National Poetry Month: Kendra Preston Leonard

Kendra Leonard is a poet I met through Writespace, a Houston-based Creative Writing organization. She and I are both on the faculty, and I’ve really enjoyed her workshops I’ve taken. She recently had a new book come out from Unsolicited Press, entitled Protectress, about Medusa. Kendra works a lot with mythology. I hope you enjoy this fabulous excerpt from her new book and then go get a copy for yourself.

Here’s a teaser about the book:

Protectress places the mythical gorgons in the modern world, where Athena, pumped up by all of the people who blame women for being raped, who slut-shame women who wear and do what they want, and who think that men are always right, is trying to drive Medusa to suicide. Medusa, you ask. Isn’t she dead? She and her sisters managed to fool Perseus, but now Medusa’s happy life as a college professor is upended by Athena’s new negative energy, and the gorgons host a party of goddesses, nymphs, and others from myth to try to figure out how to bring Athena around to a more compassionate stance. Protectress is about rape culture, about the concept of the “heroic,” about solidarity, and about collaboration. It’s also got sea monsters, a dragon, several wars, lots of good dogs, and magic.


Wide-ranging across the sea,
Medusa becomes
her own war goddess.
Terrors spread, whispered
cloak to cloak
and shield to shield
speaking of Constantine’s
dark-robed sorcerer
who casts but a glance
and turns a regiment of men
into a landslide.

Efficient, Medusa’s ally
sends enemies to quarry stone
from her newly-made victims.
For her, he not only looks away,
but positively blinds himself
to her other activities.

She rids his armies of vermin:

It is she who directs the architects
and laborers,
hauling stone veined with
the blood of the Emperor’s
to construct his
bathhouses, celebratory arches,
his arenas, his secret tomb.
Medusa feels sated
when the Emperor dies.
His gods are nebulous, despite
propaganda. They are weak and infantile;
the Greek gods are worn down to translucency:
people begin to believe in natural phenomena
instead of irate bullies on a mythical

Medusa travels to the Dalmatian coast,
where she takes up residence in Diocletian’s
old palace, already falling into disrepair.
She destroys his Temple of Jupiter,
chases out squatters and dogs.
There she lives by the Sea-Gate.
on the southern side of the palace.

She can watch the sea or slip away
into or on it
as she likes.

The daughter of sea-gods,
Medusa finds that the slender
minions of her scalp are amphibious
and give to her this gift as well.
She dozes in the water, sleeps in tidal pools,
lazily chases fish.

She swims in and out of the Sea-Gate,
walks the decumanus across the vast
fortress day and night
dipping into temples and sanctuaries
to laugh at the godsand steal the offerings left to them.

Restless, she takes lovers,
keeping her eyes bound
learning muscles and tendons by touch,
nerves and organs and gristle.
She reclines on the palace’s dark sphinxes
back to back
with their immoveable solemnity
as men and women and others
all touch and lap and let hands and tongues snake
in and on and around her,
never looking above her breasts.

Medusa’s lovers, servants, followers
swap bodies, change clothes.
The Empire falls, the palace crumbles.
She spends more time in the sea,
though it grows colder
and the sky heavier and darker.
She swims the width of the sea,
the length of an ocean.
In her sojourns on land, she sees movement:
people everywhere in bands small and large,
escaping one thing to embrace another,
escaping one thing to find only more of the same.


Protectress is a hybrid poetry-prose novella offering a risky take on the legend of Medusa. With stunning economy of words and a delicate hand, Protectress provokes us to think about the feminist identity and the power of compassion. Readers who fell deeply for Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Madeleine Miller’s Circe, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Maria Dahvana Headley’s translation of Beowulf, and Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth will find themselves enamoured with Protectress.


Kendra Preston Leonard is a poet, lyricist, and librettist whose work is inspired by history, language, and the mythopoeic. Her first chapbook, Making Mythology, was published in 2020 by Louisiana Literature Press, and her novella in verse, Protectress, offering a modern take on the myth of Medusa, was published in 2022 by Unsolicited Press. She has taught poetry workshops for Writespace Houston and is a frequent guest teacher at universities. Leonard is a frequent collaborator with composers and other musicians, as well as a scholar. Follow her at @K_Leonard_PhD.


Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 16: B.J. Buckley

This is another poem that I first read while judging last year’s Poetry Super Highway contest. It’s a marvelous example of a myth poem, or a poem which performs ekphrasis in response to a story or character from mythology. Diana the Hunter shows up in a few places in modern literature; possibly my favorite reference to her is Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy which begins with A Discovery of Witches.

I love the character of Diana the Hunter and the way Buckley characterizes her here: agencied, powerful, unapologetic, vivid and unafraid and embracing. She has the same verve as Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who howls of Claudio, “O God, that I were a man! I / would eat his heart in the marketplace.”

But Diana isn’t filled with heartbroken sorrow for her cousin’s unfair misfortune and its resulting vengeful fury.

Buckley’s Diana knows from an early age the full scope of life and death and her place in that cycle, and she operates within it with extraordinary clarity and confidence.

Diana in Autumn

I am not afraid to say I live by blood.
Before that red flow gushed
from my own belly
I was a swimmer elbow-deep
in the carcasses of deer,
I ripped breath’s tunnel
from a slit throat,
used all my strength
against the weight
of a stomach full of grass
and alder shoots.
I held a heart, still beating,
in my hand,
took with soft lips
from the blade of my father’s knife
that slice of liver, hot and raw,
my first communion.
Before my breasts bloomed
I had burned bodies,
torn flesh from bones,
howled the mad wild joy of it.
Eden is closed,
and I in every ruddy leaf
am Fallen.
I love the incense of decay,
the deer,
this dust we are
and were and will be,
the arrow singing slaughter
in my hand.


B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools/Communities programs throughout the West and Midwest for over 45 years in schools, libraries, hospitals, senior centers and homeless shelters. Her work has appeared in Whitefish Review, ellipsis, Sugar House Review, December, Sequestrum, About Place Journal, The Comstock Poetry Review, and many others. Her most recent book is Corvidae, Poems of Ravens, Crows, and Magpies, with woodcut illustrations by Dawn Senior-Trask, Lummox Press 2014.

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake

Lately I’ve been exploring myth poetry and fairy tale poetry with my Creative Writing students. These are ekphrastic forms, responding in some way to some other art that has gone before –– in these cases, the art being cultural and literary. It’s amazing stuff, and I love it, and they seem to as well. In fact, every year I teach these, the myth poems and fairy tales poems my students write are sometimes their best work to date.

So I recently came across this myth poem, which offers the reader such a smooth transition from dreamlike story to gut punch. If you enjoyed Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poem last week, even though this poem by Sarah Blake is stylistically different, my guess is you’ll dig on this one, too.


Aphrodite’s Dreaming

A shark bites my hip
and I watch the blood
curl out into the sea.

Poseidon pushes him
away and runs his hand
over the teethmarks, each
a little frown.

He’s having me
for tea, and everyone
is naked. He says, That’s
how fish are. Don’t be so

embarrassed. But that’s
not the right word.
I stir my tea with his
trident. I stir my tea

with his crown. I stir
my tea to forget
how he touches me,
knowing soon I’ll wake.


Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son.

Featured Poet: Cindy Clayton

Tonight’s poem is from another not-a-poet-for-her-day-job, Cindy Clayton. She is a good friend of mine, and she always loves to participate in whatever call for poetry I have her on my blog, and I love it when she does, because her poems are so much fun. I especially like the way her poem just strolls around, all natural-like, and then — bazinga! — really gets you at the end.




What I learned from mythology:


Never direct insults at those with terrible powers
and vengeful natures.


If you wish to be deathless,
you must also wish to be ageless.


Lie low, pretty young women,
lest someone from the pantheon claim you
and proceed with all manner of indignities.


If you need to do something that’s impossible,
get a god to sponsor your endeavor
and you may just have a chance.


No defensive mechanism exists which can’t be beaten
with a little ingenuity.


Should you happen to spot a goddess in the altogether,
turn quickly away
and just keep walking.


Metamorphosis is forever, so think twice—
unless you’re a god,
in which case the sky’s the limit.


But usually, a simple disguise will serve
when you’re in a tight spot.


And if your story is utterly tragic, or impressively heroic,
or you manage to please the right deity,


You could end up among the stars.