ST Body interviews: Sandi Leibowitz, “The City Inside Her”

Today’s interviewee is Sandi Leibowitz, who contributed to the Body issue with “The City Inside Her.” This is Sandi’s first appearance in the magazine.

Sandi Leibowitz is a native New Yorker who haunts carousels, dusty antique shops and bridges. She loves idyllic countryside but is most at home in cities. Her poems and stories appear in Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Luna Station Quarterly, Strange Horizons and other magazines.  One of her poems is included in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume 5. She welcomes you to visit her online at

At first it was little things,
poppy seeds she rolled on her tongue
that caught a while in her teeth,
the scent rising from the morning bakeries…

                 from The City Inside Her

ST: What inspired this particular poem? What would you like readers to know about your context, and how it relates to your poem?

SL: I was inspired to write the poem when the phrase “the city inside her” floated into my head.  What was it about?  A woman who consumed a city.  I didn’t know what that meant so I decided to explore it.  So many of my poems are dark, but this one is joyous.  For a while I toyed with there being some ominous explanation for the devouring, or a negative outcome (as someone who struggles with my weight, I usually try to avoid overindulging), but a happier, even exultant, outcome seemed more right.

A while after I’d finished and stepped back from the poem, I pondered what it was about, where it came from, and I think I know.  About a year before I wrote it, I experienced something that led me to a truly dark place, where my very sense of identity (which has never before come into question) felt threatened.  My image of my interior landscape then was of a razed city.  A person sitting amongst the rubble of an obliterated Dresden.  I walked around feeling this way for a number of weeks, the inner Dresden threatening to swallow me up.

sandileibowitz-photoWhile I was doing the very mundane task of grocery shopping, a song came on the Muzak—wish I could really identify it now—a pop song from the 70s, I think, that had a line in it that went something like “I’m a man of the city….”  I smiled.  “I know who I am.  I’m a New Yorker.”  That was the first brick of rebuilding my sense of self.  The restoration of my emotional health came by building back my inner city by identifying the bricks of my self.  “I’m a writer.”  “I’m a musician.”  It took a few bricks and there she was: me.

I think “The City Inside Her” is at its heart an homage to the city that nourished me, and an exploration of consuming as metaphor for love of life.

ST: Is the Body a central theme in your work? If so, what other works of yours deal with it? If not, what called you to it this time?

SL: I don’t think I write about the body any more than other themes.  I do have a poem in Strange Horizons called “Fat Women,” which is about people’s attitudes towards overweight women.  My writings often concern sexuality, and many of my myth-based poems use the body, especially in transformation images, to explore various aspects of the inner life. “My story “Scylla in Blue Light,” now up on Luna Station Quarterly, deals to a degree with the mind-body dichotomy.

ST: Do you have any upcoming projects you might like to talk about?

SL: I have a story out in Metastasis, an anthology of speculative fiction and poetry about cancer, edited by Niteblade‘s Rhonda Parrish.  Of course cancer is a body issue.  When Rhonda put out the call, I didn’t think it was a subject I could write about, even though, like everyone, I’ve known many people whose lives have been touched or even terminated by cancer.

But when my good friend Karen Spencer was undergoing her third chemotherapy treatment for leukemia and things were looking very grim, she said, “Make me a dragon to kill the cancer.”  That encouraged me to try to write a story for the anthology.  “Alchemical Warfare” s about a witch who attempts to cure her friend’s cancer by way of a dragon.  I encourage Stone Telling readers to buy copies of Metastasis, since over 60% of proceeds are being donated to the American Cancer Society.

ST: Thank you very much, Sandi!

ST Body Interviews: J.C. Runolfson, “Trance for Insomniacs”

Our third interview features J.C. Runolfson, who contributed to the Body issue with her poem “Trance for Insomniacs.” J.C. has contributed two other poems to Stone Telling: “Robert Cornelius Speaks a Dead Tongue” in our inaugural issue, and “The Exposure of William H. Mumler” in ST6. She also guest-edited our fourth issue with Shweta Narayan.

J. C. Runolfson’s work has appeared in Stone Telling previously, as well as Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, and many others. She is also a freelance editor and critic. She is disabled due to chronic illness; one of her symptoms is severe insomnia.

We are an army unarmed
with anything but the nightmare
of unsleeping,
the way time
and us with it

J.C. Runolfson, “Trance for Insomniacs.”

ST: What inspired this particular poem? What would you like readers to know about your context, and how it relates to your poem?

JCR: I have severe insomnia which is less well-controlled than is optimal, due to my tolerance of only so much in the way of side effects. I have frequent periods of sleeplessness despite medication, and I had one just after reading the announcement of the “Body” theme for the next issue of Stone Telling. So I decided to use the experience to my advantage. I actually write a lot of poetry in that state, provided I’m functional enough to use a keyboard.

ST: Is the Body a central theme in your work? If so, what other works of yours deal with it? If not, what called you to it this time?

JCR: I write a series of poems based on old, well-known photographs, several of which deal with the Body. The latest of these to be published is “Zora Neale Hurston Meets Felicia Felix-Mentor on the Road,” which appears in Mythic Delirium 0.3 and concerns a legendary photograph of a Haitian woman believed to have been turned into a zombie. A lot of my poetry deals with transformations and the impact of the Othered body on the mind. I had never really explicitly addressed one of my own symptoms and how it affects me until this poem, though. I actually have a hard time re-reading it, though I don’t regret writing it.

ST: What else would you like to tell our readers about your poem?

JCR: If this is a poem to which any reader can relate, they have my condolences.

ST: Thank you very much, J.C.!