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“I wrote one of my favorite poems on top of a mountain”: on poetry, place, and process

I remember my life in terms of notebooks. The first one I ever owned was a gift from my grandmother on my eighth birthday; it had a blue hardcover with feathers on the front. It was at my grandparent’s house on Staten Island that I learned to love birds, watercolors, plants, and writing. I began to write almost every day, until it became a habit. When I was 11, I recorded in a Hilary Duff notebook every detail of the overwhelming transition from home school to public school. I continued to scrawl my way through high school and undergraduate college.

I am a spurt creator. My process is messy and necessary, and often involves digging into my mind to find what may not be ready to be unearthed. I have a tendency to overdo it and exhaust myself. A large part of who I am as a person, as well as a writer and artist, is exploring and collecting raw material, filling myself up with experiences and thoughts. (I find my emotional health declines when I’m not able to do this in both rural and urban spaces.) Then there is the initial purge, which usually lasts for several hours, involving a Moleskin notebook and a safe place like a rooftop or a picnic table. Acceptable accompaniments include: water, a record, a canine friend. The secondary cull is a treasure hunt—flipping through pages of inky words to assemble bits of myself. I pull from various places: the Notes app on my phone, used receipts stashed in my car. My writing in finished form is very stream of consciousness, with little punctuation and usually addressing some version of you. Its flow is linear, collecting itself, almost effortlessly, into small books.

 

My process is messy and necessary, and often involves digging into my mind to find what may not be ready to be unearthed.

Over the past few years, I’ve created two chapbooks of poetry. spades is a collection of work from my time living in the Finger Lakes region; it explores being in love while simultaneously being depressed. Sadness and sickness are mentioned in passing, often teetering on emotionlessness, before jumping quickly away. It’s almost as if I am trying to distract the reader with abrupt bursts of intense feelings. It is a slow decline, sprinkled with gentle moments. The title comes from a poem that asks: “are the spades in my hands/ leaving bruises on your bones/ from my constant need to know you?”

In spades, there is a disconnect. I was very isolated. I mention classes I don’t remember attending, alluding to memory gaps. The detached style mirrors the state of my mind, as well as my surrounding environment: muted, like the softness of twilight on my porch. Then there are moments that are so clear and true, it seems like everything is okay: ‘we moved the table to the porch/ and today the light pours over us like honey,’ followed by ‘you are in my bed and I am kissing your knees.’ In the next poem, I abruptly remind myself of my loss: ‘it has been 23 days without you/ I still haven’t moved your pillow.’

I found myself back in an urban setting in the fall of 2015. hidden is a hopeful word for erased is work written as I maneuvered through the spaces between Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. I am more daring with my words, offering glimpses into the depth of my spiraling mind: ‘do you remember my right leg shaking/ so hard it must have knocked you into the wall.’ There is an intensity in this book that spades lacks. It is loud. My environment was loud. And my head was loud. ‘I want to scream when I remember that room/ everything we wanted that didn’t come true.’ It is a rush, like the bright orange of the ferry I rode every day. Many of the poems in hiahwfe talk about self-harm, dying, and sex, and I am nearly always alone and on the move. The book begins in an airport and ends in a memory. hiahwfe relies heavily on place and transportation: Battery Park, Eataly, Clove Lakes Park, and ‘i have been living on the $1.50 coffee from the cafe on the corner of Manor and Utter.’

There is an intensity in this book. It is loud. My environment was loud. And my head was loud.

Featured image by Tom Eberhardt-Smith.

I should mention that you is the same in both of these books. spades is about finding you and losing you, and being depressed before, during, and after, while hiahwfe is writing to the same you but it is more of a recovery, coming to terms with loss, not always in healthy ways. ‘we loved each other but we were breathing through plastic bags.’ There is a finality here, less denial, although there is still that desperation that comes in sudden slaps. Harsh words like ‘attack,’ ‘carve,’ and ‘bash.’ Moving through these loud, crowded spaces reflected the constant sirens in my head, which allowed for a space to create work like this. It was both exciting and unsafe.

Writing is deeply rooted in who I am. I’m excited about the way different environments continue to affect my work. I wrote one of my favorite poems on top of a mountain, inspired by the lake, craggy rocks, and the cloak of stars above me. Other words have crept down my neck with the hot breath of the subway train. Creativity is a part of me that must be kept fluid and ever-changing.

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