa Loring--you brought me so much joy).

This month, I read:

  • Lovesick, Issue 2 &3 by Luana Vecchio
  • I Hate Fairyland, Issue 2 &3 by Skottie Young
  • Book of Slaughter by James Tynion IV
  • House of Slaughter, Vol 2 by James Tynion
  • Something is Killing the Children, Vol 5 by James Tynion
  • Lore Olympus: Volume 3 by Rachel Smythe
  • Did You Hear What Edie Gein Done? by Harold Schechter
  • The Science of Serial Killers: The Truth Behind Ted Bundy, Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, and Other Notorious Murderers of Cinematic Legend by MegHafdahl and Kelly Florence
    • One of our current WCSU MFA candidates wrote an article in response to the Bryan Kohberger killings and it’s a well-written and insightful piece on the intersection of criminology and psychopathology. If you’re interested in reading it, you can access it here.
  • Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson (reread)
  • The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz
  • Bad Omens by Jessica Drake-Thomas (make sure you folks buy this when it goes live!)
  • Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
  • Elegies of Rotting Stars by Tiffany Morris
  • I’m still working through Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Hauntings edited by Gaby Triana, and this month I read “A Halloween Visit” by Dana Hammer, which I absolutely loved! I also read: “Bootsy’s House” by Dennis K. Crosby, “Soul Cakes” by Catherine McCarthy, “Halloween at the Babylon” by Lisa Morton, and “Ghosts of Candies Past” by Jeff Strand, which had me cracking up in the best way!
  • I’ve also been casually reading Les Femmes Grotesques by Victoria Dalpe, which I’ve really been enjoying. So far I’ve read “The Grove” and “Mater Annelida”--and I can’t stop thinking about the latter. I’m really enjoying the collection so far and looking forward to reading more!
  • “The H Word: The Missing and the Murdered: True Crime as Content” by Cynthia Pelayo
  • “The Hunt for the Leather Apron” by G. Neri
  • “Tiny Little Wounds” by Carlie St. George

On the media front:

  • Disenchanted (2022), The Wonder (2022), American Psycho 2 (2002), Life After Beth (2014), 7 Women and a Murder (2021), Sorry About the Demon (2023), Morbius (2022), Kimi (2022), Wendell and Wild (2022), Luckiest Girl Alive (2022), Smile (2022), Megan (2023), Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022).
  • Cabinet of Curiosities:
    • “The Mumering:” I have a deep love for horror that surrounds or focuses on birds, so this episode was right up my alley. Plus, throw in some ghosts, meditations on grief, anger, and fear, and I’m there.
  • I finished watching the last episode of Queer for Fear, which I super loved because it was all about lesbian vampires and bisexual horror. Yes. Please and thank you. If you haven’t watched this series yet, I can’t recommend it enough. This was wildly powerful and educational and it reframed how I think about a lot of movies while confirming how I felt about certain ones, too, especially in my adolescence. Also, I haven’t seen Heavenly Creatures and I think I need to change that soon.
  • Archive 81: I devoured this. Completely obsessed. This definitely has become one of my favorite limited series.
  • The Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge: I randomly found this on Prime, so I had to watch it. I love the color and whimsy of Seuss, so this was a lot of fun to see translated into the baking world! If you like baking shows, I’d recommend giving this one a go!
  • Ginny and Georgia, Season 2: Ah, what an ending! This season was somehow even more intense than the first and I felt my breath stuck in my throat on more than one occasion. This isn’t something I would usually watch, but I’m glad I gave it a go when it first came out because I’m completely hooked.
  • Trixie Motel: I was browsing on HBO for something to watch that wasn’t horror-related (I know, I was shocked, too!) and well, I love drag queens and a good DIY project so this was an easy binge for me. My favorite part though, was when Evie clapped during all the room reveals, ha.
  • Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre: It’s no secret that I love me some Junji Ito, so I’ve been savoring this series and trying to watch it slowly. I watched “The Strange Hikizuir Siblings: The Seance,” which was a story I wasn’t familiar with but ended up really enjoying, and then I watched one of my favorite stories of his “The Hanging Balloons.”
  • The Last of Us: Dennis and I watched the first episode of this and it completely decimated my heart (in a good way, but damn). I definitely want to continue watching, but I think this is going to be a slow watch for me.


Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.



Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Madhouse Author Interview: Bad Omens with Jessica Drake-Thomas

Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, I'm honored to hold space for Jessica Drake-Thomas, a poet who completely took my breath away with her collection Burials in 2022When she reached out to me about her upcoming collection Bad Omens, I could not read it fast enough and I think most of you will feel the same. 

In her own words: "Bad Omens is a book of dark, gothic horror poetry that combines tarot, dark goddesses, Victorian era funeral rites, and baneful witchcraft as vehicles to explore feminism in the pandemic/Post Roe era."

Reading it was like drinking a hot cup of poisonous tea, like sleeping with a scorpion on your face. It was beautiful and dangerous and angry--which is just how I like my poetry.

I hope you'll all join us below for a fascinating interview and consider preordering or picking up a copy of the collection with it goes live. Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.

In moonlight, 

Stephanie M. Wytovich

SMW: Hi Jessica! Welcome to The Madhouse. Since this is your first time joining us here, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to poetry in the first place?

JDT: Thanks so much for having me! I’m a gothic horror poet and novelist, a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and a practicing witch, currently living and freezing in Wisconsin. I am one of several poetry editors at Coffin Bell Journal. I’m a dog mom to Poppy, a black lab. I’m also the author of two books of poetry, Burials, and Bad Omens.

I’ve had some really amazing teachers who got me turned toward writing and poetry. I was first drawn to poetry when I was in the second grade. My teacher read us a book called Sing a Song of Popcorn. Most of it was nonsense, but it was playful and good to read aloud. It taught me early on that poetry was something that you could have fun with. Then, when I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher gave us a whole hour every week to sit and write. It didn’t matter what, just that we were writing. I automatically started writing poetry, and I haven’t stopped since.   

SMW: What was your writing process like for Bad Omens?

JDT: I wrote Bad Omens in bed during 2020 while binge-eating a five-pound bag of gummy worms and binge-watching Penny Dreadful and Vikings. I wrote all the original drafts pretty quickly over a two-month period, and then I went back and revised extensively over the next two years.

SMW: In your opening poem “Speak to Me” you wrote: “as if I’m covered in blood:/a crimson dress/of sacrifice’s incarnadine, /or don’t speak/at all.” Something I loved about your collection was how assertive it was. It demanded my attention, held me accountable, and wasn’t afraid to ask for what it wanted. Can you talk a bit about how that relates to feminist horror poetry and themes of rage and empowerment?

JDT: At the time, I was taking a class for my Ph.D. program titled Gender and Anger. In the class, we were talking a lot about how women express or can’t express rage, and how speaking up and taking space is empowering. Something that I really love about feminist horror poetry right now is how the speakers confess their rage in a way that is really compelling. I wanted to do that for myself, especially with “Speak to Me.” I was raised by a man who was always very angry, and too comfortable with expressing it and taking it out on others. In my daily life, I don’t feel comfortable expressing anger because of that.  With that piece, I created a speaker who feels fully able to express herself without reservation. Writing that piece felt empowering. It was really refreshing. It was a nice way to start off a book that’s about female rage and empowerment.

SMW: You work with a lot of occult and spiritual images throughout the collection (Hel’s Horse, Fenrir, Tarot, The Book of the Dead). What draws you to these subjects and how do you like to work with them in your creative work?

JDT: When I was working on this book, I was working with those occult and spiritual images that I most feel a kinship with. It was 2020, and the height of the pandemic, so I was looking for ways to keep myself rooted, so I turned to the dark goddesses—particularly Hel, the Morrigan, Hekate—to pull through it and keep myself sane. There are several poems speaking from their perspectives, and that really helped me.  

SMW: In Bad Omens, you talk a lot about the beyond, peeking behind the veil, what comes after death. As such, I’m curious: have you ever had any experiences with ghosts or hauntings? Do you have any superstitions you feel comfortable talking about?

