Eating the Goblin Fruit

Visiting Goblin Fruit, a quarterly webzine of fantastic poetry, is like stepping into that glen where the goblins cry out “come buy, come buy”. Each issue is splendidly illustrated by the talented Oliver Hunter and beautifully edited by Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick. From the very first page, we are lured by the delightful offerings of this fine magazine until, at the final poem, we are stuffed full of hearty words, images and ideas all culled from fairy tales, folklore and myth. It is their focus on fairy tales that interests us most here at Cabinet des Fées, but we are also curious about Goblin Fruit itself. Jess and Amal kindly agreed to talk with me about the creation of Goblin Fruit as well as poetry in the fantasy genre and, of course, fairy tales:

Erzebet: What first inspired you to create Goblin Fruit?

Amal: Mostly it was that we both knew what we liked and couldn’t get enough of it. Jess and I had been talking about doing a magazine together for years; we wanted a venue for the kinds of stories, poetry and art that we loved, something that would be made up entirely of those things. We’d both been sending our own work out for a couple of years by that point, and were slowly becoming familiar with which editors wanted what, and while many publications put out work we admired and enjoyed — Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, to name a few — none of them seemed to deliberately seek out our kind of aesthetic.

Jess: That’s right. We were inspired by disagreement. It seemed to us that editors mostly didn’t want what we wanted. We were pretty sure that if we wanted what we wanted, other people did too. Of course, what we wanted — and let’s be honest, still want — was to see more poetry that was to our taste triumphing over poetry that wasn’t. We were sick of hearing about how form poetry was a hard sell. We wanted to give other people who shared our taste a place to go, where they wouldn’t have to only really enjoy two out of seven poems.

Erzebet: Why fairy tales and why poetry?

Jess: We were inspired to make a poetry zine instead of a “poetry and fiction zine” or a “poetry, fiction and art” zine because we were obsessed with poetry at the time, but also because we thought it would be easiest to afford to put out a poetry zine on our meager salaries. There has been talk of T-Shirts to help with costs, but, uh, still no T-Shirts.

Amal: And mugs! Let’s not forget the mugs, awash with Oliver Hunter’s art! I’m convinced the mugs may yet happen.

We definitely wanted to put out a ‘zine that would pay contributors at least enough for it to register as a “sale,” even though our only means of paying would be out of pocket. We were determined not to have ads on the site either, nor to ask for donations until we’d established ourselves a little more, gained some street cred, as it were. We’d love for the ‘zine to be self-sustaining eventually, and to work our way up to paying contributors $10 a poem at least, but in the meantime we look at it as the cost of our own selfish, delicious indulgence.

As to why fairy tales and poetry — one of the things that brought Jess and me together as friends was a love of myth, folklore, fairy tales, and the artists who worked within those spheres. The ‘zine has probably swung the way it has, too, because of the name; once Jess lit on Goblin Fruit as a title everything fell into place. It spoke of everything we wanted people to send our way: the gorgeous language and rhythm of Rossetti’s Goblin Market, the whimsical and the forbidden, the magic and genuine, passionate feeling. That said, we don’t think of ourselves as purely a venue for fairy tale retellings; the reason we love fairy tales is because of the melange they present of the above.

Erzebet: You are very fortunate to have Oliver with you on Goblin Fruit. How did that happy union come about? And mugs! Yes, please.

Jess: We gave him some fruit, all silver-skinned, although it blushes when you breathe on it, with flesh that is both salty and sweet. Boy can’t get enough! Says he’ll die without it. So we say: Y’know, Ollie, another issue is coming up, and you *do* get this fruit only via Amal and me…

Amal: Hush, you! No one’s to know about the fruit!

Jess: But seriously, Oliver is one of the most actively creative people that I know — heck, probably one of the most actively creative people in the world. It’s like he’s always burning, always inspired, always working on shaping something from inspiration. I really do think he’s a magician sometimes. Way back in the beginning when we asked if we could periodically use some of his art for Goblin Fruit, the better to lure those readers in, he just threw himself into the project completely. I still have some random sketches he did of vaguely fantastical people holding onto fruit-balloons and biting, with these grotesque teeth, into fruit.

