Pins & Needles No. 39: Kirsten Holt

Pins & Needles

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 39: Kirsten Holt

Q. Selkies are a form of shapeshifter, a popular trope in fairy tales, where a person puts on the skin of an animal and takes its form. If you could take the form of any creature just by wearing its skin, what would it be and why?

Skydiving was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had, mostly because I was traveling in an entirely new mode. Walking felt absurd after I touched back down. I’d like to feel that again, but probably in a new way. The ocean offers a third dimension of movement that we rarely get to experience because of gravity, and I’m also terrified of the dark. Naturally, then, I’d want to wade into it, as I have an unhealthy tendency towards “dangerous instincts” (this is actually the working title of my current manuscript). I think I’d like to put on the skin of an octopus and explore the depths, with more limbs and chance to slip into very small spaces. That, or maybe a snake, to challenge myself with the utter lack of limbs. It’s these fears that fascinate me.

Q. In “Selkie,” each triplet’s last line moves into the next stanza, creating a seamless transition. Is there an author or a particular piece that you admire for its own transitions?

I’m thinking of Mary Oliver here—in particular, “Crossing the Swamp.” The way she manages to simultaneously create fluidity and harsh breaks between the lines mimics the physical act of wading through a swamp so beautifully. The ocean has such an effortless and enticing tidal pull right around the shoreline. I was hoping to use her idea of line breaks as physical movement to adapt the push and pull of waves throughout “Selkie.”

Q. In your bio for The Mauve Issue, you say that the female-centered world of the fairy tale allows you “to connect more completely with the experience of being a woman in a contemporary world.” How has “Selkie” in particular helped you achieve this?

Fairy tales seem to be the one genre of literature where women, historically, exist as more fully-realized characters, and perhaps unintentionally. I don’t know whether it’s because of folklore’s tendency to romanticize the gothic, but I feel a connection to the women who stare down the monster. I also relate to the women who have been pushed to the corners of villainy, because it’s these times when we’re forced to accept the consequences of how we treat women. The woman in Selkie might be someone else’s villain, but she has her own agency, and truth be told, she doesn’t need the narrative of the sailors to tell her story. She will neither be the woman they expect her to, nor will she be the monster they worry she is. And it’s that unapologetic persistence that I love about women in fairy tales.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.

Kirsten Holt’s poem, “Selkie,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.


In this city, everything drowns:
Wedding dresses stick to the knees, libraries soak
to the third shelf, compost floats like paper

boats, and daughters are named after hurricanes.
While lighthouses look over their shoulders
and become lost, she’s loosening the soil

with her toes. Her sentences sound starved
of the bird-grey rain, the delirium
of comparing the wings of buzzards to bats,

to beetles; cataloging the fauna birthed by hail. She drinks
twelve glasses of water a day, and now all
her syllables sound like canoes. She waits—

it’s commonplace now, each storm a pattern, a premonition:
she was born in the eye of Andrew. All of her syntax
dripping, all of her lovers saltdrunk. She wades in the Shetland shoreline

offering water to parched sailors, drags them out to riptides
to see what their voices sound like under the waves.
In midsummer, when her skin rolls out to sea, the fog goes with it.