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things that make you go “ugh”

September 2, 2014

writing can be really hard when you start thinking about what you’re writing. which i often do, because my brain is always whirring. (the other day, someone told me i didn’t ‘seem to have complex emotions,’ which was a) surprisingly hurtful and b) wrong. i, of course, kind of exploded, and he had to clarify and say “well, what i meant is that you don’t hold them near the surface. it’s all in your head, and you think about things for days after the fact.” true.) so when i’m writing, i’m often thinking “who on earth am i going to offend/hurt with this?” which is an awful way to write – or do anything. a colleague once told me “build the house first, worry about the neighbours later,” which is a great piece of advice, but that’s often easier said than done, especially for someone who has fought with anxiety in the past (and still does). (maybe the fact that i don’t seem to hold any deep emotional cues or feelings near the surface is because i take them deeper, dismantle them and make sure they can’t make me anxious. just a thought.)

now that i’ve finished one project, i’m kind of jellyfishing it around and waiting for some new thing to hit me. i’m still wriing bibs and bobs – i’ve finished up one piece that is going to be published in the walrus in october (!!!) and am working on another one for another magazine, but i’m using those to distract myself from the fact that i need to figure out a new thing to work on. (my thesis is sitting and smirking at me, and i have a feeling i’m going to come crawling back to it, repentant and also terrified. but walking the edge is good and fear can also be good. it’s just the idea of fiction that terrifies me the most – at least with non-fiction the story is pretty much already made, it’s just filling in the spaces.)

the point is, i’ve started writing poetry again in this waiting space. and i’ve started writing poetry about stuff that makes me uncomfortable, about what i deem ‘consensual emotional violence in close quarters’ and the philosophical and emotional and intellectual debates and ramifications that come from that. listen, i’m going to come out and say it: canada doesn’t love controversial writers, let alone controversial poets. this is why i loved rachel rose’s poem thirteen ways of looking at canlit so much. she went right for the jugular. she showed her teeth and she wrote about things – things that make people uncomfortable. our country doesn’t love that. we want our poets to often write about trees and the boreal atmosphere and the shield and our fresh water. our national identity. which we’re still figuring out.



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my genius leonine talented writer friend emily helped me out when i messaged her in a panicky state. i said “i am writing poetry that makes me deeply uncomfortable and i dont know how to parse do you deal with this when you do it?” and she, being the patient friend that she is, wrote a very measured and well-thought-out response, and it helped me.

1. I use humour. I get wry or tongue-in-cheek, so that the aspects of a poem I’m uncomfortable with don’t control me.

2. I distance myself from the character. I had to go through my poetry manuscript and edit out all of the second person I’d used – I often cast the reader in the role of “you” instead of myself. I used the vagueries of “you” to control what was happening. I made the reader the one who experienced my pain. This is actually bad writing, BUT if it helps you get the poem out, then it can be a stage in its development.

I also tell myself that no one will ever read this poem, even if I have every intention of using it later.


helpful. and totally logical, of course. i was deep in my self-indulgent panic and needed someone to say “it’s okay take a deep breath we all do it do what you need to do.”

also – it’s just writing. it’s just poetry. it’s just on my computer. i have the power and agency over this – i can choose to show it to other people, or i can keep it to myself forever, as so much of our writing remains. but i also like what i’m writing – it’s digging its heels and feathers against the inside of my chest. it wants to come out. there is value in making people uncomfortable – most of my favourite pieces, poems or books, have been things that made me cringe or cry or think about it for days (or weeks or months) after. that is such an important feeling and thing to do, and i want to be able to do it, too.




so that’s food for thought. most of my friends are like “go for it why the hell not at least write it down screw what people say screw what people think.” there of course is something to be said for writing the purest form of an emotion and not giving a whit what people think, but at the same time i still worry. i think the solution is to at least just write it – with the aid of bourbon if need be, which might be a need – and then worry about the thing later. things fall into place the way they need to fall into place.


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