Amal: Fun fact: the first ever entrance graphic to Goblin Fruit, of the girl tucking into a supper of giant peach? It was drawn on a bus. We often want to sink our teeth into him, gobble his talent up to the pit.

Jess: As for how we know Ollie in the first place? That’s an altogether different story…

Amal: …which involves an Endicott spotlight on him, a mutual love of Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife, and Jess’ brazenness in sidling up to Australians in e-mail to talk about art. The rest is history.

Jess: Please do note that *I* am the shy one.

Amal: Uh-huh. And one of us always lies while the other one always tells the truth.

Erzebet: What did you expect when you first started Goblin Fruit in terms of how readers would respond?

Amal: Naturally, when we began, we had grand plans for world domination. Every one would read our carefully chosen poetry and be astonished by our skill in attracting talent to our ‘zine like the mysterious cuttlefish attracts its prey! Or something. No, actually, we often talked in speculation, saying “wouldn’t it be cool if we could get Terri Windling or Charles de Lint or Jane Yolen to read this? Or contribute to it? Or tell their friends about it?” We’re continuously astonished by how much kind, generous attention it has received, especially from the objects of our starry-eyed fangirling, and always humbled and grateful. And proud, of course; we manage the trick of being both humbled and proud pretty well.

Jess: That’s right. And we didn’t so much expect as hope very hard that other people would find Goblin Fruit and enjoy it. We truly didn’t know whether the word would spread, and if it did spread, to who. Other people like us, we hoped, but we weren’t certain about how to go about finding readers. Should we troll University English Departments with fliers? Should we put up notices at Would the SFPA agree to link to us? Mike Allen was a great help in pointing us toward places to pimp our ‘zine. He was also a great help in finding contributors for that very first issue. I really can’t emphasize enough how much of a help Mike was at the beginning. It’s very safe to say that if he hadn’t responded so quickly to my bored-between-classes e-mails that Goblin Fruit wouldn’t be around today. At least not in anything near its current incarnation. “Humbled and proud” — Amal’s got it in two.

Erzebet: Fairy tales seemed to have secured their place in the field of modern fantasy. Where do you see our beloved stories going from here? Do you think there will always be a place for fairy tales in the world of fiction?

Amal: I think fairy tales will always live in fiction, wearing their tattercoats and donkeyskins to slip into places they may not be wanted or expected. I don’t think the desire for magic and wonder ever really goes away in people; it can be put to sleep, sunk into the earth with the roses, but it finds its way out eventually to tug people a little farther away from the fields they know. So I think there’ll always be stories where innocence triumphs over adversity and wickedness is fittingly punished, stories where transformations are vital, and where the heroine never finds her way home.

Erzebet: Theodora Goss once said that “fantastic poetry exists at the margin of the margin”. Do you agree with this? Do you think poetry is making its way into the mainstream in the field of fantasy?

Jess: I agree. It’s easy to forget, when you’re surrounded by people who devour the same kind of words you do, that fantastical poetry (or “poetry of the fantastic” or “speculative poetry”, etc.) doesn’t mean anything to most people. It’s easy to forget that intelligent men and women disregard fantasy because they think that “hey, it’s not about real places, it just feels fake, so why should I be interested in those people?” I’ve had friends of mine give me similar lines; of course, these friends are also Neil Gaiman fans! I’ve had a very sharp lady, one who teaches honors English classes and has been doing so for upwards of twenty years, say of the Science Fiction & Fantasy section, “I hate these books. They’re all just such trash. I’d never let my students read anything like them.” And poetry, well — getting people to read poetry is even harder than getting people to read fantasy or science fiction. (Should I have said “mainstream people”?) So, no, I can’t see anything to argue with when Theodora says that fantastic poetry exists in the margins of the margins.

