An Interview with Melanie Stormm

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Melanie Stormm is a poet and writer of short-fiction. Her novella, Last Poet of Wyrld’s End is available through Candlemark & Gleam. Her short story “A Mohawk Place for Souls” was a finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award for Short Fiction in 2018 and published by Beloit Fiction Journal. She is also a singer and spoken word performer and is the editor for a special issue of Star*Line, the magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. She lives in New Hampshire, where she works in marketing.

Ed Battistella: Welcome Melanie. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background?

Melanie Stormm:  Thanks, Ed! Glad to be here. I’m a multiracial writer of both speculative poetry and fiction. I’m also the marketing coordinator for the SFPA and the current guest-editor for a historic issue of Star*Line magazine centered on Black speculative poetry.

EB: When did you first begin writing?

MS: I grew up in a household that didn’t have a television and only limited access to radio. We told each other stories so I began writing when I was six. By the time I was about ten, I was writing in earnest: poetry, genre fiction, essays on weird things I had no business writing essays about.

EB:  Where does your poetry come from?

MS: That’s a very interesting question as I also write fiction. I think I reach for poetry when I need to explore the multidimensionality of something without having an agenda. I think my poetry has always come from a place that needs to be as faithful as possible to what I see, to not offer judgement, and to explore the way language can cast shadows. Also, sometimes I write poetry because a line pops into my head, makes me snicker, and so I write it down with some perverse glee. I love language.

EB: Who are your poetic influences? Or your literary influences generally?

MS: I studied as a teen with Shari Jean Brown and she’s the one who really drew me more deeply into poetry. She made sure to put Sherman Alexie and Joy Harjo into my hands which was incredibly insightful because I got to read poetry with accents and hues drawn from my own life. Both are poets that pull zero punches and I think that shapes some of what I do. As for content and approach, my favorite poets are John Ashbery and William Trowbridge. Both have their own sense of humor, absurdity, speculation, and mastery of language. Trowbridge’s mastery of narrative is the bar I try to jump up and touch (but let’s face it, I need a step stool and a bunch of phone books on top of that.)

EB: I notice that you have a fascination with Tom Petty. Can you elaborate on that?

MS:  His music speaks to people and reads like good poetry. Be specific, let the language do the work, leave room for the reader. But it’s a little more than that.

Years ago, when I was stressed and life was taking more out of me than I could refill, I found myself throwing myself and my kids in the car, picking a direction that offered long roads and few people. I would drive for hours through rolling countryside, dilapidated farmhouses and ones that had been painted bright red, past remote nuclear power plants, people’s hideaway cottages on flooded coasts, under wide open sky. Tom Petty’s music sounds like those drives, feels like them, too. I think that’s the easiest way to explain it. It sounds like America and like the 50s and 60s rock and roll that I used to sometimes listen to when my parents gave me a chance. It sounds like longing, grit, and sunshine on sugarcane. Even now, he is a giant, and an underdog, and it’s a very American juxtaposition, it’s the nature of American magic.

EB: You are also a vocalist yourself. Is there a difference for you between performing as a singer and performing as a poet?

MS: I don’t mind performing as a singer. I hate performing as a poet and tend to avoid the spotlight. I think it has to do with the way I prefer to consume poetry: it has more dimension for me on the page and hearing it from the author is sort of supplemental. It’s very hard to give a sound to line breaks and form that sounds natural and not like “poet voice.”

EB: Tell us about Star*Line and the issue of Star*Line you are editing.

MS: Star*Line magazine is actually one of the oldest speculative poetry publications out there, if not the oldest. It’s the flagship publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association which is a global, member-supported organization. It’s been in print now for 42 years. This issue of Star*Line is completely dedicated to giving voice to Black speculative poets as we are drastically underrepresented in the field. The decision from the SFPA executive committee to go in this direction is a historic one. It’s the first themed issue they’ve done with Star*Line. I’m super excited about the issue as it comes out in just a couple short weeks. I think readers will be blown away by the diversity of subgenre, style, and subject matter, not to mention the skill present. I can’t wait because Star*Line has diverse readers and both they and SFPA members have really wanted to see and hear from Black poets.

EB: As a poetry editor of an issue on Black speculative poetry, what do you look for in work?

MS: I look for things I haven’t read before, voices and approaches to the genre that will offer something different but important and expand the genre. I’m looking for skill and for a sense of wholeness to the poem. Bringing Black pantheons, cultural heroes, and culture to the page is also desirable.

EB: What do you do when you are not editing poetry?

MS: I’m a marketer, a mum, and I write fiction in a bunch of different forms. I sometimes write and create fiction where it’s not supposed to be, but that’s fun.

EB: There are also a lot of trees in your poetry, it seems to me. Is that a recurring theme for you?

MS: I think Environment is always a character for me. I have a slew of speculative poems that are about cities. Woods are important to me and I spent a lot of time in them growing up. I always felt a friendship toward trees, lol. I have a worldview, I think, that sees them as their own ambivalent consciousness or entity and so there’s always that thread in my work. I’m naturally drawn to juxtaposition and, now that you point it out, it seems fitting that I reach for both cities and trees.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MS: It’s an honor. Thanks again, Ed.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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