“This time, I teach myself how to say gimme
This time, I am fluent in
You can’t have”
from "Lessons in Development from a Butterfly"
What does it mean to move away from the shadow of one’s mother, parents, or family in order to come into being within this world? As collective memory within the Black diaspora has been ruptured, GHETTOCLAUSTROPHOBIA time travels by creating and recapturing memory from a fractured past to survive in the present and envision a future. In her first full-length collection GHETTOCLAUSTROPHOBIA: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues, Shanta Lee Gander navigates between formal and vernacular styles to introduce the reader to a myriad of subjects such as scientific facts that link butterflies to female sexuality and vulnerability; whispers of classical Greek myth; H.P. Lovecraft’s fantastical creature, Cthulhu; and the traces of African mythmaking and telling. Beneath the intensity, longing, seeking, wondering, and the ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ voice that sometimes tussles with sadness, there is a movement of sass and a will that refuses to say that it has been broken. Gander leaves a door ajar in this ongoing conversation of the Black female body that walks the spaces of the individual within a collective; the tensions between inherited and hidden narratives; and the present within a history and future that is still being imagined.
From the Author, Shanta Lee Gander
Below, Shanta Lee Gander discusses her wide range of aesthetic and conceptual inspirations that inform her work—sources such as Toni Morrison's Southern Gothic literature, Kara Walker's silhouetted scenes, and Polish horror film.
I walk between the work of the living and those who are no longer here. There are whole genres that engage me, from my love of various holy books to anything from anywhere in the world if it involves myths or fairy tales. In terms of specifics, my top favorites include Toni Morrison and William Faulkner, especially in terms of the Southern Gothic aesthetic. I love the mystery within the lines of Emily Dickinson’s work and the spirit of the romantic poets resonates with me. There is an endless list, especially the artists in history who went against what was expected of them, or decided to take juicy risks in all mediums/genres of creativity. I have a special love for the individuals who just went there in terms of their personal struggles, demons, and how they expressed these tensions within their work. I am thinking of artists like Frida Kahlo and the painter Francis Bacon. In terms of sheer poetic range, especially within the realm of dramatic monologue and the pushing of boundaries, Ai is it for me.
Among the living, there are so many individuals who inspire my work. Rita Dove is one, specifically her 1996 collection, Mother Love, which brings the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter into our modern world. Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés continues to feed my constant thirst, hunger, and admiration of how myths connect to the deepest part of ourselves. The British-Guyanese writer and poet Fred D’Aguiar has such a range. I most appreciate D’Aguiar’s approach to history, race, and insights in terms of how he translates all of these things into his writing in fresh and interesting ways.
Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems twisted my brain in so many good ways. Lewis had an approach to this collection that involved deep research and following the thread of the figure of Black women going back thousands of years. Both the book and the talks that she has given on her approach are highly suggested artistic food. Speaking of artistic food, I admire the approach and work of scholar, performance artist, and poet Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. There are so many levels and layers that Kosoko breaks open in terms of navigating familial trauma, interrogating social stereotypes of the Black male body while also leveraging so much ancestral material to re-imagine the future within his work.
I am highly visual in terms of what influences me, so I also can be found consuming just about anything that feeds my curiosity and creativity. I am endlessly in love with the work of Kara Walker. Last year, I’ve enjoyed some of the exhibitions in New York like the “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today” at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, and the MET’S “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Seeing those, or any really good exhibitions, alongside of travel are key pieces to my creative drive.
In terms of film, some of my favorites include anything by Luis Buñuel, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, all the way to things that are just downright disturbing like Welcome to Mercy by Tommy Bertelsen, or Marcin Wrona’s Demon. I also dig sci-fi especially if it is done well. Westworld is my jam, and while I can’t claim to be a Whovian, I do have my favorite doctors (numbers 10 and 11 if you need to know).
At other times, what feeds my work—either ideas, writing, or photography—comes from some of my favorite podcasts like LORE and Unexplained Mysteries alongside my intense curiosity. As someone who loves—and I do mean love—abandoned places, I am taken with the people, places, and things that inspire us to keep asking questions or that require us to find new ways to see.
If this list seems all over the place, it isn’t. All these individuals and inspirations—movies, exhibitions, podcasts, etc.—encourage storytelling or diving beneath the surface of our human experience. Alongside the importance of the technique of a tight line or piece of prose is the ability of the work to ask enduring questions of its creator and all of those who engage with it. In many ways, everything I listed journeys beneath the surface in some way. They stretch beyond what is merely existing and comfortable.
Shanta Lee Gander is an artist and multi-faceted professional. Her endeavors include writing and photography with work that has been featured in PRISM, ITERANT Literary Magazine, Palette Poetry, BLAVITY, DAME Magazine, The Crisis Magazine, Rebelle Society, on the Ms. Magazine Blog, and on a former radio segment Ponder This. Shanta Lee’s photojournalism has been featured on Vermont Public Radio (VPR.org) and her investigative reporting has been in The Commons weekly newspaper covering Windham County, VT. Shanta Lee is the 2020 recipient of the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts and 2020. Her contributing work on an investigative journalism piece for The Commons received a New England Newspaper & Press Association (NENPA) 2019 award. Shanta Lee gives lectures on the life of Lucy Terry Prince, considered the first known African-American poet in English literature, as a member of the Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau and is the 2020 gubernatorial appointee to their board of directors.
Shanta Lee is an MFA candidate in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College. To see more of Shanta Lee’s work, visit Shantaleegander.com.