Listen and Speak: An AJB Interview with Alessandra Lynch

AJB: What do you believe is the most valuable quality of the speaker in Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment?

AL: Her most valuable quality is that she speaks at all.  She allows herself to depict, reflect, agonize and wonder over, lament, sing through, and question the traumatic experience.  She is fortified by memory, time, and the music of language that can open us up to our own voices, that facilitates this speaking, this singing.

AJB: The desire to disappear is palpable not only in this collection but for so many others as well. How has escaping into nature been important to you? Where do you go?

AL: Ultimately, there is no escape—there can be a dispersal or scattering of self to diffuse the pain or even a hardening of self, turning self into a fortress equipped with guards who might stand vigilant for decades after the harm.

The natural world has always had an essential presence in my life—which seems very odd or unnecessary to say, as nature feeds and clothes and shelters us; it enables us to breathe!  Nature is elemental to our planet, so it is by default essential to us, just bewilderingly oft-overlooked.  The wind and wolves, flowers and stars have been my familiars, and they have fortified me with their song. I am always enthralled by the intimate magic of orioles, rain, milkweed.

I’m not sure that I “escape” into nature so much as I become alive in nature or transformed by it.   In nature, I am more consciously aligned with that in myself that is natural, animal, necessary, life-giving—that feels closest to who I am: in this way I derive comfort and ease and feel illuminated and understood; I feel a larger understanding of the world and what is unseen and inarticulable.  Nature helps me face myself and the world more than it helps me escape.

Sometimes nature is an offshoot of me, sometimes it is my companion.  Within a leaf, there is a universe, an expansive, connective quality.  Sometimes nature serves as a mantra, sometimes a door into imagination, often a window into the heart, sometimes it is symbolic.  For instance, in the last stanza of the poem “would have lowered,” I list three plants: myrtle, rhododendron, cyclamen.  When I initially invoked those plants, I was unaware of how fitting the symbolism of each is to this particular poem, which reaches toward compassion.  Myrtle represents love, rhododendron warning or danger, and cyclamen sincere tenderness.  In the last section of the book, milkweed, symbolizing a time of transformation, appears.

As evidence of how central I feel the natural world is to me and to these poems, in my epigraph, I use a quote from Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son in which he invokes snail, bird, and worm to help him through his emotional and psychic struggles.

AJB: There’s a line in a poem of section three that says, “Seek hard things to keep the body safe.” How would you describe the survival instinct; can it be tarnished? If so, how can we get back to self-preservation?

AL: Yes, and the word “hard” in that line bespeaks those things that safeguard us: battlements, railings, walls, but “hard” in this context can also mean “difficult”—such as the act of confronting what it is that endangers one.

Self-preservation comes in many forms: some of us go into a deep freeze, some of us wield weapons, some pickle ourselves, some float away like milkweed seed, remnants of husk still stuck to us; some of us avert our faces; some ram our faces into what hurts us.

The challenge is in recognizing when a particular mode of self-preservation is outworn, when it has become habit and because of that disables us from true growth and real protection. Because effective self-protection or otherwise, it needs to remain animated and breathing if it is to work for us.

That said, the poem ends with the counsel: “sit still with falling things & soft bits like rain.” There are manifold ways to preserve oneself, and one way involves sitting still in the midst of one’s own psychic shattering instead of scattering, dispersing the self to avoid the harder feelings.

Many victims of assault enter a state of hypervigilance that can last years, or even a lifetime, often without the person being aware of how overly vigilant s/he has become—startling at a sound even remotely reminding her/him of the traumatic event, sometimes when the sound bears no connection whatsoever to that event but the surprise of the unexpected, an unrecognizable rhythm; those jolting sounds or images can be triggering.

AJB: Memories are simultaneously tangible and abstract and can alter with the passing of time. We remember, we forget, and we can even deny. Do you believe bringing our darkness into the light is transformative, or healing? How can we overcome our challenges to get there?

AL: I believe that a vital part of the transformation that occurs through healing has to do with first staying with the darkness as long as it needs us to, and then respecting its essential darkness even when it is near the light, exposed—that is, holding the hand of darkness and being kind to it and to ourselves.

Perhaps one of our most arduous tasks is being respectful of the time and space it takes to heal and the accordant excruciating levels of self-awareness.

AJB: There is so much life in this book: birds, trees, breath, flowers, etcetera, despite what surrounds them. We see a journey back to Earth, back to life, back to the self—a reclamation, or as much of one as is possible. Would you say that sometimes just sending words into the wind is enough? Do you have any final thoughts for readers, for survivors?

AL: Sending words into the wind is comparable to flinging out pollen; some of them are bound to “catch,” find their way to earth, then take seed, root, transform themselves and the atmosphere, the world, the people who pause to apprehend, to see, to think, to feel.  So, yes, I highly recommend sending words into the wind—every single day.  It’s what poets do.

Words for survivors:  Listen and Speak and for readers:  Listen and Speak.

For both: compassion.