BY LISA MARIE BASILE
When visionary editor Leza Cantoral asked me to contribute to the Tragedy Queens anthology (you can also order from the publisher, Clash Books) she said something to the affect of, "you are literally perfect for this," which probably means I'm a very, very Sad Girl. More seriously, though, I felt drawn toward it because of Plath's impact on my own poetry career and my not-so-secret Lana Del Rey fascination.
There's Plath wrangling with the shadow, full of beautiful, unique language, and then there's this singer-starlet who aestheticizes her own sadness. Sorrow was the language and the vein of this anthology, and I wanted to explore that. I wanted to investigate my own relationship to sorrow—and the ways in which these Tragedy Queens informed my creativity. I ended up writing an exceptionally melodramatic piece called Girls In The Garden of Holy Suffering, both a true testament of my youth and psycho-sexual development, and a nod toward Lana's exaggerations of sadness and sadness aesthetic. Both of these women have inspired me to explore the authentic and inauthentic—and how they both sort of meld into one.
In this mini interview series, I chatted with the editor, Leza Cantoral, along with a few of the other stellar contributors, and got their story on why the anthology felt so right for them.
— Lisa Marie Basile
Leza Cantoral, Editor:
"Tragedy Queens is the culmination of my obsession with Sylvia Plath. When I read Ariel, it changed my life. I read everything I could find about her. I am drawn to tragic figures. I relate to them. But I am getting sick of the tragic narrative. When I sent out the submissions call I did not specify a genre. What I cared about was character arcs. People making choices. I especially wanted the female perspective.
Lana Del Rey came into my life a few years ago and I became obsessed with everything about her: her voice, her music, her hair, her eyeliner, her lips, her past, her glamour, her sadness, her passion. Her songs resonated deep within me. I loved her openness. The confessional quality of her music reminded me of Sylvia Plath, so it made sense to join two of my favorite muses together. They both inspire my own writing. I wanted to share that and was so excited to see what people came up with. I was not disappointed. Everyone knocked my socks off. I was sobbing, laughing, and gasping, as I read through the stories that made it into Tragedy Queens. People think of pop music as low art and poetry as high art and I think that’s bullshit. Lana Del Rey is a poet of the highest order and she deserves that recognition for her craft."
"For me, Plath embodies mental health struggles. She was incredibly talented, but the demons in her heart, soul, and mind ended up winning. That she was able to focus all of that and express it in words is something that deserves to be celebrated. LDR, on the other hand, is a modern anomaly that somehow became a sensation thanks to am atmosphere of strong women taking over and a massive push to obliterate patriarchy, and she does it all while being bizarre and having her own aesthetic. I knew many women would be getting involved in this, and that made me want to be a part of it. Strong brujas all around celebrating two unique ladies with their words. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that magic?"
"Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey get at death, beauty, and the grotesque in artful and unnerving ways. As a writer and mother, I’ve always felt that womanhood and motherhood should not be sanitized, but rather, stripped down to its visceral core, so that blood and bone and tissue are exposed. My story was inspired by the trash glam aesthetic of Lana Del Rey’s song, 'Sad Girl' and Plath’s dark mythos of mother and father figures. It’s about a teenage Xicana’s doomed love affair in a 1997 dystopian central California that results in the conception of a brujo baby."
"I wrote a short story inspired by Lana Del Rey's captivating song, 'Summertime Sadness.' Throughout her work, Lana eerily and beautifully captures the nature of tragic love. I don't think she glorifies domestic violence or other forms of abuse. She's simply telling stories. Love is complicated and even the healthiest relationships have their tragedies. Those stories need to be told because, even when they are fictitious, they are very real. I saw this anthology as a chance to tell yet another story about love's complexities."
"Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey represent an inspirational arc covering the course of my life. As a teenager struggling with OCD and depression I found in Plath a comforting fellow traveler, someone who had a shared voice. As a man in my 40's I find in Del Rey the echoes of my own wild youth—hot nights, too much beer, and the dangerous fun of mischief and trouble. I had toyed with writing a story but didn't like my original idea. I found myself standing in my kitchen chatting with Leza Cantoral, the anthology's editor, during the 2017 AWP. I gave her my original idea and she said, 'No, I want you to tell the story that clearly draws from your real life and your real inspirations, don't make anything up.' It came together and I sat down that night and wrote my story. I am pleased to have it accepted. I feel like I caught a night of my youth in a bottle for others to experience."
"Plath has inspired me since I was twelve years old and picked up The Bell Jar. It spoke to me so much as a floundering adolescent—and it was incredibly funny. I could really relate to Plath’s sardonic wit and her cut-throat observations about the world. She’s smart, heartbreaking, and culturally astute about her historical moment. I wanted to create a story that, like The Bell Jar, deconstructed typically idealized experiences and put forth commentary on mental health care. Growing up, I suffered from depression, anxiety, and OCD. I wasn’t able to get help until I ended up in a psychiatric hospital in my mid-twenties. I wanted to create a character who is clearly suffering but also ignored—like Esther was in The Bell Jar. It was very important for me to get that voice down."
Lisa Marie Basile is a poet-witch and founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine—a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including the forthcoming "Nympholepsy."
Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Venefica, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more.
Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.
Leza Cantoral is a Xicana writer & editor who lives on the internet. She is the Editor in Chief of CLASH Books & host of the Get Lit With Leza podcast where she talks to cool ass writers. Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath is a CLASH Books anthology of stories that she edited as a result of being a Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath megafan. You can find her on YouTube at Trash Panda Poetry & everywhere else as herself. She blogs at lezacantoral.com