Funny thing. Every time I stumble across a new morbid artist or designer of dark goods and want to do a bit of research on them, and especially if I happen to think “A-ha! Here is something really awesome that no one else knows about yet!”, 9 times out of 10 it is a “Curses, foiled again!” scenario because someone else, smarter and and quicker than me, has discovered and blogged about these macabre luminaries first. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t always the same someone!
One’s first instinct is to be a little irritated. Especially if one is sometimes weirdly competitive about these things. How dare they, right? But then one may smarten up and start to think “…hmm…this individual has an extraordinarily keen eye, utterly exquisite taste, and obviously a wonderfully engaging, compelling manner in writing about all of these things that we both seem to love. Don’t be annoyed, be curious! Who is this fascinating person? Get to know them! You guys are no doubt kindred spirits!”
And of course it was so. Katie Metcalfe celebrates the strange and unusual, the damned and unseen over at her blog, Wyrd Words & Effigies. It is “a path through the dark to wild, forbidden places”, and functions as a space for dark fashion, alternative lifestyles, dark literature, black metal, experimental and ritualistic music, offbeat films, in-depth interviews, relevant articles and links and unsettling visual art and photography.
In getting to know Katie, I discovered she also has a wonderfully enchanting personal blog, or Livslogga (Swedish for “life log”), The Girl With Cold Hands, where she beautifully documents her Nordic journey in her beloved new home. In devouring her daily chronicles, I was reminded very much of how I felt when I read Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Heidi was a favorite book and character of mine while growing up, and Katie is a little bit like a black metal Heidi. Well, except Heidi was in Switzerland, and Katie is in Sweden. But when reading about Katie’s beloved forests and daily rituals, I am brought right back to how I felt when I read Johanna Spyri’s description of the Alpine flowers, the friendly goats and the bright stars seen through a hayloft window at night. The similarity being, I suppose … that there are pure and beautiful and wonderful things in the world–many of them just small moments, little details even–but we must pay attention and open our hearts to these things!
Also–did I mention that Katie is a photographer herself, as well as a poet? Today I talk with her about all of these fascinating things and more–as well as offer you all a chance to win copies of two of Katie’s books, Dying is Forbidden in Longyearbyen and In The Hours Of Darkness. Read below for my interview with Katie Metcalfe and be certain to leave a comment to be entered in our giveaway. One week from today–October 21, 2016–one winner will be chosen at random to receive both of these books.
Mlle Ghoul: I’ve been following Wyrd Words & Effigies for a long while and love how you consistently and thoughtfully share art and music with the world. Can you tell me a little bit about the things you choose to share? The imagery, aesthetics, and sounds that ensnare and obsess you?
Katie Metcalfe: Wyrd Words & Effigies embodies my lifelong obsession for the strange and macabre, and works as an archive for all of my shadowy finds. I want to offer my readers a path through the dark, a journey across boundaries which separate this world from others.
Everything featured on the blog, ever since the very first post back in 2013 (a review of the gloriously horrifying book The Ritual by Adam Nevil), has been very carefully considered. Whatever it is that I’m presenting, it needs to be able to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. If it keeps me awake at night, even better.
I’m devoted to unearthing art which honours the eerie and untamed, and strengthens the blog’s ‘wyrd’ vibe. Creatives such as Bill Crisafi, Darby Lahger (Old Hag) and Valin Mattheis have been ensnaring me with their work for years. More recently I’ve become infatuated with the freehand, worlds-away-from-anything-else tattoo art of Noel’le Longhaul (Laughing Loone), the gorgeously grim embroidery of Carrie Violet and the moody photography of Anna Ådén.
I’m also a curious bugger. I like to creep underneath the skin of those who inspire me and find out what makes them tick. I’ve interviewed dozens of inspirational souls over the years, including Ragnar Bragason the director of the Icelandic cult film Metalhead, Dayal Patterson author of Black Metal : Evolution of the Cult and Sara Larocca-Ramm co-founder of Sisters of the Black Moon.
