I Know Why the NyteBird Sings: An Interview with Linda D. Addison
I Know Why the NyteBird Sings: An Interview with Linda D. Addison
by David E. Cowen, Author of The Madness of Empty Rooms and The Seven Yards of Sorrow. Follow David at www.decowen.com.
I first experienced the work of Linda D. Addison in a volume of verse I still consider one of the great contemporary works of speculative poetry Four Elements (Bad Moon Books). Linda along with Marge Simon, Charlee Jacob and Rain Graves created what I consider one of the best examples of modern dark poetry. The HWA apparently did as well as it was awarded a Bram Stoker Award for 2014. I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Linda at the first StokerCon in Las Vegas. Linda’s insight and encouragement to poets in the audience were wonderful. But more than that Linda has a presence. You know when you first meet her that this is a person of significance and wonder. Every time I have seen her speak she carries that forward. This year the HWA has awarded Linda its Lifetime Achievement Award, an incredible honor. Linda agreed to share some thoughts with us.
DAVID Let’s get the gushy stuff out of the way Linda. First, congratulations on earning the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. It is very well deserved. To totally allow for cliché and give you a “soft pitch” question how did it feel to receive this award?
LINDA: It was a mind-blower. When I first got the email I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this was happening. Of all the things I might have secretly wanted, the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award was not even on the list. In general I don’t day-dream about receiving awards—I just write, share what I can with others (because many others have share time and knowledge with me). It is overwhelming to know the HWA felt my work and involvement with the community was worthy of an award of such importance! I look at it now as a reminder of all the work I have yet to do.
DAVID You share this award with the likes of Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates, Jack Ketchum, who we recently lost, and many other giants of the genre. That puts you up there with a legendary group of writers. Even so you are only the fifth female author to receive this award and the only African-American to have received this award going back over 30 years. I also note that you were also the first African-American winner of the HWA Bram Stoker Award back in 2001. Like it or not this award elevates your stature, doesn’t it? Especially to African-American writers of speculative fiction and poetry. We can certainly dwell on the failings of every writer’s association but looking forward, what advice do you give to the young aspiring African-American (female or male) writer of horror, and distinctly, dark poetry, about persevering and succeeding in the genre. Also, what do you foresee will be needed to make such accomplishments for women and African-Americans commonplace?
LINDA: The list of others who have received the LAA is amazing, including Jack Ketchum, who was a mentor and friend. He sent me an email of congratulations in January, when he found out I was getting the LAA, and told me to enjoy it. I am so sad that he is gone. He read my work before most were aware me, certainly before the awards, and predicted a bright future for me. I don’t know how he knew, but it was a magical moment I’ll never forget.
If I can be an example of the fact that imagination and its expression is only defined by the person creating work (fiction or poetry) not by any other way that we humans like to label humans, then I’m happy to do so. I look forward to the day when diversity is common place in the creative world and the rest of the world. Discussions about the unbalance is the beginning of change as well as actions like the HWA Seer’s Table column in the monthly newsletter which introduces the membership to creative people outside the obvious choices and anthologies like the Twisted Book of Shadows (Twisted Publishing (a Haverhill House Publishing imprint)) whose editors Christopher Golden and James A. Moore purposely choose a diverse editorial committee to read entries.
I was a guest at Blacktasticon in Atlanta the middle of June and I can tell you the number of Black Speculative publishers & writers of fiction/poetry is growing in leaps and bounds. The only advice I can give is what I live by:
1-write what you feel called to write
2-get feedback to increase your writing/editing skills
3-submit finished work, get it out of the house
In addition to this, attending conventions is a great way to meet others in the field, make contact with publishers, agents, etc.
DAVID I also believe you are the first poet to receive the HWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. As primarily a poet I feel a deep sense of pride to see a major writer’s association focusing on speculative literature to recognize a poet in this manner. I like to make a big deal about the HWA’s support of poetry because it really is a big deal. In his recent interview on this Blog Mike Arnzen noted that for a long, long time poetry was essentially a filler on most speculative magazines. Have you felt a difference in the treatment of dark poets by the HWA from other similar organizations? Do you think that dark poetry has become more accepted as a full-fledged partner in horror with fiction, nonfiction and screenplays? If not, how do you think that dark poetry can rise to that level?
