Hello, friends! Today I’m pleased to introduce you to Maz Hedgehog, author of the upcoming poetry collection Vivat Regina. Maz Hedgehog is a black bisexual poet and spoken word performer whose work is all about creating new mythologies, inspired by folklore and her mother’s storytelling.
Get to know her and her work right here in this exclusive author interview before her book comes out on Feb. 9!
This glorious chapbook by Manchester poet Maz Hedgehog riffs upon classical literature and folklore, particularly the English epic poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.This is not a translation or adaptation. The poet writes entirely original poems focussing on her own fictional creations, but weaves in deft allusions, and lets the older material serve as contrast and counterpoint to the poems herein. By beautifully but decisively interrogating British constructed history, the poet asserts the place of black queer perspectives and viewpoints within British cultural identity. Vivat Regina works as an exposition of a striking woman, an exploration of duty and freedom, and a rich fantasia of magical beasts and beings.Goodreads
This glorious chapbook by Manchester poet Maz Hedgehog riffs upon classical literature and folklore, particularly the English epic poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.This is not a translation or adaptation.
The poet writes entirely original poems focussing on her own fictional creations, but weaves in deft allusions, and lets the older material serve as contrast and counterpoint to the poems herein. By beautifully but decisively interrogating British constructed history, the poet asserts the place of black queer perspectives and viewpoints within British cultural identity.
Vivat Regina works as an exposition of a striking woman, an exploration of duty and freedom, and a rich fantasia of magical beasts and beings.Goodreads
Hello, Maz! Welcome to Let’s Fox About It. Why don’t we start this off by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself?
I always find that a little tricky to answer. Um…I’m Black British, I write poetry (obviously), I’m a somewhat lazy cook and a newbie knitter.
What kind of magnets do you have on your fridge?
Just the one. My sister recently moved to Ireland and gave me a ‘welcome to Ireland’ magnet that I kind of love.
Where would you live, if you could live anywhere in the world?
Honestly? I’m pretty happy where I’m at. The UK is my home and Manchester is a great place to live.
You’ve mentioned that metaphor is extremely important in Vivat Regina. Can you tell the readers a little bit more about this?
I sometimes joke that in my poetry I take a thousand years to say anything. I love using metaphor to say something without really saying it. I can touch on and reference ideas and emotions so there’s a whole atmosphere, rather than just one thing. In Vivat Regina, I used heraldry, quoted Edmund Spencer, referenced Shakespeare and drew on Catholic mysticisms so I could create this idea of timelessness running through the whole narrative. But more than anything else, I used flowers to convey meaning.
I discovered floriography, or the language of flowers, a few years ago. Someone mentioned it on Tumblr and I was like oh this looks cool. I proceeded to mostly forget about it until I was trying to figure out how to do floral imagery right. I’m not a botanist and I know nothing about floristry but when I was writing about the faerie queen I knew that flowers/nature would be important. I turned back to the language of flowers and got googling. After some research and a lot of experimenting, I found plants that worked for what I wanted to do. So when I mention lilies, I mean sorrow. When I reference roses, I mean love and beauty. Dragonwort for fear. Brambles for lost grandeur etc. I did a fair bit of messing around so experts will probably shake their heads in dismay, but it provided a helpful framework.
So if you like lots and lots of metaphors – some with more layers than others – I think you’ll like Vivat Regina. Even if florid metaphors aren’t your jam, there’s a solid story with some striking characters to enjoy.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
There’s so much advice out there, and so much of it contradictory because everyone works differently. So the best advice I was given is to pay attention to what works, and ignore what doesn’t.
That aside, my favourite piece of writing advice came from Octavia Butler: “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” Being able to form a writing habit meant that I could finish Vivat Regina when it got impossibly difficult, and means I can find inspiration even when it’s not apparent.
What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to sing. I have something of a dream of sounding like the vocal love child of Etta Fitzgerald and Tom Waits but unfortunately my voice is impossibly flat and I’m pretty embarrassed by it. That said, I hope I can find the time to learn some day.
What are some of your favorite fairy tales or folklore stories? Why those stories?
That’s a tricky one; there are so many! But I really love The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm. It’s about siblings, and the love they share. The main character risks everything for the love of her brothers. There’s a powerful story in there that I’d like to write a retelling of some day. The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde is so thoroughly heartbreaking, it’s stayed with me ever since I first read it as a child. I love Hans Christian Anderson and the Steadfast Tin Soldier is my absolute favourite of his.
How did folklore inspire Vivat Regina?
It’s a book about faeries. But more inspired by the old fae than by modern fairy tales. It’s particularly about the idea of the fae being beautiful and unknowable but not exactly evil. The reason the faerie queen in the story is so poisonous is because she introduces very human evil and malice to the fae. I especially love the idea of the faerie court, and it being like an exaggerated almost-mockery of the human equivalent.
As for direct references? I’ve included stolen children and humans lead into fae lands and the ritual of faeries. Everything has its way and its place and this faerie queen upsets all of that order.
If you were in need of comforting, what would be the best thing that someone could do for you?
Cuddles and a trashy crime drama, the cornier the better. I’m a big fan of a good hot beverages (tea, coffee or hot chocolate, I’m not fussy) and sweet and salted popcorn.
What are your top 3 book recommendations for everyone to read?
Oh that’s really tough! I recommend different books to different people, depending on that I think they’ll like. But, I would say the Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. (Also the Lord of the Rings, but that’s not one I tend to recommend because it can be a bit of a hard slog. Definitely worth it if you have the patience though, it’s my all-time favourite)
What authors are auto-buys for you?
NK Jemisin (I haven’t read all her books, but I do own them all), Talia Hibbert and Katrina Jackson are two of the best romance writers working right now. Other than that? I tend to take books as they come, especially since I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like to.
If you could teach everyone in the world one thing, what would it be?
How to listen. Not everything needs to be heard – fascism is a no from me – but I think if everyone in the world could really listen to and try to understand one another, we’d be in a much better position. That being said, I’d focus my energies on those in power and try to teach them to listen to the most marginalised people in our communities. It wouldn’t automatically fix all the world’s problems, but powerful people ignoring the needs of the people they exploit is a pretty big problem.
If you had a burger named after you, what kind of burger would it be, and what would you want to be on it?
It’d be a beef burger, served on a seeded malt bun. It’d have spinach, rocket, tomato, pickles good sharp melted cheddar and a little chilli sauce and garlic mayo.
Do you have a favorite poem in Vivat Regina?
Probably His Lady of the Cherry Blossoms. It was by far the hardest poem in the collection to write and writing it hurt but it’s a riff on La Belle Dame Sans Merci which is a poem I absolutely adore. I have a dream of turning it into an animation because I had a very strong image in my head before I started writing it which is unusual because I generally feel my way through poems, letting it take shape as I write.