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PoetrySnaps! Claudia Putnam: Baba Yaga

Courtesy Claudia Putnam

In this week's installment of KNAU's series PoetrySnaps! Colorado-based writer Claudia Putnam shares her poem Baba Yaga. In it, Putnam twists the idea of the forest witch, concentrating not on scary mythology, but on independence and connection with nature. The poem was inspired by a lone woman Putnam used to come across in the deep woods of El Dora, Colorado.

Claudia Putnam:

She lived to the west up in a mining claim in an old mining shack. I’d run across her pulling her sled full of supplies to get through the winter way up high with no running water in the middle of this wind.

She was always someone I just had this picture of: This is what could happen, this is what you could do if everybody leaves you, if life doesn’t work out in the more standard way. And also part of me was longing for that silence that was loud with nature and not needing to answer to anybody. So, that image of her…you know, kind of twisting that idea of the witch into someone who could be an inspiration.

Many people are familiar with the mythology of Baba Yaga who was an eastern European forest witch who lived in a crooked hut on chicken legs that would turn around.

Baba Yaga

Just get as wise as you can, the writer advises,
watching me with my son. Having raised five

children and one husband, all flown, she knows.
She lives beyond where the snow plows go,

on nuts and berries, in a crooked hut in the woods.
In winter she pulls her sled behind snowshoes,

hauling food for the duration. She leans into the wind. You would
have to know our wind. Ninety miles per hour

off the Divide, it bangs on her windows, rattles her doors.
I guess she howls at the moon, running on all fours,

some nights. Her family drove her crazy, then left.
Crazy Jane, she’s called. It’s true her hair’s a mess.

One day she will leave her cabin, and the wind
will move in. One day I will have a cabin, on a thin

trail that whispers to the ridge. I’ll bury roots
in the ground, learn to bake bread in a woodstove,

stockpile cans in tiers. I’ll share my berries
with the bears. I’ll tame the moon, but my hair

will be a wind-torn bramble, a lightning-laced
maze. In public you won’t know me. But if you brave

the weather, there will be cookies and tea. I can’t
help the stories they’ll tell. Just get as wise as you can.

About the poet:

Claudia Putnam is based in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley. She's written for dozens of literary magazines and received major fellowships in support of her work. Putnam's debut poetry collection, The Land of Stone and River, won the Moon City Press Poetry Prize. She is also a craniosacral therapist.

About the host:

Steven Law is a poet, journalist and educator based in Page, Arizona. He is the author of a collection of poems called Polished.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.