Foundling Poets: Cindy O’Quinn and Stephanie Ellis
Interviewed By Lee Murray
Congratulations on the release of your collaborative found-poetry collection, Foundlings. Thanks for stopping by to chat with us at Kendall Reviews.
“This collection of found poems by Ellis and O’Quinn, which is both familiar and fresh, re-envisions work of Alessandro Manzetti and Linda D. Addison in dark and delightful ways. A stunning collaboration by two of horror’s best-loved poets paying tribute to two of its masters, Foundlings is sublime.” – Lee Murray, USA Today Bestselling Author and Bram Stoker Award® winner.
Lee Murray: Writers and poets take their inspiration from a multitude of sources. For those who might not know, what exactly is a found poem? I note that in your preface to the collection, that while you have ‘found’ the poems in the collection, the work also ‘found’ you. Can you explain?
Cindy O’Quinn and Stephanie Ellis: Found poetry is work created by taking the words, lines or phrases of an existing text and constructing something new. It can take different forms, for example, blackout or erasure poetry, cento or cut-up poetry amongst others. It is important, however to ensure that you are simply not copying or plagiarising the source. In our poems, we have taken words from the sources referenced previously, and remixed them to make our own original work. In all instances, we have credited the sources which formed the basis of each poem. Found poetry is a challenge, but is also huge fun. For writers who need something to kickstart their imagination, we would highly recommend it.
Cindy: ‘It all started when Steph wrote a found poem based on my non-fiction story ’One and Done’. I was so moved by her poem we immediately started discussing writing an entire collection of found poetry based on two of our favourite poets.
Steph: It was fluke – or fate! – when we realised our choices had collaborated as well! This is what we meant by the poetry finding us, it was just ‘there’. There are really no words to explain how right it felt.
Lee: What was it about Linda D. Addison’s / Alessandro Manzetti’s work that inspired you?
Cindy: I started reading Linda D. Addison’s work in 2016, and there was an immediate connection with her subject matter, rhythm, and creative style. I heard her voice, for the first time, on a Youtube reading of her poem, ‘Mami Wata’. When I heard her voice I knew she’d be a forever favorite. There is a great deal of power within Linda’s words, and the confidence she maintains during delivery.
Steph: I’ve been reading Alessandro’s work for some time now, I first came across him in his work, No Mercy. There’s a gritty darkness in his writing, a jagged undercurrent which drives his work along. He is a genius at blending words to create the rhythm which is the heartbeat of his poems. Whitechapel Rhapsody, with its foundation in the East End, is wonderfully atmospheric and contains some brilliant and truly visceral imagery. He brought the Whitechapel of Jack the Ripper alive in a quite extraordinary way and it just felt like the natural place to start for me.
Lee: I’m thrilled to see Cindy appear twice on this year’s Bram Stoker Award® finals, for short fiction and for non-fiction, but Stephanie is also well known for her stunning prose, with her latest horror-thriller Paused (Silver Shamrock) gaining epic reviews right now. Do you consider yourselves poets first, or are you authors who also write poems? Does one form inform the other?
Cindy: I feel like writing stories and poetry go hand and hand. When I write stories there’s always words that remain with me afterwards, asking to be arranged like puzzle pieces until they form poems. The same happens when I write poetry, part of a story lingers until I write it. As an author and poet, I believe the words inform and shape one another.
Steph: I consider myself equally an author and a poet. I have always loved playing with individual words and phrases to generate an image or an emotion. Poetry is painting with words and whether the prose canvas is a page or a novel, aspects of it always seep in. I strongly believe it enriches my writing.
Lee: Foundlings includes a selection of poems from each of you, a series of collaborative poems, and also some ‘found-found’ poems. Can you describe how you approached a single (specific) poem of your own, and the process of teasing out new meaning from an existing text? How did you make the poem your own, while retaining something of the original?
