Sonya Vatomsky, lovely new friend, and author of Salt Is for Curing, has been interviewed previously by some very smart people who have asked some excellent questions of this ghostly poet of the witchy and intense. I am not one of those people.
In my initial spurt of nosiness about this exquisite creature, I uncovered a handful of informative, well-written and wonderfully interesting interviews with our subject today. And my conclusion is that there’s not much I can ask Sonya Vatomsky about poetry and the writing process that another more intelligent and more articulate person has not already shared with us. And as a matter of fact, I encourage you all to read these previous interviews when you can, because they offer fantastic insight into Sonya’s works.
I am, however going to ask some fun questions, which I have shared below, and we are offering a giveaway consisting of a signed copy of Salt Is For Curing, –so I hope you will continue reading!
I became acquainted with Sonya in early 2016 when I noticed that a user on Instagram calling themselves @coolniceghost started following my account. Normally I don’t pay a lot of attention to new followers on social media but an interesting username always piques my interest. And come on…. COOL + NICE + GHOST! That sounded too good to be true–I wanted to believe this mystery internet person is all of these things!
I discovered, with just a little bit of poking around on the internet, that this indeed all true. @coolniceghost turned out to be a poet named Sonya Vatomsky, (A POET! You know my heart exploded with this knowledge) whom I found on facebook and reached out right away to say hello. And here we are.
Sonya has written two collections, My Heart In Aspic, a book of :”sensory-rich poetry investigating the body, decay/fracture, rich marrow, salted flesh, and breathing in all the dark things”, as well as the more recent Salt Is For Curing, which is described deliciously by author Ariana Reines as “a feast, a grimoire, a fairy tale world, the real world. It’s also too smart for bullshit and too graceful to be mean about the bullshit”.
In my reading of Salt Is For Curing, it took all that I had not to devour this small book of spooky delights in one greedy instant. I feared that to do so, to ingest all of these potent magics at once, would give me a terribly heartsick sort of heartburn and yet leave me with the very worst sort of emptiness, knowing there is no more to be had. I drew it out for as long as I could stand.
Anyway, I do go on, don’t I? We are going to talk about stuff and things and I trust that you will read further and enjoy. After having done so, please leave a comment to be included for the giveaway of one copy of Salt Is For Curing, signed by Sonya Vatomsky. Do you have a favorite collection of poetry? A beloved fragrance? Maybe a strange ritual you’d like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments and a random winner will be divined by esoteric methods exactly one week from today.
Mlle Ghoul: The other night I had a dream that I peeled back the onion skin of my toes to uncover chocolate bonbons, which I plucked and ate with relish (I knew they’d grow back). What have you been dreaming about lately? What sort of stock do you put in dreams, if any? Are they signs, guide-posts for you? Or just brain-blips? Do they ever make their way into your poetry?
Sonya Vatomsky: Honestly, I kind of just have a lot of nightmares. I always have. They range from the basic psychopath-on-a-rampage kind to the crueler twists of, say, killing someone while blacked out and then having to explain that you’re a murderer to your parents who, against all mounting evidence, are maintaining your innocence during the trial because they know you, you would never. Because of this, I learned how to wake myself up from dreams when I was very young.When I’m really scared, I reach a sort of lucidity where if I force my eyes open really wide in the dream-state I’ll wake up. Besides the waking up trick, my lucid dreams are pretty useless. There’s a sort of misconception in lucid dreaming tutorials where people equate them with control over your dreams, which is just not accurate. Being self-aware doesn’t automatically make you God.
Speaking of dreams and sleep, you mentioned that you suffer from sleep paralysis. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with that?
Sure! It first happened in my late teens — scared the shit out of me, but I figured it was a freaky one-off nightmare. Then it occurred every few months for several years. I have an “all the toppings” version of sleep paralysis: aural hallucinations, visual hallucinations, and the cherry on top is an overpowering sense that there’s a demon in the room. I first read about sleep paralysis when I was 24 — 6 years ago — and since then it hasn’t happened much. Reading about it was very surreal. I was going through the Wikipedia pages of Japanese horror movies and reading the synopses and clicking links and ended up reading a medical paper on kanashibari. Having this frightening, seemingly-inexplicable, and deeply-personal thing medically explained (and experienced by other people!) was such a relief. In terms of the impact on my daily life, sleep paralysis was far more isolating than terrifying… or, rather, don’t we all have a very visceral fear that our mind has chosen an utterly unique kind of madness? That we’re somehow inherently blocked from ever being understood by another?
In Salt Is For Curing, the thread that ties so much of it together is food, but I get that it’s not really about food. You’ve said, and I am paraphrasing, that at the very root of these themes you write on– women, and bodies, and autonomy, and trauma, and power– it’s you exorcising your demons while “making people think they’re reading a witchy little book of folklore.” Which I think is fantastic and I loved that aspect of it. The role of food in folklore is such an interesting subject, though, and not one that I’ve thought on overmuch until now. I guess what I want to ask is how did you make these connections in relation to your own personal mythology and go about incorporating it into your poetry?
I think food and folklore both fall into my writing through the simple fact of me being Russian. Specifically a Russian immigrant, so my sense of culture has basically been distilled into those two things, partially because they’re such cultural building blocks but also because food and folklore are all you really have awareness of when you’re a child. I was six when I moved.
… but I am also obsessed with food, so we have to come back to that. Would you consider food/cooking a fascination for you, and has that been a constant fixation throughout your life or something that developed around the writing of these particular poems? What do you like to cook for yourself? What do you like to cook and serve to other people?
