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Welcome back, Jenny Irish!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Jenny Irish, whose forthcoming book Lupine will be published next spring. This will be Lisa’s third book with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Jenny Irish is from Maine and lives in Arizona. She is the author of the hybrid poetry collections Common Ancestor (Black Lawrence, 2017) and Tooth Box (Spuyten Duyvil, 2021),  and the short story collection I Am Faithful  (Black Lawrence, 2019). She teaches creative writing at Arizona State University and facilitates free community workshops every summer.

 

 

 

On Writing Lupine

Lupine is a gathering of interrelated dramatic monologues and narrative poems that engage with things we fear, both imagined and real, historical and contemporary. The majority of the pieces are from the perspective of figures who are perceived as monstrous. Initially, I’d wanted to write a collection about a series of mysterious animal attacks based around a historical event. I’d imagined that I would draw on a variety of perspectives—human, animal, and the land itself—and though I kept that diversity of speakers in Lupine, as I researched, I was guided away from the specific historical events of an animal attack and the ensuing panic, to a broader questioning of the label of monstrous.

 

Selections from Lupine

 

A Brief History of Motivations

The predominant inquisitor of women accused of witchcraft, it is theorized, was a sadist with acousticophilia: a fetishist aroused by the infliction of pain, humiliation and their associated sounds.

In nature there is something called a scarcity response. This is what drives a wolverine, in winter, to kill more than it can consume. With the first prey pulled down, a trigger is pulled in the brain, and a trigger pulled is a trigger pulled.

Devices of torture invented specifically for use against women were designed to destroy anatomical elements of the body associated with the female: the breast ripper, for example.

The practice of sexual torture against women can be tracked back to the Romans, who recognized rape as a crime only possible against those of good standing.

The Scavenger’s Daughter is a metal clamp that compresses the body in a crouched position. The turn of a heavy metal screw folds the chest to the thighs, tighter and tighter, until the clavicles crack and the spine dislocates. Blood rushes from the mouth, the ears, and the eyes.

Far more popular for women charged with wickedness was the Judas Cradle, a tall, three-legged device topped with a sharpened pyramid of wood, wider at its base than the human body. Strapped into a special harness, women were lowered into position over the pyramid’s point. For purposes of entertainment, or for efficiency’s sake, weights could be bound to the ankles.

Today, we know the mind seeks the structure of narratives. From shadows, we make stories. On a path the light shifts, shudders, snags in the branches then slips into smoke and slinks away on the wind. So, a black dog is sighted, its tongue split, one paw extended, beckoning, and on another winter-gnawed night, a white cat shimmies down a chimney, leaps through the flames and cries from the pink whorl of its anus: Witches’ butter! then vomits a shining spew of seeds on the floor, and even in the scarce safety of daylight, a yellow bird, songful, lights on a snow heavy branch and trills: Treasure! Treasure! Treasure! A bonny blue bonnet and delicate bed!

And a room was never so bright as when a girl in service was burning to death inside it, her greasy cuff catching a spark and sparking-up as she stoked the fire. So, what could wonders be but evil?

While some witch panics seem genuinely inspired by fear and religious fervor, America’s history of inquisition, when dissected, is a story of jealousies and resentments, attacks against those more fortunate and less: the pretty girl with her skirt tied up at her knees to negotiate the mud flooded path, the farmer with the fattest pigs and sturdiest sons, the matted mad woman picking corn kernels from the cow pats in the field and feeding them to her child.

 

 


Unicorn

If asked, I would say be mindful of ponies because they bite, because their strong squared teeth are as capable of maiming the apple of a cheek as they are of crushing the fruit to a pulp. To me, it is the most natural thing to see a toddler shrieking, their soft body contorting stiff shape to stiff shape, making impossible their placement in the saddle strapped snug around the round of a pony’s gut to seat them a rider on its dappled back. Winesap, and Goldenrod, and Milk Thistle. Once I knew the names of all the plants, and then I was transplanted, and nothing grows where we wear a track, a circle hoof-fall beaten into earth. Resist, child, the promise you know is false. A pony carousel, a maiming. A virgin’s narrow lap, a nonsense song. Weakened to my own knowledge, I was drawn to lay my head down. I took the bridle, and now ridden, am biding time.

 

 

 

Rusalka

No dreams. No buttercream. No nesting bowls. No sugar beaten into shape. No doe and fawn in the wildflower field. No toast crisp and cut to soldiers. No soft-boiled egg. No eggcup. No little throne for a beheading. Mouse tracks through the flour. A hole burrowed through the bread. No eat your fill. No second helpings. Before birth, I was the rough work, good enough. A daughter, I became the failed spell cast with petals and a candle flame. Crinoline, velvet ribbons. My child-mother’s father picked a name. No magic in our meeting. No songbirds. No rare light. A tall girl, legs limp from kicking. A wet infant with a greenish slick of hair. No two fingers touched to the forehead. No two fingers touched to the water to test the temperature of the bath. Everything pink, until a finger’s snap switches it to black. No lullabies. Farmland plowed and harrowed. No girl left fallow. Take me to the river. Show me where the deadfall caught the body. No more pretty, pretty. No more use for an ivory comb. No more haunted wanting. Girlie, at last, alone.