Lady Book Witch Press Founder Nora Boyle on Delving Into Grief and Family Secrets in Her Poetry

Capsule Stories Autumn 2021 Edition sitting on a step at the bottom of a staircase with peeling paint

Nora Boyle is a poet, farmer, beekeeper, and witch who consumes coffee by the cauldron-full. She is the founder of Lady Book Witch Press, based out of New Hampshire, which produces limited edition artist books, letterpress broadsides, Tiny Spells Witchery collaborative how-to books, and the literary magazine The Cackling Kettle.

Nora Boyle’s poems “Hourglass House” and “Legacies” are published in Capsule Stories Autumn 2021 Edition: Dancing with Ghosts.

“Hourglass House” explores what it means to be consumed by grief, to the point where your anxieties distort and shape your daily routines. The fantastical images blend feelings of dissociation with an exploration of the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.”

“Legacies” is largely an exploration of family—what it means to be a daughter, as well as the possibility of motherhood. All families have secrets, and this poem explores what it means to sleeplessly obsess over the past and future in light of these secrets.

Capsule Stories: Where did the idea for these poems come from?

Nora Boyle: Trauma rips you open and stitches you up in some pretty surreal ways. I wrote “Hourglass House” during a pivotal time in my personal healing. Shortly after I graduated college, I spent a few months house-sitting in a tiny A-frame cabin in rural Vermont, watering plants and taking care of a flock of ducks. It was quiet, remote​​, and allowed me to truly feel the depth of my grief and anxieties. While I was there, I got a concussion (chasing a runaway duck!) and had some pretty weird post-concussion dreams. One dream in particular was about the A-frame house filling up with sand, like the bottom of an hourglass . . . ultimately, these dreams served as the basis for the poem.

“Legacies” largely wrote itself. That is, there was no specific moment of inspiration; rather, it addresses ongoing anxieties. One of the questions I ask myself a lot, particularly in regards to my poetry, is which stories can I ethically tell? Cathartic release has been a large force in my writing for the past few years, but even then, I am constantly asking myself if my poems feel compassionate and respectful, particularly in regards to my family. “Legacies” explores what it feels like to be riddled with anxiety, and weighted down with family secrets, while trying to be a poet, and potentially/hypothetically, a mother—both of which are roles that require acute authenticity.

Capsule Stories: In “Legacies,” you write: “there are some poems i refuse to write / because they would be too painful to read.” How do you decide which poems to write or not write? Do you sometimes write poems just for yourself and not share them with others?

Nora Boyle: The poems I choose not to write usually involve other people . . . my relationships are more important than my writing, so if I have a question of whether or not a poem will be damaging to a relationship, I usually choose not to write it. Like with all things, consent is always a priority. I wrote a lot of poems just for myself in high school. Once I started routinely finding an audience for my work, however, I largely strayed away from that practice. Now, if I feel the need to write candidly and emotionally about something, particularly a relationship, I will journal about it.

Capsule Stories: “Hourglass House” and “Legacies” explore themes of depression, anxiety, and illness through the framework of generations and children. Why are you drawn to exploring these themes in your poetry?

Nora Boyle: I’ve always had fierce maternal instincts, and even though I do not know if I necessarily want to have children, whenever I feel stuck, I find the inner resolve to continue healing for the sake of my future/hypothetical children. Shortly after writing “Hourglass House,” I started working as a residential counselor at a trauma healing center for girls aged ten to twenty. In this way, the “broken girls” in “Hourglass House” almost felt prophetic. I loved those girls, and in some ways, I saw myself in them. Mothering them became a practice of remothering my inner child. Seeing myself in others, especially those children, feels rather ghostly, in ways that are reflective, inspiring, and foreboding. Whenever I find myself particularly struggling, I think about how I want to be able to interact with and affect future generations; this has been incredibly grounding for me and has helped me find resiliency I might not otherwise have been able to access on my own.

Capsule Stories: In “Hourglass House,” you reexamine the story of Sleeping Beauty from a different perspective: “no one told me Sleeping Beauty had been raped / and that someday i too would sleep for a hundred years / i think the story must be told backward / that the sleep came after the prince, not before” and end the poem with “and wait for an ending / that may never come.” What made you look at this classic story in a different light and change your reading of it?

