Originally published in Willow Springs 73

From the author

Notes on “Witch Poems”

When I was four, my family lived in Germany and my mother took me to see a performance of Hansel and Gretel. There were witches sweeping across the sky on swings. There was cackling. There were these bratty children. And of course it was in German, so I absorbed all the horror with very little context. The witch did not just disappear into the oven: she burned in it. My mother tried to assure me that she was the villain, that this meant the children were safe, but I remember not buying that.

In any case, these poems are taken from a full-length manuscript that re-imagines the story of “Hansel and Gretel” from the perspective of the witch. I wrote the first poem several years ago. Truthfully, it was not written so much as received, and it set the tone for the entire manuscript, establishing the rhythms and themes. What’s been challenging about the project is maintaining the witch’s voice when it doesn’t simply arrive as a gift, and obviously, it rarely does. In addition to the “Hansel and Gretel” story, the manuscript pulls in folk beliefs about witches, what they are capable of, how you ward them off. I’m almost always examining questions of gender and power, how we define and assert ourselves, how we carve out control. In this manuscript specifically, I’ve been interested in the figure of the witch as other/outsider, as well as the nature of evil: Is it inherited? Learned? Is it possible to co-opt the violences done to us? Is this a kind of redemption?


Notes on Reading

For several years, I read nothing but poetry: Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Kim Addonizio, Beth Ann Fennelly, Larissa Szporluk, Ada Limon, Nickole Brown. I don’t read only women, of course, but if we’re talking about influence, well, these are the voices. I would say William Trowbridge’s Ship of Fool is a collection I return to over and over to examine how a collection can be carried by a single recurring character.

Lately, my reading has turned to fiction. This may have something to do with my work as an editor and the fact that I read new poems daily, whether I want to or not. The books I’ve loved lately are Adele Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Timothy Schaffert’s The Coffins of Little Hope, Veronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea, Stephen Elliott’s Happy Baby, Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle, and Nina De Gramont’s Gossip of the Starlings.


About Liz Kay

A founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict, Liz Kay holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska, where she was the recipient of both an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize for exemplary work in poetry. In 2008, she was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for excellence in lyric poetry. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, RHINO, Iron Horse Literary Review, Redactions, and Sugar House Review. Her chapbook, Something to Help Me Sleep, was published by {dancing girl press} in 2012.