Vaginas Need Air
A poetry chapbook that celebrates and explores the love, rapport, and affinity between mothers and daughters. These poems capture private moments with clarity and insight.
Mother swirls my naked back like skywriting, with the ends of her fingers, twirling, teasing me to sleep.
I’m aware of the fabric of my pajama top rolled at the back of my neck, the heavy weight of lying flat on my stomach, arms at my sides, slight dip of the mattress under her hip, short bursts of breath as she whorls the expanse of my back, runnel of spine, wings of my shoulder blades.
I’m aware of night sounds through the screen, wind rushing the trees, dogs barking, car horns bleating. The wider universe, thickness of evening on the low horizon, clouds like clotted cream, heavy with moisture and marvel, stars charged with points of light, snagging my dream eyes.
Andromeda on my back. Cassiopeia. Virgo. Mother conjures a constellation on my skin, configuration of feelings, night-wishing.
Originally published in Up North Literary Journal
Interview with the Author
EP: How long have you been writing?
TGW: I’ve been writing since high school. I had a great psychology teacher who required all her students to keep a journal as a way to explore and cope with the tumult of adolescence. I started writing, and I never stopped. I still experiment with life and writing in a journal first. I was also introduced to poetry as a teen. Most of the students knew me because I rode a bright, orange Schwinn to school. A boy who liked me started leaving me poems on my bike, and I left poems for him in return, and for me poetry continues as a sort of *exchange* with life and the wider universe.
EP: What is your writing routine?
TGW: I wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., make myself dark coffee in a French press and sit myself in my writing chair. I write before work on a workday and until noon or later on weekends. It’s not always good, but I write *something.* A description, observations or ideas for future. My rule is: Create in the morning, revise in the afternoon. There are a lot of writing prompt options on the internet, but these in particular have been sustaining me through shelter at home.
Hummingbird Writing Sessions with Voice and Vessel: https://hello.voiceandvessel.com/hummingbird
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EP: Do you write in any other genre, like nonfiction or fiction?
TGW: Yes, I also write YA fiction. In fact, my first novel will be published this year on July 30th from Skyrocket Press. I’ve been working on it for almost ten years, on and off. It’s a paranormal fantasy called The Fergus that takes place in the Highlands of Scotland and a mystical world of banshees and ghosts. Anybody interested in learning more can sign-up for writerly updates on my website www.torigrantwelhouse.com. I also occasionally write book reviews, which I love because they introduce me to new writers.
EP: What’s one piece of advice you would give a prospective poet?
TGW: As a younger writer, it was debilitating to worry about originality. But as I got older, I realized that nobody else can approach a subject or theme with my one-of-kind *recipe* of background, life experiences, influences, realizations, opinions, travel and epiphanies. I mean, how could I help being original?
EP: What was your inspiration for Vaginas Need Air?
TGW: My mother, who passed away on Black Friday 2017. She was a fierce force, and as my brother, sister, father and I planned her wake and funeral, I realized that we each knew a different version of her. I was the oldest. And a daughter. Raised during second-wave feminism. The book is my version of her during the formative years from girlhood to teen.
EP: Did you approach this as a group of poems, or did it coalesce from individual poems?
TGW: Honestly, after she died, I just started writing poems. It was a way to feel close to her. When I read them at readings, people seemed to like them. Quite a few were published. After a year or so, I realized I had enough for a chapbook, and I really wanted to memorialize her by getting it out in the world.
EP: What was the most difficult poem to write? How did you get it on the page?
TGW: “The Slap” was difficult. Child-rearing was different then. Women were fighting for respect. It happened but was the culmination of many things. I knew she loved me and want her to stay sympathetic. It helped me to write it from an interior point of view. I mean, I am inside the poem from the start. No ramp. Also playing around with how it looked on the page helped me find some of the language.
EP: What was the easiest poem to write?
TGW: “A Luminous Kind of Pink” evoked such a vivid memory for me of my mother and I that it was a real joy to write.