amwriting, anxiety, domestic violence, domestic violence aftermath, domestic violence awareness, new poems, new publications, poetry, prose poetry, safe spaces, self-care, taking risks, writing about aftermath
June 15, 2015, was the year anniversary of my escape from domestic violence.
In May of that year, I decided to take on a self-imposed poem-a-day challenge in June, to distract myself from the mental replay of all the little anniversaries leading up to that big one on the 15th. I could twist it and say I was celebrating my escape by writing a poem a day in my anniversary month, but lying isn’t my bag. I was distracting myself. I was trying to transform anxiety into productivity. I was trying to feel like myself again.
I did manage to write one poem every single day in June 2015. Out of those 30 poems, I really liked 20 of them and decided to work on them, try to make a chapbook out of them. Despite some of my best efforts to write on topics other than DV, that’s what the poems are primarily about. The heart-pen has a heart-mind of its own.
I’ve spent the last year plus revising those 20 poems. I had help (TD, RC, and SC, I feel tremendous gratitude for the time you spent reading and commenting on my drafts). The result is a chapbook called Dear Hollow. The poems concern the immediate aftermath of escaping DV, centering on feelings of disconnection and lamenting a loss of ability to relate to others. It wasn’t the graphic violence of my experiences that I wanted to capture; it was the almost surreal feeling of loneliness, flashbacks, and hard looks in the mirror from a place where people believed I should have felt safe. That things should have been easier–I should have been happier–because hey, at least no one was screaming at me or knocking me around anymore. If my chapbook had a tagline, it would be, I thought things were supposed to get better? Or maybe it’s Dickinson: This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me…
On July 1, the editors of Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine gave me my first publication out of this chapbook–a poem called “The hunting cabin.”
On Aug. 5, Shawna Ayoub Ainslie published three more of them on The Honeyed Quill.
My anxiety is through the roof; but so is, again, my gratitude. I am still a writer and I still want to reach people, even when–especially when?–it feels like I no longer have the ability to do so.
I want to talk about safe spaces, because that term gets kicked around a lot in publishing. Shawna, besides being a great writer, is an incredibly thoughtful editor. I regularly have to work through being anxious about any public share of this aspect of my existence. That’s a brand new feeling for me. Up until a few years ago, I was fearless with regard to writing and publishing work about my childhood and adolescent experiences. (I stand by that version of me. And the adolescent me. And the child me. Self-love.) When I finished something, I wanted to publish it immediately. I was thoughtful about where I sent my work, but the concept of being “thoughtful about submissions”–well, let’s just say I’ve leveled way up.
The Honeyed Quill tagline is Survive your story. I know Shawna, if only in a digital sense, and felt like hers might be a fitting and safe space to publish this particular set of poems. She was warm and encouraging and accepted them within a day.
I want everyone to know how strange it is to have spent more than a decade developing a tough skin about rejections while wearing my exuberant heart on my sleeve about the occasional acceptance, and now feeling the reverse. I am frequently relieved when my writing is rejected, and stressed the hell OUT when something gets accepted.
I’m trying to embrace that feeling, because I think it means I’m taking risks. And if you aren’t taking risks in art, why are you making it, why do you want people to read you, and what exactly do you think art is?
Safe spaces. What does that mean? Probably something different to everyone. Here’s what it means to me, now: Shawna accepted my poems and told me she’d do whatever she could to make me feel safe through the process of publishing them. She gave me a choice of images to run with my poems (i.e., she let me control ALL the imagery). She gave me admin access to THQ so I could edit or add a note to my work at any time, before and after it went live, without having to go through her first. She told me I could even remove my work if I felt unsafe or too exposed. She is treating me like the work is mine, not hers. Like it’s part of my body, which it is.
I wrote to her: I don’t know of any other editors who allow their authors admin access and the right to pull or edit work immediately if the author feels the need (at least not on a submit-and-publish model). That is the true definition of a safe space. Agency. Control. I imagine it’s tricky to be able to offer that because you’re also giving access to EVERYTHING published on your site–so there is a mutual trust there. It’s refreshing, kind of amazing. Thank you, times a million.
She replied: If we can’t have mutual trust, I shouldn’t be publishing your sensitive work. Thank you for extending that trust to me.
Editors, if you’re claiming to offer a safe space to your writers, the bar has just been raised.
I’ve been writing and sharing a good bit about myself lately. I’m conscious of that fact, and self-conscious about it, too. Maybe the word is conscientious. I want to look out as much as in and listen as much as I speak, hence last week’s call for guests posts and links to writing on DV. I’ve gotten some back channel response, but still want to hear from you in the comments on that post, where everyone can read. Share the best writing you’ve encountered on this topic and I will link to it on a permanent page that I’m creating here. If you want to guest post, I’m open to that as well.
So much of this is still new to me. So much of it I thought I’d already figured out, but it’s new again. I’m trying.