Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.
Name: Christine Butterworth-McDermott
Title of Piece Published in Sweet: When Your Mother Loses Her Mind
Christine lives in Nacogdoches, Texas where she teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University, the home of the only BFA in Creative Writing in the state. She teaches poetry, fairy tales, and literature of the 1920s. Most often you can find her with students, working on a project, or on Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, reading, or enjoying time with her husband and daughter. You can learn more about Christine by visiting her website.
What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?
My second collection of poems, Evelyn As, was published by Fomite Press this summer. It’s a project very dear to me as it let me explore a historical event to expose some very current issues. At the turn of the century, Evelyn Nesbit was one of the first “celebrity” models, seen on postcards, in advertisements, drawings, and oil paintings. Her story was sensational: at fifteen, she was drugged and raped by famous architect Stanford White, and then she was courted by a millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, who also abused her mentally and physically. Thaw eventually shot and killed White on a rooftop theater, supposedly to “defend” Evelyn’s honor. These men were extremely powerful, and their abuse of Evelyn and others was often covered up due to their wealth and position. As the crimes of men like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein continue to rattle us, it seemed important to me to try to give a girl like Evelyn a voice. My chapbook, All Breathing Heartbreak, is also due out from Dancing Girl Press this fall. That’s a much more biographical collection and the poem from Sweet is featured in it. Lastly, I was nominated for Texas Poet Laureate, which was a complete surprise! The poets appointed were Carrie Fountain and Emmy Pérez, who are both amazing. I was beyond honored to be nominated alongside them.
Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on a new collection of poems which focus on animals and plants, particularly flowers and how so often pretty surfaces hold deep poison. Gingerbread House, which comes out 6 times a year, is always exciting and I am so profoundly grateful to work with the staff I do as well as the amazing artists and authors who contribute. They all continually inspire me.
Who is your favorite author?
I have an obsession with writers of the 1920s, but I read a lot of contemporary work as well. I love the stunning poetry of Ada Limón and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who both write about love in such a powerful non-cloying way, which I think is tremendously difficult. I think William Brewer’s I Know Your Kind about the opiate epidemic is brutally eye-opening and Kaveh Akbar’s Calling A Wolf A Wolf is a very honest, and therefore though harrowing, both are really beautiful books to me. I love mainstream fiction, especially anything that incorporates fairytales, and am a huge fan of books like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, and Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen. I deeply love the epic vision of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which I think is brilliant. The scale of it is tremendous.
What is your favorite poem/essay/book?
I’m fickle about favorites. People will often ask for a “top ten” and I can’t do it because I can think of at least fifty things I love. They’ll say, “imagine you’re on a desert island and you can only choose…” but I’m—gloriously! thankfully!—not on a desert island. All kidding aside, there are too many works to mention but some poems off the top of my head I read often and am inspired by are: “Glow” (Ada Limón), “Love and Other Disasters” (Philip Levine), “Down in the Valley” (Joshua Mehigan), “burial” (Ross Gay), “Born Again” (Jen McClanaghan), “Pomegranate Means Grenade” (Jamaal May), “Letter to the Northern Lights” (Aimee Nezhukumatathil), and “Breaking Spring” (Matt Hart).
What inspires you to write?
Always other authors, my artist friends and my non-artist friends, odd overheard phrases, browsing Wikipedia for weird facts about space, animals or sea creatures, going to movies or the ballet, listening to music. My husband is a terrific writer in his own right and my biggest cheerleader/editor. My daughter’s generosity and wonder opens my eyes in new ways every single day. Often, it’s just experimentation based on the best question: what if. What if that person was a flower, what if I could rewrite history, what if that silenced person could speak, what if I dreamt like an octopus? These are the thoughts I have that grow into poems. Above all else, I would say that emotionally I am inspired by a need for healing. A poem often starts when I try to process something that happened to me, a community, a country, or someone I love. The world is equal amounts cruelty and beauty and I think most of my work comes from trying to contend with both poles.
What is your favorite sweet?
I love black licorice, which seems really appropriate after the other questions, since it is both bitter and sweet. Again, I have so many favorites, but today here’s an alcoholic beverage: The Frisky Witch. It’s simple—one ounce each of black Sambuca and vodka over ice in an old-fashioned glass. If you don’t like black licorice, you won’t like it—but if you do, it’s just lovely. In the right light, it can look like emerald in a glass.
Thank you, Christine, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!