I’m impatient and busy so I usually cook things that can be done in 30 minutes, ideally with most of that time away from the stove. Baked fish with lemon, rosemary lamb, duck breast, tuna steak, that sort of thing. Also sandwiches. Always sandwiches. My current favorite is some kind of nice bread, gravlax, sliced hardboiled egg, tomato, mayonnaise, and hot sweet mustard. I’ll usually make the same type of dish for other people, because hosting means I’m a) stressed from accepting too much responsibility for the personal happiness of my dinner guest and b) drinking a lot, though I might upgrade my put-it-in-the-oven entree to cornish game hen. I can do piroshky and vareniki and pelmeni and borsch and all of that too but would need a third party to mind the guests because I’m very leave-me-the-fuck-alone in the kitchen.
Another thing you mentioned in an interview and I am taking it totally out of context here so that you can expand upon and play with it however you like, is: “I’m interested in myself quite a lot.” I cannot tell you how refreshing that was to read, and how excited, and well, RELIEVED I was to hear someone actually say that. You know, as a writer, I am extremely interested in myself, as well (I’m my favorite subject!)…but that’s not always something people are comfortable expressing, I don’t think. I was hoping that you could talk a little more about this.
My coolness and my writing ability have just never been things I questioned. Which doesn’t mean I assume everyone will adore me (why would it?) or anything; I’m just stressed out by starvation economies. Impostor syndrome is a thing I deal with, as are various insecurities about success, but I don’t conflate feelings about my movement through the world with my intrinsic sense of self, I guess? I think I’m super fucking interesting, and I get chills re-reading my own work, but that ego also frees me up to feel joy at the genius of others. There’s not a finite amount of coolness. I find books all the time that reduce me to Facebook-messaging incoherent “omg… you are disgustingly amazing”s to people and that’s a real pleasure.
Onto lighter things! One of the things we initially bonded over was our huge goth-y tee shirt collection–do you have any favorites right now?
I don’t want to assume you are a fellow perfume enthusiast, but I sort of get the feeling that you might be. What sort of scents do you find yourself drawn to? Do you have a particular beloved fragrance?
Ha! I am definitely a perfume enthusiast. Except I find the alcohol in alcohol-based perfumes really overpowering so I mostly wear oils. My everyday stink is Sugar & Spite’s Brewster (buttercream frosting, candied violets, vanilla cake) with Common Brimstone’s Petite Mort (caraway, cardamom, leather, honey, rose) on top. I also really love BPAL’s Vixen (orange blossom, ginger, patchouli) but I’ve had it forever so it kind of just smells like the summer I was 21 at this point. My gotta-have-it oils are anything that mention campfires, dirt, or cardamom, and lately I’m really enjoying rose as well. Oh! Another always-favorite is Debaucherous Bath, though I purchase more lotions than perfumes from that shop. The Queen Bee (milk, honey, cardamom) is delightful.
I think you and I have something else in common, too–that you don’t really love showering, because you don’t like getting wet. Me too, I hate it! I sort of have to trick myself into the shower, make a ritual of it with fluffy towels, fancy soaps and potions and unguents. This made me start thinking about our own individual, personal rituals. I was wondering if you had any that you might like to share? Whether with regard to getting your hair wet, or writing, or …whatever, really.
Showering is the worst. I exercise every morning and that does make me more inclined to shower, though I soaps and potions help as well. I like to have a creepy soap (gunsmoke, seaweed, rotting wood) and a sweet lotion. An off-putting handsoap is nice, too. Blackbird used to do a really strong, salty licorice one but since they discontinued it I’ve been using Nevermore Body Company’s Sacred Ground (chamomile, oak, black currant, dried leaves).
My other rituals are secret, for now.
You just traveled to Iceland! What did you love about it? Did you find any inspiration there? Anything that you might recommend to a fellow traveler on a whirlwind journey?
Iceland! The best thing we did was go to the Secret Lagoon which, first off, has a Facebook page so how secret is it really? The lagoon is an hour or so outside Reykjavik, and we did a night excursion where we got there around 9 or 10pm — it’s dark and freezing cold and next to the lagoon is this scary-looking cement shack structure and there’s a reddish light coming from somewhere that makes the entire scene look like the first result of when you go to a website of free desktop wallpapers and search for “creepy shit”. It was incredible! You get little floaties and float in the water, which is really warm, and there are these underwater speakers playing fucking Sigur Ros, and you can drink wine and then get a massage. Someone also brought a dog so I was petting this giant fluffer while drinking wine and being up to my waist in a hot lagoon.
Perfect. Then when you’re done soaking you get to have a little meal of cucumbers and tomatoes and black bread and schnapps and softboiled egg and the rotting piss shark thing which, I don’t know, definitely needs a lot of schnapps after it.
I am led to believe that you may have some great poetry recommendations. If one loved Salt Is For Curing, for example, what else might you suggest?
I HAVE SO MANY POETRY RECOMMENDATIONS. Recently I have read and loved:
Finally, closing on a more serious note– elsewhere, you referenced a J.G. Ballard quote:
“’I wanted to / rub the human face in its own vomit / and then force it to look in the mirror’—and that’s basically what I’m trying to do. Except with my vomit. In a nice way.” I know that our motivations and inspirations are constantly in flux, so I am wondering if this is still what you are trying to do? Or has this changed?
No, that still sounds about right.
Thanks again, Sonya, for entertaining my curiosity and indulging my nosy nature. And readers, remember to leave a comment below in order to be eligible for our giveaway of one signed copy of Salt Is For Curing.