An interview with Dawn Lundy Martin by Noah Eli Gordon (page 6)
NEG: Speaking of continually coming back, would you talk about your current writing? Are you working now on individual poems? a larger project? and has the publication of your first book changed in any way the current trajectory of your writing?
DLM: I just finished a book-length project titled DISCIPLINE, which I'm sending out in earnest this season. It's mostly interrelated prose poems punctuated by shorter minimal poems and some binary code. I'll tell you what I've yet to tell others. It's a kind of autobiography (not that the other work in A Gathering of Matter is not, of course); here is the subject's mother, father, and brother. Here is the abject body, or what is presumably an abject body in the throes of attempting to gain some control over itself. I am at the very beginning stages of a third project, but I'm not quite sure what it will become.
After the first book was published, I felt liberated from that hump. I'm not extremely prolific in poetry, partly because I edit as I write, which means that the poem is edited as I go along at the micro level instead of drafting and then going back to revise. I revise along the way—each line, phrase, word, break, space, going back only if the poem takes me on a trajectory that requires it. I'm not sure why this is my process, but there it is. The work/process, though, also needs time and space, quiet in which the poem enacts its deliberate engagement. Life sometimes gets in the way. So getting the first book published was a relief, and in DISCIPLINE, and what I'm writing now, I feel like I can do whatever I want. First book done. Check. Now it's time to see what's beyond that, to really stretch my legs as an artist. And, since DISCIPLINE is only out in pieces in journals, I have little idea what folks think of it yet. It's a nice place to be.
NEG: I’d love to hear more about your conception of autobiography in both Gathering and the newer work, especially given the often difficult terrain your poems occupy. While the typical epiphanic confessional lyric might set up a cathartic experience for its reader, I wonder if the inherent complexity of your own poems—especially given their tendency to deal with trauma in a more oblique yet more authentic fashion—allows you as a writer to experience something of this same catharsis?
DLM: For me autobiography is a question of what's translatable from experience into writing. It's also a question of whose experience is attempted in translation. The poems, too, want to ask those questions. They want to explore what's possible in this kind of speaking, and of course, what's impossible, where the poem butts up against its own impossibility. In Gathering the poems are concerned at times with the mythologizing of experience as an adjacent or resonant utterance, next to, and emanating from, but not the attempted telling of the "experience" itself. Trauma, as I think I've hinted, cannot (in my estimation) be told. It is inherently without language. The post-traumatic moment is one that is implicitly a struggle of speaking—as Freud's Talking Cure is reliant on speech, but what happens if the thing(s) can't be said? What are the other potentials for utterance that are not speaking one's story in the traditional sense? That said, DISCIPLINE engages the confessional lyric more directly. The poems seem to be urgently pressing against that desire for recovery in a much more frantically necessary way. Recently, I was reading from the work at a conference and there were moments when I could hear that sound that audience members sometimes make—as if they've just been punched lightly in the gut; I found that surprising. The new work is also a kind of homage to the terror of the self in the fringes of blight-filled urban America. There's a confusion in the book between the traditional lyric “I” in confessional poetry and some other potential or other “I” that stands in for the speaking self.