Stephanie M. Wytovich
Folklore and the Perfect Nightgown with Taisia Kitaiskaia
I first discovered Taisia Kitaiskaia when I read her book Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers. It completely opened my eyes to looking at witches through a different lens, and I started seeing writers like Octavia Butler, Sylvia Plath, and Flannery O’Connor in a new, exciting, and more magical light. It wasn’t long after that I picked up its companion piece, The Literary Witches Oracle, her Ask Baba Yaga series, which is an advice column where she takes on the persona of Baba Yaga—how cool, right?—and then finally, her poetry collection The Nightgown and Other Poems.
The cover alone is stunning, and I was immediately pulled in by the bright blue, boil-covered frog with the long pink tongue that ran through the title. It reminded me of myths I heard about as a kid like frogs were a witch’s familiar or if you kiss a frog, you’ll get a prince, or that touching a frog would give you warts similar to what you’d find on a witch’s face. Plus, the fact that the frog is blue also felt exciting and fantastical, kind of like it would be something found in wonderland, so the vibes that I got right off the bat with this book were enchanting and, in some ways, almost nostalgic, both of which I greatly appreciated.
The first poem in the collection is titled “The Folklore,” and it’s one I find myself revisiting often. In it, readers are swept into the world of myth, storytelling, and fairytales. Kitaiskaia shows us how our relationship with folklore changes and evolves as we go through life, and yet she does so in a way where she marries cycles to solstices, and daily rituals to the mundane. She ends the poem by giving readers a visceral, almost breathless image of folklore attaching itself to us and reshaping our identity, which becomes a theme throughout the collection as a whole. She writes: “When you, the folklore, fist swam towards me, / You grabbed my ankles, you heaved yourself/ Onto the banks, onto me. Dripping, we began.”
Some of my favorite pieces from this collection were: “Hour of Monks,” “The Nightgown,” “High Priestess,” and “Then Always the Sea.” While reading, I really enjoyed how Kitaiskaia tackled unconventional pairings, magical creatures, and surreal landscapes and actions, and if you’ve read Leonora Carrington, or looked at any of her artwork, there are some similarities between the two, which personally, I absolutely loved. Something else Kitaiskaia does is incorporate food and drink, which speaks to a lot of mythology (Hades and Persephone anymore?) and it felt at times domestic and otherworldly, like being summoned to a forbidden cottage for dinner…under the sea…where a fish and a sea horse are your host.
Overall, I can’t recommend this collection enough. It was such a fun journey to go on, and the spells and incantations that live within these poems are ones that I’ll certainly revisit many times throughout my life. It also got me to think about my relationship with the symbol of a nightgown, and how it’s something that we typically put on at night to sleep in and how we don’t really walk around in it in public or show it off to other people, and in a lot of ways, it makes me think about this second skin that we live in at night, how we become a different version of ourselves when the moon comes out and the stars are our compass. That identity we carry in darkness becomes a powerful statement about femininity, the shadow self, and even how we connect with the witch, the animal, and the weird.
So take this as your official invitation to light some candles, put on your nightgown, grab your best toad, and tuck in for the night. These poems will enchant you, bewitch you, and if you’re lucky, maybe even help you unravel the folklore that’s buried inside your tongue.