Black Metal is an essential part of my everyday life, and is very much at the core of Wyrd Words & Effigies. It offers what other music is unable to, and grants me passage to a deeper understanding of myself. Whilst Black Metal is the leader of the pack over at the blog, anything that snags my heart strings, and introduces me to a new kind of darkness is always introduced and celebrated. Recently I’ve been obsessing over the sounds of Anna Von Hausswolf, Graveyard Train and Phosphorescent.
Side Note : A few years back I created a magazine to accompany the blog. It was my intention to release this publication several times a year, but complications with the second issue saw production grind to a halt. For the first issue I decided to tackle death because, despite my fascination for everything surrounding the subject, it was something I greatly feared. By creating the magazine I was able to confront this fear, and learn to embrace the coming end. You’re able to find a promo video and download link for the magazine here. It’s entirely free to download and read.
With regard to inspirations and obsessions, do you find that they seek a place in the poetry that you write, or are your poems a space for say, emotions, or other bits of internal flotsam that you are working through?
My devotion to the Far North sees me returning to it time and again in my work. It’s through this devotion that I managed to find my voice as a writer. I’ve spent many years researching into the Inuit and their culture, as well as the folklore of North America and Scandinavia.
Living in Sweden gives me the opportunity to embrace the North tight, and become even more curious about its cold secrets.
Death is an extremely valuable resource for my writing. I’ve used my own experiences with death in my work on many occasions, and have gained from the therapeutic benefits. Through writing poetry about loss, I’ve found the capability to grieve for those who have passed, to heal myself and move forward.
The occult has a powerful influence over what I’m creating, and I’m always looking for the next strange thing to investigate and write about. I write poetry with the hope that it will unsettle the reader, and slip them a chill which is practically impossible to shrug off.
I’m also greatly inspired by the everyday. Spiderwebs embellished with dew, sunlight bleeding through the trees late in the afternoon, or the rise and fall of my boyfriend’s shoulders as he sleeps. By being shackled to our phones we miss so much. I’m making an effort to spend less time in front of a screen, and more time being present and noticing the life I can touch.
I burn to perform, and relish bringing my visualization of the North and its dark wonders to the stage. I tend to don furs and bones when I’m performing. They assist in empowering me, and enable me to better embody the characters in my poems.
As someone who has spent more than half of her life living with mental illness, I often look for new ways to explore the effects of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Nothing repairs my soul better than creating a poem I can feel proud of. Poetry is an extremely effective way to reach out to people who are struggling, so I always share what I write with the hope that it will cross the path of a person who needs it.
Have you always written poetry, or is this a more recent creative outlet? What other kinds of writing do you engage in?
I was four years old when I decided that I was going to be a writer, and penned my first poem when I was under double figures after being inspired by a National Geographic documentary about wolves in Yellowstone National Park. My Grandmother used to video tape hours of wolf documentaries for me, and I would spend whole weekends drinking tea, eating beans on toast and sitting wide eyed in front of the TV.
All through my childhood I wrote stories and poems inspired by the supernatural and nature. I would write longhand in books I’d stolen from school, and on a typewriter which my Grandfather found at a carboot sale for a couple of quid. I can remember my Mum complaining about the noise of my typing coming through the kitchen ceiling.
When I was fourteen years old I developed anorexia nervosa, and at fifteen was admitted into a psychiatric ward where I stayed for nine months. It was during this time that I started to write furiously. I would write shitty children’s stories, and poems about my experience with ‘The Voice.’ I kept two diaries, one for the nurses – full of lies, and one for myself – full of self-hate. I spent several hours a day writing my diaries using an elaborate gothic font. If I wrote a word wrong, I’d tear out the page and start again. I’d also write lengthy letters to another anorexic who had a room down the hallway, and the nurses would be our posties, bringing out letters back and forth. Both of us were on bedrest, and walking down the hall to each other’s rooms was forbidden.
Five months after I was admitted into hospital, I felt an urge to recover, to abandon my anorexia. It was then that I decided to write a book about my experiences, and started what was to become my first published book Anorexia : A Stranger In The Family. Writing about my experiences with an eating disorder though poetry and non-fiction, combined with years of CBT and continual support from my family enabled me to eventually make a full recovery.
