Slayerhood & Sacrifice: Vanessa Maki speaking about her upcoming release ‘the chosen one’ (Animal Heart Press)
I’m speaking today with Elisabeth Horan, Founding Editor of Animal Heart Press and the poet Vanessa Maki, who is releasing her first print poetry collection ‘the chosen one’ at the press on January 21st.
Tianna G. Hansen: Thank you both for joining me today! I’ll first start off with a question I always love to ask authors. Vanessa, what first made you want to become a writer?
Vanessa Maki: I don't remember the precise moment but i do know that i wanted to get my thoughts out. I've always been writing for myself in a lot of senses
Elisabeth Horan: Happy to be here.
TGH: Can I ask you Eli, what first attracted you to Vanessa's writing? How did you come to want to publish 'the chosen one'?
EH: Vanessa and I connected first over her artwork on Instagram, plus I had read some of her work on Twitter and always connected with the pain of it... with the darkness I felt in her writing. I let her know I was really drawn to her visual art and we actually wrote some poems to it ekphrastically. She mentioned she had self-published ‘the chosen one’ but wondered if I would look at it for print... I did, and I loved it! I love the way she wove her fascination with Buffy, in with her own experience as a slayer... both slaying others, and often slaying herself. She’s a very honest, raw and accessible writer and that’s really appealing to me. In the book there are many quotes from Buffy, which support the poetry.
TGH: Wow, that is excellent! I had seen some of Vanessa’s artwork on here and it is beautiful. What a wonderful way to become connected to an artist.
EH: Yes, her visual art is stunning and really gets the viewer to think about the colors and patterns, I love what an open slate it is for interpretation which to me is different than her poetry... which invites the reader in really specifically to see inside her pain.
TGH: Yes, I also love that and my next question for Vanessa relates to that as well. Vanessa, you said you've always been writing for yourself in a lot of senses and my experience with a lot of your work, some of it is confessional and personal. I'm very interested in what Eli just said about the collection too. Would you say this always writing for yourself, Vanessa, has reflected in 'the chosen one'?
VM: Yes, I would say that. ‘the chosen one’ is very confessional, dare I say it's like poems that you would find in a journal - a very personal place. Most of my work is personal, despite me not always being open with just anybody. It's almost like I contradict myself.
TGH: That's exactly what I was thinking when you mentioned always writing for yourself, like keeping a journal. Do you find poetry a good outlet for that personal side of yourself? I know with my experience with Eli's poetry too, her work is much like this. Exciting to see a correlation in author and editor joining into one.
EH: I think it's a huge draw of the book and one of the reasons I wanted to share it with the world, because it is so unique in tone... like Vanessa isn't trying to do anything for anyone else here... she's just showing us inside...
VM: Also with my visual art it's also expressive & sometimes confessional without me knowing. I definitely find it to be a good outlet, I’m able to say so much, sometimes without outright saying so.
TGH: I love the idea of visual art being expressive and confessional. Do you have pieces that relate to the theme of the book?
VM: I do have some visual pieces! Here’s one piece that was inspired by Faith.
TGH: Eli mentioned earlier, the use of Buffy, as a personal slaying. Vanessa, what drew you so deeply to this connection with Buffy? What does it express in yourself you want to show to the reader?
VM: Well, ‘the chosen one’ didn't have the same focus before as it does now. I see it as a much better chap currently & this is especially due to me honing in on being a black woman. Slayerhood, in Buffy, is very focused on having the whole world on your shoulders & constantly having to sacrifice, even without wanting to, which is what black womanhood is like. Also having mental health issues adds to the weight.
EH: Yes, it's a pretty amazing parallel, following this correlation and/or juxtaposition of Buffy and Vanessa like how they feel the weight of being chosen to fight, to slay demons... although they are also from very different worlds. I find that very powerful because it’s not totally obvious.
VM: Faith (one of the other slayers) is also a big part of the chap as well as is the original slayer. I managed to incorporate more than just Buffy, but the Buffyverse in general within the chap. Annotated copies of the chap will really dig into meanings.
EH: I see it as a way better chap currently & this is especially due to me honing in on being a black woman.... does this, Vanessa, describe the weight you carry? Like this is what makes you the best current chosen one?
VM: Yes, I'd say it's my own individual weight, since every individual experience is different in that regard.
TGH: This is really awesome to hear all of this. The relation of living as a black woman, having to make constant sacrifice, living with mental illness, played out in Buffyverse. It sounds like a bestseller waiting to happen!
EH: I feel it’s a very special book and I feel so many of the things Vanessa does in my own life... my own mind and she shares them so intimately... such a trust of her reader to be let in that way.
TGH: Yes, what connects you with it from a personal nature, Eli?
EH: Well, the weight of mental illness for me is probably the strongest. How I kill others with my actions and pain, but then I am also dying and often my own worst enemy. That dichotomy, that I make others suffer, and then I also want to destroy myself and disappear, that’s the way I connect most to the book.
