Janine Cross Interviews… Colleen Anderson!

September 29, 2022

LVP Publications recently released your poetry collection I Dreamed A World in May 2022.(Absolutely gorgeous cover, btw!) What drew you to write poems that explore fairy tales, myths, witches, and legends from a female perspective?

I’ve loved fairytales since I was a child and the symbolism that often accompanies the tales. In exploring myths, legends and fairytales, they are a long evolution from one form to another, passed on through eras and reimagined to meet each new era’s paradigms. Beauty and the Beast is based off of Persephone and Hades, Rapunzel and her expulsion may be the Tarot’s Lightning Struck Tower. Snow White is about the age-old fading of youth and beauty, the envy that accompanies that state and the wish to always be in power. There are many tales and ways to interpret them.

As well, many of the Greek tales are all about the guys. Women could do little without a pater familias and were basically extensions of men, hence Zeus eating Athena’s mother so he could give birth to the goddess. What better way to negate women’s procreational powers. Zeus is a rapey god who takes on the form of various animals to have his way with women and goddesses. The other side can be argued to be an aspect of nature and the right of kings. But how did the women feel in this world dominated by men? What do they think? What will they do?

What are some of the questions that you hope your work will evoke in the minds of readers?

Since we are not yet free of patriarchal values and women being owned or murdered or kept as chattels by men, these stories and visions need to always be brought to the fore so that people think about the characters and what it means to be the victim or the unsung hero (heroine).  Walk a mile in my shoes and perhaps you will see differently.

I hope that people will see another side, think about these age-old stories and tropes in new light, or even just enjoy the tales. I truly hope they will enlighten others so that we have a less male dominated world, but I also fear that those that need to change are those who would not read anything that doesn’t already meet their worldview.

How do you think dark fantasy and horror, and this collection of poetry specifically, can be a tool for social critique around feminist topics?

Women are strong because they have endured a lot. My poems portray women in their strengths, in their weaknesses, as victims, as warriors, and as monsters. In that sense, many of the poems are women taking back power through voice and actions, to become better or worse. While the collection focuses on women, essentially we are all human and therefore capable of being heroes or monsters, no matter the gender or culture.

I’ve always considered myself an egalitarian over being a feminist, but since there is such an imbalance throughout the world for women, the lens needs to be continually held up to these accepted tales of heroes and mighty men. Horror and dark fantasy allow this exploration into the shadows, to bring forth a brutality where needed, unfold nightmares in the safer environs of a book, and let readers ruminate and discuss what it means to be a witch or Leda, or a monster because a god seeks revenge on a mortal. I know I just said that those that should read these won’t, but change does happen…slowly. We can shift perspectives and we’re seeing some of that in parts of the world now, but humanity has a very long road to travel first.

When the scales are balanced, we might only then need to discuss such writings in a historical context. Until then, we look at history, how it’s repeated and if something can be learned or changed due to new retellings and visions.

Are there any images that feature strongly in your work, and what have influenced them?

I had a series of books when I was a child and they are some of the good memories: My Book House by Olive Beaupre Miller. Ranging in colour from green to dark blue, the 12 hardcover books, geared to each year of a child’s growth from probably age 4. They started with rhymes and fairytales and moved up to the longer Arthurian stories and epics. I never did read the last ones. The books disappeared but I was lucky to find four at a bookstore years ago. They contained line drawings with pale teal and orange as colours until the later books, and they were my safe haven.

Fairytales, witches, myths: these tales have been told for hundreds of years, as warnings, as entertainment, as primers for behavior and belief. They continually evolve as do our times. For me, that childhood fascination continues with reimagining the fantastical past, the historical elements and the possibilities of other pathways.

How does your non-writing life play into your poetry writing?

I’m an observer of patterns, colours, nature, and interactions so those aspects flow into my writing. As a child in a family rife with emotional, physical and sexual abuse, poetry was my outlet for staying sane and taming my monsters. In recent years, with various traumas, including the isolating covid lockdowns, I embraced poetry more closely as a way to grieve and to take my mind from loneliness. Human interactions with other beings, (animals or human) the environment, and ourselves all play into my writing, my paintings of words.

‘Rapunzel’- The Red Fairy Book, H.J. Ford, 1890

What’s next for you?

I have a collection of poems on magical objects, and The Lore of Inscrutable Dreams should be out next year. I’m also working on a series of poems about Rapunzel. There is a seed being planted to do some collaborative collections with mythic/fairytale poetry, which I’m quite excited about. I’ve not collaborated on poetry before so just as I hope my poetry pushes boundaries for readers, collaborations are a way to expand my own boundaries.