Issue Four: Featured Interview
Your Path is Not Going to Look Like Anyone Else's:
A Witchy-Good Discussion
with Kailey Tedesco
on her new book
Tianna, EIC of Rhythm & Bones: Thank you for agreeing to be our interviewee for Issue Four, Kailey. I’ve been a fan of your work for some time, before I even started Rhythm & Bones. I picked up a copy of your book She Used to Be on a Milk Carton when it was first published and was enamored with your poetry. Now you have a new book out, Lizzie, Speak from White Stag Publishing and I’m excited to hear about this as well as more upcoming projects!
Kailey Tedesco: Thank you so much for having me, Tianna! <3
TGH: My pleasure! First, what inspired you to create your first collection, and how would you say it defines your work as a whole (or, perhaps, doesn’t define it)?
KT: She Used to be on a Milk Carton was inspired by my own girlhood and the concept of girlhood in general. It was a collection that was very full of me, and in that way it’s very personal and vulnerable and soft.
I saved this question for last because I don’t know exactly how She Used to be on a Milk Carton defines my work, to be honest. The poems in this collection ignited my love of language and free association, and many of them taught me what my own voice sounds like, so I will always be grateful to She Used to be on a Milk Carton for that. In a few years, I hope to have better perspective on this. For now, I’m glad that this collection exists in the world, and I’m also glad to be able to be able to experiment and grow from the process of writing it.
TGH: Tell us about Lizzie, Speak. You got the inspiration from Lizzie Borden, but what fascinates you about her story, and what made you decide to write a collection dedicated to her?
KT: I’ve felt haunted by Lizzie Borden since I was really young. My mom used to say the rhyme to me before I fell asleep, and when I got older, we went on a family vacation to see her house in Fall River, MA. I think it was then that I was struck by the nuance and duplicity of the Lizzie Borden narrative. I remember watching some Lizzie Borden features on Chiller before visiting the house, and they said that Lizzie murdered a cat at a dinner party because it wouldn’t stop nuzzling her friend. For some reason, I just couldn’t believe that. I asked the tour guide if this was true, and he told us it wasn’t.
I guess I’ve felt a strange connection or kinship to Lizzie that’s scared me at times. While writing the collection, I found out that my great-great-grandma was Lizzie’s neighbor, and that Lizzie’s doctor (Dr. Bowen) may also be related to us in a distant way. This just sort of validated the connection, and now I’m finding out more about my own ancestry through Lizzie.
I started reading voraciously on Lizzie’s story prior to writing this collection, and most of what I found showed that she was this really kindhearted and independent woman who wasn’t concerned with social norms of the time. I wanted to explore this story, specifically through a seance, because I thought it was important to try to give Lizzie a voice and agency over her own narrative, which we rarely see in the media and pop-culture. What’s also interesting, though, is the way the narrative is passed down in the media now is almost like a fairy tale, so I wanted to explore that too — the other side of the story. There’s such distance in the narrative, that it stops feeling like history. At readings, I’ve had people ask me if Lizzie Borden was a real person. Perhaps this is because so much about her and her story is ambiguous. I think I revel in that ambiguity and complexity. There’s a lot of room to explore in that space, but there’s also danger there, too.
TGH: Can you share a few favorites lines from a poem in here with us?
KT: Here are some lines from “In Which I Attempt to Exorcise Lizzie From Me”. My editor encouraged me to revise this poem (it was much different, originally) and I’m so glad she did because it became my very favorite in the collection!
so many degrees removed from my body
your warmth no longer mine your thoughts
no longer heaving feathers in my hair
the number of times the hatchet brazed your kin
is still a wonder to me on sweet mornings
i am in your bedroom waking to scones
my body asleep in yours your body asleep in mine
each other’s mothers
TGH: I was sad to see you’re closing Rag Queen Periodical, as this was one of my favorite lit mags and also gave me inspiration to create my own. Can you reflect on some of your treasured memories from running a successful lit mag, and any advice you’d give to someone looking to start one of their own?
KT: It makes me so happy to hear Rag Queen inspired you! Mauve and I really hoped that it would be a place of both vulnerability and inspiration when we created it.
I really had a fantastic three years as EIC. I met so many incredible writers through this project, and it always made me proud that we, with the help of our amazing staff, could create this space where talented and honest writing could flourish. My favorite memory was probably our slumber party reading. It ultimately turned into a really raw, hilarious, and intimate truth or dare session at Coffee House Without Limits in Allentown, PA. I think this captured so much of the kinship and love I had hoped RQP would when we started it.
I think, especially coming out of MFA programs and such, there can sometimes be this incredible pressure to create or take on many projects at once. There definitely was for me. After three years, I had to make the super hard choice between running and editing RQP (which I really do/did love) and putting as much as I could of myself into teaching. For a while, I pressured myself to keep running RQP just because I didn’t want to give it up. It’s hard to give up something you really love. I think I was ultimately doing a major disservice to myself and to our contributors/readers, though. So, my advice would be to only start a lit mag when you feel ready to commit yourself and your time to it. Know that it will be a really significant and beautiful part of your life, but if you feel as though you’re not putting yourself in it as much as you should, don’t be afraid to walk away (with notice) out of respect for your own time and the time of your supporters.
