Scott Whitaker Reviews
Shannon Connor Winward’s
(From VOLUME 9, ISSUE 6 // THE BROADKILL REVIEW – November 2015)
Shannon Connor Winward’s Undoing Winter, from Finishing Line Press, explores the relationship between self, myth and history. And for Winward, the past and the self are the wet earth, and the dead. Winward identifies the chthonic impulses that pull on our psyche. Family, the unexpected pain of loving children, these are but some of the themes lying in the winter setting of Winward’s chapbook. And it’s frightening. Thrilling, even.
Perhaps it’s the October chill in the air, and the pull of my imagination towards dark places, but Undoing Winter begins wielding dense and eloquent Dionysian tropes, the kind of musical mythic notes one hears in Plath, Sexton, and Bishop–on occasion, and in more contemporary artists such as Sharon Olds, Jean Feraca, and Beth Bachman. The iconic image of wet rich earth, so tied up with death and sex, is a primal murmur through Winter. And Winward becomes the throat for oracle, wearing a mask, and invoking poetic theatre.
The title poem “Undoing Winter” opens “I went into ground for you. I faced the guardians/of the gates of hell./I gave away my jeweled bracelets/ and marched naked to the cat-calls of the dead/ all to rescue your sorry ass/ and here you are,/ huddled on your mildewed throne/ speechless as a shrug.” The high and low registers of her voice contrast, a kind of static. The music of the “huddled…” and “speechless…” characterize the musical cadence of the poem.
Sonically, most of the chapbook echoes the title poem, they are poems of incantation, for lack of a better word. A catharsis, yes, but also transformative. The latter more important than the former. There is love and solace in her work, and levity, but for the most part Winter is an incantation, a purring engine of anger, desire, and loss.
“I Visit Your Heart” a speculative gem, hums with the kind of glamor a beautiful predator purrs from a long graceful throat. “Your heart on ice is useless to you,/ so while you were sleeping/I had them cut it out, encase it in plastic/ and set it on a platform/ with a plaque that reads: choices.” The heart later becomes a “trophy valentine”, the physical remains of what had been a relationship, a “paperweight.”
What makes Undoing Winter dazzle is the sensuousness of its language. Poetry is, on some level, supposed to be sexy, dark, and dangerous. There are few character hooks in the book, and Winward plays her cards close to her chest, so we don’t have any idea if she is writing about real or imagined events or people. The emotional landscapes of the poems could as easily be from memory or from imagination. Winward does a poet’s’ job and makes the unpoetic dangers of life poetic and mystic, joining in the broad and great opus that is American letters.
So if you go here, you can hear me perform my poem “Beansidhe” – a classic Irish ghost story turned tragic romance – on the SFPA’s Halloween Reading page (which I’m co-editing with poet Liz Bennefeld).
As noted on the page: “The pronoun play in “Beansidhe” can be misleading—it may be helpful to remember that not every narrator is reliable.” “Beansidhe” (the Irish spelling of “Banshee”) first appeared in Ideomancer and later my poetry chapbook, UNDOING WINTER (Finishing Line Press 2014) , which was nominated for the SFPA’s Elgin Award.
If, however, you stay here, you can listen to me, my daughter, and my cat playing with my new headset.
Much thanks and kudos to fellow SFPA’er Diane Severson Mori over at Amazing Stories Magazine for her review of UNDOING WINTER! In addition to maintaining a regular column at Amazing Stories to highlight speculative poets and poetry, Diane also manages the not-insignificant task of rounding up the spec-poetry related publications and activities for Science Fiction Poetry Association members.
If you haven’t already, please do check out Diane’s thoughts on UNDOING WINTER, complete with recordings of three poems from the chapbook!
I’m busy getting ready for the DDOA Poet and Prose Writer’s Retreat this weekend (leaving my babies for four days! EEP!) but Diane’s post provides some food for thought that I’d like to revisit later [Watch this Space!!] To wit: while it’s true that none of the poetry in UNDOING WINTER is SciFi – indeed, i think I have all of one poem in my entire portfolio that I’d call straightup Science Fiction – I draw much of my inspiration from myth, folklore, and dreamscapes – all of which are snugly at home under the “Fantasy” category, which also counts as “Speculative Poetry”.
I think Speculative Poetry can be read in layers. The poems are metaphors, yes, but they also speak of their own realities. In my opinion, poems of ghosts, pagan gods, and slipstream are no more or less metaphorical than of any other genre – for what is SciFi, really, but the same, age old questions of the human condition, wrapped up in futuristic tropes?
Lookie what came in the mail last week….
There are many emotional peaks and valleys in the journey towards publication, but certainly the best high (so far, anyway) has to be holding your own flesh and blood (read: paper and ink) book in your hands… and seeing your own happy mug there on the back, in living color.
SO COOL, Y’ALL.
SO VERY COOL.
And as reports of preorder arrivals have begun to trickle in from my friends and cohorts around the globe (yes! I even have a fan across the pond! *waves*) I’m reminded again of how many people have encouraged me on this journey with their love, their facebook/blog shares, and their hard-earned dollars. THANK YOU, everyone, for your support.
So I haven’t been sleeping very well lately (if why isn’t obvious, scroll back a few posts…) but I have spent the last few days and what brian power … er BRAIN power… I have on getting my little authorly self together. For starters, Undoing Winter is now on Goodreads! Please do check it out and, if you liked the book, feel free to leave a rating or a review!
For those still interested in purchasing a copy, Undoing Winter is available through Finishing Line Press. The cost is $14 plus shipping — OR, come find me in person and buy a signed copy direct from the source! See my CALENDAR OF EVENTS for a list of upcoming appearances.