Writing about my life continues to be a valuable creative outlet for me. I established my first blog in 2004 and have been blogging almost continuously since.
I have completed several (fucking terrible) novels over the past twenty years, but thankfully they never made it to any bookshelves.
I’ve immensely enjoyed reading your Livslogga, or life log, chronicling your experiences in Sweden. What are some of the things you love most about this beautiful country that you’ve found yourself in? What’s been the most difficult adjustment? And tell me all about the concept of Fika, because I am completely obsessed.
My biggest love is for the man I wake up next to every morning, my True North, and his beautiful daughter. I love his family and friends who’ve welcomed me into their lives with every blessing. I love the forests that surround us, and how I can still, after nearly a year, find secret places to explore. My man is originally from a small town in the middle of Sweden called Hagfors, a place which has cast a spell on me. The town is surrounded by dense forests populated by moose, bears and wolves. We currently live on the outskirts of a city, and when we start the four hour journey to visit his family, I become giddy with happiness, anticipating the roads becoming quieter, the forests thicker and the night sky darker.
The most difficult adjustment I would say has been the language. I love the Swedish tongue and can happily listen to it for hours. However learning it has been more difficult that I imagined. But, my confidence is growing small bit by small bit. The Swedes are also quiet. Very, very quiet, and as a Brit who is used to almost constant chatter, this has taken some getting used to.
Fika is one of my favourite aspects of Swedish culture. To non-Swedes Fika may appear to as simply ‘having coffee,’ but it’s so much more than that. Fika is all about taking a moment to slow down and truly appreciate the moment. If you’re with friends, you enjoy their company. If you’re alone, you can sit quietly and contemplate with your coffee and cinnamon bun. I take a Fika by myself every afternoon or on the rare occasion with a friend, but when we visit my man’s family, it’s a big family affair. We sit around the table with freshly brewed coffee and something delicious made by his mother.
John Bauer, Elsa Beskow– I see these artists referred to lovingly on your blog quite often. Talk to me a bit about what they mean to you.
I went to a Rudolf Steiner School from the age of 7 – 14 and it was here that I first encountered the worlds of Beskow and Bauer. I grew up surrounded by Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians and the odd Dane. Scandinavian culture played a pivotal role in our education, from the food we ate, to the decor we crafted at Yuletide, and, of course, the books we read. Nature was an invaluable part of my schooling, and the attitude that everyone around me had towards nature was greatly influenced by the Scandinavian mind-set.
I can remember sitting on the couch at my best friend’s house, working my way through her collection of Beskow books. I would stare for hours at the richly detailed illustrations, imagining that one day I would live amongst similar trees and lakes. My obsession with Bauer’s art was rekindled in 2001 when I listened to the music of Mortiis for the first time. (The video for Parasite God was featured on a video tape I received free with an issue of Kerrang!) I noticed that his logo was in fact a Bauer art work from a popular Swedish Christmas annual Bland Tomtar Och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls). Since then I’ve written widely about Bauer and have made numerous pilgrimages to his hometown of Jönköping and Jönköpings Läns Museum which holds the world’s largest collection of Bauer’s work.
I know that you are an avid thrifter, I’d love it if you could impart of bit of thrift wisdom to us…what’s your secret for finding such amazing things? Do you go shopping with something in mind, or do you go with an open mind and let the shelves and racks of goodies speak to you? Do you have a holy grail item that you’re always on the lookout for?
I’ve been thrifting since I was under double figures, as my family could rarely afford new clothes. My wardrobe has always been 90% second hand. I always go thrifting with an open mind and think that the best pieces of advice that I can provide are to go with plenty of time to spare and go through everything. Don’t leave one rail untouched. If you find something really special and it’s too large, consider getting it altered. I’ve recently started to explore colour, and this has opened up a whole new world for me. Don’t be afraid to step outside your box.