Nora Boyle: “Hourglass House” is part of a larger forthcoming project—a collection of poems called autobiography of my alter egos. In part, these poems explore how traditional female narratives and literary tropes, especially those surrounding topics of assault, rape, and credibility, can be challenged through hyperbole or alternative perspectives. I remember when I first learned from a fairy tales podcast that Sleeping Beauty had been raped, everything sort of shifted and clicked . . . Sleeping Beauty had always been a childhood favorite of mine, and it felt fitting that I learned about the dark underbelly of this fairy tale in my adulthood, while I was struggling with a similar darkness. Sleeping has always been one of my primary coping skills, and after experiencing a series of sexual assaults, it felt like all I could do for a long time was sleep, much like Sleeping Beauty.

Capsule Stories: What other writers have influenced you, and specifically, these poems?

Nora Boyle: Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, Anne Carson, CAConrad, Hannah Weiner, Ocean Vuong, Natalie Diaz, Wendell Berry, Jack Spicer, Helen Adam, Nina MacLaughlin (Wake, Siren), and Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Women Who Run with the Wolves). I also listened to a lot of CocoRosie music while writing these poems and definitely felt influenced by her eerie, dissonant style.

Capsule Stories: Tell us about Lady Book Witch Press! How and why did you start it, and what sort of things do you publish?

Nora Boyle: While at Hamilton College, I got introduced to letterpress printing and “book arts” by my favorite professor Andrew Rippeon (who now teaches at Davidson College). I became immensely interested in what it means to craft a material poem, as well as exploring the intersections of witchcraft, poetry, and bookmaking. As a poet and witch, there are few things more satisfying than navigating and negotiating the overlay of material and literary symbolism. Lady Book Witch Press is the natural progression of this academic and artistic inquiry.

The press is fairly multifaceted, as it reflects my interest in cross-genre, multimedia work. Our Tiny Spells Witchery collaborative how-to book series combines the charm of handmade books and original art with the expertise of practicing witches. Intro to Crystals and Intro to Herbal Remedies are available for purchase, and our third book is well underway!

We also just published our inaugural issue of our literary magazine The Cackling Kettle this past summer. For this publication we are especially interested in printing pieces that explore nature, witchcraft, feminism, farming, community, LGBTQIA love, and all things wild. We value work that is daring and different. Mostly, we are interested in printing poetry, very short works of fiction, and black-and-white visual art. Given our fascination with liminal spaces, we also love genre-less and genre-bending work. Lady Book Witch Press also produces limited edition artist books, handmade journals, and letterpress broadsides.

You can find more information about the press at ladybookwitchpress.com and view our full inventory at etsy.com/shop/ladybookwitch, as well as purchase our products at Apotheca Flowers (Goffstown, New Hampshire), Union Coffee Co. (Milford, New Hampshire), Strange Pine (Lowell, Massachusetts), and Downtown Books and News (Asheville, North Carolina).

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Nora Boyle: I am incredibly grateful to be in the midst of a very creative, very productive phase, so I have many projects brewing! I am working on the next book in the Tiny Spells Witchery series: Tattoo as Talisman. This book features interviews with magically and ritually-minded tattoo artists about how ritual, ceremony, and/or witchcraft influence their work and overall practice. There are also several beautiful write-ups by friends who speak on the intentions and evolving meanings surrounding their tattoos and how, in some cases, these tattoos helped facilitate personal healing. Overall, there are some really beautiful perspectives and photographs in this issue, and I am excited to continue working on it!

The next issue of Lady Book Witch Press’s literary magazine The Cackling Kettle is forthcoming (information on how to submit can be found on our website), so I’ll begin work on that shortly as well.

As far as poetry is concerned, I have a full-length collection, autobiography of my alter egos, that I am getting ready to release (that has been several years in the works)! All that’s really left is designing the cover, which I am mildly intimidated by. I also have a few collaborative poetry and art projects that are either in the works or in the planning stages with some very talented friends.

Nora Boyle has an active Instagram presence at @ladybookwitch. She also has an Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/ladybookwitch and an artist website: ladybookwitchpress.com.

Nora Boyle picking fruit outside in an orchard
Nora Boyle

You can read Nora Boyle’s poems “Hourglass House” and “Legacies” in Capsule Stories Autumn 2021 Edition, now available in paperback and ebook.

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