I’ll be sending out review copies soon, too, so if you’ve got an in with a publication or blog and want to help spread the love for Undoing Winter, LET ME KNOW! You can contact me here, on Facebook or through the usual channels. I’ll get back to you with alacrity… assuming I’m not napping off the trauma of a sleepless night.
The special promotional period for my poetry collection, UNDOING WINTER, ends this Friday, April 25th. To mark these final days, I thought I’d say a few words on one of the central themes of the book – katabasis, or “descent”.
From the Greek word for “down”, katabasis is a term beloved by psychologists and scholars (especially Jungian lovers like me). It refers to a downward journey – “a descent of some type, such as moving downhill, or the sinking of the winds or sun, a military retreat, or a trip to the underworld.” (See the Wikipedia article on katabasis here.)
The Easter holiday just passed celebrates a katabasis of sorts, and my favorite kind: the ancient story of rebirth, or return. Like Christ, many figures of myth undergo a journey into death, darkness, or despair, often in order to accomplish something superhuman – to resurrect a loved one, perhaps, or to bring a message of love and hope to mankind.
The titular poem in my collection, “Undoing Winter”, explores several other examples of katabasis. Perhaps the most obvious to fans of Classical myths is the story of Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture and mother of Persephone, a hapless maiden who was abducted in the bloom of her youth by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. As the story goes, Demeter in her grief defies the mighty Zeus, leaving the earth to languor in a perpetual winter so long as Persephone remains in her dark prison (spoiler alert: eventually Demeter wins her daughter back, though at a cost).
I faced the shining wrath of the sun
on your behalf
while you cried your soul away.
I made excuses to the earth and sky
and fed the peasants gravel.
Give it time, I said. She is composting.
Come again tomorrow.
– from UNDOING WINTER* – Finishing Line Press
Ever the fan of layers, I wrote UNDOING WINTER with other versions of the descent in mind as well – specifically Orpheus (the mythic Greek musician/poet) and Inanna (Sumerian Goddess of Awesomeness), both of whom braved underworld trials in order to bring back lost loves.
It should be no surprise that such stories hold a constant place in the repertoire of faith– (and art, for that matter! How many modern fictional heroes can you think of who manage to fight their way back from certain death – and at what price?) As mortal beings, we face the loss of loved ones and of self at every turn. The hope that there is life beyond death is naturally something that occupies our collective psyches.
Yet stories of resurrection needn’t always be taken literally, nor do they only belong in the realm of heroes and gods.
In psychological terms, katabasis can be a metaphor for depression. This, too, is one of the central meanings of UNDOING WINTER, both the titular poem and the book as a whole. Though for me, the journey in and out of clinical depression happens to be a lifelong condition, many people (most, even?) have or will experience the long dark night of the soul.
This, I think, is another reason why stories of katabasis are so eternal. Life is hard – so hard, sometimes, that giving up or giving in seems preferable. Like the heroes of myth, it often takes great will or faith to overcome the lure of the dark. Sometimes returning to the light hurts like hell. As lovers of stories, we’re not just hoping to hear that death is not the end of us – we’re looking for reassurance that we have it in us to survive.
Ultimately, “Undoing Winter” is about self-rescue. The poem gives homage to – and takes liberty with – a powerful archetype found again and again in our collective archives. The collection, UNDOING WINTER, carries the idea even further. In this arrangement, I hope to bring the reader into some dark places… echoes of where I have been, and what I have endured… but there’s a reason for it. I promise. Because, for me, katabasis is not just about the journey down. It’s about coming back… by tooth and claw, if necessary… to find we are stronger… better… more ourselves than ever before.
Want to show your support for UNDOING WINTER? Pre-order your copy today at Finishing Line Press.
As you may have heard, my first collection of poetry was selected for publication through the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition from Finishing Line Press. The collection, titled UNDOING WINTER, will be released as a limited edition chapbook (short book) on June 21, 2014.
UNDOING WINTER contains some previously published poems along with others debuted especially for this collection. With subjects ranging from romantic love to motherhood, fantasy to history, death to resurrection, UNDOING WINTER represents nearly twenty years of writing, and is an exciting milestone in my creative journey.
UNDOING WINTER includes original, color cover art, “Moon Shadows”, by my long-time friend and mentor, Lisa Lutwyche. Poet, playwright, watercolorist, and actor, Lisa has published in the US and the UK, and has taught Creative Writing and Watercolor at community arts centers for over twenty years.
The press run for UNDOING WINTER will depend on the number of sales made during a special, pre-publication period that is going on NOW through APRIL 25th. If you would like a copy, please don’t wait – you can reserve a copy online at Finishing Line Press.
The cost of the book is $14.00, with a special discounted shipping cost of $2.99 for orders placed by April 25th.
Please do pass this along to anyone you think might be interested. I encourage you to place all orders by April 25th, as this will help determine the ultimate press run.
All orders will be shipped after June 21, 2014.
I want to give heartfelt thanks to my family and colleagues for your enthusiastic support, both personal and professional. This has been an amazing year.
UNDOING WINTER – coming June 2014
Also very exciting: My first poetry collection, UNDOING WINTER, has been contracted for publication by FINISHING LINE PRESS.
UNDOING WINTER is a mix of previously published poems and new work, in chapbook form. The collection deals with speculative and mythological themes as well as biographical (or semi-biographical) material.
The release date is tentatively scheduled for June 21st, 2014, with advance copies and pre-publication sales beginning in mid-March.
I will, of course, post updates as they become available. Watch this space!