As with everyone lately, my daily life and writing practice has changed quite dramatically. I went from working full time to being house bound, and I immediately took this as a sign that I must do the many things I had said I wanted to do while being fully employed. The backlog of wants was (is) immense, coming off of two years of not writing, of managing grief and the obliterating constancy of Bipolar Disorder, which often disables my creative thinking.
After spending years talking my way back to writing, I relied on journals I had maintained with notes on life events, overheard conversations, misheard conversations, images that ravished what I knew about language, that helped me court the world in unexpected ways. I have never written on a computer. The act of making language visible with the muscles and nerves of my hands, ink staining my fingertips, is a ritual I cannot forgo.
Here I am, in quarantine, trying to organize and compose the abundance of these journals. I’m stuck, revisiting old poems on their graveyard shelves. The tonality of my first book could be described as backed into a corner poetry; it looked backwards with no feeling of moving forwards.
I wanted to move away from this with my current manuscript, poems I self-deprecatingly called ‘little misery memoirs.’ When left to the devices of the blank page and pen, I resurrected buried traumas and memories. Every time I attempt to write anything else, I couldn’t write at all. It felt selfish, hysterical; how could one life contain these multitudes of misery, and why couldn’t I move on?
After a few weeks of bargaining, I surrendered to where the poems lead me, to what I couldn’t process outside of the page. As T.S. Eliot said, “when the poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience...these experiences are always forming new wholes.” The troubled authenticity that arises from my journaled notes and blank page didn’t just recount life’s little (or big) miseries, it complicated a straight forward narrative of trauma and dysfunction. Time had confronted my perception and performance of trauma on the page at the level of the line.
The notes of pain do not devastate the truth of my own narrative, the beauty in hardship, the love and relationships. How do we begin to navigate a world space to heal in the present, while embracing or abandoning the past?
So I’m starting in the middle, attempting to forget my future self, accepting line breaks as they manifest on the page, trusting the meanings assemble in the background on my mind.
I can’t live my life in poems, I write poems to hopefully live life with a little less baggage than before. I begin with hope, the poem is a gesture to healing; the nuts and bolts seem easy when the mind cooperates.
Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Kingston, ON. Her work has been published internationally in CV2, Ambit Magazine, The Literary Review of Canada, The Columbia Review, and Glasgow Review of Books, among others. In 2015 she was a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, and her debut collection of poetry, Slow States of Collapse, was published with ECW Press.