Arkana Editors were excited to chat with Editor’s Choice winner Linda Scheller and discuss her poetry, research, and process. Her piece, “The Coming of the Yamnaya,” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: Of all the historical cultures known for conquests, what inspired you to write about the brutal conquests and colonization efforts of the Yamnaya people?
Linda Scheller: I was inspired to write the poem after reading “The Skeleton Lake,” an article by Douglas Preston in the December 12, 2020 issue of The New Yorker. It described the Harvard geneticist David Reich’s genomic analysis of 270 ancient skeletons from the Iberian Peninsula. He concluded the incursion of Yamnaya nomads into Europe left a “genetic scar” because even now, “the Y chromosomes of almost all men of Western European ancestry have a high percentage of Yamnaya-derived genes, suggesting that violent conquest may have been widespread.” This finding corroborates Marija Gimbutas’s 1956 Kurgan hypothesis of continuous raids by the Yamnaya warriors who apparently killed the men they conquered and subjugated the women, creating a male-dominated warrior culture of sexual inequality and social stratification that supplanted the peaceful, goddess-worshipping society that she believed had existed previously. Gimbutas’s hypothesis had been largely discredited until this recent scientific finding.
Evidently, the coming of the Yamnaya was a terrible turning point for women in the European continent. As someone who is fascinated by history, I found this revelation profound and very moving. I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like for the women who saw their lives destroyed by this sudden, brutal conquest.
Ark: Have you written about other cultures like the Yamnaya? What significance do these historical events hold for you, four to five thousand years after their occurrence?
LS: I haven’t written about similar cultures, but that article brought to mind When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone, a book I read decades ago. I’m keenly interested in women’s history—and prehistory—and seek to understand how events, religions, traditions, politics, and cultural movements affect women’s lives.
Ark: What advice do you have for writers who seek to recall the narratives of historical events and peoples in their own works?
LS: Read as much as possible to garner knowledge and build understanding from different perspectives. For my book Fierce Light, a collection of persona poems based on my research into the lives and work of 36 historic women, I spent years reading biographies, articles, documents, and autobiographies. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about the women’s lives within the context of the times and places in which they lived.
Ark: What other topics and themes do you most enjoy exploring in your poetry?
LS: I enjoy writing about the natural world, its effect on humans, and our effect on nature. Also, I have a new book of poetry coming out from Main Street Rag Press, Wind and Children, that contemplates childhood poverty and violence from the perspective of an elementary school teacher.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
LS: I’m working to secure publication for a poetry manuscript called Black Forest which examines the effects of power, especially absolute power, on women. Fairy tales are the vehicle for much of this examination, and I experimented with form and voice in many of the poems. “The Coming of the Yamnaya” is part of this manuscript. Currently, I’m reading books about Joan of Arc, and soon I’ll start writing about this brilliant, courageous young woman. In addition, I’m seeking publication for two reviews I just finished writing on the poetry books Scale Model of a Country at Dawn by John Sibley Williams and The World That the Shooter Left Us by Cyrus Cassells. Writing reviews is time-consuming but rewarding because the effort of analysis helps me better understand what makes poetry effective in terms of craft, tone, sound, and presentation.
Ark: We wish you the best of luck and be sure to keep us updated! Thank you for sharing with us!
Read “The Coming of the Yamnaya” here!
Linda Scheller is the author of two poetry books, Fierce Light from FutureCycle Press and Wind and Children, forthcoming in 2022 from Main Street Rag Press. A widely published poet, playwright, and book reviewer, she is a founding board member of Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center. Her website is https://www.lindascheller.com/home-1.