TGH: I have watched only a little bit of Buffy, I must admit (shamefully), but I know I would love this book. does vampirism feature? is there a connection with slaying vampires related to mental illness?
VM: It's funny that I didn't include a lot about vampirism, maybe that'll be a different chap in the near future. I guess I just wanted to focus mainly on my own version of slayerhood, etc.
EH: There is though, a lot of the stake - that symbol of slaying... the stake to the heart, to others, to oneself.
TGH: I love that image of the stake and knives. What do these mean to you, Vanessa?
VM: I focus a lot on violence (which there's a lot of that in Buffy) & self-destruction. So with weapons it's about violence, self-destruction, control, etc. Wanting to have control
EH: I find the violence and physical effects of it in the book, express this kind of out of control, but trying to control, which to me is so symbolic of mental illness as well - this out of control feeling but trying to hold it together and get the control back. For me it brings up the dancing with suicide issue and Vanessa weaves that really deftly.
TGH: Violence and self-destruction seem to go hand and hand with this, yes. Desire for control in one's life is definitely common with mental illness and I am also fascinated with this idea of dancing with death, as someone who lives with depression and suicidal ideation.
EH: It is like a dance... a frightening and deathly dance.
TGH: Are there any other themes throughout the book you want to discuss or striking images you returned to when writing/reading this?
EH: I can bring one up that really struck me was body image, sexuality and gender, this idea of how the world sees us women versus what we are inside, this kind of debate-ability of our beauty and bodies... to quote Marisa Crane. Vanessa has a poem in it... "dirty girls(s)", which I connect with deeply and several others touch that theme as well.
TGH: Oh, I love that! Weaving in the personal nature of body image, sexuality and gender seems very fitting for such a personal collection. Where does this idea of being the chosen one come from? What makes this title so important to you?
VM: I mainly chose it since it felt right for the chap itself. I love how that theme never strays throughout the show & it's something that Buffy more specifically fights, whereas other slayers embraced their calling & she wanted to be "normal" a lot of the time.
TGH: I really like how you've taken that theme which is present in the show and applied it to your own experiences. There is a lot of power in your writing, Vanessa, and in dirty girl(s), this idea of rising up, beyond labels and expectations of men in life. This idea, maybe, of creating your own identity too, not staying in line with your "chosen" path.
VM: “dirty girl(s)” is actually an episode title (7x18) & I tied in aspects of the episode with my own personal things.
** listen to Vanessa read "dirty girl(s) **
TGH: I love the scattering of Buffy-inspiration throughout, woven with a touch of yourself.
EH: I think it's such a unique and genuine book, that is what people will be drawn to.
TGH: What do you hope readers take from this collection most? is there one specific message, or many throughout, you hope they will find or will resonate with them?
VM: I do mainly want people to resonate (if they are also marginalized in the ways I am) with the intended messages, and also to not hide from themselves. I think with this chap I didn't really bother hiding from myself. Actually, I know I didn't.
EH: I feel that very much in it, Vanessa. You weren’t hiding from anything and that makes for powerful poetry.
TGH: Yes, I think that's both a strong message and one of the things that creates the most powerful poetry - laying yourself bare for an audience, not hiding from yourself.
VM: I very much wanted it to be dark, explicit (in ways), sort of chaotic & overall expressive
as well as showing how much I love the show.
TH: Well I'm very much excited to own a hard copy! When does the book come out? It's on preorder now.
VM: The book comes out on the 21st of this month. We are hoping to have a little online launch party.
EH: The launch party will be open, we hope to have people come and go!
TGH: I will certainly be there, and hope others will join us! Is there anything else we have missed discussing about you, the book, etc. that you'd like to mention?
EH: I'd like to say I'm so proud you trusted me and Animal Heart, Vanessa.
VM: This chapbook means a lot to me, as do my other chaps, but I've never had a print chap before. So it marks a very special moment & to know I'll be able to hold my own book is almost unreal.
EH: To be doing your first print is a privilege.
VM: It's pretty damn cool if I say so myself.
TGH: I’m very excited for this first print book of yours, Vanessa. I’ve been a fan of your work for some time and can’t wait to see this come out. Thank you both for taking the time and joining me today! It’s an honor to feature this at my press. I loved learning about you some more, the book, your art, and all of it.
EH: Thank you so much, Tianna.
You can preorder Vanessa’s collection now at the Animal Heart Press website and claim a copy for yourself. Don’t forget to join all of us on January 21st for the online book launch.
Vanessa Maki is a writer, artist, blk feminist & horror columnist for Pussy Magic. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in many places. She has self-published a handful of chapbooks & currently has three forthcoming in 2020: the chosen one (Animal Heart Press), sweet like limes (Bone & Ink Press) & decayed state (marlskarx). Learn more by visiting her site.