Each poet was asked the question, "What was your inspiration?" Below are their responses.
"Sometimes the Birds, at Random" by Sonya Taaffe
Blame Mat Joiner for "Sometimes the Birds, at Random." He wanted midnight fairy jazz parties; he got something a little more classical. The title comes from Angela Carter's "The Erl-King."
"After the Mistress of the Copper Mountain" by Rose Lemberg
Pavel Bazhov's collection The Malachite Casket draws on occupational folklore of the Ural mountain miners. Bazhov collected these tales in the early 20th century, most notably from the storyteller Vasiliy Khmelinin. Many of the stories hearken back to the Petrine era, when serfs were enticed with promises of a better life to migrate to the Ural region, where they became miners in the newly developing industry. The serfs labored under horrific conditions, with no recourse, except for an occasional help from the mysterious Mistress of the Copper Mountain. Sometimes-lizard, sometimes-woman, the Mistress was a powerful and harsh patronness of artisans, and protector of miners. Bazhov has collected his stories from men, but striking women characters nevertheless appear in these tales; in addition to the Mistress herself, I have always been intrigued by the wives and daughters of famous malachite carvers who were themselves craftswomen, though their work was not recognized.
"Cape Evans" by Michele Bannister
The recent publication of the hauntingly evocative photos salvaged at Cape Evans made me think of the time I once visited there. One thing never makes it into exhibitions on Antarctica: the complexity and absence of smells.
"Proserpina, Going Deeper" by Jack Hollis Marr
The human mind and the natural world contain things as weird and terrifying as any alien world or fantasy kingdom. Here they collide with myth in a deep-ocean underworld of weird creatures and the experience of mental illness.
"The Crane Wife" by Brittany Warman
I love Japanese folktales and "The Crane Wife" is a particular favorite, even though I find it so sad. What strikes me most about it is how the man and the crane have clearly known real love together, but that that love is dying even before he ultimately breaks his promise to her. The man becomes a different person over the course of the tale and the crane slowly loses the man she loved. I wanted to capture the haunted, lonely feelings of that experience.
"Myrrha" by Mari Ness
In myth, Myrrha was a beautiful maiden who fell hopelessly in love with her father, the king. She conducted the affair in darkness; when her father found out, she left the palace, weeping in terror and pain, and wandered the wilderness for nine months before turning into a myrrh tree and giving birth to the god of beauty, love, desire and resurrection, Adonis, a myth that reminds us that even the greatest beauty may be rooted in great pain.
"Last Letters" by Sonya Taaffe
The genesis of "Last Letters" was very simple: I read an article in the Guardian, "First world war soldiers' undelivered letters home come to light at last." And I was glad that the letters were being made available at last, but it sat very badly with me that they were locked away from the generation they were intended for—if a person's last act in life is to write to their partner or their parents or their children, it seems very nearly blasphemous to deny them that communication. The War Office failed to deliver thousands of last letters. No one is left who was meant to read them. Their descendants might not even know to look for them, if they exist at all. It's bloodless now, but not then. Not a game. I hope we can do better by their memories than we did by their dying.