Rebecca Starkey’s response film to Alchemy For Cells & Other Beasts, feat. “Little Spell for Diagnostics,” read by the author, and art by Carrie DeBacker

Above: Short interview with Isabella Hampton as part of the Unamuno Author Series in Madrid


PICTURES OF POETS--images and readings from the author at Dean Davis’s photography site

Maya reads from Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts on Soundcloud.


from Small Press Distribution:

“ALCHEMY FOR CELLS & OTHER BEASTS is a journey at turns mystical and frightening, guilt-inducing and comforting, muddling humanity’s oppressive force with its animal instincts, all without being self-righteous or accusatory. We exist, it seems to say, and we have an impact. And what that is can be beautiful or frightening — it’s up to us.”

-Trisha Low (read Trisha’s mini-review here)

from High Desert Journal:

“Zeller’s poems draw out elation, and a craving for the next line. Delightfully weird, her words carry a certain distinctness: sharp, wild, and unashamed, often taking on the vulnerability of the body, particularly that of the woman or the child. These poems are gritty, piercing, frightening, and finally, as if it must be noted, utterly beautiful. This is a book for meditation, for “when you’re off in your mind field.” Zeller also contemplates identity, purpose, and image, as her poems are paired alongside artist Carrie DeBacker’s demanding, shape-shifting watercolors that accompany nearly every page.”

-Tor Strand (read full review here)

from Tupelo Quarterly:

“What the poetry strives to bring about, whether through the magic of words or the evocative nature of the watercolors, is a kind of transmutation. Jewell Zeller and DeBecker teach us how our thoughts and experiences can transform not just our world, but our very psyche, cultivating a consciousness that holds no divide, a mind that is border and transgression, moving elegantly between states of being.”

-Daniel Casey (read the full review here)

from EcoTheo Review:

“How open this book is: permeable, inviting. “I said, sure, America, come on in,” Zeller’s narrator offers at the end of the book’s first poem, “Upon Finding Out They Were Wrong, the Scientists Had a Good Long Chuckle.” The poems and paintings open to the wide world of beings and things – paper airplanes, pomegranates, roller derbies – as well as to the wide emotional and spiritual realms within each of us, with a radical even-handedness. Zeller and DeBacker invite us to consider how things might look, might feel, were we to recognize how deeply we are connected: with each other, with milkweed, finches, history.”

-Kasey Jueds (read the full review here)

from Bellingham Review:

“Zeller’s collection blends the languages of science, politics, and metaphor, as in “little spell with chest x-ray” in which she writes,

“Sweet girl made of dust & water / please
leave jewelry at home / wear open, loose
clothing / this will not hurt a bit”

This medical direction, which goes on to describe the “ionizing radiation” the patient will experience along with another assurance that “you will not feel it at all” merges with the natural, as the poem uses metaphor to link the cold of the medical table to the ocean floor, and the atoms of the body to “a blossom opening / on a beach / on a very warm planet.” These metaphorical connections between the sterile medicalization of women’s bodies and the natural world create a powerful dissonance that leaves the reader with traces of melancholy. The doctor’s instructions and reassurances that there will be no pain evoke a history of women being discounted by the medical profession, their pain ignored, their symptoms reduced to fantasy, and their voices silenced by doctors who are always sure that they know best.”

-Michelle Runyan (read the full review here)

Praise for RUST FISH:

In Zeller’s first book, Rust Fish, a young woman has a conversation with the succulent natural world. They speak of the endless summers of youth, the sober winters of the Pacific Northwest, the violence of children, and the benign neglect that nature offers even its acolytes. Throughout the book, fish are this speaker’s consorts. Fish, both real and imagined, stream through these poems, past the various totems of working class poverty to the inevitable sea. Zeller asks many big questions in quiet, sly ways in this wonder-full book. How can a person live in such a gorgeous and difficult world? How can the sensual redeem us? Which is the bruise that heals? Which is the one that stays?