You spend a great deal of time, it would seem, in your beloved forests, both ambling leisurely and taking it all in, as well as running. I’m not a runner by any means, but I do like a brisk walk, and I am always looking for the perfect sound to accompany my exercise. Do you listen to music when you run? I can imagine you listening to the blackest medal as you traverse through the icy winter trees, but I am totally ok with being wrong! Tell me about some of your favorite music to listen to while running and stretching your limbs in the cold.
Sadly, I don’t have access to music when I’m running! The wind through the trees is my soundtrack. But if I were to choose, I would have my boyfriend’s band Rimfrost blasting in my ears. It has the energy that a lot of black metal lacks.
I understand that you are also fan of horror films! Is there anything excellent that you’re watching right now and would recommend? And does your choice of reading material fall into the same category? What’s on your bookstand right now?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t infatuated with horror. As a child I would regularly stay with my auntie who was a horror fanatic. I always pillaged her bookshelves before bed,and would lose myself in The World’s Scariest Ghost Stories and Misty annuals from the late 70’s.
While I could read her books, her extensive horror VHS collection was off bounds. I’d hang around it, studying the tape covers obsessively, willing the years away. Having already encountered Anne Rice on her bookshelf, I was particularly taken with Interview With The Vampire, and made the decision that when the day came to choose a video to watch, that would be the one. The day arrived when I was twelve. Needless to say, life was never the same afterwards.
My boyfriend and I have been looking to the past and its offerings in recent months, and have been binging on Stephen King – Thinner, Needful Things and Cujo. The TV series Rose Red and The Langoliers have also made for immensely satisfying binge watching.
I’ve been disappointed with much of the horror released in recent years. Less tits and more atmosphere please. One of the best new(ish) horror films that I’ve seen recently is The Babadook. After twenty years of a diet consisting almost strictly of horror, it takes a lot to unnerve me. But that film…it had all the right ingredients. I was left feeling deeply disturbed and content. Shit, several months after I still get chills when I think of it.
My choice of reading material is generally pretty dark, but at the moment I’m struggling to state my appetite for horror as the library in town has limited English stock! I’m close to finishing Tracks, a haunting tale by Louise Erdrich. I’m looking forward to going to England soon and bringing back some of my favourites, including Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. One of the most unsettling stories that I’ve read in a long while.
You’ve touched briefly on your blog and elsewhere on issues you’ve struggled with– depression and appearance related insecurities/anxieties, for example–and how you are taking steps to overcome these things. Can you talk about these things, how they’ve affected you, and how you are slowly conquering them?
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was fourteen, the same time as I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Mental health issues run in my family on both sides, and I can remember displaying OCD tendencies when I was a small child. My ill mental health meant my teenage years were spent being lonely, thin and terrified. I was teetering on the brink between this world and nowhere for such a long time that I still get surprised that I’m here at all. A good part of my twenties were spent building myself back up from the husk I had become.
Being open about what’s going on in my head is extremely important to me. I spent many years trapped, unable to talk about how I was really feeling. I used to feel ashamed and broken. But I’m no longer afraid to reveal the workings of my head. The stigma that is attached to mental health sickens me, and I want to do my part in pulling down the barrier that separates and alienates people with mental health problems.
I was advised to start taking medication when I was fifteen, but refused. It was only several years later in my mid-twenties when I agreed to start taking meds. They changed my life and helped me to have a quieter head. I came off my medication which helped with anxiety and depression several months ago. But it was a mistake and I went to a bloody dark place for an awfully long time. I’m back on my medication now, and am slowly recovering my true self. My concentration and creativity is still on the weak side but I’m trying to be kind to myself, and accept that it takes a while to get back to full strength. I believe that if we can access help to be the best versions of ourselves, be it medication or talking therapy, we need to fully embrace it.
Thanks very much Katie, for your candor and your openness and for sharing of your life and loves and inspirations with us!
Follow Katie Metalfe for more dark discoveries at Wyrd Words & Effigies and livslogga magic at The Girl With Cold Hands, and don’t forget to leave a comment to win both books of her poetry–Dying is Forbidden in Longyearbyen and In The Hours Of Darkness!
All photography courtesy Katie Metcalfe