Cindy: I would read the poem and circle the words which caught my attention, and the mood of the work. Next, I watched as the words fell into place, creating a new take on an original idea.. Linda’s poems struck such a strong chord in me they couldn’t stop creating even more.
Steph: I would start by noting the words from a poem but as I progressed through, I would find a couple that just seemed to sit together and would hint at a theme or story, for instance ‘cockroach tongue’ in “How to Disappear”. This brought the image of the streetwalker having to sell her body to survive, yet she is not quite what she seems, and I chose words which allowed me to turn the tables so she was no longer victim, but a vengeful spirit. In all the poems it was the same, start listing, allow a few to meld together and then grow the poem from there. It was very organic.
Lee: How did you approach the collaborative aspect? What should readers know when they pick up a collaborative work? Do you have any advice for other writers who might be considering a collaboration?
Cindy and Steph: We worked with such amazing material that it just flowed like magic. One of us would write a verse or a line and pass it back, and the other would respond to that segment. It continued like this, back and forth, until the poem found its natural end. There was never a time when we were stuck, it was the poem itself which told us when it was complete. We were not the ones in control of this process, it was the words of Linda and Alessandro which inspired it all.
Readers should be aware that this is very much a work of equals in terms of input and result! There was no ego involved, this is Cindy and Steph. Not one, not the other, but both – and you can’t see the join!
If other writers are interested in such a joint venture, our advice would be to set egos aside (not that either of us has one!) and be willing to split the project appropriately. You should also make sure you are working with someone you respect and get along with, and you both listen to each other. Keep it fun and enjoyable, and this will reflect in the outcome.
Lee: Would you be happy to share a poem (or excerpt) from the collection with readers? What does this particular piece mean for you?
Cindy and Steph: This poem is a collaborative one, written by both Cindy and Steph. We chose this poem to share because it was based on sources which were also a collaboration between Alessandro and Linda. When we look at this poem, and all the others if we’re honest, we can’t believe we wrote them! And that means everything.
all from a single taste of flesh the
invisible soul escaped inside the glass of savage hope reflecting its cosmic
dimension the atom of destruction
something bloated like a meal waiting for a
smell hides like golden tigers, playing a game
licking the fear of prey devouring memory
single echo of life in a shadowed hole
bleed the first drops of clarity empty bodies
becoming weak, neon eyes blind pieces
colliding, tripping endlessly
the faces of destruction… of nothing
become unseen and obsolete
creating the howl
no hopes of resurrection
Sources: ‘City Walkers’ ‘All, Nothing, Something In Between’
Lee: Would either of you care to comment on the cover design?
Over to Cindy: Steph was the genius behind the cover. She knew I liked magpies, ravens and crows, so all recognition for the cover is completely Steph and her creative imagination. Steph: No genius me, but the choice of birds was deliberate. Yes, I knew Cindy liked them, but I also wanted to incorporate that feature of the magpie where they collect shiny things. The cover is really a metaphor for what we did!
Lee: And what do the original poets think of this derivative work?
In her foreword to the collection, Linda D. Addison, award-winning author, HWA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and SFPA Grand Master, writes: “I think there’s some kind of magic between the two of them, just like there was for Alessandro and I, because their collaborative pieces sang with one voice.”
Alessandro Manzetti, Bram Stoker Award & SFPA Elgin Award-winning author, writes: “They have been able to penetrate our little worlds of words, immersing their feet and senses, like bathers, in the river where Linda and I have blended our special blue and green, and the dusk’s pink reflections, colored by portions and drops of our blood of poets.”
Lee: Linda were you surprised with what Cindy and Stephanie were able to achieve with your work? Do you still recognise the poems, or do they feel foreign?
Linda: “When Cindy told me about the project I was astounded! I have written work inspired by other poets that I admire, but this was so much bigger. When I read their book, my mind was literally blown by the unique images they created from our words, while at the same time an echo of the original work sings underneath. It’s an amazing accomplishment and nothing I could’ve ever imagined—an unforgettable honor!”