—Connie Voisine, author of Cathedral of the North

Maya Zeller’s American Northwest is a land of verdant sensuality, insistent yet fragile and intimate as it was in the eyes of Roethke, storied in mossy and weathered details, human ruin and hard won grace as it was in the heart of Kesey. With extraordinary veracity and empathy she inhabits the body and emerging consciousness of a girl and young woman alive to the lives around her. There are poetry books with the power to move poets, fewer poetry books with the power to move lovers of literature, and those rare poetry books with the power to move just about anyone else. Rust Fish is all three.

—Jonathan Johnson, author of Hannah and the Mountain: Notes Toward a Wilderness Fatherhood and Mastodon, 80% Complete

In the small room of the self, the imaginative child looks out, wishing up the world. Visitors—beetles, “each back opening and closing on itself,” smelt, flood plain, river, even the “rust fish,” bronze statues, now rusted, of salmon in the public place—transform her and are transformed in her presence. The imagination, however, does not trade in illusion. Locals like herself know the “sea smell” the tourists come for is really the rotting corpse of a seal, know the red room she has been locked in is not a dream. In this book of poems infused with magic cadences, Maya Zeller spells the damaged world into sparkle again.

—Melissa Kwasny, author of Thistle and Reading Novalis in Montana

Reviews of Rust Fish:

“Fish, whether of flesh or of metal, whether swimming or rusting, are never far from the heart of these poems. The acceptance and instruction of the natural world portends and finally fulfills the acceptance of self as a part of it, providing a bridge to the bewildering world of our own species.”–Debrah Lechner, Hayden’s Ferry Review (read the full review here).

Read a review by Shannon Wagner of Ploughshares at their blog.

Read a short review by poet Shira Richman at Bark

Check out this blog about Rust Fish by fiction writer Christine Nicolai: onmyhonoriwilltry

Read a review of  Rust Fish by Knockout Literary Magazine editor Brett Ortler at Bark

Nonfiction writer Ana Maria Spagna recommends Rust Fish on her blog.

Interviews & Conversations:

“Though I’ve always been interested in surrealism and disruption, I still think “Rust Fish” (2011) has more of a traditional narrative arc and contemporary-traditional-looking poems. I used to describe my work as lyric narrative with some surrealist influence. I still write in a variety of styles (and I love them all), but the poems in “Alchemy” in particular, partially because of the interdisciplinary influence, play with space and line and syntactical disruption and fragment in ways that a lot of other contemporary poets are also playing – this deconstructivist approach resulting, I think many of us would say, from a fractured political and social climate, and from the sense of disorder and stress that so many of us feel.” –on aesthetic evolution, in an interview with Carolyn Lamberson, Spokesman-Review feature/interview about Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts

“I’m not sure I could do a bee dance—you know, how they return to the hive and dance out directions on where to find the pollen/flowers—but if I could, this book would be it.” –on Yesterday, the Bees (Read the full interview at Speaking of Marvels)

“The speaker in [Yesterday, the Bees], who is largely informed by my own autobiographical arc, thinks a lot about the ways that birth is a natural process, children are natural outcomes, but we are still an invasive species. It navigates that with naturalized plants. The plants are these nonhuman things in this natural world that collide and offer something to that world that I can’t. I can’t pollinate. I can’t assist a bee in bringing that  . . .  back to its hive.” (Read the full conversation at the Bellingham Review blog)

“I feel about rivers something like the way the philosopher Heraclitus did: that the river is able to exist, to be (the way a poem must “be”), because the water in that river keeps changing. ” (Read the full interview at Pank)

“I often work in verse forms, and prose allows a different sort of letting out and reigning in. I like to move back and forth between genres. Right now, I’m interested in medical intervention in birth, especially for mothers who plan otherwise, and prose forms are serving that dialogue well.” (Read more of this January 2016 Contributor Spotlight for the Bellingham Review (a mini-interview): here).

Read a conversation on landscape’s role in poetry between Maya and poet Laura Read at

. . . Other Ephemera . . .

Maya Reads Poetry on Spokane Public Radio

Jorge Vessel discusses translation, including Maya’s poem “There Are Two Kinds of People in This World,” on Asymptote

Interview on Montana Public Radio, on This is the Place: Women Writing About Home

Feature about Maya and her work in the Friends of the Little Spokane River Valley newsletter


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