The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner

Snake Lore

Publication Date: February 2024

Description

Jane Morton’s debut chapbook Snake Lore explores the intimacy and violence born of a particular place, weaving a broken narrative fraught with the tangled dynamics of individuals and their environment. This collection is steeped in dirt and framed within the politics of disgust concerning sexuality and the gendered body in the often-fantastical world of the American South. Morton uses formal play to hold contradictions together—a contrapuntal poem to tell two versions of a story, or a string of sonnets, which queer the form from poem to poem, invoking both familiarity and mutation. In these poems, spiritual and religious concerns—the beauty and the harm that they potentiate—converge and haunt.

SNAKE LORE

A flock of open throats spills
noise like sun over the dirt
out back, meaning a snake is near.
Each body a quiver,
scaled feet all claws. Each point
a portent scabbing over. Tell me
again what it means
to keep a snake in the home,
about the girl who let the snake
in her back yard drink
from her, who held the snake
in her lap like an infant, her chest
bent to him. How sickly
she was and pale and her eyes
bloodless yellow and how cold.
Tell me again
how they found the snake
behind her house
and cut his head off
with the garden hoe and draped
the body over the fence.
How when they went to check
on the girl in her bed,
always in her bed until late
in the morning she was dead too,
her blue neck bent and strangled.
You can hear the snake’s
rattle, quiet underneath
the birds’ bloody murder cries
if you listen close. You can hear
the snake’s cold belly
winding in the dust. That snake
ate all our chickens’ eggs
and then ate all our chickens too.
Tell me again
how we are watched over, all
of us, by a jealous god.
How he knows each hair
on our pretty heads, each scale
on our twisting backs.

Praise

Snake Lore shimmers with the incantatory powers of myth, prayer, and making. In this haunting chapbook, Morton’s voice is vibrant and agile, rich with the Southern storytelling idiom, the language of guts and teeth and dirt “rich to taste.” These are intimate, tender verses that celebrate nature’s rot and ruin, the dark and dank places where scaly things are born, and the ways in which we learn to survive there. Snake Lore takes us through an alchemical process, transmuting the decay of the post-industrial South into hard, glinting images of transcendence that glitter on the page as Morton forges and reforges an origin story within these brilliant poems.

–Essy Stone, Author of What It Done to Us

We begin with a “flock of open throats” and right away I hear the cicadas, the peeper frogs, the flies and their “filthy white noise.” Jane Morton’s Snake Lore is made entirely of humidity and high dew points, poems slick with spit and cottonmouth venom. This book brings me back to my roots, watching snakes writhe in the wet grass. I trust these poems, and I trust the familiarity they bring rushing back. As humans we are built to sense rain; we are drawn to it above all else. These poems are all rain and the most arid soil. Let them draw you in.

–Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Author of Water I Won’t Touch

Between sleeping and waking, between desire and violence, between bodies re/membering—this collection generates its own intoxicating humidity. Sows, dogs, flies, birds, snakes, the taste of dirt in the mouth: dreams. Jane Morton’s Snake Lore is both visceral and ethereal. The lyrical intensity in these poems is a ghost-tongue edging the mystery of our messy, complicated human hearts. I love these poems. I read them over and over. Jane Morton is an incredible talent.

–Selah Saterstrom, Author of Ideal Suggestions and Rancher

“Something/will be taken and something//else will grow/in its place,” Jane Morton writes in their affecting chapbook Snake Lore. Here, the scrubby landscape of Mayfly nymphs and thistle and, yes, snakes; jealous gods, and violence “worked… like a bow,” blending together in poems horrific and lived-in. This is a brave book, and an angry one; anger is a bravery too. “It’s not a lie/but it becomes a lie//in the telling” writes Morton, but this book is all truth. May they keep telling it.

–Zefyr Lisowski, Author of Blood Box

About the Author

Jane Morton

Jane Morton is a poet based in Birmingham, Alabama. They received their MFA from the University of Alabama, where they were Online Editor for Black Warrior Review. Their debut chapbook Snake Lore won the Black River Chapbook Contest from Black Lawrence Press, and their poems have been published in journals including Gulf Coast, West Branch, Ninth Letter, Boulevard, Passages North, and Poetry Northwest. They have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and they have received a Fulbright Fellowship and a Katharine Bakeless Nason scholarship for the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference. They currently teach English and creative writing at the University of Alabama

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