Kate Garrett WoodlandCoverIn my latest interview for In the Booklight, I talk to Kate Garrett about her poetry pamphlet To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale] (Animal Heart Press)…

‘To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]’ is simultaneously bewitchingly ‘other world’ and very human. How much does the I narrator of each poem match and/or differ from you as a daughter, woman, mother and talented poet in the 21st century?

Well, I guess to start with the ‘I’ in the poems is supposed to be taken for an actual changeling; she is me but she isn’t me. It was my way of dealing with many experiences and feelings in my life that I almost couldn’t write about in any other way, the issues I faced and moments I’ve lived are there, the other people involved are there as ‘characters’, but the delivery is otherworldly. And the changeling has some supernatural powers I obviously don’t have – they aren’t overdone, but for example she can quite literally summon a storm, music, and ghosts, as in ‘An elf summons’, that poem was pure fantasy about being able to bring about things I love as comfort whenever I need them.

“As I grew into this world, I found the darkness had its uses:” (‘That merry wanderer of the night’). Could you say a little more about both darkness and its uses, not just in this particular poem but across the pamphlet as a whole?

Well to start with, ‘That merry wanderer of the night’ is about how frightened I was of so many things as a child, everything in the wider human world seemed very loud but also completely incomprehensible (looking back, I know this was my autism, which was of course not widely diagnosed in the 1980s…) – but it’s about how some of the things I was afraid of – particularly the ethereal things of horror films and ghost stories, the possibility of what might be in the woods and dark back yards – simultaneously held my interest, so I grew only to love them and see as part of me, the idea of those things doesn’t scare me a bit now (and I do still believe in ghosts!). In my own life, the darkness is where I learn, and find parts of myself I wasn’t aware of, and reach new levels of empathy with others, and so on. So… in this pamphlet the changeling is facing a lot of darkness, opposition she didn’t ask for, tough times… and in battling those things one by one, she realises she’s actually carrying a lot of light (‘a being in a beam’ as in the last poem, ‘Pixie-led’).

‘To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]’ is a beautiful blending of folklore, strong emotions, magical imagery and striking lines. What were your main sources of inspiration, were the poems all written individually or did you have the overarching pamphlet structure in mind before you started and did the poems’ themes lead to the title or vice versa?

The first poem to be written in this collection was ‘Changeling’ and I wrote it back in 2013! Then in the early summer of 2018 I wrote ‘An elf in awe of her human lover’, and around the same time captioned a photo on facebook as ‘An elf in the witch-garden’, which a poetry friend said should be the title of my next book. I thought well, it might not be the title of a book, but I will write that poem. And I did. Then I wrote ‘An elf turns inside out for the dragon’ for a submissions call about bodies, and from there it became… why not… why not make all of these poems about all of these things, through the eyes of a fictional changeling who is actually me. ‘To feed my woodland bones’ is a line from ‘An elf turns inside out for the dragon’, and I felt it summed up the process, the journey from confused, lost, hurt little faery child trying to navigate the world, to someone who maybe hasn’t managed to fit in, but can at least not worry about it anymore. All my life I’ve been doing all I can to feed my woodland bones – to stay strong, to keep a grasp on who I am in spite of things.

Kate Garrett CollageMaker_20190613_111649080I love the way you use white space and punctuation within these poems; it adds to the sense of poetry working as a spell. In a similar, yet different, way, lines like ‘borrowed bodies dreaming the snagged veil whole’ (‘Glamour’) seem to hint at potential healing possibilities, or at very least of pain transformed into beauty through poetry. What do you think are poetry’s main powers and how do they come into play in ‘To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]’?

Ah thank you! I used strange punctuation and white space – slashes, square brackets instead of parentheses, odd movement between lines, etc – for this very reason (to make magic), I’m so happy you noticed!

I think for me the power of poetry is its immediacy, how a good poem hits you square in the solar plexus. And I don’t necessarily mean it will hit you there painfully, though that is one option – sometimes it’s a soothing feeling, a sense of calm, maybe a laugh, maybe a sense of recognition with your own life – whatever, it makes you feel something, and that rolls into making you think about something new. And that is a small transformation in itself. I never know if any of my own poems will do that, but naturally I hope that for someone, they do. On one hand I wanted to leave readers unsettled with this pamphlet, because the life that led to these poems was unsettled. But I also wondered if others might find solace in it. And some readers have read it and nodded along – they completely get that changeling feeling – and some will perhaps read it and see life in a new way, if they don’t have first-hand experience of feeling they are Other.

What question haven’t I asked that I should have asked, and what’s the answer?

Hmm… maybe: “You reference Shakespeare in two of these poems, and thank him and Puck in your acknowledgements – what influence have they had on you and this book?” I always like a chance to talk about Puck. The poem ‘That merry wanderer of the night’ is of course named after him, because if I could be any fictional character it would be Puck, or Robin Goodfellow – and talking of the light and darkness from earlier, he is a mischievous faery, a trickster type, and a trickster perfectly encompasses that balance. He pranks people, but he also helps people – and he enjoys himself either way. I think my changeling has learned a lot – and could still learn much more– from Puck. And as for Shakespeare, in a more general sense, I think he influences everyone in a thousand different ways (sometimes people don’t even realise he’s influencing them), but I decided to openly thank him in this case.

Kate Garrett WoodlandCoverHow can people get hold of a copy of ‘To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]’?

By visiting the good folks at Animal Heart Press – https://www.animalheartpress.net/p/pre-order-to-feed-my-woodland-bones.html or contacting me for a copy directly.

Thank you, Kate, for these thought-provoking glimpses into the work and life behind your pamphlet and the transformative power of a good poem, which I definitely felt reading ‘To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale]’!

To read more In the Booklight interviews with authors, please click on this link.