Yielding To It

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Matthews Sain, Lana
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University of the South , School of Letters thesis 2023 , School of Letters , poetry , lyric , suffering , truth , Gregory Orr , D.H. Lawrence , William Butler Yeats
Introduction “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” —William Butler Yeats “The personal lyric says to the self in its suffering: I will not abandon you. Nor will I ask you to abandon yourself and the felt truth and particulars of your experience.” —Gregory Orr “What is the knocking? What is the knocking at the door in the night? It is somebody wants to do us harm. No, no, it is the three strange angels. Admit them, admit them” —D.H. Lawrence This manuscript was first conceived, without words, in delusion—inside ultramarathons of personal conquest and years of disorder and distraction, around internal frenzy and desperation. Before these words were born upon the page, they relentlessly collided with my ego. They were repeatedly deflected by fear and forsaken for a fabricated anthem of willpower and pride. Such stories are boring. They cannot absorb the raw nature of human complexity. They cannot process its language, nor communicate its somatic understanding to a reader. My route to poetry was not a blazed trail nor a mapped greenway. Before entering this MFA program, it was more of an aimless, lifelong bushwhack—navigating blindly through the intersection of ancestral trauma and privilege—finally emerging into faith that D. H. Lawrence was not wrong: yield yourself to the wind, allow yourself to be borrowed by it for long enough, and the three strange angels will find you. In June of 2018, at Sewanee: The University of The South, I walked into my first ever poetry workshop ready to conquer the art of language in the same manner I had succeeded at other feats. It was, effectively, though certainly subconsciously, another strategy of distraction. The true nature of reality and “the self” were buried beneath the underbrush of my action and capacity for self-righteous, sustained effort. They were covered by the curtains of performance and what my mother called a “high threshold of pain,” but was more likely an inability to process felt experience in my body. I have now come across only two things which I cannot fool for any extended amount of time—one is my children and the other is poetry. Both of these seem to absorb and reflect the truth of my inner condition regardless of the elaborate performance I may choreograph externally. Professor Nickole Brown pulled me out of the weeds right away in pointing out the necessity of “paying attention” to the surrounding world. The extent to which I was out of alignment with this practice of mindfulness became increasingly clear, but also I was unable to notice the smaller, ordinary miracles unfolding around me, but also was I unable to sit within my own questions and emotional discomfort long enough to move my pen. In Poetry as Survival, poet Gregory Orr explains, “When we have forgotten or repressed our own stories, or failed to value them enough to give them shape and form, we are diminished beings.” I lived in this diminished place before finding myself in a room full of poetry and people willing to wait patiently while I learned to be still, peeling back layer upon layer of societal conditioning. Learning to listen for the truth in my own experience, instead of trying to conquer poetry, I slowly began to hear with more clarity and empathy. With each poet we studied, I began to follow the “camera work” that can zoom in and out with language and syntax to expose the subject from different points of view. I eventually became more comfortable trusting associative leaps and experimenting with craft techniques such as anaphora to allow my own poems to say to speak from my subconscious, as opposed to unveiling my pre-constructed agendas. This began to give the unspoken its own voice, allowing the silences buried inside me to stir. In time and with much practice, they began to speak up, replacing my earlier need to tell only polished stories.