“A Disorienting Fog of Residual Energy” – A Conversation with Shannon Moore Shepherd

20150723_174708Shannon Moore Shepherd is the author of “Creature Feature: Caligynachtmare: Dread the Beauty,” a fantastically fierce poem from our 7th issue which we nominated for Best of the Net this past September. Shannon is also a musician, a master eavesdropper, a sloppy but intuitive tarot reader, and a fearless insect photographer. She studied Creative Writing at Bradley University and is working on a Gothic homage to her hometown of Peoria, Illinois. In her recent interview with our senior editorial consultant Maria Pinto, Shannon talked about her poetry, as well as feminine beauty, writing voice vs. speaking voice, and the romance of nauseous anticipation…
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MP: First, let’s discuss the title of your stunning, Best of the Net-nominated poem, “Creature Feature: Caligynachtmare: Dread the Beauty” which opened FLAPPERHOUSE #7. How did you know it had to be a three-parter? How dope is Caligynachtmare as a coinage? Did the title come before during or after you wrote the final draft?
SMS: It came after. This poem came, as it says, from very far away. The entity came into focus slowly. I didn’t know what to call her, so I made up a hybrid of caligynyphobia (fear of beautiful women) and Nachtmahr, German for “nightmare.” In folklore, the mare (who came dans nacht) was commonly gendered female and said to ride things. All kinds of things. She was evidently very restless. I wanted her to ride in from across the galaxy, which brought to mind vintage sci-fi. So she gets her own Creature Feature, entitled Dread the Beauty. That’s how the three parter came to be. Really, I just couldn’t bear to choose one or the other.
MP: If the “I” in the poem is loud and clear with its moon-sickness and dark promises, the “you” is wonderfully meek. Where did these two subjects come from?
SMS: So, the “you” is always a little tricky, right? I’ll admit, for me it always starts out a real flesh and blood human with whom I have an ax to grind spiritually or intellectually or romantically but can’t really do so inside my own body. That person or those couple of individuals get dragged off to my poetry den to meet their fate there. But I have to say, this you, in the end, looked more like… well: MRAs to conservative politicians to priests to good-old-boys. The irritating little power struggle I was experiencing with one human at that particular time was suddenly a since-the-beginning-of-time kind of thing.
MP: One way I read this poem is as a corrective to the glossy, static photo of a beautiful woman in a fashion magazine with an arrow pointing to her eyes nose and mouth and notes about what brand of lipstick and foundation and mascara she’s wearing floating around her head. Was it your intention with this piece to re-mystify feminine beauty, to reclaim its dangerous, ineffable properties?
SMS: Yea, it’s really cute how we’ve gotten the hang of making “beautiful women” something benign, tame, palatable, pleasant. Can you imagine asking Hecate to turn her chin just a little to the left? She’d crush your esophagus. Could you imagine the guy sitting next to you on the subway opening an issue of Maxim and finding the true likeness of Lilith staring back at him? He’d stroke out. We all have an inkling that the examples of the feminine we’re given to this day are weak, watered down, incomplete at best. Occult aesthetic is going mainstream so that’s neat and everything, but thousands of years of trying not to be scary, powerful beings so that little boys don’t piss themselves really can’t be remedied by haut witch collections of 2017. This being is manifested directly from male fear. And she’s insanely gorgeous. Blindingly so, if you ask me.

MP: What is the relationship between your spoken voice and your written voice(s)?
SMS: They don’t even know each other real well. When I performed this piece for the Flapperhouse room, I literally felt like I was reading someone else’s words. I mean, I was angry when I wrote it, sure, but it wasn’t blind rage. I remember how it felt. But that’s my poem voice, and when it tries to come out my mouth there’s just a disconnect. But that’s OK.
MP: I’ve heard you’re working on a gothic homage to your hometown of Peoria, Illinois. What form is that taking/ will it take? What attracts you to goth as an aesthetic? What are some ways Peoria inspires you?
SMS: I think there’s something extremely romantic about anticipation that makes you nauseous. The thicker the atmosphere, the better. Peoria, if you ask me, is atmospherically a disorienting fog of residual energy– false starts, high times, great losses, bruised egos, tragedy, all hanging in the air. The small town pastoral is sort of metaphysically blanketed in unease. It’s great. There’s so much local lore, it’s easy to get carried away talking about it. But that’s probably every writer’s hometown, right? This particular story is about a young woman who lands back home to find that the place she’d always trusted as a friend feels sinister all of a sudden. She suspects her hometown has slipped into another dimension. It becomes her chapel perilous, throwing her all kinds of red herrings. Inexplicable things start to happen. She goes dizzy trying to decipher messages that may or may not be supernaturally gifted her, maybe by a coyote that keeps coming around, maybe seeping from a hole in her bedroom wall…  Honestly, I can’t even say for sure.
MP: What are you reading, listening to, watching these days?
SMS: I’m reading a collection of Surrealist short stories called The Custom-House of Desire. Also, I picked up this book long ago called Moon Madness and Other Effects of the Full Moon by Paul Katzeff that I’m finally starting. I’m listening to a lot of binaural beats (no joke, I’m trying to heal every ailment this way) but also a fair amount of Grails, Planningtorock, Earth, Timber Timbre, Bonobos, Guided By Voices (always) and a podcast called TANIS. I’m watching interviews with psychopathic children on YouTube.
MP: Who comes to your dream gathering of writers and artists, living and dead?
SMS: Anais Nin, Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, Carl Jung, Anne Sexton, Charlie Kaufman, Freddie Mercury, Michelle Obama, Virginia Woolf, David Bowie, Alice Notley, Jack Parsons, Annie Dillard, Leonard Cohen, Me. You. Would you come? It’s a gathering of sweet souls. We’ll all be apologizing every time we reach across one another at dinner.
MP: Do you have any rituals around writing or performing?
SMS: I resist all carnal pleasures in the 24-hours before chaining myself to my writing desk until something comes to me. No, I don’t. I do drink too much coffee. And I usually write poems and songs while I’m walking.
MP: How does the current political landscape affect your art?
SMS: I really wish I could say it motivates me to use words or music as weaponry, but so far it has only made me stare at the wall a lot. I’m working toward being somewhere in between by summer.
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