Sunday, May 26, 2019
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Years of tutoring from friends, football coaches, and professors could not solve the way my brain scrambles numbers. Until I said my final goodbyes to math after college, the subject was always a painful one. People often assume math skills on my part because I’m a professional musician, and musicians are supposed to be good at math, they insist. Sure, the two subjects intersect, and even a basic chord involves mathematical concepts. Those are truths with which I play, express, and improvise on a daily basis. But as much as I can approach mathematical principles, I’ll never be able to work with numbers. The explicit, objective language of math eludes me, a young woman with a graduate degree who has had to blushingly count on her fingers in front of her boss. As it turns out, she could never quite escape numbers.
In college, ever the cliche, I was no less a mental health disaster than any other music student. This was in the Deep South, and when a lesbian at a religious college complains of excess worry and sadness, well, nobody thinks to look any deeper than that. The problem is plainly visible, staring you in the face with sunken cheekbones from sudden obsessive weight loss. Numbers, and all that.
In the wake of traumatic events, faded collections of images holed up in my cells, resurfacing uncontrollably when I tried to eat or sleep. Thankfully, it’s not so severe anymore. But if you ask me to recall the details of my trauma, like "what exactly happened," memory fails and words escape. It is the same helpless feeling as when I try to copy down a phone number and write a 6 where a 9 belongs. I’m reaching for something I can’t grasp, like reaching into a wound and expecting to pull out a date and time.
But you came to read about writing, and here I am talking about trauma.
Writing poetry allows us express mysteries that we cannot articulate in plain terms. Nobody reads a poem to be told outright, “There is both beauty and sadness in the world.” Where’s the proof? But when you see two boys examining bones in the forest, the clues they unearth about the crime scene point toward the broader truth. Nobody reads a poem to be told, “Some things are too tough to be killed” with a line break here or there. But when you see the alligator crawling back from the edge of extinction and moss unfurling over an abandoned shack, then you may feel some approximation of the truth.
So writing poetry is like doing math. “Pi” is a number that is infinitely more than a number, but if even if we could know all its digits, the concept is still better expressed by a simple circle. Math and poetry both work from the same ideas of logic, of economic precision, of man-made languages. Both explain the universe with the help of our own imaginations to fill in the gaps, the unknowns.
There are many ways to suss out truth or, at least, pieces of it. Poetry does not demand explicit recounts of emotions, experiences, and stories, which perfectly suits the PTSD survivor who doesn’t remember what has happened to her anyway. Instead, she can point you to the ruler, the raised voices, the textbook slammed down on her knuckles. Then, the poet can solve a problem or beg a better question. Even an awkward first draft can at least prove a connection where she may have forgotten one existed.
A graduate of Mississippi College, Amy Lauren was a finalist for the 2019 Tennessee Williams Poetry Prize. Her chapbooks include Prodigal, God With Us, and She/Her/Hers. Her poems have appeared in publications such as The Gay & Lesbian Review with four Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Florida with her wife.
Friday, May 03, 2019
On Writing and the Self
past moments old dreams back again or fresh like those that pass or things things always and memories I say them as I hear them murmur them in the mud
SAMUEL BECKETT, How It Is
As with walking, there is only one place from which to begin, that being wherever your feet happen to be. I rise from the folds of my interior, a consciousness that began as a seed and expanded into this. Into hands that tap on a computer screen, attached to a torso that belongs to its environment, a head that is habitual and formed by how it is received.
My command, if I have command, comes out of this body, my ability (thus far) to persist. This body lives with me and I with it. You get used to each other. You familiarise yourself with your set of limitations, real, imagined, affected, believed in, and wriggle a little inside your veil of skin.
I am one hundred cats inside a soundproof cube with a hairline leak. Those cats disagree, fight, both with themselves and with each other, change their minds, howl, die, come back to life. I can’t see outside these walls, not with any clarity, not with all this noise in here.
The exterior feeds in, becomes the surrounding fields. A whine overhead, a newspaper headline, advertisements, words of wisdom, the glass shattering in a car window and the sirens that geyser from the scene. Imagine an already damp cloth sprawled out across the table, lapping up the spreading sea.
I’m a venus-fly-trap munching on my own leaf. From the lockjaw of iteration comes a kind of release. An ability to make certain movements, to walk a person through the rooms of one’s house and illume the debris.
Curtains of static and association filter the impressions coming in. You tune the station, fiddle with the channels. Catch a breath of pure oxygen, a swift in flight past an old barn beam.
Walls of tiny metal beads, like ball bearings, rain down in all directions. Each bead carries a small image, a sentence remembered, a name from the deep. And your body charges past, heading for the glimmer of light flickering off some stranger’s watch face as their feet scuff the threshold of the door as they leave. Beads in disarray, metal fragments reverberate like hail, the birdsong of disruption falling back into place. A nearly, a helix of just-missed steam.
Everything detours this way, for a second, a year, a day. And, as with walking, you grab whatever is within reach. Pick up a pebble on the beach. Pass it from one hand to another, admire its curvature, estimate its weight. Do you need it? Can you put it on a shelf? How long should that shelf be?
You juxtapose one thing with another, like a bower bird lining a nest. You select, compare, reconsider, throw away. You turn a thing over, pick at it, chisel. A slab of intensity, finessed, is left to harden. Complete, you step outside, and dance your ridiculous dance in front of the resultant array.