Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
March 30, 2014
“Once upon a time,
I was the goddess named She.”
- Alicen Grey, from “the funeral”
According to the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi: “Poetry can be dangerous, especially beautiful poetry, because it gives the illusion of having had the experience without actually going through it.”
To which one might add: Some experiences are better experienced vicariously.
Alicen Grey is the author of Wolves and Other Nightmares, a provocative, lyrical, and just-released collection of her poems and prose from Hologram Press. In the age of memes and irony, she chooses verse and metaphor as her avenues of expression. Chronicling her spiritual journey, Grey lays bare the trauma, the insights, the lessons, and the redemption. This is the “beautiful poetry” Rumi warns us about -- but you best check your illusions at the door.
I recently had a conversation with poet Alicen Grey and it went a little something like this:
MZ: While so many today willingly choose to limit their expression -- 140-character tweets, text acronyms, etc. -- why do you choose the vastness of poetry?
AG: It is easy to think of tweets and brief status updates as cheapened versions of communication, but I try not to look at our short-and-sweet expressions as "limited." Haiku is a respected art form, yet haiku poems tend to be under 140 characters. There is something exciting about challenging yourself to condense an abstract idea or complex emotion into a small frame of text.
MZ: Do you feel there's still a receptive audience for verse and prose in 2014?
AG: As for whether or not there is an audience for poetry in this day and age, I have heard many writers say that there is not, but I beg to differ. Poetry used to be an art form reserved for the educated and wealthy. But now, with the aid of technology, almost anyone can write or read poetry, regardless of their class. There are poems out there by everyday people that are going viral, such as the spoken word performances by Button Poetry on YouTube, so clearly there is an interest at large. I myself am a self-taught poet, and I am not sure that would have been the case if not for the ease of access to poetry that the Internet provides.
MZ: I've never before encountered a poetry book that included trigger warnings (although, in retrospect, so many books should've used them!). Can you explain the purpose of such warnings and why you opted to include them?
AG: Yet again, I must thank technology for introducing me to the concept. On some websites, I noticed that posts would be tagged with "trigger warnings" for things like rape, self-injury, gore, clowns -- just about anything there is a phobia for. And as someone who has been the receiver of different kinds of abuse throughout my life, I found myself feeling utterly grateful for these warnings, because they gave me the chance to stop and think about whether or not I was in the right state of mind to read whatever came after the trigger warning. If I was feeling too emotionally vulnerable, I could move on to something else.
Also, as I was writing this book, I had quite a number of breakdowns, as some of these poems depict situations that were traumatic for me. A few times, I had to completely remove myself from the writing process jut to recover from the act of remembering, and come back a few days later when I felt stable. I realized that if I, as the writer, was triggered by my own poetry, the least I could do was warn others that they, too, might unearth their trauma if they read any further.
Art, in my opinion, should provide a safe space for people to tackle their fears. But only if they are ready to do so. Trigger warnings can help you figure out whether or not you are ready to confront your trauma.
MZ: How were able to decide that you were ready enough to begin this challenging act of remembering, documenting, and sharing... and why did you choose the medium of poetry to share your journey?
AG: Actually, when I first started planning this poetry collection, I was just having fun with it. I didn't have a particular theme in mind. But during the editing process, I noticed that I was replacing the rejected poems with poems about a particular time of my life: age 17, when I was in a psychologically abusive relationship, more accurately known as a one-on-one cultic relationship. In that moment, I realized that I had tried everything to make myself feel better in the aftermath of that nightmare - "happy pills," self-injury, meditation, support groups, even crystal therapy - but the one thing I had not tried yet was writing about it. The abuse had made me afraid to do the one thing I've always been confident doing, because the entire relationship relied on my abuser speaking over me and drowning out my voice. That's when I knew that the only way to heal would be to reclaim my words. After writing this book, I don't feel afraid to call it "abuse." I'm not afraid to call it a one-on-one cult, because that's what it was. Just saying those words is empowering. I no longer need their permission to form my own ideas anymore.
MZ: What might be the most satisfying response you could imagine getting from someone who's read this collection?
AG: Not that I wish my trauma on anyone else, but it would be so relieving to hear the words "it happened to me, too."
Sometimes I feel like I must be delusional, because my abuser never laid a hand on me. We think of abuse as violent, physical and easy-to-spot. But for me, it was subtle. Even I have a hard time validating my own experiences because I don't have any physical bruises to point to as "proof" of what happened. But when I share my story with someone else who went through a similar circumstance and they nod at everything I say, like "I get it, I've been there," I feel relieved. I feel sane. My abuser's favorite mind game was to try to convince me that I had multiple personalities and therefore couldn't trust my own judgment, which gave them an excuse to interpret my reality for me. So I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for those moments when someone tells me, "You're not crazy. It really was abuse. Let's get through this together."
MZ: When did you first start writing poetry and how has the experience of writing a poem changed for you since then?
AG: I started writing poetry at age 16, if I remember correctly. It was mostly an experiment. Up until then, I was into writing full-length fictional stories and needed a challenge, so I started a poetry blog out of boredom. Now, I no longer treat poetry as a joke or a game. Writing poetry is almost like a spiritual practice. Paying attention to the rhythm and flow from syllable to syllable, word to word, the white space around the text, the line breaks, the tone, the images... all of it brings you back into touch with your feelings. It's one thing to tell someone what you're thinking, and another to make them feel it
Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here
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