JDT: 100%. I totally believe in ghosts. I’ve lived in several apartments that were definitely haunted and I had to share space with them. Most recently, I was over my boyfriend’s house, and I saw a figure dressed in white muslin pass through a door on the landing. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, but I could see the way that the cloth of her dress swept across the floor—it was late 1800s period clothing, with that wide skirt. She didn’t feel threatening. I think she was just letting me know she was there. As far as superstitions go, I do think there is another world that we can’t see but is pressed right up against ours. I think the people who we’ve loved who have gone on are in that world, and they’re still with us. I believe there are spaces where these two worlds bleed into each other. I was thinking about it a lot while writing this book since a dear friend had died by suicide. I felt that she was close by during that time.

SMW: There’s no mistaking how you marry the macabre with the beautiful in this collection. Can you talk a bit about the beautiful grotesque and where you think its power exists for readers and horror creators alike?

JDT: I just think there’s something lovely about darkness. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of shadow work, and was able to connect with something within myself that I really loved. I think that’s a pretty common experience within the community of horror writers and readers. We’re curious about the darkness, and then when we go looking, we find something that’s beautiful and meaningful within the grotesque.

SMW: A question I like to ask poets who work with darker subject matters in their work is how you protect yourself when dealing with and exploring shadows. Can you speak to how you protect your mental health when spending time in the dark?

JDT: People laugh when they find out that I really love cupcakes, pop music, and romance novels. But that’s how I protect myself. There has to be a balance to the darkness—I can’t consume it one hundred percent of the time. I need a break, and that’s when I turn to more lighthearted things for comfort. I also have a lot of people and dogs in my life who bring me joy. They keep me really balanced. 

SMW: Bad Omens reminds me of a poisonous flower and if I had to connect it with/to anything, it would be The Witch. What about the archetype of the witch do you like playing with the most? Furthermore, why do you think the witch has gotten more and more popular over the years?

JDT: It’s funny that you say that because I was thinking of Belladonna/Deadly Nightshade a lot while writing this book, and the plant sort of became a character/speaker in my mind. The witch as an outsider is an archetype that I really relate to—someone who doesn’t quite fit in and is on a different path from the rest of society. I’ve never really felt like I’ve fit in—I’ve always stood out.

SMW: What poets are you currently reading? Are there any collections you’re looking forward to adding to your TBR list?

JDT: Recently, I’ve read Cynthia Pelayo’s Crime Scene, Zephyr Lisowski’s Blood Box, Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s To Star the Darkness, and torrin a. greathouse’s Wound from the Mouth of a Wound. I’ve been re-reading Lament for Art O’Leary, by Eiblin Dubh ni Chonaill, which is this gorgeous 300-year-old poem about a woman mourning her murdered husband. When she finds his body, she’s so upset she starts drinking his blood. I am really looking forward to Grace R. Reynolds’ new collection, The Lies We Weave.

SMW: What’s next for your readers?

JDT: I have a novel forthcoming from Cemetery Dance’s ebook and paperback line in March of 2024 called All Hollow Girls that is inspired by Hellier and The Blair Witch Project.

Praise for Bad Omens:

Bad Omens by Jessica Drake-Thomas is a seance, a collection of shadows. These poems are both plague and witch, a journey into the burning, a dance into the violent. Best enjoyed with a cup of black tea, readers will siphon the poison off these pages, kiss the death that awaits between each word. --Stephanie M. Wytovich, Bram Stoker award-winning poet of Brothel

BAD OMENS by Jessica Drake-Thomas begets a canticle of death and resurrection, a spell for love and revenge, a bellow to claw your way out of the dark and back into this world with fire in your heart. Gothic and mystical, this occult collection drips with saccharine siren songs that tear you apart and inspire righteous anger. Readers will be haunted, enticed, and moved to be true to the darkness in their hearts and ‘let the wolves loose.’⸺ Grace R. Reynolds, author of Lady of The House

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