The majestic Anne Cecelia Holmes tagged me to answer some questions about my writing process. This is a hard act to follow, because Anne so eloquently talks about the shift to writing more frankly about sex and trauma in a way that encapsulates a lot of my own undercurrents and tides right now. Even so, here are some other answers about writing:
What are you working on?
Right now I’m juggling a few things, in a few genres, which is really a first for me. Beginning to work in non-fiction, or at least a lyric hybrid monster version of it, has been terrifying, new and excellent.
What connects these various things is an intense interest in female mysticism and sainthood. I am not religious, though raised nominally Methodist, but through this history found a way to access a nebulous of issues re: gender, embodiment, performativity, access and icon.
What this means in concrete terms: a series of essays about sexual trauma, witches, saints and nail polish; poems that try to get a grasp on the lyric I-You power dynamic and giving it bodies.
How do you think your work differs from others in its genre?
It’s taken me a few years to really come to a working definition of ‘my work,’ and, most succinctly, it’s talking to dead women. That’s my project, and, for better or worse, I’m a project writer.
There are many conversations about the roles and relationships of the academy to poetry to the extent that it’s almost self-parody at this point, but I think my work really comes from a place of tension between those two elements. Academia let me get away from home and a less than ideal family situation, and it took me a long time to see it without rose-tinted spectacles. Academia is far from utopian, especially for women, and though it offered me an escape route, it did not offer me the lines of inheritance I was looking for.
Writing in whatever genre takes this role for me: finding inheritance, filling in the gaps, talking to the woman erased or coloured mad or burned before me.
Why do you write what you do?
This is a question I’ve thought about a lot recently, prodded two main events. First, in a conversation about feminism, specifically mine, the question arose but what do you actually do? Taken aback as I was (it’s true that I don’t do a lot of on the ground activism), it led me to reconsider and redefine my writing. It is easy, I think, to forget that the act of voice is still a radical act for women, for non straight white males. So, in a sense I write because I can and that itself is a remarkable subversive gesture.
Secondly, a few weeks ago I was attempting to draft a response to the Poets on Growth anthology call that asks a very similar question (how did you come to write). I found this ridiculously hard, but eventually came up against the bedrock of the problem: that I didn’t always write, that I have had long periods of silence linked to sexual trauma. It sounds hyperbolic to say I write from that, or as a way to claim my body back from that event. It is true, but true on a fundamental level. It is the act of having a voice that is so monumental, it does not follow that in content I only follow these themes. Having a voice, that’s the light.
How does your writing process work?
It varies as much as I suppose everyone’s does, but mostly it requires research grunt work. Often it doesn’t come through in the work—for example my forthcoming book PLASTIC SONNETS is a “rewriting” of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese which came out of many readings both of the series, critical on the Victorian sonnet renaissance, and her life both with and without Robert Browning— but I don’t know if I actually utilize this stuff well. I think perhaps that’s just my comfort machination to get into writing. All this to say, I am not particularly original or predisposed to inspiration—I’m more of a miner.
For next week I’ve tagged these amazing poets:
Alexis Pope is the author of three chapbooks, most recently BONE MATTER (The Lettered Streets Press). Her work can be found in Guernica, Washington Square, Octopus, Forklift, Ohio, and Pinwheel, among others. Her first collection, SOFT THREAT, will be published by Coconut Books this fall. She lives & writes & cries in Brooklyn.
Carrie Lorig is the author of the chapbook NODS. (Magic Helicopter Press) and several collaborative chapbooks, including Labor Day (Forklift Books) with Nick Sturm and rootpoems (Radioactive Moat) with Russ Woods. A full length book, The Pulp vs. The Throne (Artifice Books), will be out in 2015.
Chris Emslie lives in Tuscaloosa, AL, where he is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. He is assistant editor at ILK journal, poet & unabashed Kesha apologist.