|dc.description.abstract||This manuscript represents a progression from adolescence into adulthood with branching poetry narratives that focus on cultural and family dysphoria, the grief of loss, and coming to terms with sexuality and same-sex attraction. I began writing the poems of this manuscript four years ago in my advisor Nickole Brown’s poetry workshop during my first year at the Sewanee School of Letters. The actual manuscript project began in September 2020 at the start of thesis work. I produced many new poems during this time and began organizing and placing them in an order that I hope flows like a book. I don’t feel the manuscript is quite at the point of being a finished, publishable book, as there are some loose ends and empty spaces I would like to expand on in the future. I also have a difficult time ever feeling like a poem is completely finished, and I often spend years revising, especially as my writing style evolves and improves constantly.
Since that first term at Sewanee, my writing style changed entirely. I entered the program knowing that my biggest strength is my ability to write metaphors; however, this served as a double-edged sword because my biggest challenge in poetry writing is also the tendency to hide behind metaphors. Nickole was quick and gracious in pointing this out and helping me develop more honest ways of getting my intent and vulnerability onto the page and creating a balance between the metaphor and “saying it plain.” I had been so concerned with the appearance of my poems, making sure everything looked and sounded pretty, that I’d failed to open up with the emotional truth of them, thus keeping readers at an arm’s length. The poems in this collection are a labor of my attempt to stop hiding. They are sometimes dark, full of grief, and deal with uncomfortable subject matter. However, they are also honest, coming from a deeply emotional and personal core, and hopefully they speak to others going through similar experiences.
Another challenge I struggle with craft-wise is giving my works an effective title. There are several works in this manuscript that remained untitled for a long time. It is often difficult because creating a title generally takes lots of meditation and reading/re-reading the poem as I dig my way to the truth of the piece. I often feel like my poems must be neatly wrapped packages, and the title is the bow. Even now, I struggle to tell myself that poems don’t have to be clean stories with bookended beginnings and endings and that it is ok if a poem doesn’t answer all the questions or give everything away. I feel a challenge of mine is conveying a story; though I have gotten better at it, and many of the poems in this collection reflect my growth in narrative through poetry.
The biggest form of inspiration when writing poetry for me is simply reading the works of other poets. These works and poets include Richard Siken’s Crush, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Julia Koet’s Pine, and many others. There have also been specific works that challenged me, particularly Nick Flynn’s Some Ether, which is a book about suicide. We were assigned this collection my first semester at Sewanee, and to this day, it has been the most difficult collection of poetry for me to get through because of the emotional weight of its content. However, the deeply dark and personal concept of the book really resonates with me in my own writing style, as I write about the death of a close friend and my own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts; I find that writing from such dark and emotional places creates a difficult balancing act of trying not to hurt myself in the process of getting out my poems. I never finished reading Some Ether, as just getting through a few of the poems would throw me into deep, deep bouts of depression. I hope one day I am strong enough to finish reading the collection and incorporate more of Flynn’s technique into my own writing, but at the moment I must prioritize protecting myself from such a mental state, as I already push pretty hard at times trying to get out emotional honesty in my writings, and finding my limits has frequently been a difficult process.
I would also like to give a special acknowledgement to the poets Ross Gay and Claudia Emerson and their respective collections Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and Late Wife. I read these books during the thesis writing process. Ross Gay’s I read for the third time, and Emerson’s for the first time, and each writer significantly influenced my work. Ross Gay’s ability to achieve emotional honesty and devastation in his poems while simultaneously carrying such joy, texture, and color is truly something I strive for every time I sit down to write. Claudia Emerson’s beautiful embodied language and imagery, particularly of nature and animals, also struck a deep chord of longing within me and an aspiration to achieve such levels of embodiment in my own writing.
My poems have always been colored by the rural Appalachian landscape where I grew up and still live, but I haven’t always known how to write about it in a way that evokes a sense of embodiment. To me, embodiment evokes a sense of deep immersion, of writing a scene or image using all five senses; it’s a slow observation that takes in every detail available, then reinvents that observation in a poem to give readers a sense of authenticity. Another big struggle in writing my poetry has been just that: an oftentimes subconscious revulsion of being embodied, of sitting in my own body and letting my senses speak to me. I was diagnosed years ago with major depressive disorder and often catch myself dissociating as a defense mechanism to hide from pain, whether it be physical or mental. In the process of writing this thesis, Nickole had me do daily embodiment exercises: 50-word writings on something embodied, whether it be the snow on the ground, a housecat’s playful behavior, or even the aches and pains of living with chronic illness. I found these exercises exhausting, small as they seem, but at the same time they invigorated my poetry, kept me grounded as I wrote, and reminded me to get out of the stars and back on my own two feet. This is definitely a practice I will not abandon, even beyond this program, as it pushes me to slow down and pay attention to my senses, which is something I think all people should practice more, whether they be writers or not.
I would also like to give my thanks to Tiana Clark, who led the poetry workshop for my last two years at the School of Letters. Her encouragement and positivity has meant the world to me; she taught me not to be afraid of traditional poetry forms nor be afraid to subvert those same traditions and forms. She taught me the importance of communing with significant literary influences on the page, most notably Emily Dickinson, whose life and works haunt me in the best way and who, to this day, continues to be a great muse and joy to study.
And finally, I would like to give my last heaping of gratitude to Nickole Brown, without whom I could not have achieved this collection. She has been an endless source of support and calling me out on my own nonsense, keeping me firmly on the wild and winding path, and helping carry me to the end of this four-year-long trek. This collection has been a deeply personal journey of self-discovery and self-improvement in the craft. It was often filled with tears and sleepless nights, feeling like a failure and feeling like I could soar. I am so excited to present these poems, these tempestuous poems that have changed and shifted as I have changed and shifted, all in an effort to achieve nothing more than a simple honesty.||en_US