In a few years, I’d love to start up a mag again. But for now, I’m happy to place my editing energies with Luna Luna Mag and A Witch’s Craft while I focus on giving much of my remaining time and efforts to my students.
TGH: Is there a certain genre you would say your work fits in, or would you make your own genre for your work? What’s your favorite thing to write about?
KT: This is a cool question! Recently, the Women in Horror Month IG posted Lizzie, Speak, and it really made my day. I’ve never really considered myself a horror writer, but it makes sense. It’s the genre I love to consume the most!
I’m also forever interested in the gurlesque, memoir, the occult, and the body. I think that these can easily be translated into horror as well, and I see that becoming more evident in my writing with each project. Currently, I’m working on a series of poems about haunted houses as archetypes, and specifically exploring the spaces throughout my life that continue to haunt me the most. I love writing about the things on this earth that are unexplainable, phantasmagorical, and magical. I’d like my poetry to read like a taxonomy of everything we have no real way of classifying.
TGH: What advice would you give to a new or emerging writer who is hoping to be published? How does this reflect on your own experiences?
KT: The best advice I could offer would be to know, right away, that your path is not going to look like anyone else’s. I spent a lot of time comparing myself to my mentors and other writers, and sometimes feeling like I was failing if my path to publication didn’t look exactly like theirs. Of course, I still do this sometimes, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how comparing ourselves constantly just drains us of whatever it is we each have to offer. I know — sometimes easier said than done. The most important thing is to write what you love to write and to allow yourself to fall in love with your own writing, in addition to the writing of those you admire. Publication will come, and it will feel good, but it isn’t the only manifestation of your success.
TGH: What’s coming next for you? Do you have any projects in the works? You recently got married – how does married life fit in with your writing life? Have you noticed you write about anything different?
KT: My husband and I joke that after the wedding, we didn’t really feel like anything changed. We were together for nine years before our wedding day, so it just felt like we were throwing a big party and then going back to life as usual. He’s always been a really supportive partner though, and he has great taste in movies so I’m constantly inspired by him in one way or another.
I hope to continue with my haunted house project which I’m tentatively titling Forever Haus (which I swear I thought of before watching The Haunting of Hill House — that just confirmed it for me!). I’m hoping to travel to the Madonna Inn before the end of 2019 as a belated honeymoon, but also as research for this project. I’m completely infatuated with it and I’ve never even been. When it warms up, I want to do more antiquing and exploration of haunted houses and objects to continue my research as well. If anyone knows of any abandoned or haunted or strange places to see in the PA/NJ area, let me know! :)
TGH: Do you have any recently published work you’d like to share with our readers, and give us some backstory on how the work came to be?
KT: I’m really excited that my poem “Forever Ever Haus” is in the latest issue of Witch Craft Mag! It’s been a dream journal of mine, so this was especially meaningful for me. This poem encapsulates much of what I’m trying to achieve with my most recent project. A few lines from it are:
the walls wretched open & staircases drooled
me out its loose mouths
into pools into family plots the morning
you caught fire on the egg- pan i was
nowhere to be found & yet you’d never
guess it in the hollow of my water-
bed glass ponies costume jewelry all mine
the elevator brought me a doorway
(You can order that issue here.)
TGH: Where do you get your inspiration?
KT: Lately, I’ve been inspired by a game called Speed Dating for Ghosts on Steam. I’m also endlessly inspired by Shirley Jackson, VC Andrews, Lucie Brock-Broido, My Tarantulla by Jennifer Martelli, The Grip of It by Jac Jemc, the art of Darla Tea and Crystal Lee Lucas, Phantasmagoria, deliciously beautiful horror films (um, hello Midsommar! I can’t wait.), mourning jewelry and rituals, and of course, hauntings. When I’m feeling dry, I go to the three-story antique mall in Fleetwood, PA. It’s a magical kingdom of a place, and each room feels like a poem in itself.
TGH: Please feel free to add anything else you’d like to share about yourself, your writing, your experiences as an editor, etc. We’d love to hear about your experiences working as an editor at Luna Luna and A Witch's Craft too.
KT: I’m just really excited to keep writing and editing and teaching. Luna Luna is a dream in so many ways, and I feel grateful everyday to get to be a part of that community. <3 My dear friend, Brittany Brown, and I started up a reading series/discussion panel in Philly this past summer called A Witch’s Craft. We’ve been lucky to feature some majorly talented writers and witches, so I’m really looking forward to growing this project with Brittany in the coming year.
I’m also currently teaching two sections of a course on the evolving archetype of the witch in literature, along with several other courses, in Bethlehem, PA, and I’m obviously all about that too. I’m putting a lot of myself into teaching right now so that, hopefully, I can teach courses like this forever. But, in the moment, I’m happy to have this opportunity to share this major interest of mine with my students.
TGH: Thank you for taking the time with us, Kailey, and we look forward to reading your next collection and seeing more from you in the future!
KT: Thank you so much for interviewing me and for these great questions!!