As for poetry sneaking into the fantasy mainstream? I don’t think so. I do think that poetry has a slightly more visible presence in the fantasy field these days, judging by the number of anthologies that choose to publish fantasy poetry as a sort of filler. I think that many writers in the fantasy field today are lovers of poetry and this is helping fantastical poetry be seen and heard. For instance, at WisCon I was made completely dizzyheaded and gleeful not just by the disease that struck so many down but also by (a) how well attended the poetry events were (b) how cool it was that one reading wound up including at least half as much poetry as fiction, although poetry wasn’t specifically on that reading’s agenda.

As a sort of unrealistic sidenote, I do think it would be cool if a fantastical poetry became so mainstream that Hollywood started pilfering from it. The movies might very well be terrible, but I’d appreciate the effort anyway — sort of the way I appreciated the effort behind Grimm Brothers. Imagine a JoSelle Vanderhooft, Catherynne Valente or Joshua Gage poem directed by Tarsem Singh or Guillermo del Torres or that director who did Dead Man with Johnny Depp. Hell yes.

Amal: Or Terry Gilliam! Yes!

I agree with Jess that my perspective on this question is skewed because I so actively seek out fantastic poetry, and lately it hasn’t become that difficult for me to find — which, naturally, is partly due to Goblin Fruit. I, too, know many people who shudder at the notion of poetry mixed into their fiction, who skip over the italicised lines in a novel with a roll of the eye, and who shun the Poetry section in a bookstore like their highschool English teachers are about to leap out from behind a shelf and club them with some late Wordsworth. But I also feel that those of us who love poetry, both the reading and the writing of it, are all trying to actively promote and legitimise it, to bring it into a more mainstream eye or ear. Neil Gaiman included a good number of poems in his Fragile Things collection, unbidden by his publisher, just because he wanted the poetry to get out there, to be seen; conversely, Catherynne Valente included prose pieces in her A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects, where one could argue that the prose pieces are, in fact, a guide to the poems in more than one sense of the word. Terri Windling and Midori Snyder would nestle a Sunday Poem on Endicott amid their regular fare of folklore and fantasy inspired art. I think that what needs to happen is happening, that poetry is slowly being drawn into the fold of things fantastical in an edgewise sort of way. I’m reminded of how my mother would get me to eat zuchini bread as a child by not telling me what was in it; all I tasted was delicious cake. I live in hope.

Erzebet: What is it that you look for when selecting poetry for Goblin Fruit? What is it about a piece that makes you say yes, we’ll have that one?

Amal: Astonishment, I think, and the many flavours it comes in: delight, aghastedness, a feeling in the gut that makes us want to read it again right away. There are many ways to bring that feeling about, of course; devastating language, a lilt of rhythm like a hook to the heart, an image so pure or startling that it sticks to the mind like a burr and won’t be brushed away. I’ll often find myself turning lines from the poems we’ve taken around and around in my mind, tap them out against railings and desktops, stone walls and tree trunks. The poems that Jess and I pounce on right away manage to bring the whole of that experience into us in some way or another, make us say yes and ohh and GAH and onomatopoeize further because all the words we’d want to use are now rendered into pale, watery things unsuited to their purpose.

Erzebet: Do you predict any changes for Goblin Fruit in the near future or do you intend to carry on as you are for the time being? What about this “mischief” coming soon on the website?

Jess: We have a few contest ideas we’re wanting to throw out there. As for Mischief, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. Heh, heh, heh.

Amal: We’d also love to put out an anthology — a sort of “best of” harvested from the last two years. We’re not quite there yet; one of the big changes coming up is that, once again, Jess, Ollie and I will be on different continents, since I’m moving to England this fall. Still, we like to think we’re getting proficient at juggling time zones, schedules and slim purses, so we’re hoping to keep the current submission / issue schedule unchanged for the foreseeable future.

You can keep an eye on the blog ( and LiveJournal community ( for more.

And, Mischief? What Mischief?