LINDA: HWA has supported poetry longer than most genre organizations except for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA, I edited their 2018 Rhysling Anthology). I was very excited to join on my poetry publications years ago, even though I had the pro sales in fiction to join. Besides giving a Bram Stoker in poetry, HWA has columns online and in the newsletter devoted to poetry. I suspect that the HWA’s recognition of poetry has helped increase the number of horror poetry collections since 2000 when the first Bram Stoker was awarded in poetry.
DAVID The World Fantasy Convention has not focused much on poetry in the past. However this year you are not only listed as an honored guest but also as Toastmaster for this years’ convention in Baltimore. Given that there is no World Fantasy Award for poetry, much less rarely even a panel discussion on poetry at this Convention, this accolade is significant. Do you believe that you can make inroads into the WFC and perhaps other organizations focusing on speculative and genre literature to embrace poetry?
LINDA: I can only hope. Any event that I’m invited to now must know that I’m going to bring focus to poetry, an Open Mic, etc. I think that’s kind of expected (LOL).
DAVID I want to talk shop with a fellow poet. Of the serious poets I know there seems to be two schools – the inspired poet and the “machine” poet. The inspired poet observes and lets poems gestate inside where, when ready to write them down, they will often spring forth truly as if a Muse were guiding the hand. The “machine” poet is less poetic in ethic believing that if you just write, regularly and methodically, you will craft poems that will be publishable. They literally allot time frames to write and just write. Fiction writers I have met often utilize the latter method but they typically have outlines they have put together and word count goals. Poetry is different in the end product. What kind of poet are you? Do you keep a pad and write as something pops into your head? Or when you sit to write do you make yourself write poems as part of your routine?
LINDA: I’m more of a mix of both. I’ve described my writing as mostly organic, in that I rarely sit down and decide to write a particular theme/poem or story. I do journal all the time, have been since the late 1960’s. I have bins and bins of journals that I often return to when I want to develop finished poetry. Much writing goes on in the subconscious so I suggest to writers who say they don’t have enough time to write (I’ve had times like that quite often in my life) to set a time to sit down and write each day, even if only for five minutes. Done as a practice I believe the subconscious (or muse, if you like) will show up. Poetry is my first voice so it comes through me every day/all day.
I’ve been working on longer fiction the last couple of years so I’ve been writing Life Poems on Twitter (almost every day) and have they feed automatically to FaceBook. I started them because I needed a way to allow the poetry out and the themes are things that come out of my daily meditation. Some of them have touched many people, which is an added blessing.
DAVID Your public bio notes that you are the second oldest of ten children. Being the second youngest of eleven children I am always fascinated to hear the stories of writers from large families. I believe that my youth and my mom (my father passing away when I was only six) shaped my viewpoint and outlook tremendously. Being one of the oldest instead of youngest must have placed a lot on your shoulders. Yet you still went to Carnegie-Mellon University and of course have achieved so much. Was there any family experience or experiences you can share that you feel helped to shape you as a writer of dark poetry and fiction?
LINDA: It was my job to entertain the other children while my mother was busy with the latest baby, so I learned early on to take care of others. I would tell them fantasy-like stories at night, modeling from my mother, who was a natural storyteller. She would make up stories to keep entertain us at night and often include us in the story. It went a long way to giving me validation for my constant daydreaming. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I was comfortable enough to approach the shadows that I gathered from my childhood, before that I read/wrote mostly SF and fantasy.
DAVID Your public bio makes mention of a fateful discussion you had with the legendary Frederik Pohl. Can you please share a bit with us about that meeting and how that meeting was so important in your journey into speculative literature?
LINDA: That was a major turning point in my writing career. I met Frederik Pohl at “New York is Book Country” street fair on Fifth Avenue in 1994. At that point I had only published a couple of poems and I asked him for advice about getting published. He said every science-fiction author has to write a why-the-dinosaurs-died story. That sparked my imagination and I went home and wrote a very short story called Why The Dinosaurs Died, it was under 100 words. I was in a writer’s group, Circles in the Hair (CITH) and turned the story into them. The basic feedback was that this more of a poem than a story, so I turned it into a poem and sent it to Asimov’s SF Magazine and it was accepted!
