Tradition knows many Arachnes, each distinct but related. There is the Lydian, perhaps the best known thanks to Ovid’s masterful treatment of her story in Metamorphoses. But there was also the Athenian whom Theophilos gives a twin brother. In Nikander’s Beasts there is an Arachne born of Titan’s blood. In Pausanias she’s Makedonian. Nonnos records double Arachnes, one a Persian, the other a Babylonian. Pliny thinks her Southern Italian or Etruscan, and gives her a son. Shakespeare knew a Cretan Arachne, syncretized with Ariadne. All suffered tremendously.
I’ve explored many of these in previous books, except the Persian. That face only began to emerge over the last year or so and on some level it’s changed my whole relationship with her.
Catharsis is my attempt at making sense of this period of my life, crazy as it has been. A lot of the poems are thinly fictionalized treatments of my experiences – some more thinly than others. I do not tell all of the story – hers or mine – overtly. There is a lot of inference, allusion and juxtaposition. Pay attention not just to the poems in which Arachne appears, but also the ones that precede and follow, as they may continue or contain echoes of the narrative, particularly the more difficult parts. That’s true of mine as well, except it’s complicated as my story is dispersed through several different characters – various pseudonyms I’ve adopted over the years, mostly – and by the fact that a lot of the first person poems aren’t in my voice or intended to represent my views. And I don’t always make it clear which is which.
I think this will be my most confusing book; it is also my clearest expression of what this madness is like from the inside.
And that, perhaps, can be reduced to just one poem:
Running and running
through the endless, winding maze
sense of self unraveling like a ball of string
tossed from a pale, cold, lovely hand
as shadows of the past
and all the could-have-beens lurk
in those dark corridors, waiting for you,
more monstrous than the hosts of hell,
and always, behind you, the thunderclap
of pursuing hooves on the flagstones,
and the warm breath of the bull
of fire and fury on your neck;
when you stop, he stops
and when you run, he runs
like puppets whose cords are all tangled up,
like mirror images of one another.
Also, something that really weirded me out? I spent the last couple weeks working on the book under a general media and news blackout. The Persian, Mithraic, Zoroastrian thread that developed would have been peculiar enough – but when I resurfaced I discovered that we’re this close to war with Iran. Considering the general theme of the book is apocalypse … not exactly a comforting sign.