CW: allusion to domestic violence
I published a chapbook that I have only just barely resisted branding with Dickinson: This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me…
Resisted because, melodrama much? And how perfectly, maddeningly apt that this is my reason because that self-conscious certainty that speaking up and from the wound will open me up to accusations that I’m seeking attention, creating drama, blah blah patriarchal nonsense is precisely the reason this chapbook almost wasn’t born.
Once upon a time, I was a wide-eyed poet with lots of formal education and idealism about the writing world, which I thought was the only world, and I thought it mattered so so much, was so precious and vital, and that I was going to be a huge part of it because I read and worked and wrote and helped other writers. I unpaid labor-ed my ass off for writing. I submitted my writing like a fiend. I wrote in bursts and rode that high of thinking everything I wrote was genius (it wasn’t) until it was time to edit (which I did ruthlessly and often). I wrote with journals and presses and editors in mind. I breathed poetry. I had zero fear of publishing my work, even the work that was personal and that other writers called me brave for sharing. I was starving for publications. And I garnered lots, created a blog, linked to everything I’d written, everywhere on the web, took every opportunity to self-promote or work or publish. I had momentum. I had tunnel vision and, if not confidence in my ability, then at least confidence in my ability to develop better abilities. I had time to write and a big blazing fire under me that came from pure ambition.
Then bad things happened to me and around me and writing was, surprise, suddenly not my live-or-die anymore. Staying alive was my live-or-die. A micro-preemie on then off then on then off then on a respirator. A matchstick farmhouse falling down around me in woods where falling farmhouses, falling trees, falling women don’t make a sound anyone can or wants to hear. A rifle leaning always always against an end table by a back door slammed off its hinges. What I thought was love.
Writing now, on the other side of all that, is…something else entirely. A privilege. An insistence on saving, resurrecting, a fundamental part of my identity, the part that wasn’t smothered on her birthday.
Publishing is deep-breath scary now. I look back on the overzealous submitter I used to be with a mixture of cringe and awe. Who did she think she was, insisting she had something to say? How can I get that fearlessness back?
I can’t and won’t and honestly shouldn’t. I’m glad I’m more thoughtful now about what I send out into the world and where I send it to. Like having my son, survival has made me a better, more patient and thoughtful person, more empathetic. I see and hear others now in a way I didn’t before, and I listen more, and try to hold space for the survival narratives all around me.
The writing world with which I was so enamored? It’s not always a safe place, either. I am very keenly aware of that. Bhanu Kapil on Twitter exactly one year ago yesterday: Patriarchy: the visceral knowledge that the violence inside the house is related to the violence outside it.
The poems in Dear Hollow are about aftermath. They are not about domestic violence, but about trying to be a person again after domestic violence. About what it’s like to do what everyone thinks you should have done a long time ago and then wondering why you feel less safe than before, and how it feels that no one gets that. About misconnecting, over and over, with nearly everyone around you, staggering around trying to be alive and ok.
I am not in that place anymore, but that place is very fucking real and in some ways scarier than the farmhouse. A place of hollowness. I had to write about it, to it. A small brag: I wrote every poem in this chapbook with the exception of two in June 2015, the month of my one-year escape anniversary. I made myself write every single day that June, just to get through the month. It was hard for a week, then less hard, and by the end of the month, I felt a little of my old self again, a little bit of spark and drive. That feeling of having to write about something, anything, is part of what helped me escape that hollow place–the second escape, the invisible escaping survivors do every minute of every hour of every day after the physical escape. It helped me remember part of myself.
Maybe I should have epigraphed my chap with Dickinson. Her collected poems were among the first poetry I ever touched and owned as a child. Dickinson stanzas are tattooed on my consciousness.
I’m nobody, who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it began—or if there were
A time when it was not—
I guess what I want most to say is, writing means somehow both more and less to me, my new self. Sharing is incredibly difficult, for like 58 reasons. When I put something into the world now, I am often literally writing to it, asking it to help me live in it.
If that sounds melodramatic, don’t buy my chap, and why are you even here, for real?
Also, I still devour memoir. I haven’t posted since Bourdain, but I’ve finished and have drafted posts on memoirs by Porochista Khakpour, Pam Houston, and Maxine Hong Kingston, all of which slayed me. Posts delayed because I am slain. But I’ve healed from being slain before, so stay tuned.
Thanks for listening.