This was a dream come true. I had been sending every poem or story I wrote that was even a little speculative to them first because I was a huge fan of Asimov before the magazine started. I collected years of rejections until my first poem was accepted, even though many of the pieces they rejected were later accepted at other publications. After this first publication in Asimov’s SF Magazine I had three more poems and my first three books reviewed in the magazine!
DAVID You have made some inroads in fiction certainly. Your most recent anthology Sycorax’s Daughters (Cedar Grove Publishing, 2017) is comprised of 28 dark stories and 14 poems written by African-American women writers. Sycorax, of course, is the sorcerous mother of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This work met with critical success and garnered a Stoker nomination. You worked with some amazing authors to put this publication together. This book is clearly an inroad to bringing to the forefront female African-American authors of horror and dark poetry. Do you have any upcoming projects of a similar nature?
LINDA: That project was so important to me because I wanted to increase the awareness of other African-American women authors of dark fiction and poetry, which was totally in line with the reason Prof. Kinitra Brooks conceived the idea. Right now I’m working on a collection of my own SF short stories, but I can imagine, in the future, editing anthologies to bring together other groups of dark fiction/poetry that haven’t been highlighted before, time will tell.
DAVID Can you give recommendations or your thoughts on upcoming female African-American (or other nationalities) you would recommend to readers to introduce them to whom you see as making strides in speculative poetry.
LINDA: It’s no surprise that I’m going to suggest Sycorax’s Daughters anthology (Cedar Grove Publishing, 2017), which was a finalist for the HWA Bram Stoker award, since it contains dark fiction and poetry by 33 female African-American authors (fourteen poems). Some recognizable names, many aren’t known in the wider publishing field. It’s a great starting place to check out their work and from there you can explore work they have published outside the anthology.
I wanted to mention one of the poets from Sycorax’s Daughters, Tiffany Austin (who recently passed away, too young), graced the anthology with two wonderful poems, each one reflecting the beautiful song that life’s shadow can bring:
1-Gotraskhalana (“stumbling upon the name”): A Blues*, which first appeared in 2016 African American Review, Volume 49
2-Toward a Peacock Poem.
Others whose poetry I greatly enjoy are Sheree Renée Thomas, Tonya Liburd, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith.
How to be Notorious
By Linda D. Addison
The Notorious B.I.G.
write loose and easy
flow dark and semi-autobiographical.
Tell your story
like junior M.A.F.I.A.
feud with the best
spend nine months in jail
just because you got
Business Instead of Game.
Start a band
with fiddles and banjos
play everything from jazz and blues
to rap and waltzes
keep your audience
guessing and confused.
You could be quoted
by shamans everywhere
because your imitation
of Notorious B.I.G.
is so dead on they suspect
reincarnation is involved.
Or you could
unique and imperfect
kiss discretion good bye,
sing when others cry,
dance when they pray,
treat status quo
like the poison
it can be.
By Linda D. Addison
Hearing the uncaged bird still singing,
words seep from wounds unhealed
stiff joints move slowly in the dark night
of human time, even as wind blows
over shattered glass and brick, the faint
scent of broken promises.
Seeing the uncaged bird still singing,
eyes bruised, legs healed crooked
the cruel bars dusty, but not forgotten
older scars pulse with half-realized
dreams, voice hoarse but not stilled
even as wings are clipped.
I know why the uncaged bird still sings,
freedom is a prayer, join voices
release breath, allow rebirth of
cleansed dharma, an open door
is just the beginning, listen and
know why the uncaged still sing.
Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of four collections, including How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend, and recipient of the 2018 HWA Lifetime Achievement Award. She has published over 300 poems, stories and articles and is a member of CITH, HWA, SFWA and SFPA. Catch her latest work in anthologies Blacktasticon 2018 Anthology (MVMedia, LLC.), Cosmic Underground (Cedar Grove Publishing), Sycorax’s Daughters (Cedar Grove Publishing) and Scary Out There (Simon Schuster). Her site: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com.