Lee: Foundlings was released just in time for Women in Horror month. Was this a conscious decision? What does WiH month mean to you? Is it still relevant?
Cindy and Steph: We had originally thought of Valentine’s Day because of the love and admiration we felt for Linda’s and Alessandro’s work. As it worked out, it also came out in time for Women in Horror Month, which at the minute seems to be either February or March. (It is also my son’s birthday (Steph!).
WiH means absolute celebration of women in horror, and gives recognition to all of the women working hard to make it in this field. We both agree it is still relevant and remains so until there’s an equal recognition of women and men in the genre. Things have improved in recent times, but there is still a way to go.
Lee: Stephanie is highly prolific; in fact, I expect she has written another novel while you have been reading this interview. What work do you both have coming up that we should be looking out for? Do you have plans for other collaborations of this nature?
Steph: I wouldn’t say I am highly prolific, just that work that I’ve done in recent years has finally found homes and it just happens to be at roughly the same time! Gives a bit of a false impression – although I am usually to be found working on something or other. I am currently working on found poetry based on heavy metal! As for a novel, Silver Shamrock has a few, but I don’t know when they’ll be released.
Cindy and Steph: Unintentionally, we have shared the TOC in a few wonderful publications in recent times. Firstly, A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales, ed. Alex Woodroe, pub. Brigids Gate Press. Steph wrote the Introduction and Cindy’s story is included in the book. We were also both in Were Tales: A Shape Shifter Anthology and poetry from both of us features in the upcoming, The Musings of the Muses, again Brigids Gate Press. Look out for more poetry from us in Black Spot Books’ Under Her Skin and from Cindy in Chiral Mad 5. Any day now, Northern Frights: A Journal of the Horror Writers of Maine, will be releasing the Woman issue which contains a revamped version of Cindy’s novelette, The Handshake.
We do hope to collaborate again, in fact it is more than likely, we just need to find a project as magical as this to do!
Lee: Thank you, both for these wonderful insights and best of luck for the collection.
Found poetry is an act of creation in its own right. By taking words already in existence in the works of others, something completely new can be created.
This collection was created in tribute to renowned dark poets, Linda D. Addison and Alessandro Manzetti. In all instances, we have indicated those poems from which we carved our own.
USA Today bestseller and two-time international Bram Stoker Award-winner, Lee Murray is New Zealand’s most awarded speculative fiction writer and editor (twelve-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award and three-time winner of the Australian Shadows Award).
A Shirley Jackson Award-winner, Lee is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and short fiction including the double award-winning Taine McKenna speculative thriller series (Severed Press), supernatural crime-noir series Path of Ra (Raw Dog Screaming Press) which she co-writes with Wellington author, Dan Rabarts, and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories.
She is proud to have edited eighteen anthologies of dark fiction, including multi-award-winning Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn).
Lee lives with her family in the sunny Bay of Plenty where she conjures up stories for readers of all ages from her office overlooking a cow paddock.
Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the most recent being Scott J. Moses’ What One Wouldn’t Do, Silver Shamrock’s Midnight from Beyond the Stars, Demain Publishing’s A Silent Dystopia and Brigids Gate Press’ Were Tales. Her longer work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the novellas, Bottled and Paused, both published by Silver Shamrock. Her poetry has been published in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII and VII, Black Spot Books Under Her Skin and online at Visual Verse.
She is co-editor of Trembling With Fear, HorrorTree.com’s online magazine and also co-edited Black Angel Press’ Daughters of Darkness anthologies. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at www.stephanieellis.org and on Twitter at @el_stevie.
Cindy O’Quinn is the four-time HWA Bram Stoker Award Nominated Author of “Lydia” from the Shirley Jackson Award Winning Anthology, The Twisted Book of Shadows, “The Thing I Found Along a Dirt Patch Road”, “A Gathering on the Mountain”, and “One and Done”. Follow Cindy for updates on Facebook: cindy.oquinn.71 Instagram: cindy.oquinn Twitter: @COQuinnWrites