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.
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?
TM: 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
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?
TM: 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
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