My writing process is a bit like me: irrational. Sometimes images seem to haunt me until I am compelled to write a poem around them; other times I do everything I can to “break my eye open” (this concept comes from my favorite TV series, “Six Feet Under.”) To break your eye open is exactly what it sounds like— to see the world in a new way, to make unusual associations. I do this is by delving into my subconscious—a fecund and frightening place. I love writing exercises for that reason. They help me find startling images and fresh language after I feel I’ve exhausted all of my own. One of my favorites is a dada exercise that I learned from my wonderful poetry instructor in Spain– Jesús Urceloy. What a brilliant man. He had everyone follow the most specific and absurd instructions and the end result was amazing. For example, he made us write the word “lamp” on a sheet of paper and leave it near our bed. Upon waking we were to immediately write every word that came to mind when we thought of “lamp.” Then in class he made us write all of the words we associated with “fish” along with a series of other similar instructions. Towards the end we were to give one of the lines we had written to a partner as a gift. He then instructed us to recite our lines in a specific order, then at random until they began sounding like an incantation. Everyone wrote incredible poems and that class remains as one of my most beloved memories. I miss those people profoundly…
The other night my roommate and her boyfriend came home to find me with one hundred note cards with different words written on them all spread out on the living room floor. I was standing over the cards in unattractive celestial pajamas, drinking beer, and listening to jazz. The three of us laughed. “This is what I do,” I tried to explain, still laughing at myself. These are the kinds of nights when I find most inspiration— solitary, drinking a beer, and listening to beautiful music. Very romantic.
Speaking of romance, I’ve recently been working on my dissertation for my MFA and in the process I’ve come to realize how romantic my notion of poetry is. Though Heidegger was a fascist (which is obviously incredibly problematic), I do agree with his philosophy on poetry. To me, it is the purest form of language and the closest we can get to the “essence” of things. Words inspire me every day and I was not exaggerating when I wrote in a poem that “I scrape words to stay living.” In many ways poetry has saved me time and time again.
Leftist and feminist writers have been especially inspirational to me. Adrienne Rich, for example, was critical in my early development as a writer because her poems were my first encounter with “political poetry.” It was after reading her that I realized that I should not only write about love and beauty, but also about what is happening in the world, sometimes even conflating these private and public spaces. I believe in work that reveals both the wonders and horrors of our humanity.
I am also fascinated by poems centered on the female body because I see it is a “site of cultural inscription,” (from Judith Butler’s book, Gender Trouble, quoting Foucault). So many experiences, from love to violence, are written on our bodies. Much of my work is intentionally corporeal and visceral. I have recently written poems about prostitution and human trafficking, and in the process I’ve realized how much the female body is directly communicating issues like globalization and drug trade. To me, a poem that simply celebrates female sexuality is also political in that it rejects our rigid gender codes.
Because poetry has inspired me to question and challenge injustice and because it’s been so pivotal in revolutionary movements throughout history, I still believe that poetry has the power to inspire revolution and transform the world, as naïve and idealistic as that may be.